The following report of the Australian Seminary Stewardship Alliance Initial Consultation courtesy of Rev. Dr. Graham Buxton:
on Initial Consultation in Adelaide – 11-12 November 2013
- Tabor Adelaide is currently the only Australian Higher Education Provider (HEP) that is a member of the SSA. The possibility exists, however, for other Australian HEPs to become members of the SSA.
- Under the auspices of the SSA a consultation took place on 11-12 November 2013 in Adelaide, South Australia, with the goal of encouraging Australian HEPs to apply for membership of the SSA and to establish among those institutions an Australian cohort of the Seminary Stewardship Alliance.
- The consultation was convened by Rev Dr Graham Buxton of Tabor Adelaide and was attended by eight of the nine theological colleges which had expressed a keen interest in becoming partners in the initiative. In addition to the delegates from the eight colleges present, Matthew and Nancy Sleeth, founding directors of the Blessed Earth, were keynote speakers, sharing their personal journey and their vision for creation care and its outworking through Blessed Earth and the SSA.
- The purpose of an Australian cohort of the SSA would be to provide opportunities for colleges to confer and support each other along the same lines as within the parent SSA but to do so in a way relevant to various Australian contexts.
- The Adelaide consultation featured a number of worship sessions, focusing on the theme of creation care. Participants were involved in a number of plenary sessions as well as group discussions in order to seek a way forward within the organizational framework of the SSA. The first day’s session included an opening presentation by Dr Matthew Sleeth, who offered a much-appreciated personal perspective on the need to live more responsibly with regard to God’s creation. After some initial networking over refreshments, there was a joint presentation by Rev Dr Denis Edwards of Flinders University and Jacqui Rémond of Catholic Earthcare Australia on the theme of ‘ecological conversion’.
- Participants then attended Tabor Adelaide’s Advent Carol Service, which was followed by dinner in the city, at which Vicky Balabanski of Uniting College gave an address on the Earth Bible story, a project which explores texts and traditions from the perspective of Earth, employing a set of ecojustice principles developed in consultation with a number of ecologists.
- On the second day of the consultation Matthew and Nancy Sleeth helped delegates to understand and appreciate the vision for the Seminary Stewardship Alliance, after which Graham Buxton presented on the impetus for the Australian initiative. Brief presentations were then made on sustainability developments at two of the colleges, after which Steve Bradbury, Director of Micah 6:8 Centre, spoke movingly on creation care and care for the poor.
- Consultation delegates then split into small groups to discuss institutional developments with regard to sustainability initiatives and curriculum programs at individual colleges, as well as sharing what they would like to see happen in these areas and what steps might be taken to foster creation care in our own colleges, and what initiatives we might be able to share with each other.
- Besides the general observation that the consultation was an excellent opportunity for networking, meeting like-minded people, hearing different perspectives, and sharing good practice, the following salient points emerged:
- Much groundbreaking scholarship had already taken place at the Adelaide College of Divinity (Flinders University) regarding creation care and ecological hermeneutics
- Graduate learning outcomes that reflect institutional values regarding creation care are one means of establishing creation care throughout the curriculum
- There was an enthusiastic endorsement of creation care resources on the SSA website – the bibliography would be more helpful if divided into categories
- There was encouragement to use resources already available in Australia regarding, e.g., ecotheology and the economics of sustainable practices
- Professional development days could be used to encourage college faculty regarding creation care awareness
- Submission to the Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT) for funding for a project to investigate best practice distributed leadership models for fostering creation care awareness in institutions was in process, involving five of the Australian colleges represented at the consultation
- A postgraduate intensive seminar available to partner colleges online and on-campus was recommended. This may be one means of developing collaborative teaching courses.
- Other collaborative teaching courses were discussed, including a unit on creation care in colleges involved in consortium arrangements
- A forum or workshop on creation care and the environment for preachers was suggested
- Generally, the challenge exists to develop more resources within teaching programs on creation care
- A number of colleges recognized that they were at the beginning of the conversation regarding creation care curriculum resourcing and sustainability practices – involvement in this initiative was seen to represent a valuable opportunity to grow in these areas
- Regular teleconference calls
- The ongoing opportunity to link with US-based colleagues was seen as a strategic element in the way forward, including visits to learn from others engaged in similar programs
- The possibility of a quarterly SSA newsletter was raised, incorporating an Australian presence in each issue
- With regard to on-campus sustainability initiatives and environmental audits, it was recognized that we could learn much from each other in terms of a wide range of practical energy-saving initiatives
- The proposed 2015 international conference* on spirituality and ecology was noted with interest, and recognized as an event that might stimulate collaboration amongst Australian colleges
- As the consultation drew to a close, discussion focused on the most practicable model for the integration of Australian colleges into the SSA. With valuable input from Matthew and Nancy Sleeth, it became clear that the most appropriate way forward was to invite each college to become partners in the Seminary Stewardship Alliance. This would involve colleges committing to the 10-point covenant to which all partners pledged themselves on joining the SSA. Based upon the colleges joining the SSA, an Australian cohort would be established. This cohort would have a presence on the existing SSA website encouraging co-operative action. Tabor Adelaide was suggested as the continuing coordinating institution with the SSA for the Australian cohort.
SSA Executive Director Matthew Sleeth celebrates his first trip to Australia by meeting a kangaroo
*On 10-13 March 2015, the Graeme Clark Research Institute (GCRI) at Tabor Adelaide will be convening an international conference on environmental care with the specific focus on helping faith communities appreciate the importance of ecological awareness and of their responsibility to keep environmental concerns at the forefront of their lives. We will also critically be addressing the issue of the relationship between spirituality and nature. The conference – Rediscovering the Spiritual in God’s Creation – will take the current conversation in ecotheology a step further by generating a multidisciplinary perspective on the spiritual in creation, leading to fresh horizons with regard to liturgy, justice and discipleship. We will explore and uncover the spiritual dimensions innate in all aspects – human and non-human – of God’s creation, recognizing the interconnectedness between the ecological, biblical, theological, scientific, and philosophical disciplines, with a view to preparing a charter that fosters and enhances worship, justice and discipleship within the Christian community. The uniqueness of the conference is its focus on ecology and spirituality, and its orientation towards practical outcomes within faith communities.
In chairing the organizing committee, Graham Buxton is delighted to announce that Tabor has secured a number of top-class speakers from around
the world, including Professor Bob White from the Department of Earth Sciences at Cambridge University, Professor Ernst Conradie, who teaches systematic theology and ethics at the University of Western Cape in South Africa, Dr Celia Deane-Drummond from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and Dr Paul Santmire, a leading ecological theologian who resides in Boston, USA. Other well-known local speakers will add to the line-up, including Dr Norman Habel, an internationally recognised leader in the field of ecological hermeneutics, Dr Denis Edwards, Associate Professor in Systematic Theology at Flinders University and a key figure in the science-religion conversation, and Dr Vicky Balabanski, an ecological theologian based at Uniting College in Adelaide (one of the Australian colleges joining the SSA), and we also plan to include representation from the Indigenous peoples of Australia.
The conference will be held in a winery conference complex, showcasing not only the South Australian wine industry, but also the outstanding natural beauty of the region. We plan to attract people from a range of disciplinary interests, including theologians, scientists, those with environmental expertise, science-and-religion scholars, and representatives from faith and educational institutions.