Revd Dr Stephen Spencer, Tanzania Link Officer for the Diocese of Leeds' link with three dioceses in north-west Tanzania and Vice Principal of St Hild College in Mirfield, which trains people for ordained ministry, has been appointed as Director for Theological Education in the Anglican Communion.
These two roles have given Stephen a unique perspective and understanding of the needs of ordinands in the Global North and Global South.
"“There are resources and inspiration which can be shared in both directions, for the benefit of all,” he said, “and the director will need to be a kind of matchmaker facilitating this.”
Stephen explained more:
"I have been asked to do the job on the basis of both my work for the Yorkshire Ministry Course and St Hild College and the Link Officer work. What is needed are companionship links between theological colleges and courses in the North and the South, similar to the best of the links between dioceses. I now know how to set these up, having helped to set one up between St Hild and Bunda Bible College in Tanzania.
The picture right shows Revd Musa Yamo, Principal of Bunda Bible College on the left, Canon Songa, Registrar on the right and Stephen in the middle. He had just finished four days of teaching on the history of mission and they presented him with the batik cloth he is wearing.
"To be linked with a set of people over the other side of the world, who you get to know and with whom you share your hopes and challenges, can transform your outlook on church life and mission and discipleship. This is what I am hoping to facilitate."
In his new role, Stephen will work to build up companionship links between theological colleges and courses in the Global North and the Global South, exploring the possibilities of having programmes and teaching modules available online, as a resource particularly for colleges in parts of the world with limited resources.
He will also help to foster friendship between ordinands and other students across the Anglican Communion, laying foundations for future unity and mission.
Asked about the similarities, differences and challenges for ordinands in training in the North and South, Stephen expanded:
"Ordinands and theological students in the South usually have limited access to books and specialist teaching expertise, but lots of energy and enthusiasm for mission in general and evangelism in particular.
"Ordinands and students in the North usually have good access to printed and teaching resources but sometimes have a restricted vision of what God is doing and can do in the world. I want to facilitate mutual sharing of resources and inspiration, for the benefit of all."
"In the South the challenges are often to with funding the training and finding support for families who stay at home while the student goes off to college. Also language is a big challenge in a sector in which English is so dominant and in which students often have limited understanding.
"In the North a challenge is often finding enough time and space for personal formation to take place in the middle of lives of multiple commitments and expectations, where it is so easy to lose sight of 'the one thing necessary to salvation'."
Stephen has been Tanzania Link Officer, first for the former Diocese of Wakefield, and now for the Diocese of Leeds. The link is with three dioceses in north-west Tanzania - the Dioceses of Mara, Rorya and Tarime and is about friendship, prayer and practical support in both directions. He has made annual visits to Tanzania for the past six years, building up links between churches in Yorkshire and the dioceses of the Mara region.
Explaining how much he has enjoyed the role, Stephen said:
"The Tanzania link has and remains a source of inspiration and life for me and, I know, for the parishes, schools and projects involved with it.
"The encounter with the harsh challenges and fantastic joys of church life in the Mara Region turns our own priorities upside down. Suddenly the things we have been obsessed with seem no longer important and instead we discover the simple gospel message of God’s grace once again.
"I would love every parish to have a link, either with parishes in Mara, Rorya or Tarime or with our other diocesan links.
"My hope and prayer is that in 2018 our bishops will re-launch all our links and move our diocese into having much more global awareness, for in doing that they will encourage our own mission here at every level."
Bishop Tony, Bishop of Wakefield and Chair of the Tanzania Link Support Group added:
"I shall be very sorry to see Stephen step down as the link officer for Tanzania.
"He has been a great advocate of the long-established link with the Mara region. He has made many visits to Tanazania and helped build many parish links. But I wish him well in this new role which he is so well qualified for."
Stephen will start his new post in February 2018.
This new post had been recommended in a 2012 report of a working group on theological education in the Anglican Communion. It is funded the St Augustine’s Foundation, a charity with origins at Canterbury Cathedral which works to enable the training of men and women for ministry in the Churches of the Anglican Communion.