In the fall of 1873, the first students gathered to learn at Montreal Diocesan Theological College. As we look back on 150 years of theological education in Montreal, I have been asking myself what the right verb is for this occasion.
Are we celebrating 150 years? Certainly, I give thanks for those who have come before us in this place and the many gifts they have offered to the church and the world. For instance, I give thanks for the way in which this college was open to ecumenical relationship long before the rest of the church was ready. Since 1914, the college has been joined in formal ecumenical consortium with other theological colleges in Montreal and affiliated with McGill University. We now call this the consortium the Montreal School of Theology. It is central to our work and is the oldest ecumenical theological education consortium in North America. Dio is its oldest continuous member.
But there are other parts of this college’s history that are more of a struggle. For a time in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the college took great pride in its work of preparing people to work in residential schools for indigenous children in Canada. We now know that the ministry in those schools was some distance from the wholeness of life God sets before us. Later in the 20th century, this college was slower than the rest of the church in offering welcome and hospitality to LGBTQ people. It is hard for me to want to celebrate these aspects of our history.
I’ve come to believe that the most apt verb for the college’s 150th anniversary is commemorate. It is a word that means something like “remember with.” In our commemoration we remember with all those who have come before us and hold before us both the failings and the faithfulness that marked their association with this place. When we commemorate in this way, we are reminded that our focus should properly be not on people or on institutions, whether they were wonderful or questionable, but on the God who has sustained this work and whose great faithfulness sustains us today.
Earlier this fall, a large number of friends and supporters of the college gathered at Christ Church Cathedral in Montreal for a service of Evensong to commemorate the 150th anniversary. The service included the debut of an anniversary hymn we commissioned especially for this year. You can find the whole hymn text on our website (along with a recording of it being sung) but I especially appreciated these lines in the hymn:
Transform, O Holy Spirit,
our vessels wrought of clay
that even by our weakness
your glory will display.
We give thanks for the transforming work of the Spirit in this college. Through these 150 years that Spirit has worked through both our gifts and our weaknesses to show forth God’s glory. As we look to 150 more years, we pray for that same Spirit to continue to work in this place that we may continue to show forth that same glory in the world.
Faithfully yours in Christ,