Seminary Education in Uncharted Waters

~ Dr. James Kalong, Academic Dean

Christianity is not an individualistic and a private faith but a community-oriented faith. A Christian cannot be a Christian just by herself or himself alone. A person is a Christian only in relation with others and with God. Only through mutual relationship with one another as Christians and in relationship with God that the Christian life can be experienced in fullness. This is clearly found in the Scriptures of our Christian faith that Christians must come together, worship together, reach out to one another and serve each other as the Body of Christ – a rich metaphor that Paul the Apostle frequently brings to the forefront in his writings about the “being” of who we are as Christians (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12, 27; Ephesians 4:12). In other words, Christianity cannot be separated from community life. Christianity is not Christianity if it is not lived and practiced in the context of a community.

Seminary education is imparted to those who are committed to serve the Christian community and beyond. Seminary is a training ground to minister and reach out to people in various contexts of ministries, peoples, and communities. And so without people in the seminary, seminary training is meaningless. Without a community in the seminary, seminary education is naught! While some theological education can be acquired to a certain extent through various media, whether through distance education or online classes which have been around for quite sometime, seminary education can never be resourceful, meaningful, and fruitful if there are no hands-on theological education imparted in the context of a community of mentors and disciples serving one another and living, experiencing, and practicing the faith-life together. To this end, seminary education and community life are inseparable!

Now with the Covid-19 pandemic spread to every corner of the world, seminary education is thrown into unchartered waters. The abrupt suspension of seminary and community life during the first quarter of 2020 has ushered in many questions and doubts about seminary education. We have sent away a batch of students who were on the verge of completing their seminary education without any degrees and diplomas. We are now contemplating on continuing seminary education online without a community in existence in the vast seminary campus. These are distressing times for seminary education. But more harrowing is the fact that, after getting a seminary education online, what next? If there is no community or people to serve and tangibly minister to, the future of seminary education looks perturbing. Or for that matter, even Christianity as a community-based faith is unsettling with what is being experienced right now and is impending in the near future!

Yet as a hope-based community of faith, we look forward confidently with assurance and vigor that come forth to us through the person of our resurrected Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, in whom we anchor our faith and who gives us hope to resurrect from any state of disillusionment. So even during these challenging times we must reinvent ourselves as a versatile community of faith and hope to adapt to the constantly changing ecology of our contemporary lives, of learning, and our practices of faith. For a first, an online communion of breaking of bread and sharing of the cup was administered among the faculty fraternity and our families to mark the beginning of 2020-21 academic year. While physical presence and sharing from one loaf and one cup is highly symbolic, theological, and significant for Christians, nonetheless, our spirit of oneness in the Body of Christ did not diminish, albeit partaking the communion online. This same spirit of oneness must prevail if Christianity is to prevail no matter where we are or what circumstances befall us. To this end, seminary education must take the lead in

reinventing our Christian faith and practices in novel and innovative ways. And Oriental Theological Seminary (OTS) is committed to doing just this. While online platforms and technologically enabled theological education will continue post-Covid-19 pandemic at OTS, we long for the community to come together in person to learn and serve and worship together.

To recall moments of joy and sorrow that transpired during the past academic year, we are elated to announce that in July 2019, Dr. Kumti Aier was inducted as a faculty at OTS. A professionally trained clinical counselor with degrees from India, the Netherlands, and the Philippines, Dr. Aier brings with her many rich experiences of practical engagement and teaching in the area of clinical counseling. She has been recently appointed to a full-tenure track Assistant Professorship of Clinical Counseling.

In early June 2020, OTS lost one of its most promising faculty members, Ms. Kesolenuo Suokhrie. She was initially a student at OTS, a brilliant one at that. In fact, she was the first student at OTS to have graduated with the distinction Summa Cum Laude. Later she went on to pursue a Master of Theology degree from Whitley College under the Melbourne Divinity University in Australia. After engaging in teaching ministry at OTS for about five years as Assistant Professor of Old Testament Studies, she undertook a study leave last Fall to pursue a PhD in Old Testament at the University of Durham in England. Very untimely, she passed away in her prime and we will dearly and deeply miss her in the OTS community. OTS and the Naga

Christian community have lost an upcoming scholar and a Christian leader in the person of Kesolenuo.

The Class of 2020 still awaits their official and ceremonial graduation. While they have fulfilled all requirements and are technically graduates of OTS with degrees earned with great stride and endeavours, at this point in time we are still unable to host the Commencement for this Class. While an official ceremony is uncertain at this time, we continue to pray for them even as they begin to engage in various ministries or pursue further academic goals. We celebrate with them, bless them and wish them God’s favour in their diverse walks of life!

2020-21 Academic Year goes online! The faculty, staff and students are all now on online mode. For most, both students and teachers alike, this is the first time to venture into online modules of doing theological education, and ironically for many new students this is the beginning of seminary life. While this is unchartered waters for OTS and many other theological institutions, we cannot just wait to return to normalcy as it was before the Covid-19 pandemic. We venture, with God’s providence, to go fully online until a time when we can all get back to the campus for the quintessential theological education and seminary life.

© 2021, Oriental Theological Seminary