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Continuing Education Isn’t Optional

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In the course of the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to attend by the SVS Symposium (topic: “Hellenism and Orthodoxy”) as well as the Acton Institute’s Acton University 2010. Both have given me significant opportunity to reflect on a number of the issues we’re facing, as Orthodox Christians, in 2010. Acton University in particular has provided a great deal of material for reflection and discussion in the coming days and weeks.

All of this raises a couple of important points. First, clergy should realize that continuing education is a primary means of self-care. That is, even absent parish funding, regular continuing education is something the parish clergyman (priest OR deacon) should commit to, and actually do, in order to forestall spiritual burnout and intellectual atrophy. Second, parishes have an obligation to provide continuing education, by budgeting and paying for the time away from the parish and the cost of the education itself.

Further, continuing education is a significant opportunity to overcome the limitations of seminary education. Seminaries don’t usually teach economics, basic financial principles, effective pastoral leadership, overcoming personal spiritual difficulties, parish administration, fundraising, stewardship, and a host of other topics. Having such an expectation would be unreasonable in most cases. Continuing education can fill in the gaps and provide needed refreshers and refreshment for those ministering to the faithful.

We also have to avoid the temptation to cut corners. Diocesan assemblies and deanery meetings don’t count as continuing education. Diocesan clergy assemblies (or pastoral conferences) earn only half-credit. Parishes shouldn’t reckon the time away as vacation because, ultimately, it’s the parish that benefits from the continuing education. In return for the parish support of the education, they receive clergy who are not only intellectually and spiritually stimulated but are also better able to address a multitude of challenges in parish life.

I’ll close with the simple recommendation that parish council members everywhere should inquire what the parish’s support for continuing education is and ask whether it’s sufficient. If it’s not, be generous. The returns will far exceed the investment.

Written by Fr Basil Biberdorf

June 18th, 2010 at 5:55 pm

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