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Seminary Dean sought for Ethiopia, where church growth outpaces number of clergy

Posted on: October 20, 2017 11:20 AM
Anglican worship at Gambella, Ethiopia, in a scene taken from a video interview with Johann Vanderbijl, the out-going Dean of St Frumentius’ Anglican Theological College
Photo Credit: Johann Vanderbijl / YouTube

A new Dean is being sought for the St Frumentius’ Anglican Theological College in Gambella, Ethiopia, to train clergy for the growing number of Anglican churches in the country. The growth of the church in Ethiopia has been driven by the arrival of refugees from Sudan and South Sudan. Many of them are Anglicans who have started churches in their new homeland, but without priests to lead them. St Frumentius was established by the Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa to train local priests for the new congregations.

Missionary couple Johann and Louise Vanderbijl helped to establish St Frumentius two years ago, with Johann serving as Dean. The vacancy for a new Dean has arisen because they are starting new roles in the Anglican province of Southern Africa.

“The story of the college starts a number of years ago when the war broke out in Sudan,” Johann Vanderbijl said in a video interview recorded in April last year (see below). “Historically, the Anglican Church has only had one church in Ethiopia, and that has been in Addis Ababa – St Matthews – but when the war broke out many of the Sudanese, who were Anglican, fled across the border to Ethiopia as refugees and they started churches in their refugee camps.

“There were about five churches to begin with and they contacted the Archbishop in Egypt . . . and they said: ‘see here – we’re here, you’re the bishop. You need to come and see us.’ So he came down and the rest is history.

“This Church has grown. It is now numbering just under 100 churches in a few years. The problem with that is we only have 15 pastors, none of whom has been trained theologically. So the problem that the Bishop of the Horn of Africa . . . was facing was that none of his clergy was trained. He had all these churches without clergy, so he realised that he needed to start a college here in the Gambella region of Ethiopia.”

That bishop was Grant LeMarquand, who served the new Anglican community in Ethiopia with his wife Wendy, a medical doctor. In August, Bishop Grant announced that he and Wendy have been forced to relinquish their post from the end of this month because of health problems. In a recent blog post, he commented that life was “never dull” in Ethiopia.

“Every morning we have worship on the Gambella Anglican Centre compound,” he wrote. “On Friday mornings, at least when St Frumentius’ Anglican Theological College is in session, we have a service of Holy Communion. Our small teaching staff, our 23 students, and our staff of about 15 all attend.

“It is usually a fairly quiet dignified affair (depending on who is leading the singing it may be less quiet and less dignified). But this is Africa; anything can happen. I have been in many Eucharistic celebrations in Africa in which a dog or a goat would take up residence beneath the holy table. Less often but equally interesting have been eucharists with live chickens in the offering, once a small snake quietly killed, once a bat clinging to the “fine linen”, and the usual contingents of hyperactive flies and marching ants. Africa is alive – sometimes frighteningly so.”

He went on to describe how a swarm of bees began to emerge from one of the loudspeakers of the church. During the offertory hymn, bug spray was applied and the communion table moved to the middle of the congregation. “No one panicked. No one screamed. And, of course, the singing kept going until we were set up,” he wrote. “And so we proceeded with the prayer of consecration, the sanctuary area behind me literally carpeted with dead and dying bugs.

“I opened the announcement time after the service by saying ‘this is Africa’. Everyone laughed. Staff went to work. Students went to class. I just shook my head and wondered if Jesus (or Francis of Assisi) would have handled this situation differently.”

The recruitment of a new Dean is being handled by the Anglican mission agency CMS. “The candidate is required to be qualified, highly motivated and competent with relevant experience,” they say on their website. “The dean would supervise instructors to ensure the classroom, chapel and field education assignments are carried out in a way that will help student to become strong ordained and lay leaders of the church in the church region. The dean would also teach classes and help to raise funds for the College.

“St Frumentius’ College has approximately 20 full time and 15 part time students. The college anticipates an incoming class in August 2017 of about 10 new students. They have three full time instructors and one part time. There is a growing library with approximately 4,000 books, three classrooms and a chapel. . . The believers in the region lack basic biblical teaching and the clergy are few. The college is crucial to the future health of the church in this region.”

Details about the vacancy are available on the CMS-UK website. Interested candidates, who must possess a Master’s degree in theology to comply with Ethiopian government regulations, are invited to email CMS for further information.

Watch the outgoing Dean of St Frumentius’ Anglican Theological College, Johann Vanderbijl, describe life in Gambella in a video interview published in April last year: