Centre for Rural Community Leadership and Ministry
CiRCLe M is an interdenominational organization, working in partnership with the Saskatoon Theological Union (STU). The STU is an association of three theological education colleges on the University of Saskatchewan campus, formed to facilitate a cooperative and ecumenical approach to the task of theological education. The three STU colleges are: College of Emmanuel and St. Chad (Angilcan Church of Canada), St. Andrew's College (United Church of Canada), and Lutheran Theological Seminary Saskatoon (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada).
As our name suggests, CiRCLe M's central purpose is rural ministry leadership development. We strive to equip clergy and lay leaders in rural and remote places to help their churches be catalysts for the development of healthy Canadian communities. So whatever faith group you belong to, we're here to help you get the training, resources and support you need to do that better. If you are new to rural ministry, or want to do some deeper reflection on your ministry experience, you might be interested in the DMin program in Rural Ministry and Community Development (DMin=Doctor of Ministry Degree). This program is offered by the seminaries of the Saskatoon Theological Union and supported by CiRCLe M.
What's the need? What is the passion behind this Centre?
Rural communities in Canada are under stress. In boom periods, housing and basic services are stretched to the breaking point. In bust periods, depopulation leads to a steady erosion of the health care, education and social institutions required if communities are to be viable for current residents and attractive to newcomers. In aboriginal communities on rural reserves, health and housing problems have been at critical levels for some time. Children and families are suffering the strains. Farms and businesses are struggling. In many ways much of rural Canada is "un-developing." It has lost many of the institutions and infrastructure that our ancestors gave their lives to build.
The well-being of rural communities is important not only for their own sake, but for all of Canada. It is primarily in and through rural communities that we touch the earth. Rural communities live intimately with nature and they know their survival depends on that relationship. In an increasingly urbanized world, and in the face of a looming ecological crisis, it is in everyone's interest that our rural communities not only survive but flourish.
Approaches to dealing with rural issues have tended to be emergent, short-term and "sector-based" blanket solutions. However, research by the Canadian Policy Research Network and others indicates that communities tend not to adopt solutions if they aren’t their own—i.e. they must be "place-based." The research therefore indicates the crucial importance of developing effective local leadership and stronger local social networks.
Rural churches are a potent resource for leadership and network development that is already resident in small communities. They offer buildings, committed and enthusiastic volunteers, local, national and international connections, leadership training, fund-raising structures and a focus on building hope, quality of life and human capacity. But their community-building capacity has been under-explored and under-used.
And rural clergy are generally not trained with the needs of rural contexts specifically in mind. This is so in spite of the fact that a high percentage of our Saskatoon Theological Union (STU) students —up to 90%— are going into small rural congregations after graduation. To a great extent neither they, nor rural lay leadership, are well equipped to handle the demands of rural ministry.
Our grads report that they love many things about rural ministry: the sense of deep support from and intimate knowledge of their people, the way that everyone has a chance to share their gifts, the integration of church and community life. They sense God's presence in the people in a real way.
But our grads often feel ill prepared for their work in rural parishes. Beside the usual ministerial tasks of worship-leading, teaching, and pastoral care, they are also called on to be social and health care workers, community leaders, therapists, conflict mediators, crisis interveners and much more. Their congregations often struggle with declining membership and are in a survival mode that keeps them from recognizing and sharing the resources they have. These leaders are asking for better tools to do this work.
For more than a decade there has been talk in the Saskatoon Theological Union about the need for a Centre that would gather and focus resources for training more effective rural church leadership. With the encouragement of the Lutheran Theological Seminary (LTS) Board, Rev. Dr. Cam Harder, during his 2003-2004 sabbatical, researched institutions in Canada, the United States, Great Britain and India that train people for rural development and ministry. Dr. Harder looked at "what works" in their teaching strategies, governance, relations to rural communities, seminaries and universities, and in their funding.
These findings and a proposal for a Centre for Rural Community Leadership and Ministry ("CiRCLe M") were presented to the STU faculties and boards in the fall/winter of 2006/2007. All affirmed the value of pursuing the development of such a Centre. Subsequently a consultation was held in August 2007 with rural church leaders, scholars, community developers, aboriginal leaders and others from Western and Central Canada and the north. Seven denominations were represented:Anglican, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, United, Presbyterian, Pentecostal and Mennonite. Out of the consultation, priorities for the Centre's work were developed and a board was formed. We have obtained not-for-profit incorporation status and charitable status.The board has been meeting on a regular basis since November 2007.