Two nights at St Philip’s Theological College in Kongwa, en route from Kondoa Diocese to Mpwapwa. The College was founded over 100 years a go by CMS-linked missionaries – and indeed the guest house where goes back to those days. The setting is stunning, at the foot of dramatic hills 5 kms outside Kongwa, the District town.
St Philip’s is a resource for the whole Province of Tanzania, so not strictly part of either of our diocesan parternships. However, it is situated in Mpwapwa Diocese and the current Principal, Canon Agripa Ndatila, is from that diocese and continues to be the main contact for our partnership with Mpwapwa. Additionally, he has been accompanying me on the Mpwapwa part of my visit, acting as guide, companion and translator.
The new term has just begun, and most of the students have arrived, though not all of the staff – apparently it’s not unusual for there to be a bit of uncertainty as to who may return. There are around 50 students, though the capacity of the College is around 100. Whether or not St Philip’s has sufficient students to be viable (in terms both of curriculum and finance) is entirely dependent on whether bishops send their ordinands there – and not all do. For some, the distance to St Philip’s is just too great; for others, the diocese cannot or will not afford the fees. In a number of cases, bishops have decided to establish their own local bible schools which they see as offering sufficient training at a lower cost. St Philip’s teaches up to Diploma level; the annual fee for a student (including accommodation and food as well as tuition) is 1.5 million shillings – about £540.
Canon Agripa is very clear that what St Philip’s offers is not just academic. With considerable conviction, he speaks the language of spiritual and ministerial formation. A common life of worship and prayer is part of the College’s daily pattern, and students are placed in local churches on Sundays. In many ways, something of the traditional pattern of a UK residential theological college persists, and that has some strong benefits. But it is all very fragile. While the current number of students is higher than at some points in recent years, more are needed if a broad curriculum is to be maintained with suitably qualified teachers. Money is needed to reconnect to the internet – not easy as there are no phone lines – so as to give students access to more learning resources. The bishops need to be encouraged to believe that it is worth sending students. Janet, the volunteer Administrator from UK, will need to be replaced next year and there is no money to pay anybody for this role – an opening there for somebody.
Canon Agripa is keen to make the college more self-sufficient. 150 fruit trees have been planted around the campus, and vegetables are being grown in most available places. Pigs and cattle are being reared, and 200 chickens are producing eggs for students, staff and visitors. On the academic side, he wants to explore other models of theological and ministerial education alongside the traditional full-time residential pattern. Getting an affordable internet connection back would open up many possibilities – otherwise students are limited to the resources in the college library.
St Philip’s is in a wonderful setting; it has an honourable past, and now seeks to shape its life to serve the mission of the church in Tanzania for the years that come. I mentioned the need for a new Administrator from next year. Those able to come for a few months or longer to teach are also always very welcome. As for us in the UK, the development of leaders is vital for the fruitfulness of the church’s work – and St Philip’s has its part to play in that.