Project Canterbury

Forward in Western China

By Deaconess Emily Lily Stewart
C.M.S. Missionary in Szechwan

Foreword by the Archbishop of Sydney

London: Church Missionary Society, 1934.

Chapter IX. The Training of Leaders

The training of leaders is always one of the most important questions that the Church has to face. The diocese of Szechwan has for many years had its own men's training college at Paoning, under the direction of the bishop, to which the C.M.S. has contributed a teacher, and at which students from both the C.M.S. and C.I.M. districts have studied. Much valuable work has been done at this college and a deep devotional spirit has been fostered. In the past the system of training was for a student to spend two years in the college and then to take up work in a district under the guidance of an ordained man, returning to the college if possible after a certain period for further training. When he had graduated the student returned to parochial work, and after a time of satisfactory service, if he so desired, his name was recommended by the church vestry for ordination. Besides ordained ministers the Church has employed a number of laymen as evangelists, who though unable, owing to insufficient education or other disadvantages, to take the full ordination course, are nevertheless living noble and self-sacrificing lives. All these men have from time to time attended short theological courses arranged by the bishop of the diocese.

But it is felt by the Church all over China that the pressing needs of the day call for a new type of training to enable workers to deal with them. While most of our churches are in the cities or the busy market villages, a large proportion of the Christians live on farms in the country. Thus if a clergyman is to be an effective minister, he must be able to adapt himself to both city people and simple country folk. Generally speaking, one of the disadvantages of the Chinese scholar is his inability so to adapt himself. Indeed it has often been remarked that the foreign missionary, despite his language limitations and his totally different background, gets on a level with the common people much more quickly.

The Chinese Church has long felt the desirability of bridging this gap, and constructive plans have been under consideration for years. The suggestion that an agricultural course be included in the curriculum of a theological college has been scouted in the past on the ground that ministers were primarily spiritual and not social workers. But the idea has persisted. Men who are to take up work in rural areas would be helped by such a course to understand better the difficulties of their people and to enter more completely into their lives. Moreover, Christian regeneration is a regeneration of the whole man, body, soul, and spirit, and soon breeds a divine discontent with things as they are. Technical knowledge of agricultural subjects should enable the minister to be of real service to his people in improving the whole of their lives. Some of the conditions that prevail in farming areas, such as insanitary fertilization, lack of any system of drainage, are the cause of much disease and other social misery. When the farmer's son returns from college and begins to talk of scientific methods it is often a case of the prophet in his own country. His father does not want any of these new-fangled notions. But if the clergyman, who is looked up to as the teacher and adviser of the whole family, suggests improvements and shows ability to help carry them out, this will be another matter.

As a result of much study and consultation on the subject, the first step is being taken by the Central Theological School at Nanking, to which students go in increasing numbers from many parts of China. The arrangement is that students taking a four years' course at that School shall, if they desire to qualify specially for rural work, spend their third year at the Nanking University Rural Leaders' Training School. Here they will be able to attend classes in agriculture, and spend a great deal of time on the university farm. The School has its own rural training centre near Nanking, and when the student has entered on his fourth year he will make frequent visits to this training centre. This combined theological and agricultural training ought to fit men admirably to become effective ministers for rural districts. In spite of the three weeks' travelling involved, some students from this diocese are already taking advantage of the course. The ideal is that every church should have two clergymen, one for city work and one for the district. But this will not be possible for many years, and in the meantime the provision thus made by the central college should supply a long-felt need.

The training of women workers has presented a more difficult problem, and valuable work has been done in this respect by women missionaries such as Miss Gertrude Wells. In the past, practically the only women who were free to take up church work were elderly widows, and many of those who entered the Training School in Mienchow had had very little previous education. They were taken through the lower primary curriculum with extra Bible studies if possible, and stayed another two years for further Bible training and practical work in the city and district. Those who could not take the full course, but who showed capacity for good and faithful work, were sent out as Bible women, and it is amazing what valuable service has been rendered by some of these devoted workers, in spite of their many limitations.

When a student has completed the whole course at the school and has done satisfactory work for some time in a parish, she is recommended by the church vestry for the bishop's licence, and this gives her the standing of an authorized woman worker. Provision is made for her to continue her reading by means of home study courses arranged for her each year, with an annual examination. Workers' retreats and short refresher courses are also held from time to time.

We are well aware that other dioceses are ahead of us in the matter of women's work, and we are only too conscious of the need for younger and better educated workers. The widespread education of women is providing a field of work which is almost untouched in most parishes, owing to the average woman worker's inability to meet the young students on their own ground. The task of inspiring young Christian women of higher education with the prospect of church work as a vocation is one of the greatest problems at present before the Church. It is intensified by the fact that Chinese women still marry quite young, though not so young as formerly. Within the next few years we shall probably be able to raise the standard of education required at least to secondary grade, and to give a higher grade of theological training. Later on we hope that university women will hear the call to make this their life work. Two young women are at present studying at the Union University with this aim in view, and one Chinese deaconess, the first in the diocese, has recently been ordained.

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