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Reclaiming the story of Ewart College 100 years after its founding.

One hundred years ago, on October 11, 1897, the Ewart Missionary Training Home was officially established to prepare women to serve in foreign and domestic missions and in many other areas of Christian work. The founding of Ewart grew out of Presbyterian women recognizing the Spirit's call to action within Canadian society and in the world. Throughout its history, the prophetic vision that brought Ewart into being continued to provide the theological framework by which the institution defined and understood itself. Ewart's existence was based on the reality that women are called to serve within and on behalf of The Presbyterian Church in Canada and that the limited understanding of the Ministry of Word and Sacraments defined only one form of ministry and only one aspect of the church's work in the world.

Ewart's openness to recognize and name the Spirit's call from the midst of the society and culture in which it existed was transformative for the PCC. The school began during the great missionary fervour at the turn of the century to prepare women for overseas and domestic missions. By 1929, Ewart was training women in many areas of service -- as foreign and domestic missionaries, deaconesses, pastoral assistants, directors of religious education, Bible teachers and volunteer church workers.

Ewart held a central place within the PCC in the discernment of lay ministry and the provision of lay education. Because of the limited educational opportunities available for women in Canadian society in the 1930s, Ewart developed a one-year course for female volunteer church workers. By the 1960s, Ewart's primary focus became Christian education. As well, Ewart continued to provide theological education for those who hoped to serve in specialized professions including medicine, nursing, education, therapy, social work and chaplaincy. Ewart's changing and enlarging focus manifested the prophetic wisdom of the church to be "Reformed and reforming."

With the decision in 1966 to ordain women to the ruling eldership and the Ministry of Word and Sacraments, some questioned whether Ewart had fulfilled its purpose. However, central to Ewart's existence from its inception had been the recognition that people were called to serve in a multiplicity of ministries not limited to the Ministry of Word and Sacraments. With the ordination of women, Ewart identified itself with the ministry of Christian education. It has been argued that the "professionalization" of ministry, which dominated at Ewart (and in all the PCC educational institutions) in the 1960s and beyond, marked the demise of Ewart as an entity unto itself. This may or may not be true. The facts remain, however, that Ewart, in its final decades, was in the forefront of Christian education ecumenically, continued to be a safe place for women and was the central institution in the PCC wherein reflection on women's ministries occurred.

The extent to which the PCC devalues and patronizes the diaconal ministry, particularly the ministry of Christian education (the most central element to deep and meaningful faith) amazes me. I surmise that the voicelessness within the church courts imposed upon the diaconal order until 1991 was primarily a gender issue. Because the majority of diaconal ministers were women, the church tolerated their silence. This was, at best, a sin of omission for which, I believe, the church must seek forgiveness.

History suggests that, over the past 30 years since the ordination of women, all the professional ministries for which Ewart trained women are now part of the Ministry of Word and Sacraments. One of the untold and uncelebrated stories is that Ewart first discerned these ministries and acted to prepare (primarily) women in these fields. The leadership of Ewart broadened and opened up our understanding of professional ministry in the Presbyterian Church. I believe many within the church patronized the prophetic vision of Ewart College which set out against all odds to fulfil a call to serve Christ. For almost 100 years, Ewart existed in this capacity, with or without the church's recognition.

In 1991, when the General Assembly voted to amalgamate Ewart and Knox colleges, the adopted motion read: "That the amalgamated college be known as Knox College." Ewart's gift passed unacknowledged, the name erased. The forgetting of the story had begun.

The story of Ewart needs to be named, celebrated and remembered both in its own right and for the transformative challenges it offers now. It is a story of the prophetic vision of women of the church. It is a story of women's lay and professional ministry within the PCC. It is a story which has shaped Christian education and educational methodology as we now know it. It is a story that witnesses to the Spirit's liveliness here in Canada. It is a story which includes many voices and experiences. It is a story of women who, at times against all odds, dared to heed the Spirit's call.
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Author:McCarroll-Butler, Pam
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Date:Oct 1, 1997
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