By Mark Michael

Montreal Diocesan Theological College, one of the Anglican Church of Canada’s 12 official seminaries, announced January 22 that it is entering into a strategic alliance with the United Theological College, a seminary of the pan-Protestant United Church of Canada. Over the next 18 months, the two colleges will work toward forming a combined college, based on the campus of the Anglican institution in downtown Montreal.

“Our two colleges share a vision that is rooted in preparing people for leadership roles in the church and world,” said the Rev. Canon Jesse Zink, the principal of the Anglican college, commonly known as “Dio.” Zink, an Episcopal priest who will serve as leader of the combined institution, added, “I am looking forward to building on the strengths of our institutions to serve the whole church in its witness to the world.”

Patricia Evans, chair of the United Theological College board, noted that the college had “prayerfully considered options for a sustainable future” over the last two years. “In Dio, we have found a partner who shares our core values and is excited by our vision for theological education with a French-language component. We are confident we can work effectively together to serve our churches and the wider community,” she said.

During the winter semester, United Theological College will finalize the sale of its campus on an adjacent block, and wind down its independent operations. Beginning in September 2021, the college’s students and faculty will form a United Church Studies program within Dio. The partnership is similar to combined Anglican-United Church seminaries in other parts of Canada, especially the Centre for Christian Studies in Winnipeg and the Vancouver School of Theology.

The United Theological College describes itself as “a progressive and radically inclusive college of the United Church of Canada.” It is one of eight seminaries of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, which was formed in 1925 as a merger of the country’s Methodist, Congregationalist and Presbyterian churches. The seminary has only three full faculty members and, as the United Church of Canada’s only bilingual seminary, specializes in training ministers to work in Quebec’s Francophone congregations.

Dio has faced similar financial challenges in recent decades, as the Anglican Church of Canada has declined significantly in Quebec, one of North America’s least religious regions (TLC’s Matt Townsend produced an extensive profile of the Diocese of Quebec in 2018). Dio sold its extensive Neo Gothic campus to McGill University in 2008, when enrollment was down to 35 students. It rents the campus’ north wing and chapel from McGill, space it will now share with the United Theological College.

The two colleges, together with The Presbyterian College, have worked closely for more than a century as part of a consortium called the Montreal School of Theology, which is affiliated with nearby McGill University. “At The Presbyterian College, we welcome this collaboration of our Anglican and United Church partners,” said the Rev. Dr. Roland De Vries, principal. “Our work at PC can only be strengthened when our partners are in as strong a position as possible.”

The new alliance also looks back to a close partnership from several decades ago. From 1966-1975, as the Anglican Church of Canada and the United Church of Canada were engaged in talks aimed at a denominational merger, United Theological Seminary was based on Dio’s campus, and students from the two schools lived together. When the Anglican Church of Canada’s House of Bishops rejected the proposed Plan of Unity that would have joined the two denominations, UTC withdrew to their current buildings down the street.

“God is constantly calling us in new directions,” said the Rt. Rev. Mary Irwin-Gibson, Bishop of Montreal and chair of Dio’s Board of Governors. “I welcome this deeper partnership as an indication of the way God is calling us to share the gospel in new ways in a changing world. I believe Dio has much to offer UTC students and know that Anglican students will benefit from what UTC has to offer, including its French-language programming.”