Nestled in the scenic parish of St John is the island’s centuries-old Anglican theological college, the first tertiary level education institution to be opened in the English-speaking Caribbean.
Codrington College opened its doors in 1745 initially as a school of science, medicine and divinity. It has since been responsible for shaping the minds of countless members of the clergy who have served and continue to do so throughout the region.
The college, once affiliated with the University of Durham, also offered courses in the Classics before the establishment of the University of the West Indies. Many early Barbadian scholars would also have attended classes there.
Today, Codrington College, established under the will of Sir Christopher Codrington, a former British colonial governor of the Leeward Islands, is an affiliate of the University of the West Indies with its primary focus on training clergy mainly for the Anglican Church.
“We have, from time to time, been able to train ministers from other denominations including the AME [African Methodist Episcopal] and the Methodists as well. Some Pentecostals have come to the college to take their first degree in theology, so in a sense in recent times we’ve become more ecumenical in our nature,” Principal, Rev. Dr Michael Clarke told Barbados TODAY.
The student population comprises nationals from Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica and Trinidad and Tobago. There are currently 18 residential and five non-residential seminarians enrolled.
Rev Clarke, himself a former student, said while the focus is now on theology, the emphasis has shifted from religion to spirituality.
“We’re finding, in certain other parts of the world, there is a growing interest in spirituality and persons are beginning to even say they are spiritual but not religious, which just speaks to the fact that they are recognizing that there is some dimension of themselves that they seem to be lacking.
“Codrington College has always been focusing on that particular area. And right now therefore we stand in a good place to be able to reintroduce to the wider community the whole idea of spirituality and spiritual formation and development,” he said.
Reflecting on his student days more than 30 years ago, Rev Clarke said it was “an exciting time for the students” back then, as they were examining exactly what it meant to be clergy in the Caribbean at that time.
“We spent a lot of our time exploring how we re-vision the church, being young and not fully aware of what that meant.
“Thirty years down the road, you realize this is an ongoing work, it’s not an overnight work . . . Now that I am principal, I’m finding myself having to look at that bigger picture and recognize that in some way or another, it is important for us at this time to be able to assist our students not only in developing the theological methodology and understanding theology and scripture, etc., but also understanding society, understanding the culture in which we find ourselves and how do we bring the gospel alive in this time,” he stated.
Resident Chaplain, Dr Kirkley Sands, has also been looking back at some of the changes at the institution since his days as a student there.
One major difference, he said, is the number of women who have been ordained to the priesthood in the last two decades. According to him, the ordination of women began around 1994, and female seminarians would have been admitted “three to four years prior to that”.
“This is quite an experience for me at this time because all of the other institutions at which I studied, we had male and female, but it wasn’t a seminary-type environment. And it’s a welcome change if I may say so,” Rev. Sands said, noting that he anticipated that more women would follow in their footsteps.
The Bahamian native, however, is concerned about the lack of interest among young people across the Caribbean in joining the priesthood. “Of the eight dioceses in this province, we have presently seminarians from the Dioceses of Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, The Bahamas, Belize . . . and the vast majority of them are from the Diocese of the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
“There is a sense in which we understand why not. [With] the changing times, there would be other opportunities and in this predominantly secular age in which we find ourselves, it’s not that God isn’t calling the younger members of the region to test their vocation, but I suspect they are concerned about having obtained a good education, to see how best they could translate that into dollars and cents.”
Dr Sands said Codrington College has created agencies such as fellowship of vocations, under which Bishops encourage their parish priests to look at the youth in their communities “with a view to identifying those who exhibit signs of possible vocations, to follow up on those and encourage them to join the fellowship of vocations”.
He noted that some of the youth could be as young as students preparing for the 11-plus exams, as well as high school students.
While the majority of today’s youth may not consider the priesthood as a viable career option, back in 1962, one teenager did not need much convincing to join the institution, albeit as an employee.
The current custodian, Richard Llewelyn Arthur, started working the grounds at just 14 years old. “My aunt was the cook at the time and the Mirfield Fathers who ran the college asked me to come and work,” he said.
‘Uncle Lew’, as he is affectionately known by staff and students, became a full time staff member in 1963 and has spent all of his adult working life at what can be considered his second home.
For Rev Clarke, Codrington College is more than just a home, but also “a very vital institution for the region”.
“As persons begin to explore this area of their lives [spirituality], having in a sense left behind Christendom . . . and the individual now is in a place where he or she is making a decision about ‘what is life about for me?’.
“As persons are exploring this, we believe that the college is well poised to assist persons in discerning this aspect of their lives and helping them to develop it,” Rev Clarke said.