I have a reasonably good idea of what there is in Europe with regard to Adventist theological education. A few weeks ago I attended a conference of Adventist theology teachers, who work in the various European educational institutions. About eighty people—mostly with a Ph.D. in some theological discipline—participated. The meeting was at Newbold College in the UK, where, in addition to a sizable group of bachelor students, some 70-80 young men and women work on their masters degree in theology. This past week I was a few days in Collonges, in France but just across the Swiss border near Geneva, where an institution of about the same size is located. A German-language Adventist university, not far from Magdeburg, where I also visit on a regular basis, has about the same number of theology students. In addition, there are, spread over Europe, about a dozen other smaller institutions with an average of 10-20 theology students.
Admittedly, the institutions of the Adventist Church in Europe that cater for its theological education have plenty of problems. The finances, in particular, remain a matter of grave concern. However, the overall picture is quite impressive, especially with a view to the fact that the total number of Adventist church members in Europe is less than half a million!
Wile, during the past week, I was a few days in France, my wife noticed that one of the regional Dutch television stations was to broadcast a documentary about the training of priests in the archdiocese of Utrecht. She recorded the program, which was entitled: ‘And yet, I want to become a priest’, thinking (correctly) that this would interest me. The documentary told the story of the Ariens Institute, the official theological education of the Utrecht archdiocese.
The archdiocese of Utrecht is the largest of the seven dioceses in the Netherlands. It covers, apart from the Utrecht provinces, also the provinces of Overijssel, Gelderland and Flevoland. The total number of Catholic church members in this organization is about 700.000. In other words: more than the total number of Adventists in all of Europe.
This Dutch archdiocese needs a constant replenishment with new priests. The documentary took the viewer to the Ariensconvikt—the stately building in the center of Urecht, where the theology students of the archdiocese live and follow part of their studies. They also have lectures elsewhere, as e.g. at the Utrecht branch of the Tilburg Catholic University. To my amazement (and, in fact, also to my dismay), the total number of theology students currently enrolled is thirteen—of which five have come from Colombia. They have come to the Netherlands, with the intention of serving the Dutch church, knowing that there is a serious shortage of priests.
It may be that some of my fellow-Adventists feel good when viewing such a documentary which does not precisely present a living, vital Catholic church community. I do not share such sentiments. I found the dedication of the men who were interviewed quite impressive. Here were some young men, who were very much part of this world, but who testified of their calling and their ideals. But, yes, I wondered with sadness: How is it possible that a christian church is going down so quickly? How much future is there for a church if it no longer succeeds in recruiting people to serve within its structure?
In the traditional Adventist scenario of the future Catholicism is attributed a rather sinister role. From a European—and certainly from a Dutch—Adventist perspective that view is no longer very convincing!
However, in the meantime: let us be grateful that European Adventism—in spite of all its problems and current controversies—is in much better shape. But rather than leaning back with satisfaction, let us concentrate on our task of communicating the gospel to people in a society that moves further and further away from church and faith.