Right from the very beginning it was the intention of the Anglican mission in Sarawak to raise up a native ministry. The plan was to have native catechists and teachers manning the various mission stations in different parts of the country. Out of these it was the hope to find men to be trained for the ordained ministry later to serve their own people under the leadership of the expatriate missionaries. It was also hoped, too, that through the mission schools materials for catechists, teachers and finally priests would be found and forthcoming.
It took 144 years of mission work in Sarawak before the complete indigenization of the personnel of the Church was achieved. The last area of mission work to be handed to the locals is theological training. In 1992 David Edwards handed over the wardenship of the House of the Epiphany to Aeries Sumping Jingan. With the departure of the Edwards to England in 1992, the era of expatriate missionaries active involvement in Anglican work in Sarawak came to an end.
Training of Catechists
The pioneer batch of catechists were a dedicated and faithful lot. But by the 1900 the Mission found it increasingly difficult to recruit people to serve full time as catechists because they often could get a better paid jobs with the government or in the Borneo Company. To ensure durability catechist were sent to live and work among their own people.
The first attempt to train catechists was in Kuching where the earliest students in the mission school were expected to offer themselves as catechists and priests. In 1862 four of those students were sent out as catechists to Lundu, Kuap, Lingga and Kuching. In 1863 five others were sent out and one of them was Thomas Dayak Webster who served at Meredang. A few others also came out of the Kuching school in later years but vocation seemed to be on the decline.
Mission centres at Banting, Sabu, Batong and Saratok also trained their own catechists. The first catechists to be trained in Sarawak, Buda and Belabut, came from Banting and were trained by Chambers. Many other catechists were to graduate from Banting over the years. Banting also served as a refresher centre for serving catechists in the late 1880s.
In Sabu Howell working through his ‘jungle school’ provided holistic education to students, some of whom were later recruited for mission work. In 1926 Linton working through the mission school at Betong also provided training for potential catechists. Linton even succeeded to stir up vocations to the scared ministry.
In the post-war period, it was Peter Howes who was mostly responsible for the training of catechists. He made use of either the House of the Epiphany or the Diocesan Centre. Students at the House of Epiphany who completed less than the required four years were also licensed as catechists. Some later made it to ordination.
Training of Priests
The beginning of training for the ordained ministry in the Diocese may be traced back to the year 1925 when Wilfred Linton opened the first “theological school” called the School of the Holy Spirit in Betong. Four persons offered themselves but only two, Lawrence Angking and Matius Senang, made it to ordination. Senang was ordained to the priesthood together with Thomas Buda in 1926 while Angking was ordained to the priesthood in 1932.
The second attempt at opening a theological school began with the arrival of the Mirfield Fathers (from the Community of the Resurrection) in 1933. The Ordination Test School was opened on 21 September, 1934 in Kuching with six students: Hope Hugh, Lee Khi Chong, Lim Yong Chua, Martin Nanang, Ng Thau Sin and Tawi Sli. Chung Ah Jun, the son of Chung Ah Luk, joined later but was asked to leave on the ground that he had blackened his teeth, a common practice in those days! Tawi Sli and Lee Khi Chong also left. The rest were ordained deacons on 26 July 1937 and priests on 23 May 1937. The withdrawal of the last Mirfield Father in 1937 marked the closure of this second theological school.
The third attempt and more successful this time began in 1952 when Peter Howes was recalled to Kuching from Taee and was tasked with opening a theological college. Howes began with ten students and for the first few months the ‘college’ met at the Bishop’s House. The college building was completed and dedicated on the Feast of the Epiphany, 6 January, 1953. Thus the name “The House of the Epiphany’. Only 5 students finally made it to ordination: Edmund Paleng, James Gunyau, Peter Radin, Arnold Puntang, Ambrose Dunggat and Alfred Chabu. Meanwhile, the Diocese also sent two students overseas for their theological training – Michael Lim to England and Michael Chin to Australia. They came back in time to join the 5 ordinands from the House of the Epiphany for ordination to the diaconate on 12 June 1955. They were all ordained to the priesthood in 1956. After this the college closed temporarily until 1971.
The House re-opened with 6 students under Alex Reid in 1971. All the six, Matthew Ubun, Bolly Lapok, Solomon Cheong, Paul Van, Jamal Senada and Simon Rajit, completed their studies in 1974. They were doing the Australian College of Theology’s Diploma in Theology. In 1975 another batch of 10 schools leavers was accepted for training but by the middle of 1976 only four were left – Chimbie Bunsi, Gregory Chambers, Lipson Timbang and James Juhari. A decision was made to close the College and so the four were sent to the Philippines to continue their studies at St. Andrew’s Seminary, Manila.
In 1987 the House reopened again with 8 students under Anthony Perry. It was also decided that the students do the ACT’s Dilpoma in Ministry. In 1980 Perry left and John Edge became the new Warden. Only 5 of the 8 made it to ordination, graduating the ACT’s Diplomas in 1981. James Juhari joined from Manila Michael Buma, John Yapp, Nelson Ugas, Aeries Sumping Jingan and Bakewell Bagul were ordained to the diaconate in December 1981 and the priesthood the following year. During this period the House was enlarged as a new group of intakes came in 1980. Later it was decided to switch to the ACT’s Diploma in Missiology.
Since the re-opening in 1987 the College had been kept running. These followed an upsurge of interest in the Sacred Ministry that saw the College being full to the brim in the late 1980s. In the period 1987-1990 thirty-eight students graduated from the House. After this the number of intakes had to be reduced to meet the financial capacity of the Diocese.
Fred Cooke took over from John Edge in 1987 and when the Cookes left in May 1990, David A. Edwards took over. During Edward’s time it was decided that a local ordination course be offered to the students at the House and thus beginning in 1990 the Bishop’s Certificate of Ministry came to be done instead of the Australian diplomas. In March 1992 the Edwards left and Aeries Sumping Jingan took over.
The final link with ACT was finally severed in 1993. The College is now looking for an eventual accreditation with ATESEA (Association of Theological Education in SE Asia). Meanwhile arrangements have been made with Trinity Theological College in Singapore and the Seminari Theoloji Sabah to allow our students and graduates to further their studies at graduate and post-graduate levels.
Refresher courses had also been conducted for catechist and senior priests of a semester duration in the House. A short ordination preparatory course had also been offered for potential catechists for upgrading to the priesthood.