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Dr John M. Hitchen

1961-1962 / NZBTI Diploma, Bachelor of Divinity (MCD), Henderson Campus
1987-2021 / Christchurch Dean, National Principal, Lecturer in Mission, Senior Research Fellow

I was among the first student intake into BTI’s new Lincoln Road campus. We all worked hard preparing the grounds and buildings, and then serving, for the Opening Service in 1961.

Jean Jaggers, the Matron, had a serious car accident during the term 2, 1961 holidays which meant she was still recuperating in Australia when new Principal, Allan Burrow’s arrived during Term 3, 1961. He introduced sweeping and radical changes to household routines (all students were residential in those days) and realigned the new year’s teaching programme so students could opt to do Melbourne College of Divinity Licentiate of Theology (LTh) subjects alongside their BTI Diploma subjects. These new opportunities, and the caution about them of some faculty, meant the 1962 Prefects steered and explained many of the changes, both in daily routines and academically. This gave us direct and stimulating relations with Allan Burrow and household staff, but also meant we, as Prefects, had to delicately explain the changes to ‘Miss J’ when she returned at the end of Term 1, 1962. That was fun, excellent preparation for me for commencing a new college in Papua New Guinea, and an education in itself!

I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of College life and study, and owe a permanent debt to each of the faculty and staff of that time as we all adjusted to the new routines and opportunities that came with being in Henderson. I loved the varying ways in which each lecturer demonstrated their love for the Word of God written. I was greatly honoured at a conference some years later when another BTI graduate came up and said, “Your handling of Scripture today sounded just like Frank England”! With hindsight, the routines and daily programme (punctuated throughout the day with “pips” on the intercom to announce the next part of the required regimen) served us well. We had all grown up during WWII, and still linked military–style disciplines with serious devotional commitment. We were probably one of the last cohorts to do so, but I gained greatly from those enforced routines, probably because I accepted them and their avowed intent gladly, and owned them personally, although such disciplines were losing favour in the society at large.

In my first year alongside the BTI Diploma study, I had completed my BA by doing Philosophy at Auckland University College of the then University of New Zealand. (I borrowed a fellow-student’s VW to drive to lectures when my 50cc Moped wouldn’t work – which was quite regularly.) In my second year, with my primary degree complete, I qualified to commence MCD BD courses alongside BTI Diploma study. So, being the only student doing BD work, I attended the LTh option for as many subjects as overlapped with the MCD BD requirements and studied the remaining BD courses on my own. I completed the BTI Diploma and six units of the MCD BD in that second year (plus Prefectorial duties – a good load). My MCD results qualified me for two more years to complete the Honours BD. So that set my programme for 1963-64. I worked as a Youth Pastor at Rutland St Chapel and returned each of those two years for a further month at BTI in October-November to cram for the MCD exams, but that’s another story.

In 1965, my wife Ann and I went to PNG to help establish the Christian Leaders’ Training College, where I served as Dean, and later Principal (1976-1979). After completing my PhD in Scotland, we returned to Christchurch in 1984 and I worked for Rutland Street Chapel. It was during this time that we received medical advice not to return to PNG due to Ann’s health. I was appointed Dean of BCNZ’s Christchurch branch in 1987, and then Principal of BCNZ (1990-1998). [1]

My Principalship, is remembered for College earning recognition of the academic value of College courses through accreditation with the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. Early in the decade, with Judge Arnold Turner, College President, we made successful submissions to a Government Select Committee to remove from the Education Acts the ban on Government funding to non-State run educational institutions, thereby opening the way for Government funding becoming available to Bible and Theological Schools and Colleges and their students (and many other PTEs) from 1991.

When NZQA was established in 1990, BCNZ was well placed to grasp the opportunity provided for the first time for official acknowledgement of the value and standards of non-University tertiary-level awards. For several years BTI/BCNZ had taught for the awards of Melbourne College of Divinity (1962-1970s), and then the Australian College of Theology (1970s-1990s). In the late 1980s our BCNZ Dean of Studies, Edward Sands, had prepared the groundwork for revising the ACT BTh degree. With NZQA’s advent, Edward’s work, together with a mammoth cooperative and late-nights efforts from all staff, enabled BCNZ to rework that groundwork in line with the new NZQA requirements and present our programmes for early accreditation with NZQA. We included both a Bachelor of Theology with enhanced academic theological content, and a new Bachelor of Ministries Degree which included good academic requirements plus high standards of practical experience in a range of church service fields. Our BCNZ standards and submissions set the benchmark by which NZQA measured early applications from other Tertiary providers.

By 1998, BCNZ courses at all levels, Certificate, Diploma, Degree & Masters, were NZQA accredited. With NZQA requiring us to regularly evaluate and demonstrate the integrity, rigour, and consistency of our programmes with the claims made in our own publicity, we saw a steady improvement throughout this decade in the objectivity of our standards, the value and achievements of our various programmes, and a higher level of responsible accountability in our teaching. As long as we remembered that NZQA’s purpose was to serve their accredited Colleges, and that servants do not make good masters (Prov. 30:21-22), NZQA’s eye on us has been a healthy help to ensure that as a College we uphold well our own properly articulated quality standards.

The Ministry Internship Diploma particularly flourished at this time, requiring both academic course-work and hands-on practical church service. Together with Murray Robertson of Opawa Baptist Church, Hudson Deane, BCNZ’s Christchurch Regional Centre Director, pioneered this Internship programme in his final period before moving from Christchurch to establish the Palmerston North Regional Centre in 1987.

The Regional Centres expanded from Christchurch, Dunedin, Nelson and Palmerston North (in 1990) to include Hamilton, Hawke’s Bay, Invercargill and Wellington (amalgamating with Wellington Bible College) by 1998. But all those centres (and the Regional Boards which coordinated and supported their programmes), except Christchurch, would be closed down during Mark Strom’s Principalship.

Mission Studies had always been important in BTI/BCNZ’s curriculum. I helped establish Mission Studies as a Department of the College in its own right, appointing John Roxborogh as the first full-time missions lecturer in any NZ Tertiary institution, and preparing the way for the College’s School of Global Mission.

BCNZ continued to give leadership in cooperative ventures for both the ministry training sector and the evangelical constituency nation-wide. College convened a Children’s and Families national Conference with Scripture Union; the long-standing literature ministry of The Reaper developed into the monthly magazine, Reality; College personnel helped establish the NZ Educational Development Foundation, the think-tank and lobby group which expanded to become Maxim Institute at the turn of the century.

Building on initiatives of BCNZ’s ever-creative Publicity Officer, Tony Plews, I spearheaded the establishment of the Christian Theological and Ministries Education (CTME) Sector coordinating body, which brought together all the Colleges working in this sector, especially to ensure a cooperative voice to NZQA and to negotiate the terms on which our sector related to NZQA; stressing NZQA has the right to ensure academic credibility, standards, and integrity, but no right to determine curriculum content matters for CTME Schools & Colleges. BCNZ was accepted as a member of the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Theological Schools grouping also from 1990.

Through the decade we saw a steady increase in day students; part-time students and non-residential students, with development of necessary infrastructure for each aspect, including changes in pastoral support of students to meet the change from primarily residentially-based programmes; and broadening of curriculum to serve a full range of ministries and study modes: including Extension Studies available nation-wide; and the foundational work to gain NZQA accreditation for Counselling programmes (in Palmerston North first at Certificate level).

Significant developments in Faculty research, writing and Sabbatical provisions and expectations also took place.

I am deeply thankful to our Lord Jesus for the way my time at BTI in the 1960s and then again on BCNZ/Laidlaw Faculty from 1987 till coming to Australia in 2022, consolidated, strengthened and deepened a love for God the Father, Son and Spirit in and through the Scriptures, and prepared for and provided the foundations and principles on which to serve him ever since those early student days. College has taught me the importance of Christian ministry being rooted firmly in local church involvement, but always embracing believers of every denomination, ethnicity and socio-economic and educational background for the sake of our needy world. I love and appreciate all that serving with and through a biblically-based and committed institution has done to give significance, stability, and longevity to anything of value Ann and I have done, and for the challenge to serve our God better with each day he gives us. Thankyou sincerely BTI/BCNZ/Laidlaw.

[1]In 2019 John was appointed Principal Emeritus in honour of his lifetime of service.

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