Our senior assistant priest, the Revd Dr Claire Nye Hunter, graduated with a PhD in Theology from the South African Theological Seminary (SATS) in Johannesburg on 23 April 2016.
Claire began her tertiary education at UCT, where she graduated with a first-class honours degree in social work in 1982, before working for the Student's Christian Association in the Eastern Cape, for a period of two years. She was invited to join the pastoral staff of Christ Church, Kenilworth (Cape Town) in 1985, during which time she completed her honours degree in biblical studies in 1986. Having felt a strong calling to the ordained ministry at a time when women's ordination was not yet recognised by the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, she went to the USA to pursue her studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, where she obtained an MA (Theology) in 1991. At her graduation, she received the coveted David Allan Hubbard Award "in recognition of accomplishments clearly reflecting academic, spiritual, and professional excellence".
On returning to South Africa in 1991, her intention was to pursue her PhD in Johannine studies at Wits, under the direction of the head of the Religious Studies Department at the time, Dr Bill Domeris. Andrew Hunter intervened just in time, and Claire remained in Cape Town following their marriage in 1992! Following the historical synod that passed the motion in favour of the ordination of women, Claire was made deacon in March 1994 and priested that December. Andrew and Claire's two daughters, Rachel and Nicola, were born a few years later. While serving in a part-time capacity as assistant priest at the Church of the Resurrection in Bonteheuwel (1994-2002) and at St Peter's Parish in Hout Bay (2002-2007), she lectured part-time in Biblical studies at an Interdenominational Theological College - Cornerstone Christian College - for a period of 15 years.
Following Andrew's appointment as Dean of Grahamstown, the Hunters moved here in 2008. Not long after, Dr Bill Domeris was appointed rector of the College of the Transfiguration. PhD discussions resumed, and at last the time seemed right for Claire to follow her dream and be immersed in John's Gospel.
Combining her Social Work and priestly ministry, she chose to look at John's Gospel through the lens of a pastor, and to read it as a document written to meet the needs of a community which, she argued, was living in a state of on-going crisis. Over a period of five years, under the expert supervision of Dr Bill Domeris, she delved deeply into the text, resulting in her thesis entitled:
Reframing, transforming and deepening faith: John's pastoral response to a Community in Crisis
One of her external examiners summarized her thesis as follows:
"Various methodologies were effectively applied in a logical and coherent way throughout this well-structured study. In particular, her versatility in terms of leveraging insights from the fields of Social Work, Pastoral Counselling, Redaction Criticism, Social Sciences and Literary Criticism, amongst others, is indicative of her ability to interact critically with findings from various fields of research.
"After having briefly looked at the historical context in which the Johannine community was formed (Chapter 2), the candidate highlights various so-called 'critical events' and issues experienced by this community that, according to her, are sufficient reasons to suggest it was a community in crisis. These critical events include conflict with mainline Judaism; persecution; rejection by nonbelievers; social ostracism leading to an identity crisis for believers, and loss and grief, due to the departure of Jesus and his delayed parousia (cf. Chapter 3).
Referring to the work done by the US Department of Justice (Young 1998), the candidate also reflects on the impact of crises on people's spiritual beliefs, such as challenges to their meaning systems and the perceived positive or negative effects thereof on their values and beliefs. A three part model of reframing, transforming, and deepening faith is then applied to demonstrate John's strategic pastoral response to his community's various crises. In terms of Donald Capps' pastoral technique of reframing (1990), the candidate analyses the narrative of the miracle at Cana (Jn. 2:1-12) and the cleansing of the temple (2:13-22) to illustrate John's reframing of his community's beliefs in order to communicate to them that Jesus had come to establish a new order in religion. At the same time, in the context of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus' claim to provide "rivers of living water" (7:37-44), as well as his claim to be the "light of the world" (8:12), is understood in terms of John's reframing of existing religious rituals by identifying Jesus as the one who fulfils the religious hopes of Israel (cf. Chapter 4).
"Regarding the role of faith transformation, Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus (Jn.3:1-21) is analysed in Chapter 5. This is done to indicate how the author pastorally guides his community, who is in danger of being excommunicated from synagogues, to a transformed understanding of faith in terms of a spiritual re-birth from above. John's presentation of the death of Jesus is also discussed from his community's changed perception related to the identity of Jesus and his honour status. In terms of the deepening of faith (cf. Chapter 6), the problem of fear is discussed within the framework of understanding that, when facing a crisis, people frequently turn to God and/or other people.
"The candidate makes effective use of the research on 'Relational Theology' in her understanding of John's pastoral efforts to address the needs of his community in crisis (cf. Chapter 7). In this regard she argues that the author of the Gospel wants his community to "know" and '"believe" by means of a personal relationship with God. Acknowledging the role of relationships in helping people deal with issues of faith in the aftermath of a crisis, the candidate analyses John's emphasis on root metaphors of relation and connectedness, namely the Vine, Friendship, and The Good Shepherd. In this regard she argues convincingly that the deepening and strengthening of relationships should be seen as fundamental to John's ministry of pastoral care to assist his community to remain faithful to Christ while enduring alienation and persecution. At the same time, the promise of another Paraclete, as John's unique contribution to the Jesus tradition (cf. Chapter 8), serves as his creative answer to address the various pastoral needs of his community in crisis. John's Jesus guarantees the ongoing presence of the Spirit in their midst".
Having been on the Cathedral staff in a part-time capacity since 2010, now that her thesis complete, and both daughters are at Stellenbosch University, Claire is currently enjoying being a full-time priest at the Cathedral of St Michael and St George, Grahamstown. Her responsibilities include oversight of our Cathedral ministry to Rhodes Students. Having been a part-time lecturer at the College of the Transfiguration in years gone by, she hopes to continue her involvement there on an ad hoc basis, as and when appropriate. She has recently led a Diocesan Retreat for Ordinands, and will no doubt be used more in teaching and training ministries.