Opportunity for Seminarians: The Panama Project

The Panama Project offers four Episcopal seminary students the opportunity to spend three weeks in the Episcopal Diocese of Panama. An outstanding feature of the program is orientation to and engagement with the social, economic and political dimensions of life in Panama, including the country’s complex relationship with the USA. Thus, in addition to offering experience in grassroots pastoral ministry, the program explores the dynamics of colonialism and imperialism between North America and Latin America. The program has proven invaluable to students interested in Hispanic ministries. The Panama Project is structured as follows:

  • Orientation to the people and diocese of Panama, held at the Diocesan Conference Center in Panama City in the first days of the Project
  • Field assignments in rural or city congregations, diocesan schools or Episcopal Church sponsored social programs, usually lasting a week to ten days
  • Evaluation and reflection at the Diocesan Camp in Santa Clara, Panama in the final days of the Project Housing is at the Diocesan Center in Panama City during Orientation, and with local families during field assignments.

Spanish proficiency is strongly recommended because field sites are often in locations where very little English is spoken. The Panama Project is open to Episcopal seminarians who have completed at least one full year of seminary study before attending the program. Past experience indicates that participants who are able to approach the Project with an attitude of receptivity, flexibility and willingness to learn rather than teach or do, will benefit most. An attitude of humility and openness is absolutely essential.

Project costs: There is a modest endowment to cover administrative expenses, primarily those incurred by the Diocese of Panama in housing, feeding and transportation of participants. Students are responsible for the balance of the expenses (about $1,000) and for their airfare. We encourage all students to apply for SCOM grants (Seminary Consultation on Mission) and seek assistance from other sources like their seminary, congregation, diocese or sponsors. SCOM grants can also be used for intensive language study before the Project if it can be combined with some local church engagement where the language study will occur.

Panama Project participants will be recipients of extraordinary hospitality from people who want to share out of their very limited means. Seminarians will have an opportunity to practice the other side of hospitality, i.e., being a gracious, non-judgmental recipient of whatever is on offer. If an applicant has special needs, including dietary ones, this is not the best program to choose. The diet during the Panama Project is typical of Central America and culinary resources are very modest. It is impossible to accommodate significant dietary needs like vegan or gluten intolerant diets.

The Panama Project is neither a vacation nor a mission trip with a project to do. It is not a Spanish immersion course. It provides a cross-cultural experience to facilitate learning about the church and culture of Panama from those who live and work and worship there, thus deepening seminarians’ commitment to global mission. There is no specific activity or project to accomplish. Participants may feel challenged, as indeed they will be, in a situation in which there is little agenda, where plans can change at the last minute and where roles and expectations are often very unclear. Project participants are not there to fix things, make a plan, or share ideas on how to do things better. Such attitudes can keep us from seeing what God is up to in this place. The entire experience will be an invitation to examine your own assumptions and reactions with wise guides who call Iglesia Episcopal de Panamá home.

Project Leaders are The Rev. Walter Smith, Education Officer for the Diocese of Panama; The Rev. Michael Dresbach former Panama Project participant and former rector of San Cristobal in Panama City, now priest-in-charge of All Saints/Christo Rey in Watsonville, CA; and The Rev. Ann Hallisey, Dean of Students at Church Divinity School of the Pacific. Selection of participants will be based on experience, expectations and language proficiency. The Diocese of Panama gives seminarians a warm welcome and invites them to experience the life of this diverse and exciting part of the Anglican Communion. Life in Panama can be challenging, and participants should be prepared for tropical heat and Panama’s rainy season, lots of walking and perhaps some physical labor. You will have the opportunity to enjoy cold showers, no air conditioning and limited food choices. Fieldwork assignments are often in areas of the country without running water and where travel conditions may be rigorous.


If you are interested in applying, please contact Kim Robey (robey@gts.edu). Applications are due by February 1, 2015.