Seminary

Image via RNS/J.C. Buttre

On Monday, Oct. 31, in Sweden, Pope Francis will take part in an ecumenical service commemorating the beginning of the Protestant Reformation’s 500th year.

It is stunning to think the start of this momentous anniversary features a visit from the Roman pope.

And it raises a question: Does the Reformation still matter?

According to the Broken Silence survey (commissioned by Sojourners and IMA World Health), faith leaders play a key role in preventing and responding to such violence. Though a majority of respondents reported feeling ill-equipped to deal with issues of sexual and domestic violence in their congregations and communities, an overwhelming majority of faith leaders (81 percent) indicated that they would take appropriate action to reduce such violence if they had the training and resources to do so.

This gap is precisely why seminaries and divinity schools are essential to addressing domestic abuse and sexual assault. Your theological schools can and must take the lead on educating more faith leaders about sexual and gender-based violence.

Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Pa. Image via Lutheran Theological Seminary/RNS

Two Lutheran seminaries in Pennsylvania are planning to close and launch together a new school of theology in 2017 with hopes of slashing costs and reversing years of declining enrollments. The decision came this week from the governing boards of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg and Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. The plan will cut the number of seminaries affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America from eight to seven.

Image via Andover Newton Theological Seminary / RNS

America’s oldest graduate seminary is once again blazing a trail for other mainline Protestant institutions to follow. But this time it’s a path many would rather not travel.

On Nov. 12, Andover Newton Theological School announced plans to relocate and sell its 20-acre campus in Newton, Mass. The move will be part of “a bold new direction” for the 208-year-old school as it struggles with big deficits.

“God is doing something new in this time,” said Andover Newton President Martin Copenhaver.

“We have to figure out what it is and get with the program.”

Brian Doyle 12-08-2014

Five boys and one quiet honest wry excellent priest. 

A statue of Jesus holding the a book imprinted with Luke 4:18. Photo courtesy of BleColRob/RNS.

Christian researchers tracking decades of decline in charitable giving say the trend will not be reversed until pastors challenge congregants to embrace Jesus’ teachings on the poor.

But that, says Sylvia Ronsvalle, one of the authors of the annual “Empty Tomb” reports on Christian giving, will take a different kind of pastor than the counselors and comforters that seminaries and divinity schools have trained for ministry.

Seminaries instead need to school future clergy on the affluence of American congregations, and remind church members of “God’s agenda to love a hurting world,” the report said.

“The State of Church Giving through 2012: What are Christian Seminaries and Intellectuals Thinking — or Are They?” was issued by Empty Tomb, an Illinois-based nonprofit that tracks the percentage of church members’ income that they give to their congregation.

“Pastors are not being prepared to effectively pastor their people within an age of affluence,” said Ronsvalle, who wrote the report with her husband, John L. Ronsvalle.

Jennifer Wiseman, director of the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion. Photo via Deryck Chan, Wikimedia Commons/RNS.

Responding to a real or perceived gap between science and faith, 10 U.S. seminaries will receive a combined $1.5 million in grants to include science in their curricula, the American Association for the Advancement of Science announced Oct. 8.

A diverse set of Christian seminaries will be awarded grants ranging from $90,000 to $200,000 provided by the John Templeton Foundation, which has funded various efforts to bridge science and faith, including $3.75 million to AAAS for the project.

“Many (religious leaders) don’t get a lot of science in their training and yet they become the authority figures that many people in society look up to for advice for all kinds of things, including issues related to science and technology,” said Jennifer Wiseman, director of the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion.

Indeed, evangelical Protestants are more than twice as likely as other Americans to say they would turn to a religious text, a religious leader or people at their congregation if they had a question about science, a study released by AAAS earlier this year suggested.

Stanley Hauerwas. Photo © Duke University, Photography by Jim Wallace/RNS.

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas has declined a series of lectures he was scheduled to give at New York’s General Theological Seminary in November in the wake of the crisis roiling the school.

On Oct. 8, the Christian ethicist said he does not want to get in the middle of a controversy involving the resignations or firings of eight faculty.

Two weeks ago, the eight faculty members quit teaching classes and attending official seminary meetings or chapel services until they could sit down with the Board of Trustees.

Hauerwas, who is professor emeritus of divinity and law at Duke Divinity School, said he pulled out of the lecture series so he would not appear to take a side.

“I was looking forward to going because I’ve known of General for my whole academic life, but I had never been there. At one time, it represented a commitment to an Anglo-Catholic tradition with which I’m very sympathetic,” said Hauerwas, who attends an Episcopal church in Chapel Hill, N.C. “I think the situation is one of deep pathos; it’s just pathetic. I’m sorry that I’ve gotten caught in it.”

Tom Ehrich 10-07-2014

General Theological Seminary in New York. Photo courtesy of Eden, Janine and Jim via Flickr/RNS.

General Theological Seminary’s campus in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan is everything you’d want in an urban seminary.

Handsome buildings, a chapel at the center, quiet walkways in a noisy city, calm places to read and pray. All serving a wonderfully diverse student body eager to minister in a changing world.

It’s like the best of historic church properties: harking back to a day of noble architecture and tradition and yet looking outward to a frenetic city and changing religious environment.

Why, then, is GTS on the verge of financial collapse and, now, paralyzing internal conflict? Its dean is under attack, 80 percent of its full-time faculty were dismissed, its board is floundering — all in the glare of press and blogosphere.

Why? For the same reason that historic churches and denominations are trapped in “train wrecks.” Their time has passed.

the Web Editors 10-03-2014

 1. The Strange Nostalgia of ‘Left Behind’
The rapture movie (out in theaters today) is—to borrow a phrase—neither hot nor cold. So why the re-make? We take a crack at answering.

2. Lipstick and Seminary
“During seminary, I paid close attention to ways men acted in and outside the classroom. Playing by their rules helped me fit in…I guarded what I considered feminine-seeming parts of my personality — creativity, emotion, and relational ways of perceiving and acting. I got A’s, but my soul was wilting.”

3. WATCH: A Million Ways to Die in the U.S.
Jon Stewart puts concerns over ISIS and Ebola in perspective. “The American government has a sacred obligation to do whatever it takes to save American lives…unless it’s stopping the things that are actually killing Americans.”

4. The Meditations of Europe’s Last Brewmaster Nun
Says Sister Doris: “As Saint Benedict wrote, ‘in all things God may be glorified,’ and that is also true of beer.” Say we: "Amen."

General Theological Seminary From the Highline in New York City. Photo courtesy of Eden, Janine and Jim via Flickr/RNS.

Several faculty members at the Episcopal Church’s oldest seminary are battling with the school’s leadership, although neither side agrees whether they quit, were fired or staged a walkout.

General Theological Seminary in Manhattan is the only seminary overseen by the national church. Last week, eight faculty decided to stop teaching classes, attending official seminary meetings or attending chapel services until they could sit down with the Board of Trustees.

The dean and president, Kurt Dunkle, wrote a letter to students saying the Board of Trustees’ accepted the eight faculty members’ resignations. But faculty member Andrew Irving wrote to students saying the professors never suggested they would resign.

“We wish to underline that we have not resigned,” Irving wrote, suggesting the group sought legal counsel. “Our letters did not say that we would resign. We requested meetings with the Board.”

The Rev. Ellen Tillotson, an Episcopal priest in Connecticut and a GTS board member, wrote that it has become clear that the eight faculty have been planning a walkout.

The Reformed Theological Seminary campus in Jackson, Miss. Photo courtesy of Reformed Theological Seminary/RNS.

Redeemer Presbyterian Church, one of the most influential evangelical churches in the country led by author and speaker Tim Keller, has partnered with a Mississippi-based school to form a seminary campus in New York City in 2015.

The partnership between Redeemer and Reformed Theological Seminary fits in with the desire of evangelicals to plant their flag in large cities such as New York. It also reflects the influence of Reformed theology on evangelical thinking, as well as the impact of megachurches on theological education.

And while many seminaries are still suffering declining revenues since the economic crisis of 2008, the model of building campuses in major cities has proved successful for the Mississippi flagship seminary.

Students in the New York City campus will be trained to start churches by pursuing a two-year master’s of arts degree in biblical studies at $430-450 per credit hour before receiving another year of pastoral church planting education from Redeemer. The campus will likely launch in Redeemer’s offices near Herald Square in Manhattan.

LeAnn Snow Flesher 08-18-2014
Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock.com

Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: This is the final piece in a three-part series on Financing Seminary Education. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here

“The higher education industry is facing a multi-pronged and existential threat composed of successive waves of disruptive innovation” (Butler, “Tottering Ivory Towers,” American Interest (Sept/Oct). It seems higher education, including seminary education, is going the way of the music and media industries! Our 2,000-year-old business model of “sage on stage” could be truly doomed. The appearance of “massive open online courses” (MOOCs) over the past few years has thrown many higher education institutions for a loop, and more innovations are on the way.

In response to these new innovations higher-ed institutions, including seminaries, have tweaked their business models with a few technological modifications such as PowerPoint, email, electronic research, and online courses. But, will it be enough? Butler says “no” and so do the trends. The reality is graduates of today’s higher-ed institutions are not evidencing the competencies expected and/or hoped for by their future employers. Consequently, accreditation standards, at an all-time high in complexity, are now beginning to be challenged. Simultaneously, tuitions are costly, the economy is tough, and the job market is even tougher. The end result is that students are graduating with large amounts of student loan debt and potential students are opting out of the education market.

We began the 21st century with denominations and churches that no longer fit the needs of a shifting society, a Congress that votes against the poor and the middle class, and seminaries that face multi-pronged threats to their existence. It’s time for an overhaul!

LeAnn Snow Flesher 08-13-2014
A Aleksii / Shutterstock.com

A Aleksii / Shutterstock.com

Author’s Note: Institutions we have valued for generations are dwindling and falling by the wayside because we no longer have the finances to sustain them. In this second essay on financing seminary education (read the first HERE), I will address the socio-political and economic concerns that add to the complexity of the current crisis in theological education.

Democracy is based on the ideal of political equality. Each citizen is to have the same potential to influence what government does regardless of financial status. Markets, on the other hand, are directly related to real dollars. The consequent result for the U.S. democratic capitalistic structure is that while the rich and the poor are equal politically, they will never be equal economically. This combination could lead to two undesirable extremes: 1) mob rule by asset-less democratic majorities, or 2) oligarchic rule by the affluent. Thus, government’s role is to oversee the enterprise through the creation of regulatory policies that prevent runaway markets and taxation that assures a sustainable distribution of wealth and resources for the whole population. In order to achieve these goals, political theorists have developed models that focus on creating and sustaining a strong middle class with the result that the median voter will correct rising inequality in wealth as well as poor economic performance.

Beau Underwood 07-30-2014
Overworked illustration, Honza Hruby / Shutterstock.com

Overworked illustration, Honza Hruby / Shutterstock.com

I eat, sleep, and breathe faith and politics; it is my passion and calling. From 9-5 each weekday, I direct communications and advocacy for Sojourners, moving around Washington, D.C. for various meetings, engaging with reporters and the media, and planning advocacy strategies around pressing justice issues. Then I turn off my computer and walk out the door. But instead of going home, I’m usually off to another meeting that has little to do with politics and everything to do with faith.

I’m a bi-vocational pastor, and I spend 15-20 additional hours working in a local congregation alongside several clergy colleagues, who themselves are a mix of full-time and part-time ministers. Serving in a church keeps me rooted. It provides perspective when the dysfunctions of Washington threaten to consume me. Helping people discover faith and integrate it into their lives renews and enlivens my soul.

Part of me pretends that I’d be spending this much time worshiping on Sunday morning and hanging out with my fellow young adults anyway, so I might as well be polishing my ministerial skills. But when I’m honest, I know it isn’t close to the same thing. I am way more invested in people’s lives – their joys and concerns – and the life of a particular community than I otherwise would be as “just a member of the congregation.” It is a demanding role that can be emotional, mentally and spiritually draining at times, but I love every minute of it. This is what I was made to do. Being a pastor is my identity. This calling is fundamental to who I am and how I understand myself in the world.

The number of bi-vocational ministers is increasing rapidly. Many pastors who work full-time jobs and serve in congregations part-time receive little or no pay for their church service. This trend has been described as “the future of the church” and extolled because the model is a return to “the original church” that will “enliven congregations.”

Tripp Hudgins 07-30-2014
Seminary sign, Vladislav Gurfinkel / Shutterstock.com

Seminary sign, Vladislav Gurfinkel / Shutterstock.com

Paul said, "the foolishness of the cross" not "the stable middle-class lifestyle," if you want my opinion on seminary education, the changing economy, and baptismal identity in general. We bear a responsibility to care for one another as Christians (and beyond) that we have abdicated to the persnickety "marketplace." It's time to talk about holy poverty again, I think.

I can hear my free church friends and colleagues now, "But we don't take a vow of poverty!" It's true. We don't. We remember this historical movement away from the monasteries and the cathedrals, the parish system and the state church. This is an issue of ecclesiology, no question. What I wonder, however, is if in our attempts to not fall into the traps of the past, we simply have settled on the marketplace as our model for ecclesiology. I assume we have.

My degree is a "professional degree," yet within its conceptual framework the notion that I am "professed" is easily lost. I am not called to earn, but to labor, to serve. My work is "worth" nothing. Instead, it is a response to a vocation that in many ways we all share. The wealth of the community affords me the opportunity to respond to that shared call in a particular way. I am not your employee. I am your pastor. I am poor. Any wealth I may posses comes directly from the pockets of others.

Stained glass window & crucifix, benztsai / Shutterstock.com

Stained glass window & crucifix, benztsai / Shutterstock.com

To the dying church,

I think I missed the moment. It was a pretty big moment, too. At least here in the United States, you were a force to be reckoned with until a few years ago. You helped form the fabric of our society. Pastors were well-respected people of authority. They built great big sanctuaries, and people wore respectable clothing on Sunday mornings. To be fair, you didn’t — and don’t now — always live up to the hype. Sometimes you hide your head in the ground when it’s time to stand up against racism and homophobia. You’re still not so sure about the equality of women. You sometimes sell out to political agendas.

But regardless of the good and the bad, the moment is now over, and you’re dying. Or that’s what they tell me. All that power and influence is fading away. It sounds like some churches are having trouble even keeping the lights on. I know I should mourn for you, but allow me a moment of self-pity here too. What, you thought it was all about you?

You see, I’ve been getting ready for a few years now. A bunch of us have. Some of us have grown up with you, and some of us have just met you recently, but we’re all lining up to serve you. Somehow we all have this nagging sense that we’re supposed to be with you in these days, so some of us went to seminary and some went to college to learn youth ministry. We went to conferences and gave up our evenings and weekends to church basements with committees and youth groups. We read books and studied Scripture and prayed and imagined the kingdom of God breaking into the world through you. They call us emerging leaders, and we had a lot of hopes for you.

Grace Ji-Sun Kim 04-28-2014
VLADGRIN/Shutterstock.com

VLADGRIN/Shutterstock.com

I grew up in the days of the encyclopedia salesman. I clearly remember the day when a clean-cut well-dressed man knocked on our apartment door to sell the 26-volume World Book Encyclopedia.

We were recent immigrants and could not speak English fluently. We had few worldly possessions and the last thing we needed in our house was a 26-volume encyclopedia.

After the hour presentation during which we flipped through the volumes full of exciting information, my dad said no. The salesman looked sad and pitiful as he packed his sales kit. As he exited the door, he gave one last pitch and, suddenly, my dad changed his mind and we bought the whole set.

Either the salesman was good or my parents had this strong desire that their children needed to know “everything there is to know about the world.” Maybe it was a bit of both.

In 2014, long gone are those 26-volume encyclopedias that once filled the bookshelves of many of my childhood friends’ homes. Now we have everything that we need to know at our fingertips through iPads, computers, cell phones, or other gadgets.

Katherine Burgess 11-07-2013

Daniel Aleshire, executive director of ATS. Photo via RNS/by Allison Shirreffs/courtesy the Association of Theological Schools

Theological education has increasingly left brick-and-mortar schools and headed back to congregations and family homes as more seminarians study online.

“The old move — uproot your family, get a new job, move to the seminary — that model isn’t working for so many people today,” said Ronald Hawkins, vice provost at Liberty University, which has around 9,000 students in its online seminary.

“They are looking for a way to increase their biblical theological knowledge, to expand their ministry skills and to remain within the context of the ministry setting.”

Despite “huge” hesitancy to allow online theological degrees, online education is growing, said Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, the main accrediting body for more than 270 seminaries and graduate schools.

Faculty and candidates for graduation at Saint Mary Seminary. Photo via RNS/by Renata M. Courey / courtesy Saint Mary Seminary

After decades of glum trends — fewer priests, fewer parishes — the Catholic Church in the United States has a new statistic to cheer: More men are now enrolled in graduate-level seminaries, the main pipeline to the priesthood, than in nearly two decades.

This year’s tally of 3,694 graduate theology students represents a 16 percent increase since 1995 and a 10 percent jump since 2005, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA).

Seminary directors cite more encouragement from bishops and parishes, the draw of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and the social-justice-minded Pope Francis, and a growing sense that the church is past the corrosive impact of the sexual abuse crisis that exploded in 2002.

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