Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, one of 11 accredited seminaries in the Episcopal Church, has decided to stop offering a residential Masters of Divinity degree, and to enter a period of discernment about its future.
The letter sent by the Very Rev. Gary R. Hall, Ph. D, dean of Seabury-Western, follows.
February 20, 2008
To The Seabury Community
The Board of Trustees of Seabury-Western Theological Seminary spent two days at its regular February meeting in discussion of the immediate opportunities and challenges before the seminary. There are, first, enormously creative opportunities facing seminaries today. Many areas of the church are developing new ways both of doing and preparing for ministry. And multiple church groups continue to call for a new range of educational services from our institutions of theological education: continuing education for clergy, lay education, distance learning, and consulting services for congregations and dioceses.
At the same time, all the seminaries of the Episcopal Church face real economic and missional challenges. The stand-alone residential model developed in the nineteenth century is becoming unsustainable for most of our institutions. Bishops, congregations, and seminarians have fewer resources to allot to the education of seminarians. And the cost of theological education has
resulted in an unprecedented level of student debt.
Like many other Episcopal Church institutions, over the past two decades Seabury has both confronted and thought hard about how it can adapt to the challenges and opportunities of the present moment. We have come to the realization that we cannot continue to operate as we have in the past and that there is both loss and good news in that. We believe that the church does not need Seabury in its present form; there are a number of other schools who do what we have traditionally done as well as we do. But we also believe that the church very much needs a seminary animated by and organized around a new vision of theological education-one that is centered in a vision of Baptism and its implications for the whole church, one which is flexible and adaptive and collaborative in nature. We are committed to Seabury's historic and ongoing ministry as a vital center of theological education, reflection, and congregational study. We are enthusiastic about the prospect of doing this in a new and, we hope, more economically feasible and pedagogically innovative way. At its heart, Seabury will always be a school in service of the mission of God as proclaimed and enacted in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
At our regular February meeting, the Board adopted the following resolution:
The Board, having heard a report by the Dean as to the state of Seabury and the rapidly changing and expanding needs for theological education in the Episcopal Church, and being deeply mindful of its mission responsibilities for the operation of the seminary, and the uses of the seminary's resources, hereby resolves:
1. The Dean is directed to prepare and present to the Board, on or before the next scheduled meeting, a detailed plan for the future operation of Seabury, including a financial plan that brings expenses in line with revenues. The report will also include recommendations for the immediate future of current programs.
2. The Dean will be assisted in developing the plan by a Planning Committee to be made up of eight members, of whom six will be officers and/or trustees, who will be named by the Dean and Board Chair, and two will be faculty members named by the faculty. Should the faculty not
choose its representatives on or before Monday, February 25, 2008, the Dean may make the appointments as he deems necessary.
3. In developing the plan, the Dean or his designees may explore potential partnerships with appropriate institutions.
4. The Dean and the Planning Committee may hire consultants they deem necessary to assist them in their deliberations.
After consultation with the faculty, students, and staff, the Planning Committee met on Tuesday, February 19, 2008. The Planning Committee asked the board's Executive Committee to clarify its understanding of the long-range educational mission of Seabury, and it proposed two resolutions which the Executive Committee passed in the following form on Wednesday, February 20, 2008:
The Executive Committee affirms that Seabury will no longer offer the M.Div. as a freestanding 3-year residential program. This does not preclude offering the M.Div. in other formats.
The Executive Committee accepts the 3 following recommendations of the Planning Committee:
1. That Seabury will immediately suspend recruitment and admissions to all degree and certificate programs in this time of discernment.
2. That Seabury will enable all current D.Min. students to complete their programs.
3. That Seabury will assist all current M.Div., MTS, MA, and certificate students to find alternative arrangements for the completion of their programs as may be required.
The Planning Committee will continue its schedule of weekly meetings so that it can produce a financial and programmatic plan in time for a special board meeting to be called in April. In the meantime, Seabury's administration is at work talking with potential partner institutions both to enable the school to move forward in the future and to enable all those affected by these decisions to make the transitions they may be required to make as plans emerge.
Our hearts and minds are filled with a multitude of emotions. At the center of our immediate concern is the well being of our students, faculty and staff. Accordingly, most of our energies are focused on the internal community at this time, however, we will be informing our alumni/ae, donors, and the wider church within the next several days. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we move into this new understanding of our mission.