The Washington Post today examines the downsizing and program-trimming trend among Episcopal seminaries, noting a correlation between that trend and the dynamics within the denomination. But the more likely causal factor, the article continues, is, quite simply, money.
Money, in fact, might be the biggest issue. As a result, seminaries of all stripes are weighing whether they can afford to keep training clergy in a three-year residential model that dates to the mid-1800s.
John Mitman, executive director of the Society for the Increase of the Ministry (SIM), a Connecticut-based nonprofit that provides financing for Episcopal seminarians, said students often balk at the prospect of relocating to such pricey cities as New York, Berkeley, Calif., and Cambridge, where tuition, books and living expenses can run upward of $40,000 a year.
What's more, those who leave seminary with debt face average annual student loan payments of more than $12,000 -- with an average starting salary of just $45,500.
"We hear this all the time," Mitman said. "People are concluding, 'I can't make it work. I can't borrow the money to do the seminary piece and go to work for the church for what the church pays and manage the debt.' "
At least it hasn't gotten to the point that blogger Sarah Dylan Breuer thought it had when she saw that Hewlett-Packard was in negotiations to acquire Electronic Data Systems, more commonly known as EDS—as is the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge.
I actually did a double-take before I realized it wasn't about my seminary.
Now I'm picturing seminary alumnae having to sew patches on their albs, stoles, and chasubles advertising the corporations that bought out their alma mater, and perhaps a little ticker-tape below webcam broadcasts from the chapel: "Hebrew bible reading brought to you courtesy of Staples, Inc. -- keeping parish offices together since 1974."