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A board member’s thoughts on the recent GTS trustee meeting

A board member’s thoughts on the recent GTS trustee meeting

The Revd Patricia S. Downing has posted her thoughts on the GTS News regarding her experience attending the most recent meeting of the Board of Trustees of the General Theological Seminary.

“Alacrity” is the word for this season in life at The General Theological Seminary. We now need to move deliberately and strategically if we are to fulfill our mission in a changing landscape. Each morning the Board of Trustees began with bible study which set the tone for the day, grounding the meeting in the word of Jesus.

I was surprised and excited to hear about the two trips that are currently being planned for January, 2016, to South Africa and to Jerusalem. I hope these journeys will be a chance for students, alumni, professors, and friends of the Seminary to explore the historic roots of the church and the current growing edges of the body of Christ. In addition, this could strengthen our relationships and broaden our horizons.

The challenges and opportunities which are facing the Board have been clearly articulated and squarely approached. The issues of aligning our financial, missional, and cultural areas are being addressed. The Dean identified four pillars of focus to achieve that stability and alignment.

The first is the complete implementation of The Wisdom Year and the integrated curriculum. Seminary staff are continuing to develop placement sites. The second is the development of a professionally focused M.A. program that would provide a degree that allows for graduates to obtain licensure for that work. This focus on educational opportunities for lay leaders in the church will create an exciting broadening of our mission field. The third is collaboration and alliances with other institutions which would provide opportunities for leveraging our buying power, academic offerings, and other areas which could benefit all parties. The final pillar is a focus on the Chapel and its place in our corporate life. This would include a necessary capital campaign to attend to the significant deferred maintenance, as well as the need for an increase in our endowment total. These are not small tweaks to our life.

Thursday afternoon was spent with the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center (LMPC) exploring the work of Dr. Murray Bowen and Dr. Edwin Friedman as it relates to Humor, Playfulness and Paradox in leadership within the seminary system. I found the conversations that the Board members and faculty shared very refreshing. We identified issues and events of the past that are still having reverberations in our present.

An example is the sale of the Gutenberg Bible 40-plus years ago. The lore of that decision is that the Trustees rushed through the decision, sold it for too little, did not honor the justification for the sale which was “Bibles for books” that would endow the library, and gave away the symbol of our excellence and uniqueness. None of the current members of the Board of Trustees were a part of that decision. Yet, the action of that Board of Trustees at that time continues to define relationship and attitude of many alumni toward the Seminary.

We need to remind ourselves that we carry the positive and negative legacies of every Board of Trustees and every Dean of General Seminary. These legacies color how we are perceived and received. The recent conflict with the faculty, the failures of communication by the Board of Trustees with the wider community, and the struggles with fiscal alignment and curriculum changes are still elements of our life to which we must attend as we move forward. The Board of Trustees acknowledges all of this and is trying to address it with transparency, different approaches, and humility.

The audit report and the financial report were approved. The Board understands the seriousness of the financial realities of the Seminary. We need to increase our endowment to fund operating expenses. Our current unbalance is not sustainable, and resources will run out in four years if we do not tend to our financial situation and find generous souls to give to the mission and ministry of the Seminary. Clarity and transparency on this issue, coupled with clear and concise communication, will assist us in making this reality known and the opportunities to give easy.


The photo and the Revd Downing’s posted thoughts at the GTS News.


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Jeremy Bates

I want GTS to thrive. And I believe and hope that in the long term, it will.

But in the short term, who would want to board a ship, without trusting the captain and crew?

Michael Merriman

Thanks to Paul Woodrum for stating it clearly in a few words: “Sounds like a lot of spin. Wonder if they shouldn’t have begun with chapel and moved from there.” When the Trustees take responsibility for the damage they and their Dean have done, then, perhaps, the institution can be healed. Guttenberg is, and has been for years, a dead issue. Still sad.

Jay Croft

What bothered me about this report is that they’re asking for more money from “out there,” but there’s almost no mention of cutting expenses. How many administrators are collecting salaries?

Michael Morris

I’m not an alum, so my attachment is not as visceral. However, I recognize at this point–and I’m not sure Revd. Downing does–that it doesn’t matter what they say or how much they tell us they have prayed over the whole thing. The only thing the Board can do which will carry any weight or give them any credibility is to Fix It. That will take some time, and I’d probably have a better sense they were capable of doing so if I had seen some acknowledgement that the Board had come to grips with it’s own responsibilities in the Breaking of the institution.

At this point, words don’t matter and the world (or at least a chunk of the Episcopal Church) is watching their actions.

Kris Lewis-Theerman

Quite honestly, most alums these days are either unaware of the Gutenberg bible sale, or have moved on from that issue. Of far greater concern are the issues of a hostile and toxic workplace created under the current administration and the gutting of the tenured and tenure-track faculty and library staff, in addition to the sad state of the finances. The rhetoric issued by the BoT and the seminary is just that, rhetoric. I am heartbroken for my seminary. My three years at GTS shaped my life in real and important ways. But that GTS is gone, perhaps forever.

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