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All Episcopal seminary deans issue joint communiqué

All Episcopal seminary deans issue joint communiqué

Press release:

The Council of Deans met in its annual meeting at the Bexley Seabury campus in Columbus, Ohio Sunday, January 11 to Tuesday, January 13, 2015.

All 10 seminary deans were present at the meeting, joined by their academic deans, as well as the dean and president of St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary in the Philippines. Across a range of theological viewpoints, there was a shared commitment to theological education and formation as well as mutual recognition of the distinctive gifts of each school.

The Council of Deans recognized the many opportunities and challenges facing theological education in the United States. There was an appreciation of the sheer variety of programs that, collectively, Episcopal seminaries are providing in response to our changing world and church. In addition to the three-year residential MDiv, the MDiv can be taken in hybrid, distance, and part-time forms. Theological studies can be as short as a summer or a January term, to a quarter, to a semester, to a full year or more. Training is provided in Spanish language and Latino/a culture, and different tracks are offered in missional leadership; hospital, school, and military chaplaincy; and community organizing. MA and other degrees are offered in counseling, Christian formation, ministry, and all the major academic disciplines. There is a plethora of certificate and short-residency courses for lay and ordained leaders.

In recent years, three seminaries have completed or are in the process of completing capital campaigns. In all, over $40 million has been raised thus far. The demographics of Episcopal seminary student bodies are increasingly young and diverse. Placement rates are high, with many seminaries reporting over 90% of graduates placed within six months. This confirms the data from the Church Pension Fund that established the high placement rate and subsequent vocational progress made possible by an Episcopal seminary education. Several seminaries are engaged in thoughtful restructuring and reorganization that will ensure long-term sustainability and relevance.

The Council of Deans will seek conversation with diocesan leadership to recruit gifted candidates for leadership in the church. Discussion began about sharing opportunities for cross-cultural immersion among the 10 seminaries, as well as exploring cross-registration among our programs.

The Council of Deans concluded its meeting by affirming its commitment to continue to serve the church both domestically and globally. The Council welcomes conversations with all parties in the Episcopal Church about the future needs of the church.

The Rt. Rev. J. Neil Alexander, Dean of the School of Theology of the University of the South
The Very Rev. Kurt Dunkle, Dean and President, General Theological Seminary
The Rev. Roger Ferlo, President, Bexley Hall Seabury Western Theological Seminary Federation
The Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, Dean and President, Seminary of the Southwest
The Very Rev. Ian Markham, Dean and President, Virginia Theological Seminary
The Very Rev. Andrew McGowan, Dean and President, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale
The Very Rev. Gloria Lita D. Mapangdol, St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary, Quezon City, Philippines
The Very Rev. Katherine Ragsdale, Dean and President, Episcopal Divinity School
The Very Rev. Mark Richardson, Dean and President, Church Divinity School of the Pacific
The Rt. Rev. Edward Salmon, Dean and President, Nashotah House
The Very Rev. Justyn Terry, Dean and President, Trinity School for Ministry

What are your thoughts — a rosy picture at odds with your prior perception? Believable? Need more direct evidence?

Posted by John B. Chilton


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Diane Strother

I am generally a fan of residential seminary education for both lay and ordained persons who have a call to ministry (though not always 3 years of it for everyone). The big concern however is not with placement per se but with underemployment and debt. Of the 90% placed, what % can make their loan payments when they come up the following year while still paying for food and housing? In 5 years? I would be deeply encouraged if that number turned out to be 90%. What % are achieving desired professional goals? (or whatever we want to call that within a ministry context?)

This is more difficult data to track, but the issue of debt load it gets more to the essential concern about seminary education. The issue with seminary is not that it isn’t useful or even sufficiently useful, but rather that it is expensive and there is currently a lot of “hot potato” going on about who should ante up. I had hoped for a more strategic vision of seminary education funding (resident, remote, and commuter) from TREC. Perhaps the deans might themselves put something forward?

I do read/hear complaints about not getting enough out of seminary education, but these seem to be less about criticism of what was received and more about the need for additional training. This desire and need for additional training (all the traditional subjects plus cultural issues, non-traditional church planting, theology from outside, change leadership, fund-raising, etc.) come amidst pressure to reduce the total training time, not increase it. At some point difficult choices and priorities need to be assigned and then funded. I sincerely hope that the conversation about this moves forward before 2018.

Daniel Stroud

As a recent 3 year residential seminary grad married to another three year residential seminary grad, both of us are gainfully employed in full time ministry, and this picture of relative health (at least at my alma maters, VTS & Sewanee) rings true. There are, of course, issues that need to be addressed and things we could be doing better, but it greatly disturbs me how quickly people want to bury our current system and push everyone into dispersed and in some cases less academic learning environments. One can easily put on rose colored glasses and ignore the issues we are facing, but one can also put on crap colored glasses and be convinced the whole system of residential formation is rotten and needs chucking. If we do that it would throw out a whole lot of healthy and important babies with the bath water.

Tom Sramek, Jr.

I think that there ARE quite a number of seminaries taking a long, hard look at what they offer and how they offer it. Given that, perhaps conflict might be a sign of health rather than not. Most colleges would be extatic with a 90% placement rate, and I’m guessing a theological degree is one of the least expensive graduate degrees, albeit in a narrow field. I think seminaries will continue to adapt, with varying levels of success. I do think that a 3-year resedential program remains a viable and valuable option for many.

Nick Porter

They better embrace distance learning because the status quo can’t continue.

Emily Cragg

The Church, in order to speak freely, must withdraw from the 501(c)(3) exemption program of the IRS, which silences any national dissent from immoral and unethical behavior on the part of national governing agencies.

It’s time we the Parishes ceased operating from cowardice and fear of Caesar.

Emily Windsor

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