The not-so-good news from this week is that the Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia will be closing its doors at the end of the current academic year.
The Virginia seminary, one of 15 theological institutions that receives funding from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, announced Nov. 13 it will close June 30, 2019, “due to financial pressures.”
Established by vote of the Southern Baptist Alliance – later renamed Alliance of Baptists – in 1989, the seminary opened for classes in the fall of 1991 after the president and dean at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, chose to resign rather than implement restrictive hiring policies of the board of trustees.
… “The past decade has been challenging, as some of you know, for churches, for denominations, for divinity schools,” [seminary president Linda McKinnish] Bridges said. “Decreased giving from supporting entities and a shrinking population of prospective students have stressed schools financially. As a result, many have been pushed to close, merge or innovate.”
Bridges said BTSR intends to maintain its class schedule through the end of this academic year, and the class of 2019 will receive degrees from BTSR. Seminary staff will help other students transfer credits to another school.
BTSR’s two partners in the Richmond Theological Consortium — Union Presbyterian Seminary and the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University – stepped up by offering to help students transfer a maximum number of courses. Trustees are also putting plans in place to address the needs of faculty and staff.
The move affects 55 students who will have to finish their degrees elsewhere, four full-time faculty and three full-time and four part-time staff, according to Beth McMahon, director of communications. Nine students are on track to graduate in 2019.
The full article is available here. As with other notable mergers, moves, and closures of seminaries of all stripes in the past few years (for example, Andover-Newton, Episcopal Divinity School, and Fuller), it raises questions about the long-term sustainability of current models of theological education, especially whether smaller, independent schools such as BTSR can continue to thrive.
In better news, Virginia and General Seminaries announced a new partnership called TryTank: Experimental Laboratory for Church Growth and Innovation. The project will officially launch after the first of the year under the leadership of the Rev. Lorenzo Librija. From the press release:
The TryTank Experimental Lab will offer a much-needed inventive approach to the challenges facing the Episcopal Church. Working in partnership across the Episcopal Church, the TryTank will work to understand the forces threatening the church in order to identify creative ways to equip future leaders to reinvigorate the church.
“This is an innovative moment in theological education for the Episcopal Church,” said the Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, Ph.D., dean and president of VTS. “Along with these ‘sister seminaries’ seeking to serve the church together, the whole idea of a congregational laboratory which can ‘try’ things is exciting. We have sat around for long enough moaning about our predicaments; the time has come to try ideas and initiatives out.”
“We are re-committing ourselves to Jesus’ call for discipleship which means, quite plainly, church growth, not decline. This takes partnership and innovation.” The Very Rev. Kurt H. Dunkle, dean and president of General Seminary continued, “We want the model and means of the TryTank to reflect its message. Sister seminaries are coming together to try something new, intending to encourage and enable a new generation of lay and ordained leaders to faithfully grow the church.”