GTS embarks on the ‘way of wisdom.’

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Believing that the ways of academic specilization and business-style management is leaving the church bereft, the Dean and faculty of General Seminary are embarking on an experiment to integrate theological education with the daily, lived experience of the church. They are calling this exploration “The Way of Wisdom.”

A statement from the faculty:

The early Mothers and Fathers of the Church, who we call “theologians”—churchpeople like Macrina, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine of Hippo—understood, that “theology” (from the Greek, the “science,” or the “study” of God) was a way of life. Indeed, theology meant aiming every dimension of life toward God and bringing all of creation into harmony with God’s purposes. These early churchpeople were not just profound critical thinkers, they were insightful interpreters of scripture, eloquent preachers of the Word, and loving pastors, who with great spiritual wisdom lead the course of the Church in their time.

Unfortunately, the training of pastors for the Church today has become too much like secular academia. It is now largely divorced from the goal of discipleship. Instead of following the clarion call to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God,” [Micah 6:8], the Church asks its priests and bishops to conform to a bureaucratic model of efficiency and service-delivery. It is as if the Church has become convinced that disguising itself, taking on the mannerisms of secular institutions, it will draw the world back through its doors.

Sadly, this strategy only makes the Church more irrelevant, chiefly because it makes the true way of wisdom meaningless. After all, wisdom is not simply “knowledge.” Wisdom is the practice of truth shared by the whole people of God, who walk with one another, listen to one another — and most especially to the “least among you” [Luke: 9:48]. Like the Mothers and Fathers of the early Church, the bishops, the priests, the laity, and the un-churched come together in their yearning for a greater share in the life of God.

The faculty of the General Seminary is, therefore, challenging all Christians, and especially theological educators and the bishops, priests, deacons and laypeople of the Episcopal Church, to renew their commitment to a way of wisdom that we believe will renew the life of the church.

Dean Kurt Dunkle about how it will work:

As an integral part of The Way of Wisdom, in the Fall of 2015, we will embark on a radical change in seminary formation during the final year: The Wisdom Year.

Through partnerships with some of the 400 churches and dioceses in our area, third-year seminarians at General will get real jobs at real parishes and other ministry settings. More than field education, these part-time positions will be their first job using their seminary formation, full and rich with wisdom-developing experiences. Students will learn firsthand while being the pastor, preacher, and decision-maker. Wisdom year seminarians will struggle with – and act on – how to make the Church grow. In other words, they will immerse themselves in real life and begin to acquire real wisdom.

While in the first two years, students will have the classroom as their base; in the third year the dynamic will switch. The real-world experience will be the base, and the classroom will be the locus of integration of the theoretical and the practical. The aim will be the same: the formation of all according to the mind and heart of Christ, all within the context of the Church.

A delightful, unintended consequence of this plan is that these part-time positions will pay for about one year of seminary. Real leaders will work at real jobs for real income creating real servants. The price of a three-year degree at General just fell by 33%, and our students will be earning it while gaining the wisdom needed to hit the ground running.

The Church does not benefit from isolated, independent actors. As such, the entire Wisdom Year is supervised on multiple levels: at GTS where students will return each day, at the parish/ministry site, by active lay committees, by professional mentors, and, quite importantly, by each other with their own emerging clergy support groups.

The final piece – the perennial missing piece of seminary – is the development of practical skills. In addition to continuing academic preparation, seniors will learn from visiting experts. This partnering with the wider Church will allow Wisdom Year seminarians to have access to resources never offered before. For example:

– Experiencing leadership from leaders who actually lead;

– Designing a parish curriculum with the top Christian educator in the nation;

– Learning vestry practices from today’s vestry members;

– Practicing stewardship in a parish setting.

A leader of a major research university recently called these types of educators “Professors of the Practical.” I like that.

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7 Responses to "GTS embarks on the ‘way of wisdom.’"
  1. It looks like links to the faculty statement as well as the full document of the declaration were not included in the above links. See the faculty statement here:

    http://news.gts.edu/2014/04/general-seminary-faculty-publish-declaration-about-the-way-of-wisdom/

    And the full document (pdf) here:

    http://www.gts.edu/images/communications/FacDeclaration.pdf

    I am extremely excited about what's being proposed here, which could revitalize and transform the face of theological education in the church for the future. The challenge GTS is presenting to the church, to the seminaries, and to its own institution is great and can be monumental if this succeeds. They will have to be diligent, however, to ensure that the "Wisdom Year" program does not become an example of the problems the declaration identifies, namely, separating theological education from pastoral vocation (or, "theory" from "praxis"). I think the example of VTS's ministry program just linked to actually highlights this all the more, since the vision the declaration provides seems to me to be fundamentally different from what the VTS program is proposing. If GTS can realize this vision of formation over the whole of the seminary, then GTS offers a hopeful vision for future theological education in TEC and can serve as an example for other seminaries to follow.

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  2. In the Diocese of Long Island the George Mercer Jr. School of Theology trained "late vocation" aspirants to the presbyterate from the late 1940s up until the early 1990s (and deacon aspirants from the early 1980s).

    While looked down upon by those who had graduated from the traditional seminaries, many Mercer grads made better priests because they were trained by a faculty that was made up of working clerics rather than academics.

    It's interesting to see that at least one of the traditional seminaries is beginning to recognize the value of practical instruction.

    Deacon Charlie Perrin

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  3. (Not to mention that this sort of vision renews GTS's heritage for the twenty-first century—really as the US center for a renovated Oxford movement.)

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  4. It's a bit awkward to predict unintended consequences before the program is implemented but I suspect immersion in "real" church will considerably whittle down graduations and ordinations to the point where a diminishing church may again be able to employ a learned clergy.

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  5. Sounds great in some ways; but seems hard to imagine doing the deeply important study that is already bare bones in three years crammed down into two. I suppose the Wisdom Year will remove the need for studying pastoral and practical theology in hopes that it will be learned through experience and processing that experience, clearing some space?

    Don't the Lutherans do something like this? Of course, I believe it's a 3-year M.Div, and then a year of internship.

    Looks like a potentially important, hopeful way for GTS to proceed and add useful experience to the continuing conversation on theological education. Looks like a potential way out of their own struggles as a seminary. I agree as others have noted, however, let them speak for themselves; in my own experience, VTS has been and is doing many things to continue to meet the challenges and needs named in the article; exciting and helpful and useful across all spectrums of ministry and need in the Church. I imagine our other sister seminaries have ideas and programs and considerations on this as well. Let's not act as if this is the first time anyone is bringing up or thinking about these issues.

    The declaration says this Wisdom Year will give "access to resources never offered before. For example:

    - Experiencing leadership from leaders who actually lead;

    - Designing a parish curriculum with the top Christian educator in the nation;

    - Learning vestry practices from today’s vestry members;

    - Practicing stewardship in a parish setting."

    Never offered before? These are pretty common experiences in our normal Field Education program, that every seminarian participates in for 1.5-2 years...

    I'm not trying to knock this thing down; I hope it is completely successful and I hope it continues positive and viable growth for our seminaries and an Anglican vision of theological education; but maybe some seminaries (I can vouch for mine,) are already doing some things well and experimenting with others to these ends and perhaps sharing best practices and collaborating more effectively might be just as helpful as calling one's self to "serve as an example for other seminaries to follow."

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