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.”
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.