Monday, October 3, 2011

The Future of Mainline Seminaries?

What should denominations in decline be doing with their seminaries, and in general, with their theological education of the next generation of clergy?

George Clifford speaks to the extreme challenges of some of the Episcopalian seminaries in his recent article A word on our seminaries: Consolidate!
and speaks to the immediate needs which must be addressed by his denomination regarding their schools of theology. He is a retired chaplain, an ethicist, and Priest Associate with The Episcopal Church currently serving in Raleigh, NC.

Though writing for TEC he is worth all denominational leaders reading as he starts,
Fiscal constraints have prompted announcement of major program or organizational alliance changes at the Episcopal Divinity School, Seabury Western, General Theological Seminary, and Bexley Hall. Concurrently, the cost of seminary education continues to escalate, leaving many graduates with significant debt and discouraging some potential students from attending. Meanwhile, enrollment at the eleven seminaries affiliated with the Episcopal Church (TEC) has declined by 35% over the past five years.

He continues,
The seminaries’ tactical moves and sad fiscal realities of theological education should encourage any Church, especially one like TEC that is in overall numerical decline, to reexamine its strategy for developing ordained leaders. The present strategy, with eleven affiliated seminaries that in a sadly misguided policy receive no direct TEC funding, has considerable underutilized capacity, unnecessary multiple geographical locations, and institutional identities determined more by nineteenth century rather than twenty-first century factors.

Because effective ministry and mission arguably depend more upon effective leadership than upon any other organizational factor, educating and forming the next generation of ordained leaders should be a top organizational priority for TEC.

Clifford goes into details about possible options including selling off most of what they have, consolidating the schools, and offering full funding for ordination track students. He doesn't go into what is being taught the next generation of clergy to turn his church around, but is pressed due to the seriousness of the situation to call for such bold action.

Clifford gets my attention with this quote: "I, for one, refuse to accept pessimists' claim that TEC is in irreversible decline. And I am tired of tactical moves that only prolong but do not reverse decline."


No comments: