Theological Education in The Episcopal Church

Our fnal day was highlighted with a first-ever meeting of the House of Bishops with all the seminary deans of The Episcopal Church (except one absent from illness). There is a House of Bishops Committee on Theological Education which serves as a kind of liaison with the seminaries, but this is the first time we have all met together.

Seminaries are, of course, struggling financially in our day. Seminarian debt is a huge issue because of the expense of a three year seminary experience. Many of us wonder if seminaries are not actually training people to serve in a church which no longer exists. And there is the long-standing “competition” and suspicion on the part of seminaries about diocesan training programs which have developed to train lay persons, deacons, and priests as alternatives to the seminary experience.

We heard a brief address from the President of the Seminary Deans and then brief vignettes of “good news” from each of the other 9 deans present about new initiatives in their schools. These ranged from distance learning to mergers to ecumenical cooperation to emphases on Latino ministries, to a desire for each of the seminaries to create their own “niche” or specialty so that they do not try to be all things for all people.

I do think the deans are aware of the problems and are trying, but in my opinion a number of key issues remain:

1. We have too many seminaries (11) for the size of our church (about 2 million members).

2. They have a tendency to think that the only way theological education can take place in community is in a residential seminary.

3. Issues of tenure may keep on older faculty members to the exclusion of raising up new and younger scholars to education a new generation.

4. Seminaries do not seem to teach”pedagogy” – they do not teach seminarians to teach.

I’m glad we began the conversation and hope it will continue because we have a long way to go before we reach at least my vision for theological education — which is that every Christian has the right to a full and equal theological education. Then, gifts and talents will deermine who gets ordained or serves in some specialized ministry – not the level of one’s training.

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