Saturday, February 23, 2008

Reflecting on Seabury's History

It occurs to me that what is happening with Seabury is nothing particularly new in the 150-year history of the institution. In fact, something of a similar nature happened 75 years ago, when Seabury Divinity School and Western Theological Seminary merged because of “complimentary concerns and common interests” (whatever that means). It sounds to me as if they discerned they needed to move in a different direction if they were going to meet the needs of the ever-changing Episcopal Church. The resulting institution, Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, reflected the characteristics of both its founding parts, being both evangelical and catholic, giving it the character and strengths that would carry it and be its hallmarks for the next 75 years.

Now, I would venture to guess that in 1933 when the merger occurred, there were a number of Seabury alums and Western alums who probably felt sad, angry, betrayed, stunned, shocked, whatever, that such an unthinkable think could happen to their seminaries. But the resulting institution would ultimately become greater than the sum of its parts. Hopefully, when the dust settled, most of them were able to see that the death of their former seminary and the resurrection that occurred was indeed glorious.

In hindsight, the merger was actually a very Anglican move. Seabury was evangelical. Western was catholic. In merging, they were able to appeal to and serve a broader base than either institution would or could individually. Just as the Episcopal Church is going through a little upheaval and is attempting to discern and clarify its identity, and just as the Anglican Communion is trying to figure out what it means to be Anglican, so too, I suppose it is only natural that our institutions of theological formation, the institutions that help form the identity of our leaders, must also go through some soul-searching so as to discern how best to meet the needs of a changing church in an ever-changing world.


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