Thursday, February 21, 2008

End of an Era for Seabury

This morning as I was driving to work, Moki called to tell me that he had been in Chicago for a couple of days between his meeting in Minneapolis and his meeting in Saint Louis. While he was visiting Seabury, they announced that the seminary would no longer offer the Masters of Divinity (MDiv) program after this year. The current seniors would graduate from Seabury, but the junior and middler MDiv students would have to find another seminary at which to complete their education. A statement from the Very Rev. Gary Hall, Seabury's Dean, can be found here.

This was a shock, although not completely unexpected. Even while I was at Seabury, the writing was on the wall. They had been dealing with financial difficulties for a number of years, and as my time ended, the number of entering students had plummeted (only six incoming juniors my last year, compared to my class of around 25). Moki and I had on several occasions talked about how it was likely that Seabury would eventually be forced to close. But neither of us expected it to be so soon.

Now, to be fair, Seabury is claiming that it is not closing, but rather is in a period of discernment to determine what its future would be. But to be honest, I don’t see how they can hope to survive without the MDiv program – the bread and butter of its existence.

I feel kind of numb about the whole thing. While, as I said, it is not completely unexpected, it is still a shock and very sad to hear. After all, Seabury was my home for three years, and was a very important part of my life. It provided me with some wonderful formation, a very good education, and allowed me to meet some wonderful people, who will be dear friends and cherished colleagues for the rest of my life. A great part of who I am today I owe to Seabury. And to think that it may soon be no more is almost unthinkable.

I had this horrid image of a conversation with someone a decade or so down the road in which I am asked where I went to seminary. I respond, “Seabury-Western Theological Seminary.” To which I am met with a blank stare and, “Where? Never heard of it.” How awful to think that my alma mater would cease to exist. That it may become unknown. Today, when you say “Seabury,” people know of it and its reputation. In another year or so, all that could be gone. I just don’t know how to deal with that.

Of course, the seminary is trying to figure out what it will do with itself. There is a possibility, albeit a slim one in my humble opinion, that it will rise from the ashes, reformed, resurrected into something new and wonderful. I can only hope and pray that I am wrong, and that that will indeed happen.



Anonymous said...

Please note that according to the statement you have linked Seabury will cease to offer the M.Div program in the traditional 3-year residential format. It does NOT state that Seabury will permanently cease to offer ANY M.Div program.

Michael said...

Thank you for the clarification. I should have stated that Seabury will no longer offer the traditional, residential MDiv program. I did not mean to imply that there will absolutely be no MDiv program in the future.

That being said, I find it hard to envision a viable institution of theological education does not incorporate the formation afforded by a residential MDiv program. Granted, many priests obtain terrific educations without benefit of such programs, and because of the changing times, many dioceses (my own included) has been rethinking how they provide theological education to their future clergy. But I personally think there is great value in living in community for three years, learning to deal with colleagues of varying perspectives, and having to actively work through differences, that is valuable to the formation of clergy. I think such opportunities are not readily afforded in truncated and/or non-residential (commuter) programs. That was precisely why when I first began exploring seminaries and was thinking about doing a commuter program more locally, my bishop said "no, I want you to go to a three-year residential seminary."

Maybe I'm being a little skeptical and pessimistic, but I fear that Seabury's situation may just be the tip of the iceberg. I fear that in the coming few years, we may see other of our 11 residential seminaries taking similar actions, with the end result ultimately being a reduction in the number of options (for residential MDiv programs) available.

As I have indicated, my time at Seabury was incredibly important to who I am today, both as a priest and as a person. I am saddened to think that some of our future leaders may be deprived of such opportunities. But not my will be done. For the time-being, I have to trust that God is leading Seabury to something new and wonderful. That is my prayer, even if I don't particularly like what is happening in the interim.

Rev. Jane Austen said...

I have to say I agree with you--the thought of not doing a residential MDIV is very sad--I was bereft to only have a year, but that year was hugely formative. Nonetheless, as I look around and fewer and fewer people are called who can just change their lives on such a huge scale for three years, it makes sense to me that some change is necessary. Community is an enormous piece of Seabury; I offer hopeful prayer that it will also be an indelible part of their future.