Les Fairfield: Thirty Years at Trinity – Some Things I've Appreciated

The recent articles by Steve Noll… and Peter Moore [ed note: both posted below] in the blogosphere have occasioned some useful discussion here…. Some of you have pointed helpfully to ways in which Trinity might have prospered better in its young history, if such-and-such had occurred. I thought it might be a good time to share with you some of the features of Trinity’s life that I have particularly appreciated – some of the strengths that I’ve seen, along with its predictable “need-to-improve” areas.

First of all I have appreciated how Trinity has managed somehow to serve such a wide variety of constituencies – even within the Episcopal Church, not to mention our valuable Methobapterian sisters and brothers. Since for a generation – until Nashotah’s wonderful renaissance a few years ago – Trinity was the only reliably orthodox seminary in the Episcopal Church, the School needed to try and train Episcopalians from an extraordinarily diverse range of traditions. Amongst our students we have seen Five-Point Calvinists, Moderate Charles Simeonite Evangelicals, AngloCatholics, Moderate Alpha-Course Charismatics, AngloCowboy “Drop-Kick-Me-Jesus-Through-The-Goalposts-of-Life” Pentecostals, not to mention a few AngloMennonites like myself. I’m sure that all of you alumni occasionally felt that chapel worship was like Noah’s Ark, when we had clouds of incense, a fifty-minute exegetical sermon, and a message in tongues all in one service. And yet you all persevered in tolerating one another, and somehow the Trinity Chapel “wars of religion” never occasioned actual bloodshed.

Considering the strong convictions that everyone held, that’s no small grace. Likewise I have appreciated the way in which Trinity managed to serve a different variety of vocational constituencies. Probably half or more of you were headed for ordination, and yet you managed to coexist – and indeed often to cherish – those whose calling was to lay ministry. Think of the valuable part that the Youth Ministry folks have played in the School’s life, in the last fifteen years. In an environment that might well have ossified into cerebral monasticism, wasn’t it great when two youth ministers grabbed Bill Frey and stepped into Nanky Chalfant’s swimming pool? (Any observations occur to you at this time, Bill?) And Trinity even managed – somehow – to encompass Whis Hays’ cutting-edge Rock the World youth ministry ethos with Jason Smith’s Young Life style. I know these cross-cultural issues weren’t easy, folks, but you did it and I’m grateful.

Also I appreciate that Trinity has managed to serve both the “three-year-residential-MDiv” folks and the “extension education fanatics” (I speak as one of the latter). In the blogosphere discussion that Steve Noll’s article stimulated, this issue has come up repeatedly. Should clergy be formed in a residential environment (the Episcopal seminary model that goes back to the foundation of General in New York in 1818) or should Trinity take advantage of the Internet and make its education available in Idaho and Arizona and Alabama (and to the ends of the earth)? Should leadership formation be done intensively in a boundaried community like a seminary campus, or should it be done in local parishes with Internet courses wired-in from Trinity? Well, that conversation still goes on vigorously. I’m really grateful that Trinity didn’t come apart over that question. As you can see from the Trinity web site, the School continues to emphasize intensive residential education. We added mandatory Hebrew to the curriculum a year ago. To me that symbolized our commitment to a rigorous residential MDiv. But at the same time you can take nearly 60 credit hours online as well – the Diploma programs in Anglican Studies and Basic Christian Studies. Not to mention Jan Term and June Term and our extension sites in NM and VA and elsewhere. How did we manage to agree on both of those directions? I’m grateful. Well, I could go on. But I wondered if we might take this critical moment in the Episcopal Church to reflect a little on what actually worked, in Trinity’s first 30 years. What would you like to see perpetuated? Or morphed? Or replaced?

–The Rev. Dr. Leslie Fairfied recently retired as a Church History Professor at Trinity School for Ministry


Posted in Seminary / Theological Education, Theology

4 comments on “Les Fairfield: Thirty Years at Trinity – Some Things I've Appreciated

  1. Pageantmaster Ù† says:

    we had clouds of incense, a fifty-minute exegetical sermon, and a message in tongues all in one service.

    Fantastic – he’s been to my church!

  2. Kevin Maney+ says:

    What a great privilege it was to have had him as one of my instructors.

  3. West Coast Cleric says:

    Ah, Dr. Fairfield! Don’t forget our Celtic Wildgoosmanship!

  4. Georgeb says:

    Reading Dr. Fairfield’s piece reminds me of what a great privilege I had to sit under men like him, John Rodgers, Steve Noll, Steve Smith, Rod Whitacre, Bill Frey, and Allen Ross for three years. They are giants.