(Patheos Blog) Do Seminaries as we now Know them have a Future?

In recent months, we have been listening to ongoing discussions about the problems and promises of seminary education. Some of the talk is fraught with anxiety, and some of it is filled with hope, but it is all marked by a sharp awareness that seminaries must adapt to an increasingly complex world.

What challenges do seminaries face in the coming years? How are they””and the churches and communities that are the focus of their mission””preparing for those challenges? What signs of transformation can we see as we survey the horizon of theological education? What will seminary look like 10 years from now, and what purposes will it serve?…

Read it all (numerous contributions).


Posted in * Culture-Watch, Religion & Culture, Seminary / Theological Education, Theology

14 comments on “(Patheos Blog) Do Seminaries as we now Know them have a Future?

  1. David Keller says:

    This is a discussion we had in 2000 to 2003, when we were working on 20/20. Had the initiative actually worked, we would have had a serious clergy short fall. The seminaries couldn’t have handled the growth. My question has always been, why we still have seminaries based on a medievil model? When I can send an email to Singapore, which reaches its destination before my fingers are off the Send Key, how does going to a distant, semi-cloistered location at tremendous cost, make sense? For example, when I was in Command and General Staff College, we met weekly, in small groups. Somehow, without going to a distant learning center, we managed to win the Cold War. It worked just fine. Also, I have been to many small church classes with highly educated priests and gotten as much out of them as I would had I been in Sewanee or Arlington. Not to mention, my personal opinion is Episcopal (and other) Seminaries are now designed to strip away orthodoxy. I think the greater question should be, do we need semniaries, in their current iteration at all?

  2. c.r.seitz says:

    In the US, two are unlikely to disappear (VTS and Sewanee) due to financial, location, other realities. The collapse of others of course could increase their ‘market share.’ (The MSLC has two big and healthy seminaries for their entire denomination). CDSP has said it’s not replacing 2 faculty members, and its future must be in question as presently configured. GTS has struggles and they are well known. Seabury and Bexley are in new configurations. ETSSW, NH, TSM, EDS all have their challenges.
    I believe one statistic they would all acknowledge is the number of people training for Orders at other schools (Asbury, Gordon Conwell, Fuller, Duke — those local options that have been OK’d by Bishops).
    Traditional seminaries (can) provide daily worship, formation, comprehensive exams, and lateral (student-to-student) formation. It is hard to replicate this via on-line courses.

  3. Hursley says:

    Part of the puzzle is that fewer and fewer Episcopalians/Anglicans seem to want some qualities once prized in the newly-ordained decades ago: sacramental formation in community, learning what obedience means in classical Anglican terms, and broad experience in living the Prayer Book’s Offices as a foundation for a clerical rule of life. The focus is on other things, such as “mission” (a term covering many things now), technology, and adherence to certain political/ideological norms resulting from the culture wars of the last decades. The seminaries we have currently are generally bastions of a particular “party line” in TEC, of course, but there is more to it than that. They were mostly established with a particular vision of clerical function (chaplain, sacramentalist, cleric-as-curator -of-the-Euro/American-Anglican-tradition, pastoral visitor) that is in decline or no longer applicable in many places. I am not at all sure that all parts of this older model are outmoded… in fact, I am fairly sure another round of babies is being thrown out with the bathwater. It will be interesting to read more of these essays. Thanks for posting.

  4. c.r.seitz says:

    #3 I agree. We strive for these things at Wycliffe, I can assure you, including older canadian BCP worship (which younger students today do not find as archaic as students may have done 20 years ago).
    The essays are intriguing in that the old liberal protestant, aging, representatives are themselves not of one mind. And then there’s old Ben Witherington reminding them that Asbury is doing just fine!

  5. David Keller says:

    Dr. Seitz–Clearly not critical, but curious–back in 2000 to 2003 when we were having the aforesaid discussions on SCDME, your argument abut daily worship, et.al., kept coming up as one of the main reasons for keeping traditional seminary education. I always thought you could achieve those same objectives by having distant learning centers. For instance my former TEC church is quite large and could easily accommodate a class meeting together once a week or on weekends. With the level of communications available a professor could be in Canada, or wherever, and still have complete interaction with a class. I admit there are advantages to the things you mention. Certainly I have gotten much more out of the personal relationships I have made than I would just having am email chat. But the bigger issue to me is efficiency and cost. Is it really a good idea to have millions of dollars of property and plant in 2011? We certainly don’t need libraries anymore to do research. And we don’t need to be physically present to see and hear on eanother. And seminary graduates are supporting the property and plant and coming out with HUGE debt. Also, if we suddenly had a great awakening and needed to train 500 or 1000 new clergy a year, how could we do it in the current model? I admit, this is somewhat of an academic exercise. (Pun clearly intended). But I’d like your thoughts on how we colud get outside the medieval model and still accomplish the goal?

  6. c.r.seitz says:

    What you are proposing is precisely what we are doing with Wycliffe College in Dallas! I promise all readers we did not choreograph this exchange.
    But I do not teach PhD seminars in Toronto without being physically present.
    In Dallas, we simply offer ATS credit courses that can transfer to Wycliffe, so students (by ATS requirement) would need only to have one year in residence in Toronto to gain the MDiv degree. Worship and formation is handled through Church of the Incarnation and other church settings in Dallas. Versatility without sacrificing key features. A student can do a three-year degree in Toronto. Or can collect ATS credits at area schools and, with proper planning ahead of time, conjoin these with Wycliffe offerings, here and in Toronto and online. The library reality is as you state it.
    To its great credit, ATS knows this is the growth area and so has adjusted to deal with it. Fuller has numerous campuses, as does Gordon Conwell and Asbury and Westminter.
    We have tried different schedules for courses (weekly, weekend, intensive 2 week). All this can fit within the proper ATS guidelines, but it takes a Registrar who can handle stress….

  7. David Keller says:

    Great–thanks for the response.

  8. evan miller says:

    I don’t think there’s any substitute for the sort of daily immersion in prayer, worship and work in community as one finds at Nashotah House. There’s more to priestly formation than simply acquiring knowledge. At least Nashotah’s distance learning alternatives still include a week in residence where students can get a taste of daily life bookended with prayer and a daily celebration of the Eucharist, in surroundings that virtually shout aloud, “this is a holy place”. For me personally, the taste led to a hunger for more.

  9. c.r.seitz says:

    I suspect what is at issue is whether such immersion is possible at a parish-level. Hence Mr Keller’s comments.
    Wycliffe Dallas, e.g., has the resources of Church of the Incarnation. Daily HC, the bustle of a parish and its rounds, etc. I don’t think we are talking either-or here, but listening to other options. I suspect the education of Antioch or Alexandria in the first Christian centuries was closer to what we’d call ‘parish based’ than a three-year seminary. I say this with absolute enthusiasm for the programs of Nashotah, TSM, Wycliffe, and other standard programs.

  10. Rob Eaton+ says:

    The great argument against non-residential learning was the intentional and even presupposed norm of formation in community.
    It was obviously (as can be seen now) an argument afforded by enough of a student body to support the financial needs of the seminary. That is, residents.
    Now that the greater demand is for non-residential learning, somehow that norm-in-concrete has gone, and is spun out as being fulfilled with a one week residential seminar/community interaction, or whatever.

    Someone in the seminary communities needs to seriously address that serious change of norms, and what affect it will have on the life of the Church, especially in congregational development, and in clergy motivated to “stick with” a congregation no matter how difficult things become, because they have learned the ups and downs of community!

  11. c.r.seitz says:

    As always, Rob+, insightful.

    I think the parish based model we are undertaking here gives seminarians a very good sense of the day-in-and-day-out of parish life, and handles formation/worship effectively. The loss I see is the learning one gains from being around a lot of different students. This is a danger in general with the amount of internet time available. People become focused on a world that is not proximate, bumpy, quiet on occasion, and requiring forgiveness…

  12. Rob Eaton+ says:

    Christ+, : )
    Don’t make me a bishop.
    I will lose my insightfulness.

  13. Rob Eaton+ says:

    Ah, the elves must have changed the position of the + which was first placed before my name. Good editing, elves.

    [i] Thank you. [/i]

  14. cseitz says:

    You see what happens when you get into this (+) business. I end up looking like Christ and you get to be a Bishop, and we all lose out!