Because not everyone called to ministry in the Episcopal Church can respond by spending three years in a residential seminary, Seabury Western created its diploma in Anglican Studies. The program consists of eight graduate-level courses that can be completed in one year or spread over several, an option that has proved appealing to individuals already intensely committed to ministry.
Courses include Anglican Liturgy and Church Music; Anglican Theology and Ethics; Episcopal Church History and Polity and Canon Law; and Contemporary Issues in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, and are offered in a hybrid format that combines online learning with several brief periods of residency. For many students, the opportunity to received a comprehensive education in Anglican essentials on a flexible schedule make it possible to walk a path that they thought was closed to them.
Nurya Parish of Grand Rapids, Michigan had been a minister in the Unitarian Universalist Association before becoming an Episcopalian. Although she had a master's degree in divinity from Harvard University, when she entered the ordination process, she was told that she would need to spend a year at an Episcopal seminary. Parish thought this requirement would put an end to her hopes, but then she discovered Seabury.
"I could not get a certificate of Anglican Studies were it not for the existence of this program," she says. "It is that simple. I have three young children. My husband has a job that is not mobile, and I would not be able to do a one-year residency certificate program."
Wren Blessing faced a similar situation. A young mother with a master's in divinity from Duke Divinity School, she worked as the director of family ministries at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her diocese wanted her to absorb the ethos of an Episcopal seminary before ordination, and that presented a problem.
"We just didn't think we could afford to move and do the Anglican year without causing a lot of stress," she said. "The Seabury program allows me to complete my course work while I am formed by working full time in a parish."
While students are impressed by Seabury's ability to meet the needs of students with numerous responsibilities in their lives, flexibility is not the Anglican Studies program's only selling point.
"What I am receiving is solid Anglican content," says Parish, who is an intern at St. Andrew's Church in Grand Rapids. "The major theologians in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican traditions, the resources I can turn to. Reading the liturgical stuff is like eating candy to me, and I have a much broader understanding of what the Episcopal Church is and what the Anglican Communion is than if I had just done directed reading with priests in my dioceses."
Blessing found the diversity of the student body, and the relationships between students and faculty especially appealing. "We have Latinos in Spanish language congregations, a variety of ages and different sorts of experiences," she says. "The small classes and having the diversity of perspective is something really unique with the intensives. And it's definitely a different kind of interaction between professors and students. You know about each others' kids and hobbies. The faculty is able to invest in the students in a more holistic way."
Bob Altop, a seminarian at St. Matthew's and St. Joseph's in downtown Detroit, views Seabury's program from a singular vantage point. A graduate of a Methodist seminary, he became an economic consultant specializing in pricing issues rather than pursue full-time ministry. When he decided to pursue ordination in the Episcopal Church, he noticed a disparity between business schools and seminaries.
"I had done an MBA, and most of those programs have an executive program tailored to folks not living on campus," Altop said. "I thought that seminary education was a couple of decades behind in that regard, but I feel like with Seabury we are seeing a move toward that kind of flexibility and excellent academics on a more flexible schedule.
"It has been a standout experience to see how a seminary has moved from being a very traditional institution to being one that is probably better designed going forward to meet the way that education and society as a whole are changing," he added. "That's been a very interesting process to see an institution make those kinds of changes while still offering very strong course work and a very strong community."