A Joint Statement About the Programs and Partnership
of Seabury Western Theological Seminary and Bexley Hall Seminary
September 12, 2011
For much of the past year, the leaders of Bexley Hall in Columbus, Ohio and Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois, have traveled across the country talking with laypeople, clergy, and bishops about the kind of leadership the Episcopal Church needs for the 21st century. Too often, people who love the church said that they are afraid that it will not survive the century—that there will be no Episcopal Church for their grandchildren.
When they hear a new story, however, their fear is quickly outpaced by energy and enthusiasm. Our leaders persuade them of what they are hungry to believe: The Episcopal Church does have something to offer to the 21st century. The Anglican via media, a rich tradition of social justice, a baptismal theology and a polity that lifts up the leadership of laypeople and women—all of these practices have meaning for today and for generations to come. But to realize the future that is within the church’s grasp, the church must train clergy congregations and lay leaders to be excellent pastoral ministers, inspiring teachers and preachers, sound administrators, and effective leaders.
Seabury and Bexley are prepared to train these leaders and provide them with opportunities to maintain healthy and vital ministries. Since 2007, Bexley and Seabury have worked to assess our compatibility for possible partnership in serving the Episcopal Church in the Midwest and beyond. Through the process, we have recognized that we can become even stronger by deepening our strategic partnership with each other. In 2010, the boards of our two schools began to hold joint meetings. In February 2011, by unanimous vote of both boards, we formed an interim joint partnership agreement that will extend through June 2012. On July 1, 2011, Robert Bottoms became interim president of both schools. The process of sharing administrative services, including communications, development and finance, has begun. Now we are drafting a permanent partnership agreement and hiring a joint president to succeed Dr. Bottoms.
Our partnership is born of common strength and shared vision. Both Seabury and Bexley Hall have taken major, sometimes painful steps in recent years to become financially sound, property-free, and positioned for the future. Anthony Ruger, a senior research fellow at Auburn who has consulted with us through the creation of this partnership, says, “Commendably, each school has secured a sound financial basis for its mission. The balance sheets are thoroughly healthy and the budgets are responsible. Despite their small size they have financial viability and a solid platform for growth.”
Together Seabury and Bexley have garnered our resources and are poised to offer innovative, rigorous theological education for clergy and laypeople, delivered through a sustainable business model with a sound balance sheet. By selling our real estate and eliminating tenure in favor of fair and reasonable contracts, we have gained the financial and organizational flexibility to recruit the best talent available in the church today, including:
- Bexley’s new dean: The Very Rev. Dr. Thomas Ferguson
- Seabury Chabraja Fellows: Dr. Diana Butler Bass and The Rev. Dr. William Sachs
- Bexley faculty: The Rev. Dr. Jason Fout and the Rev. Dr. Elise Feyerherm
- Seabury faculty: The Rev. Dr. John Dally, the Rev. Dr. Susan Harlow, Milner Seifert, Dr. Beth Sheppard and the Rev. Dr. Ellen Wondra
- Business school faculty from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University
- Dr. Robert Bottoms, who will continue to provide leadership program development
- Creative alumni/ae from both institutions.
By forming this innovative partnership, which complements Bexley’s strong partnership with Trinity Lutheran Seminary, our two schools have become a case study in what theological seminaries can become when, in the words of Association of Theological Schools Executive Director Daniel Aleshire, they “meet what the future needs.”
We have both been through periods of reinvention and both emerged as sturdy, viable institutions focused on the changing needs of the wider church. While we acknowledge that our future must be grounded in our spiritual and missional past, our aim is not to combine our resources in an attempt to create a single seminary of the kind that flourished in the middle of the last century. Rather, we seek both to provide traditional theological education and to employ innovative approaches, including a robust conversation with the business world—approaches that will train the church’s current and future leaders to create and maintain healthy and vital ministries.
We retain our commitment to the three-year residential M.Div. program that has shaped so many Episcopal priests, and we also offer courses, programs, degrees and certificates to mid-career clergy and lay professionals, candidates seeking Holy Orders and those just beginning to explore their particular spirituality or call to service. Together our schools provide a full continuum of theological education:
- Bexley’s three-year residential M.Div. in partnership with Trinity Lutheran Seminary
- Seabury's D.Min. degrees in Congregational Development in conjunction with Church Divinity School of the Pacific and in preaching in collaboration with the Association of Chicago Theological Schools
- Both schools’ emphasis on Anglican Studies
- Seabury’s emerging emphasis on leadership education through its programs in collaboration with the Kellogg School of Management’s Center for Nonprofit Management at Northwestern University and additional partners in the business world.
- The Partnership for Lifelong Learning, a joint venture presenting educational programs in Columbus, Chicago, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Cleveland and other key cities in the Midwest and beyond
Among our assets, we are grateful to include:
- Strong support from the Episcopal bishops of the Midwest and across the House of Bishops
- A sustainability plan that can be achieved by FY2015, based on the completion of the contractually guaranteed sale of Seabury’s property to Northwestern University and the creation of a joint development program
- Strong ecumenical partners including Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus; The Lutheran Center in Chicago, where Seabury will soon make its home; and the ecumenical theological consortia in Chicago and Columbus.