Bexley Hall and Seabury-Western Seminaries
Status Report on Potential Partnership, May 2010
It is the nature and gift of institutions to find ways of changing to meet what the future needs, whatever that turns out to be. The future will be multidirectional, and schools will reflect more varied and variegated educational forms than they do now. I am convinced, however, that among these many changes, theological schools will have a recognizable presence in the future, that their educational capacity will be enhanced, and that they will be educating ministers and priests, lay persons working in parishes and congregations, and persons who long to learn in depth about the faith that gives them life.
--Daniel Aleshire, The Association of Theological Schools, October 2008
Background: 2007-2010 at Seabury and Bexley Hall
As ATS Executive Director Dan Aleshire was writing these words, both Seabury-Western Theological Seminary and Bexley Hall Seminary were making the kinds of changes he described. Bexley Hall graduated its final class of students at its Rochester, New York campus in 2008 and directed the entire focus to its three-year residential MDiv program on the campus shared with Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio. Seabury-Western, meanwhile, declared financial exigency in 2008, emerging in 2009 as SeaburyNEXT, a seminary in Evanston, Illinois, offering the DMin degree, Anglican Studies courses, and a variety of programs to provide laypeople and clergy with enrichment and lifelong learning.
Today Seabury and Bexley stand as examples of what theological seminaries can become when they “meet what the future needs.” Both schools are financially sound, property-free, and positioned for the future. Antony Ruger, senior research fellow at Auburn Seminary’s Center for the Study of Theological Education, 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.”
Even as they have emerged from recent change as sturdy, viable institutions focused on the changing needs of the wider church, both Bexley Hall and Seabury recognize that they may be able to become even stronger by deepening their strategic partnership with each other. As this partnership is being explored, both schools have also affirmed the central importance of their existing partnerships, including Bexley Hall’s MDiv program in Columbus in partnership with Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Seabury’s DMin programs in partnership with Church Divinity School of the Pacific and the Association of Chicago Theological Schools (ACTS), and Seabury’s library shared with Garrett Theological Seminary.
Timeline: Bexley Hall and Seabury Explore Partnership
Beginning in 2007, with the assistance of the Auburn Center for the Study of Theological Education, the schools assessed their compatibility for possible partnership in serving the Episcopal Church in the Midwest. Auburn consultants Martha Horne, Anthony Ruger, and Barbara Wheeler issued an initial report in March 2008, indicating “compelling reasons for each institution to consider a closer alliance with the other.” Among the reasons cited by Auburn for alliance between these two small seminaries—among the smallest in the Episcopal Church—were the spiritual and missional affinities borne of their common pioneer heritage; their historic commitment to generous Anglo-Catholicism; and their overlapping geographical territory in Province V and the Midwest.
Following Auburn’s initial report in 2008, the two schools convened a joint trustee consultation to explore the possible forms of an alliance; the governance implications of those forms, the financial arrangements implied, and necessary staffing and facilities. The group met in September 2008, November 2009, and March 2010. Members have included Bexley Trustees Catherine Bagot, Carlson Gerdau, Amy Hill, Bishop Kenneth Price, Deborah Stokes and Bishop Catherine Waynick and Seabury Trustees Thomas Anderson, James Hawk, Lane Hensley, Katharine Koeze, Wendy Lane and Anne Lea Tuohy, as well as previous and current deans and presidents, including Bexley Hall President Pro Tem Robert Reber and Seabury-Western Interim Dean and President Robert Bottoms.
Following a meeting in March 2010, the joint trustee consultation recommended that the two schools take steps toward a strategic alliance and proposed that the two boards of trustees meet together in October 2010. At separate meetings in May 2010, both the Bexley Hall Board of Trustees and the Seabury Board of Trustees agreed with this recommendation. Accordingly, during the summer and fall of 2010, the two interim presidents, staff and consultants will examine in detail the four priority areas proposed for partnership. The joint trustee consultation will meet again in June and possibly in August, while meetings with bishops and other church leaders will continue throughout the summer.
The Bexley Hall and Seabury boards will meet jointly in Indianapolis in October 2010, at which time the trustees of both institutions will consider the work accomplished over the summer and make decisions about next steps.
Four Areas of Focus, Plus Lifelong Learning
The goals of Seabury and Bexley Hall’s proposed partnership are to:
- Increase the educational reach and impact of both schools as they design and deliver theological education for the church of the future
- Increase the efficiency of their operations and enable them to better steward their resources
- Offer a model of collaboration that other schools might emulate.
On the recommendation of the joint trustee consultation, the executive committees of the two schools recommend that these areas for potential partnership be given priority:
- Joint advancement/development/fundraising
- Unified communications/marketing/recruitment
- Unified financial services office
- Possible models of common governance.
As these discussions continue, the staff of both schools will continue its discussions about collaborating on lifelong learning and continuing education programs.
Possible Partnership: Strengths and Challenges
Five common themes that support a potential partnership emerge from the Auburn consultants’ reports and conversations with joint consultation trustees:
- The Episcopal Church cannot support 11 seminaries in their current forms.
- New models are essential.
- Seabury and Bexley’s potential partnership is based in mutual strength and common heritage.
- Robert Bottoms and Robert Reber are a strong and unified leadership team.
- The proposed focus on the Midwest, with special attention to Province V is strong.
Citing a 2009 In Trust article by Robert E. Cooley titled “Forging Partnerships,” Robert Reber has reminded trustees and staff from both schools that most potential seminary partnerships fail due to lack of trust, lack of leadership, incompatible missions, a strong ethos of autonomy, and lack of engagement with stakeholders. Seabury and Bexley, he pointed out, have already overcome many of those potential pitfalls through the work of the joint trustee consultation and the close work he and Robert Bottoms have done together since Bottoms became interim dean and president of Seabury on January 1, 2010. In addition, both staff and trustees from the two institutions have worked closely to develop the lifelong learning programs scheduled to launch later this year. As Robert Bottoms has said, “Our exploration of further partnership is based in the success of our existing collaboration.”