General Theological Seminary will change its style of education beginning in the fall of 2015. The seminary’s faculty reflects on the need for change in “The Way Of Wisdom: A Challenge to Theology and the Life of the Church,” a declaration released April 2.
The Very Rev. Kurt H. Dunkle, General’s dean and president, also introduces “The Way of Wisdom” in his column for GTS News Quarterly.
The declaration begins with penance, as the teachers note their part in the system that they critique:
The stewards of the Church have impaired its health. Our neglect and confusion, evident around the world in various denominations, has led to grave problems of decline in the number of faithful disciples among all mainline churches — not least in The Episcopal Church in the United States. As theological educators, we are acutely aware of the role we have played in this decline.
We have shaped and worked to reproduce a system of theological education that is estranged from the living ministry of the whole Church and its wisdom of spiritual transformation and mission to the world. We have been complacent, serving as a mere facsimile of secular education, validating our vocation in the church’s teaching office only with reference to academic
specialization. Having lost our intimate connection to the Church’s ministry and mission, our work within the seminaries also has become fragmented. We find that we can no longer articulate how our disparate disciplines and specialties hang together or offer to our students or supporters a cogent vision of theological education as a vital and essential aspect of the Church.
The declaration culminates in eight challenges to theological educators and to the broader church:
We call on all Christians to renew their commitment to the Way of Wisdom and their appreciation of the depths of Christian tradition, especially learning from those who are least among them.
We call on seminaries and the wider Church to commit to supporting sustainable levels of high-quality theological education for all levels of the church (laity, priests, deacons, and bishops) and for all levels of study, from Catechesis through doctoral study.
We call for greater cooperation between the seminaries in realizing this goal of theological education for the whole Church.
We invite the bishops of the church to re-commit themselves to their teaching role as listening theologians to work to revive and reform the catechumenate for our time, and for church-wide support of the formation of catechists and other church teachers.
We call on all members of the Episcopal Church to more deeply appropriate the vision of the Church as a community of all the baptized, as found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
We call on all clergy to more deeply appreciate the Wisdom found in the people in their congregations.
We call on theologians and theological educators to make Wisdom their paramount priority and to seek to integrate all aspects of theological inquiry as a coherent whole.
We as the faculty of the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church pledge to follow the Way of Wisdom more deeply in our own lives and to change our courses and our curricula to better enable our students to encourage and help others on the Way of Wisdom.
Dean Dunkle explains some of the practical details of this vision:
Through partnerships with some of the 400 churches and dioceses in our area, third-year seminarians at General will get real jobs at real parishes and other ministry settings. More than field education, these part-time positions will be their first job using their seminary formation, full and rich with wisdom-developing experiences. Students will learn firsthand while being the pastor, preacher, and decision-maker. Wisdom year seminarians will struggle with — and act on — how to make the Church grow. In other words, they will immerse themselves in real life and begin to acquire real wisdom.
While in the first two years, students will have the classroom as their base; in the third year the dynamic will switch. The real-world experience will be the base, and the classroom will be the locus of integration of the theoretical and the practical. The aim will be the same: the formation of all according to the mind and heart of Christ, all within the context of the Church.
A delightful, unintended consequence of this plan is that these part-time positions will pay for about a one year of seminary. Real leaders will work at real jobs for real income creating real servants. The price of a three-year degree at General just fell by 33%, and our students will be earning it while gaining the wisdom needed to hit the ground running.