In American theological education, we are in the midst of recruitment season. Applications to M.Div. programs across the country have been read and argued over by admissions committees, and offers of admission have gone out in the mail. Now we are wooing our accepted students, making the case that our school is the right place for them to become the ministers God is calling them to be.
The deans of Episcopal seminaries warned bishops and other church leaders last year that their theological schools must deal creatively with hard financial realities. The schools can no longer function separately as “11 little grocery stores trying to sell the same products to the church,” declared Donn Morgan of Berkeley, California, then convener of the Council of Deans.
Andover Newton Theological School, which is celebrating its 200th anniversary, is regarded as the country’s oldest free-standing graduate school of theology. Affiliated with the American Baptist Churches and the United Church of Christ, the school traces its roots to the 1807 founding of Andover Seminary following a breakaway from Harvard.
The first class to start and finish Harvard Divinity School’s revised M.Div. program won’t graduate until June, but HDS’s move to tighten degree requirements and bolster ministry studies has already begun to reinvigorate the divinity school, officials say.
Recent surveys have indicated that clergy are generally quite satisfied with their profession. But what about the men and women who are in seminary or who are fresh from seminary and face the demands of congregational service or the challenges of other ministries? How do they feel about ministry?
As I was growing up, the church was my one constant in a changing world. I was six months old when my father, a foreign correspondent with United Press International, was called to cover the story that would dominate the next decade, the Vietnam War.
A Ph.D. student in religion veered off from his friends one morning to head toward the divinity school chapel. “Where are you going?” one of his colleagues asked. “To chapel for the Lord’s Supper,” he replied. His friend thought for a moment before responding with the critical distance beloved in the academy, “Well, that’s problematic.”
“How would your introductory course in your field help prepare students for ministry?” This question consistently stumped candidates fresh from graduate school who were interviewing for a faculty position in our theological school. The candidates were bright. They could map their disciplines with precision, and they cared deeply about the role of religion in society.
It was the last concert of the season. From my seat I could see the hands of the young Israeli pianist as she played Edvard Grieg’s piano concerto. The guest conductor was a Norwegian (like Grieg himself). The rest of the orchestra included Asians, African Americans and Anglos. Ah, I thought, music does bring people together!Then I was struck by another thought: my own field, theology, tends to drive people apart. In fact, it’s mostly intended to divide people. What is wrong with this picture? What is wrong is that in the apparently innocent effort to arrive at truth, theology inculcates pride, the very vice that Christians claim is the consummate sin.
In 1958, during a trifaith “Religious Emphasis Week” at the University of Arkansas, I hung out at the Sigma Nu house. One morning some Baptist Sigma Nu brothers were walking with me as I went by the Lutheran campus chapel. I stopped. “You want to go in there?” they asked. Yes, I wanted to see a majestic figure of Christ on the cross sculpted by Harriet Youngman Reinhardt.