One of the privileges of studying theology within the clerical formation programs of the Catholic Church is that you get to study philosophy first. For at least three years. In retrospect, the true extent of the privilege becomes clearer: when it comes time to study theology, the pupil has been primed to interpret, to be able to remove words and concepts from the meaning foisted on them by the gut, to separate them from inherited baggage, and to begin to detect where contemporary religious ideology and real thought might begin to diverge, and how to follow the latter.
Within a single week this past fall I received requests that the seminary I serve staff a youth retreat for a congregation, send a speaker about starvation in Darfur to a conference in Washington, D.C., provide leadership to Presbyterian congregational leaders in a distant city, send curriculum for a seventh-grade class, offer training for Spanish-speaking and Latino lay leaders, open a D.Min.
A quarter century ago, I dreamed of being a teaching pastor. I burst out of seminary like a wild mustang in the rodeo, an impatiently raring dean of a parish about to become a mini–divinity school. Congregations under my care would learn sound theology and be shaped as faithful disciples.
Pity the poor book. Its obituary has been written many times as prognosticators glance over the horizon and predict that the Internet and downloadable literature and e-books will soon replace pages-between-covers.
James and John McZebedee matriculated at my seminary again this fall. The “Sons of Entitlement,” I call them. They are usually—but not always—young and white in addition to being male. They have typically grown up in the church, attended Christian colleges and majored in religion. They like to refer to their mental index of Theologians Worth Reading and readily scoff at those theologians they have not read (and so are not worth reading).
Seminary programs should be one part monastery, one part seminar and one part mission agency. As monastery, such a program would require emerging leaders to spend extended periods living in community and devoted to spiritual practices like contemplative prayer or lectio divina.
The theological education issue of this magazine in 1958 featured a ruckus-raising editorial, “Domesticity in Our Seminaries” (April 23). The author was Ted Gill, my office mate and mentor in religious journalism. The editorial was unsigned, but no regular reader could have failed to discern Gill’s style, described by one colleague as “late baroque, early rococo, unfailingly grabbing.”
Theological schools and church leaders need to accept collective and unambiguous accountability for developing excellent clergy—leaders with the qualifications, capabilities and credentials to shape communities in the life-giving message of God’s grace, justice and reconciliation.
By 2050 Latinos and Latinas will constitute at least one fourth of the U.S. population. They are increasingly part of Protestant as well as Roman Catholic churches, though they often live in this country without legal status.