As many of you know, St. Paul School of Theology later this year will move from its Truman Road campus in Kansas City, Mo., to facilities at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection (COR) in suburban Leawood, Kan.
This decision has not come without controversy. I wrote a bit about that in this recent column for The Presbyterian Outlook. Beyond that, this "Save St. Paul School of Theology" Facebook page has generated some useful discussion and raised many good questions.
In the midst of all this, the founding pastor of COR, Adam Hamilton (pictured here), invited St. Paul graduates and others with questions about the move to come to COR last week and get a tour of where SPST will be located. The invitation was offered in the spirit of a gracious host and it was my impression from being there myself that the 20 or so people who came left with a better feeling about the move and the possibilities it raises for a different kind of experience for St. Paul's students.
As Hamilton explained at the start of the two-hour session, he hoped those present would offer ideas for "how the Church of the Resurrection can be a good host for the seminary."
The plan is for SPST to take over completely what is now the east education wing on COR's large campus. COR will replace that wing with a similar building and also build a permanent sanctuary. All that construction will take two or three years, so there will be some sharing of classroom space for a time and the SPST faculty and staff will be temporarily located in another nearby facility when classes begin for the fall semester this year.
"We really want this to succeed," Hamilton told the gathering, which included the seminary's dean, Harold Washington, as well as other SPST staff. "We want to be great hosts."
COR has nearly 20,000 members, and there has been some fear among SPST folks that the seminary would be just another small program of the church, with the church's needs being the main focus. Hamilton, who serves on the SPST board and is its former chairman, did his best to assure SPST graduates that the seminary would remain autonomous and that the seminary would decide whether and how to interact with COR, not the other way around.
Beyond that, Hamilton said, he knows that most of the churches SPST graduates will serve will not be mega-churches like COR, "but we do think we do some things pretty well that translate into other settings. We also have multiple models for ministry here (including Resurrection Blue Springs and Resurrection Downtown). . .We say we're one congregation in multiple locations, and each one has its own feel."
It's clear that some people still aren't happy with SPST's decision to move and will continue to have questions about how it will work. My impression from both Hamilton and the SPST leadership, however, is that they are anxious to hear constructive ideas about how to make this new arrangement work well.
What continues to remain unanswered, however, is what will happen to the current SPST campus east of downtown. SPST has a group working on that issue, but toward the end of the session at COR I asked Hamilton whether COR has offered to make available to SPST any COR members with experience that might help solve that problem. Hamilton said SPST hasn't asked for that directly but COR would be willing to find among its members people willing and able to help.
This SPST-COR relationship will be well worth watching for what it says about the future of seminary training. My guess is that though some things will be lost in the move, other things will be gained and that, in the end, students will have a broader and more useful seminary experience because of the move. But that's just my guess. Whether that happens depends on the wisdom of people in charge of the move and the new relationship.
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AMERICAN CATHOLICS AND THE POPE
New York Times columnist Frank Bruni pretty accurately captures the reality of the estrangement that exists between American Catholics and the Vatican -- an important point to remember as the church gets ready to select a new pope, who will mostly be ignored by American Catholics. The flip side of that is that American Catholics now make up no more than 6 percent of Catholics worldwide, so the church often feels free to ignore them in turn.
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P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online. To read it, click here.