Saint Paul School of Theology began its new life at a huge surburban church on Tuesday of this week with a convocation at which a man who leads a seminary accrediting agency urged it to take its legacy of a creative and collaborative educational model into a new era.
"This service marks a moment in time when Saint Paul School of Theology is both leaving and going," said Daniel O. Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (he's pictured here at the pulpit).
"It's leaving a campus (on Truman Road near Van Brunt) with historic connections and contemporary problems," he said in a sermon delivered in the Wesley Chapel of the United Methodist Church of the Ressurection (COR) in Leawood, Kan., the new home of SPST. "For many associated with this school this is a day when leaving has promise.
"The seminary is also going. It's going to the campus of a national influential United Methodist congregation. It's going to an educational model that makes a congregational setting a central part of the Saint Paul curriculum. It is pioneering a future model of collaboration and inventing a paradigm of theological education that shows promise of serving the future as effectively as the previous model served the past."
As Aleshire noted, seminaries all over the country are having financial difficulty and are looking for sustainable new models to train clergy. The Saint Paul board, by making the move to COR partly because of financial difficulties at the Truman Road campus, is hoping it can create such a new model in which students would interact more directly with a congregation and members of the congregation would take advantage of the assets of a seminary.
In fact, Aleshire said, "nothing about this (new) education model requires the physical assets that were available on Truman Road."
He said he hoped the SPST move would save money, but "I hope that the money saved will be spent on student scholarships. . .on faculty compensation and on efforts to extend" the reach of the school. "I hope the school does not use the savings simply to live cheaply."
The former campus has a potential buyer that wants to turn it into a social services center but that would focus on working to stop commercial sexual exploitation. I wrote about those plans here.
The mood of Saint Paul's opening convocation struck me as both nervous and upbeat. Aleshire did a marvelous job of providing a realistic look at the issues surrounding the move while he also sought to inspire faculty and students to embrace this new experiment.
There is no guarantee that this seminary-congregation model will work, but if it does it may show a way forward for other seminaries trying to meet the needs of faith communities in a time of rapid and huge changes.
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IT WOULD BE GONE IF IT SAID 'UNDER ALLAH'
A lawsuit in the Boston area has been filed to challenge the "under God" wording in the Pledge of Allegiance. I agree it has no place there, just as "In God We Trust" has no place on our money. But I'm thinking there are much higher priorities that wouldn't come with the inevitable backlash that will happen when courts rule in favor of removing this wording.
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P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online. To read it click here.