The real seminary upset

I think the earth-crushing Meadville Lombard ad (and its vague prospectus) and the “brown bag controversy” concerning Starr King are going to be eclipsed by proposed phase-out of direct funding to these seminaries. As someone who didn’t go to either — with good reasons — I think the time for student-following funding is long overdue.  Foundations worldwide demand outcomes for their money and are willing to change recipients if the goals aren’t met: this is nothing new. Let the prospective students show where the money should be sent.

A kind word to these seminaries’ leadership: I doubt intimating that your graduates are made into better Unitarian Universalists than graduates of others schools will go over well with the churches that sent these seminarians and the ones that call and ordain them as ministers. I’m even more sure it doesn’t go over well among the ministers who made other choices. I think we’d all be more willing to hear how these seminaries shape ministers for real-life ministry situations and have clear, concrete plans for addressing shortcomings.

Here’s the focus quotation from the Board of Trustees June 2007 report on the Panel on Theological Education (PDF document):

The result of this process will be recommendations for further action at the UUA Board
of Trustees’ June 2008 meeting in keeping with the timeline called for in the motion.
POTE anticipates a three-year graduated reduction to eliminate funding for the general
operating costs for Starr King and Meadville Lombard. The Panel looks forward to the
full participation of both schools in addressing the challenges for ministerial formation,
development, and excellence not only for their own seminarians, but for the 65% – 70%
of Unitarian Universalist seminarians schooled elsewhere and for the continuing
development of all of our clergy.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

1 comment

  1. It seems to me that Starr King and Meadville depend too often upon proving their value by assertion. As in “We assert our school produces the best UU ministers. Thus we are indispensable.” Their value should be self-evident to the seminarians that are seeking a school, and to the congregations and community ministries seeking ministers.

    That said, I think Starr King is the most vulnerable right now. If I were on SKSM’s board, I might want to explore a different model for the institution’s theological education. Give up being a stand-alone seminary, and become a divinity house that is part of the Pacific School of Religion.

    The Swedenborgian Church ( ) has done this VERY effectively when they transformed their independent Swedenborg School of Religion into the Swedenborgian House of Studies at PSR . Their House of Studies has its own denominationally specialized faculty, its own specialized curriculum track within the PSR program, its own specialized theological library, and retains its own endowment and scholarship funds. To me this seems to be THE way for a small seminary in Berkeley to survive the growing economic challenges that squeeze all small theological schools.

    With regards to Meadville, I might look at some partnership with the Chicago Theological Seminary. Perhaps something similar to the covenant of partnership between the Quaker’s Earlham School of Religion, and the Brethren’s Bethany Theological Seminary. Each school retains its own faculty and independence, but shares resources in certain administrative and academic disciplines where duplication is eliminated, or where each school has an academic strength that can help the other school’s weakness. For example, ESR has good faculty in Hebrew Bible but not New Testament. Bethany has good faculty in New Testament, but not Hebrew Bible.

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