Seminaries under Pressure

Article excerpt

If church leaders had the chance to fashion a seminary from scratch, what would it look like? Would it have its own campus? Would it be tied to a denomination or be fully ecumenical? Would the classical academic subjects be taught and, if so, how would that learning be correlated with the work of forming spiritual leaders and training them in the practice of ministry? Would greater emphasis be placed on supervised ministry? Might the entire curriculum be based on an apprenticeship model of learning?

While this kind of important reflection is going on in some circles, students and churches must continue to reckon with seminaries as they exist--with their campuses and buildings, faculty and staff, governing boards and supporting constituencies. Yet change is coming to these institutions whether they want it or not, for many face decreasing enrollments and lack the financial resources to continue business as usual. The Association of Theological Schools reports that of the member schools that responded to a survey last April, 53 percent saw their endowments drop from 21 to 30 percent between June 2008 and March 2009; another 15 percent experienced an even deeper drop. Seminaries that were living on the edge financially before the recession were forced to cut faculty and staff, freeze or reduce wages and benefits, defer maintenance and reduce other spending, especially on libraries.

The average ATS member school spends 60 to 70 percent of its budget on institutional support and only 30 to 40 percent on educational programs. …