The Berkeley Divinity School at Yale
October 15, 2009
I attended a meeting of the board of trustees of BDS/Y. I served for about ten years until five years ago and have recently been re-elected. I was used to hearing upbeat reports while watching significantly challenging financial statements, but this meeting was different. In spite of the drop in the value of our small endowment, we had enjoyed significant benefit for a number of years by allowing the money to be managed alongside the Yale endowment. Even with the significant drop in endowment income we are significantly better off than in the years of my last term. Enrollment is up. Alumni and parish giving has reached levels that are the envy of other Episcopal seminaries. Enrollment is about as high as it can be (even in the three year master of Divinity degree program) without becoming a problem in the ecumenical environment of the Yale Divinity
Students, along with faculty and alumni if they so desire, will soon live by a well crafted ‘rule of life’. It is really more of a guide to expectations in a number of areas of life that are essential to ‘formation’. (I hope that will be available on the school website once it is unveiled.) A series of retreats during the three years of study culminate in a retreat at Canterbury Cathedral. All of this is happening with a skeleton staff and shoestring budget. Students there are not being prepared specifically for parish ministry. They are being prepared for that elusive idea of ‘leadership’. In practice this means that they will be able to function in a number of worlds, differing sized parishes, non profit agencies, political organizations and so on. Anglican life and rhythms of worship, history and so on are considered a ‘first language’ while students are to be educated also in a ‘second language’ of the ecumenical and even interfaith worlds. I am confident that supporting this school is supporting the ministry of the church in powerful and positive ways that will only become manifest at graduates make their marks with a Yale degree and a Berkeley Diploma or Certificate in Anglican Studies.
The future of theological education is also slightly unclear in an environment where over half of newly ordained Episcopal clergy have done the bulk of their training in ‘local programs’ such as the Anglican Studies program at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. (Another great program). As long as this is true many of our traditional seminaries will continue to struggle to keep faculty, maintain buildings, attract students and do the core work for which they exist. I’m not sure there is a ‘right’ answer (such as bishops requiring students to attend Episcopal seminaries) in a world in which many come to such training as a second or third career and are in some ways constrained geographically by family life and commitments. Even thought we always ask questions about and require that a person seeking Holy Orders be geographically flexible, that is hard to bring about in practice if the ordinands’ family do not understand that profession as primary for all of them.