With the building sales at Meadville Lombard, the leadership crisis at Starr King, the closure of Bangor and the God-knows-what at General (Episcopal) (one, two)… well, it’s easy to have misgiving about the future of seminaries, and with it the future of ministerial formation.
When I looked back to the 1927 Universalist Year Book, I’m reminded that the future is contingent. Affairs needn’t have turned out the way they did. For instance, did you know there was a ministerial training program in Chattanooga, Tennessee? I didn’t, and I wonder if it was the premature death of the Harriman, Tennessee parish — Tennessee Universalism was far from strong; these were the only two churches in the state and thus they had no convention of their own — that caused this to end, too.
The School of Evangelism, Chattanooga, Tenn.
A school for the special training for the ministry for those unable to attend the regular theological schools of the Universalist Church.
Organized 1917. Has the use of the Q. H. Shinn Memorial Church for study purposes.
Board of Management: Manager, The Minister of the Q. H. Shinn Memorial Church; Vice-Manager, the Chairman of the Educational Committee of the Board of Trustees of the General Convention; Sec.-Treas., Rev. W. H. McGlauflin, D.D.; Mrs. J. W. Vallentyne, Rev. Francis B. Bishop, D.D., M. O. Hill, and Mrs. J. G. McGowin.
The minister was a B. H. Clark, of whom I know nothing. The education committee didn’t exist, but if the scholarship committee was intended, then that was Lee McCollester, of Tufts. We already met Dr. McGlauflin in a sad episode about thirty years prior.
I’ll keep my eyes open for more details.
Summer is at its peak. It’s hot. And for reasons outside your control, the otherwise-reliable power supply has been cut. No air conditioning, and since you don’t know when it’s going to come back (it will come back, right?) you don’t dare pillage the fridge, so to preserve the chilled food you have left.
What do you do to stay feeling cool? These make my list
- keep the curtains closed when the sun is up
- try to draw a breeze by opening two or more windows
- keep meals light and cold, or at least uncooked
- keep the lights out, even if modern lights don’t produce much heat any more
- take frequent, light showers (or at least make good use of a damp wash cloth)
- drink as much cold water as possible
- air the bedclothes before sleeping
- wear modern fibers, which wick sweat, dry quickly and minimize feeling sticky
Of these, all but the last was common in my grandparents’ day, and perhaps their grandparents’.
When we read about — heck, know — about highly educated (and deeply indebted) ministers who are unemployed or under-employed in church work, it’s not hard to sense that times are changing, and are very unlikely to return to the go-go days of postwar Protestantism. The power is going out: short stoppages now, but there may be a day when the grid fails completely. We need to prepare for this risk, and be grateful that we still have choices (if not always happy one) and that these are not fundamentally life and death issues.
And, looking back on that hot weather solutions list, I’d like us to consider the wisdom of an earlier time that faced some of the same problems and had to cope. Relying on a practical ministerial education more, say, than an academic model. Forming more parish yokes. Making ministerial fellowship more flexible for dip in and out of (better paying, one would hope) secular work. Revisiting credentialed lay ministry, an inheritance from the Universalists, was only formally laid down a few years ago. Not to mention making conference attendance and professional development less of a financial burden.
There is surely room for modern technology, but I bet we already know and have known the essential steps to making necessary changes. The will is another matter. Until then, the heat is on.
So, the Unitarian Universalist-o-sphere is blowing up around a crisis at Starr King School for the Ministry, a Unitarian Universalist-related graduate seminary in Berkeley, California.
I would go into detail about the crisis, but there aren’t many details to be had, and much of the commentary — including an appeal letter from incoming president, Rosemary Bray McNatt, lately the minister of Fourth Universalist, New York — takes place on Facebook, and that’s hardly a reliable archive.
The nut is, or seems to be, this: someone gave confidential documents about the presidential search process to those outside the process, including other Unitarian Universalists, the press and the theological seminaries accrediting board. (I have no idea what these documents say.) The Starr King board has made an inquiry. Two graduating Starr King students have not been graduated (a contingent graduation) pending further investigation. Unsubstantiated reports tell of two board members resigning. Past UUA moderator Gini Courter has established a legal defense fund for the students, who are being represented by lawyers. Talk of ethics, boundaries and leadership abound, with a predicable amount of expressed horror and people supporting their friends.
Rosemary Bray McNatt’s open letter is here. A statement from the lawyers representing the students is here.
Not suprizingly, web searches have brought readers to a post I wrote about Starr King in 2007. My basic opinion about the school hasn’t changed, and (plainly) I have a hard time caring if it prospers or dies. This blog post is not about Starr King School for the Ministry. It’s about Unitarian Universalist self-conception.
- This is the second time in a year (or so) that an unnamed consultant has been brought in to handle major Unitarian Universalist institutional conflict. Who is the consultant? A forthcoming introduction would go far to instill confidence that the consultant is qualified and has no conflict of interest.
- The lawyers refer to ‘an investigator for the board’s law firm’ which, if true, is alarming. But is very much in character with Unitarian Universalist culture which claims to create bold leaders yet makes the formation process a gauntlet of circumspection, wildly uneven power arrangements and keeping your head down. You have to pass to play. But you can’t build bravery though fear. (So no points to Gini Couter for “doing the right thing.” I’ve never seen so many good people sigh relief as when she stopped being Moderator. For some reason, people are afraid of her. If this is Unitarian Universalism, you can keep it. But she’s out of office and the rest of us are still here.)
- Which is, I believe, why Unitarian Universalist ministers are so deeply conformist, at least in public, and why ministers close ranks with the speed and force of a bear trap. Can you think of another denomination that avoids public fights so hard? It’s particularly bitter when you consider the brave souls we lionize, say, like John Haynes Holmes.
- When you spend all you time being “revolutionary” expect revolutionary justice. As in, innocent blood on the guillotine. But we aren’t that revolutionary, and weirdness is not a substitute. I’ll take sober, thoughtful leadership any day. Our rhetoric doesn’t match our reality, even a reasonable aspiration.
- There’s a Yiddish word you should learn if you don’t know it. Mishigas. Crazy-nonsense. Boy, do we have it. Good, self-differentiated people smell it and they stay away or leave. Remember that the next time you hear someone mew about the Millenials being our future.
As I said, this is far past a Starr King issue, but it is a test for Unitarian Universalist leadership, and we should all be watching.
I’m a member of the Universalist National Memorial Church, and
today Sunday the church’s leadership made an exciting announcement at the climax of a congregational meeting: we are moving into the next phase of the church, but it’s not quite like anything I’ve ever seen. In consultation with district and association staff, and after six months’ work from the search commitee, the church is beginning a part-time, shared (but non-spousal) contract ministry by two theologically-trained laypersons. Some of you may know Crystal St. Marie Lewis, M.T.S, from her blogging. David Gatton, M.Div., is a long-time member of the church, but has had a secular career.
So this something new. Neither we nor they know what to call the experiment, or even what titles to use for them. That’s less important than them developing a working partnership, and the congregation providing support. (If all goes well, we hope to increase the percentage to full time within three years.)
Read the outline of the proposal here.
The team ministry begins June 15, and I pray them and the church every success. I’ll return to this subject from time to time.
Congratulations to Crystal St. Marie Lewis, who received her Master of Theological Studies from Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C. today. She blogs here (Window on Religion) and tweets here and is well worth reading.
I was — and am — looking for a practical expostion on Universalist worship like the one from 1901 I found for the Unitarians a couple of weeks ago. In the process, I found the Tufts 1902-03 catalog, and its pages dedicated to its now-lost Divinity School.
A couple of items to note: one could enter as an undergraduate and study through, and option that died very recently in the United States with the closure of Bangor Theological Seminary. And that the curriculum included logic (for nongrads), economics, psychology and the “Biblical languages” of German, Hebrew and Greek. And PE for the men.
Class of 1897
If you were approved, you would have gotten a generous scholarship — to imagine an early pastorate without student debt! — from the Universalist General Convention, though non-Universalists were admitted. Lodging “heated by steam and lighted by gas ” included, but you did have to provide your own “sheets, blankets, pillow cases, and towels.”
A fun read.
Required watching for anyone with romantic ideas about going into the ministry. The “gone into nonprofits” is my story of the last ten years. Not sad, but the existential piece hits close to home
See the Religion and Ethics Newsweekly site for a transcript.
“Diminishing Job Prospects for Protestant Pastors” (May 2, 2014)
So I was trolling for Universalism in digitized newspapers (as one does) and I found a short article from 1913, entitled with lurid lettering: “Clergyman Turns Actor.“
Frederick A. Wilmot, a Tufts grad and assisting (presumably licensed) minister at the Church of the Divine Paternity, New York (now called Fourth Universalist) gave notice and left to tread the boards.
“The humdrum of parish life bored me stiff.” That is the real why, the real wherefore of the transformation of Frederick A. Wilmot from parson to actor…”Why should I devote my life to becoming a fair preacher when all my inclinations point to my becoming a good actor?”
Little did he know then; the Broadway stage wasn’t his future. The Daughter of Heaven was his only credit and it closed after 98 poorly-reviewed performances.
But later that year, he was ordained and installed as the minister of the West (Third) Somerville (Mass.) Universalist Church serving until 1916, and later pastoring in New Bedford. Later references point to a Fitchburg, Mass. pastorate (until 1940), writing the religion beat in Providence, and active participation in Christian ecumenicism. Indeed, it looks like he had a successful ministry.
He died July 22, 1952 in Providence and is buried in the Locust Grove Cemetery there. Shall we visit his grave during General Assembly and give thanks for his ministry: the one that began with such doubt?
Good for him Google (or Facebook) didn’t exist then. And good for him the call reappeared.
“Clergyman Turns Actor,” The San Francisco Call, April 13, 1913.
Does anyone still bookmark sites? (I rarely do since I got Pinboard.in, worth every penny of the one-time fee. You can also set it up to automatically save the links you ‘favorite’ from Twitter.)
Either way, keep a hold of this link:
Princeton Theological Seminary’s Theological Commons
As some of you have noticed, when I post a public-domain book, I link to the read-in-browser version, hosted at the Internet Archive. Internet Archives worked with Princeton Theological Seminary to scan and host more than 33,000 items. (A recent fire at their scanning plant cost $600,000 in damage; give if you can.) You can read these at Internet Archive, but I think the search feature at the Theological Commons, and since I seek out theologial works, that improved experience — including searching within books — is a big help. (You then get forwarded to Internet Archive.) And there are plenty of interesting works there.
“Why Won’t Obama Pay His Interns?” by Evan McMorris-Santoro (Buzzfeed) (Yes, there’s implied criticism of the Unitarian Universalist ministerial internship system.)