GetReligion—On seminaries: Time ignores the obvious

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Now, the key is that this is not a story about a trend in the Episcopal Church or even the world of oldline Protestantism. The heart of the story is a set of new statistics out from Association of Theological Schools, which, as Time tells us, includes more than 250 graduate schools in North America. The whole point is that gray-haired baby boomers are now the fastest growing niche in theological education....

Also, it would help to know the overall numbers and demographics at General Theological Seminary — a school which reported 202 students (134 full-time equivalents) in the same time frame as the Time report. Meanwhile, there were 108 students (62 FTE) up at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass.

As a point of comparison, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth had 3,042 students (2,068 FTE) that year and, on the various campuses of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there were 2,134 students (1,492 FTE)

I was going to post this when Time made the etext available, since I first saw it in my paper subscription, but alas, it never occurred. In any event, read it all--KSH.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)* Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryMinistry of the Ordained* Culture-WatchMiddle AgeReligion & Culture* Religion News & CommentaryOther Churches* TheologySeminary / Theological Education

12 Comments
Posted February 2, 2011 at 5:00 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Stephen Noll wrote:

In addition to the general demographic trend toward older seminarians, one might note that from the 1970s until quite recently, the Commissions on Ministry in TEC refused to accept young ordinands and told them to go “get life experience” before enrolling in seminary. For most Episcopal seminaries now, it is far too late to reverse that trend. Why would a young person enter the Episcopal ministry, for heaven’s sake?

Trinity School for Ministry began addressing this issue in the 1990s and I believe has made some real headway in increasing the numbers of younger candidates for ordination – even as many of them face church-planting futures rather than parish sinecures.

One other interesting statistic would be to know would be how many of the younger Episcopal/Anglican seminarians are “cradle Episcopalians” and how many are “Canterbury-trail Evangelicals.”

February 2, 10:56 pm | [comment link]
2. wyclif wrote:

I posted this story from Get Religion on Facebook. Here is what a Reformed pastor friend and church planter wrote, very apropros: “The trend is all about risk. Episcopalians, ECUS (and other mainline denoms) don’t plant churches anymore. Their pastors mainly oversee shrinking congregations that live off of depleting endowments. This is the perfect environment for female priests and safety-oriented male retirees looking for something new and interesting to do [i.e. “empty nesters”].”

February 2, 11:23 pm | [comment link]
3. Ralph Webb wrote:

And I would add to Dr. Noll’s groups a third one for study: evangelicals who are neither cradle Episcopalians/Anglicans nor on the Canterbury trail, at least at the time they arrive at seminaries such as Trinity. I suspect that number is growing given a variety of factors (e.g., the job market, scholarship funds, seminary marketing, etc.).

I also know, thanks to having several recent evangelical seminary graduates in my extended family, that it’s not unusual these days for evangelicals who did not graduate from either Episcopal/Anglican seminaries or evangelical seminaries with an Anglican track (and so may have very little Anglican background) to seek to serve in non-TEC Anglican congregations. The AMiA, in particular, has hired a substantial number of RTS graduates. If this develops into (or continues as) a major trend, another area to watch is how it might change North American Anglicanism theologically.

February 3, 6:39 am | [comment link]
4. C. Wingate wrote:

Stephen Noll is assuredly right. And I believe there is are a couple of other factors. If you want to see the shift in action, you can do no better than to look at the second chart on page 4 in this report. Notice how abrupt the shift is from the 1970s to the 1980s. There were two external factors coming into play at this point. One was that the peak of the baby boom was passing through the 25-35 window; the other was that the 1970s saw the abrupt inflation that marked the start of the current overpricing of higher education. the reaction to the first was the explosion in Process as well as the whole “life experience” line. The third factor was, of course, that the pool of applicants had just doubled. Something had to be done to cut down on the flood of applicants. Well, the solution had a strong bias against younger applicants, on top of the “you need to be older” line already in place: more expensive seminary and long-drawn out Process meant that young families couldn’t afford to do it. And now there was the demographic pig in the python of pent up, unfulfilled vocations getting older and older.

the deeper problem for ECUSA is in the upper chart on the same page: ordinations are not keeping pace with retirements. Now I suppose that this is probably OK as long as the number keep dropping, as long as it’s OK that the numbers keep dropping. The ratio is about to get a lot worse, though, because that last big block of young-in-the-‘70s priests is about to start retiring.

February 3, 7:07 am | [comment link]
5. evan miller wrote:

#3 The trend you bring up is one that has concerned me a good deal.  Far too many priests in the emerging North American Anglicanism are fairly ignorant of Anglican distinctives and even seem to downplay them.  It is critical that the clergy of ACNA be deeply immersed in the Anglican ethos and confident, unapologetic advocates for prayer book worship and the Sacraments.

February 3, 11:03 am | [comment link]
6. Terry Tee wrote:

I see from the report that to train at General costs around $100k and that the lady in question is dipping into her savings.  What happens to an ordinand from a poor or working-class family?  Is there any mechanism to enable this?

February 3, 12:42 pm | [comment link]
7. C. Wingate wrote:

Terry, thirty years ago our parish paid the costs of people whom we sent to seminary.

February 3, 12:47 pm | [comment link]
8. Capt. Father Warren wrote:

Far too many priests in the emerging North American Anglicanism are fairly ignorant of Anglican distinctives and even seem to downplay them

Having just returned from the Anglican 1000 Conference in Plano, I am rather amazed at that statement.  Would you perhaps have some data to back that up with?  The church planters I met, and we “wannabe” church planters don’t fit that template.  In fact, I am a cradle Episcopalian/Anglican and it is by choice that I remain so (God’s and mine).  And when I get a church plant up and running there will be no doubt what our ecclesiastical, theological, and doctrinal roots are.

One my good clerical friends is a TESM grad now serving a parish in SC and when we worked together he taught a course on Anglican Ethos and did it very very well.

Data please?

February 3, 7:22 pm | [comment link]
9. SCNCAnglican wrote:

I think what #5 says and what #8 says have validity.

February 3, 9:58 pm | [comment link]
10. evan miller wrote:

Capt.,
No data, just personal observations from the last 7 years of reading and exposure to a wide range of ACNA and AMIA clergy.

February 4, 9:53 am | [comment link]
11. Capt. Father Warren wrote:

EM, okay, I did not understand that from your first post.  Maybe it’s geography, happenstance, etc but my experience has been quite different (so far).  That we must safeguard our Anglican heritage as we move forth in a new province is something we do agree upon.  Of course there will be two flavors that we guard, the evangelical and the anglo-catholic.  Sometimes (?) one looks at the other with more than a little suspicsion.

February 4, 11:01 am | [comment link]
12. evan miller wrote:

Capt.,
We’re in complete agreement then, speaking as an Anglo-Catholic in an Evangelical parish.

February 4, 11:48 am | [comment link]
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