Last month, General Seminary did what it has done well for 198 years: we graduated a class of degree and certificate recipients. Our 27 graduates have been well educated and formed to continue their ministry in the world. These brothers and sisters in Christ are now prepared for a world that is hungry for the Good News they bring.
The celebration of Commencement brought to a close an academic year that was acutely painful for everyone affiliated with The General Theological Seminary. Assuring the sustainability of this institution–financially and missionally–continued to be the imperative, and under the Board’s direction, we continued to make the changes necessary to achieve that sustainability. And we learned all too well how difficult change can be.
The eight bishops on our board put it best in a letter to their brother and sister bishops:
“We knew it would be hard and even painful work to turn a ship of our age and reputation, a lesson many of you have learned in your congregations and dioceses. You also know that the ghosts of an institution’s life are always lurking and that certain patterns, narratives, and resistance tend to resurface in moments of transition and change, as clearly happened here.”
In addition to addressing the difficult parts of our past–while focusing on maintaining the many, many wonderful aspects of our legacy and traditions–we faced the challenges of defining our future as an institution. As a church and a seminary, we embrace, respect, and value diversity in all its forms. This includes diversity of opinion, of perspective, and of the ways in which each of us lives our faith.
This diversity is one of our strengths. We aspire to listen to different voices in order to become one in Christ. All of us–alumni, students, faculty, staff, trustees, bishops, The Episcopal Church–share a deep love of this institution, and a common goal: a stronger, more vibrant General, excelling in the formation of new generations of leaders for a changing world.
Despite–or perhaps because of–our love of General, we have passionate views on how we reach this goal. And the divergence of these views–which can often be constructive–sadly led to anger, conflict and misunderstanding. We can all speculate on the exact reasons, as there are many different perspectives. Many believe the year brought to a head some very old and deep problems within General which were not examined and addressed for many years. We have spent many hours in prayer and in conversation–in small groups and in the context of the Mennonite Peace Process we commenced–fervently reflecting on the causes of what transpired and very importantly, on how we can continue to heal.
To be sure, there is more work ahead. Divisions persist, and the scars are fairly new. But in acknowledging our challenges, we are in a much better position to address them now as never before. In the end, we have great faith that the experiences of the past year are making General a better, stronger institution.
Our new awareness comes at a price. Some faculty members who have played a central role at General for many decades have chosen to leave us. They will be missed, and we wish them well as they continue to travel in God’s grace.
At the same time, we continue to move forward on the Close. Despite the difficulties of the past year, we have continued to move toward the vision that our Board, informed by a wide and deep community of voices from throughout our institution and our Church, established for General back in 2012. This vision called us to think broadly and creatively about how we could best leverage the strengths of our institution–our academic excellence, our strong tradition, and the resources and opportunities that we have as a result of our position in the center of New York City–to “prepare lay and ordained leaders for the changing church in the changing world.”
We have continued to expand and refine The Way of Wisdom and The Wisdom Year. Our new professors are pairing with existing faculty to team-teach classes such as Ethics. This integrative work is at the heart of the Wisdom curriculum. Almost all of the rising seniors have Wisdom Year residencies, and this year we continue to assess and expand this trail-blazing program beyond the recently completed pilot-year format.
Our pursuit of this vision continues today. We are preparing to welcome new faculty and staff. We are getting ready for our new incoming students, and developing exciting new opportunities for them to draw upon the expertise and of some of the most compelling academic and religious leaders of our day by accessing the great talent available to us in this far-reaching center of church and culture.
And, we are recognizing as a community that, in order to serve a fast-moving world, change will be a constant. In our 198 years, our mission hasn’t changed–we continue to focus on serving the whole church–the whole church–and making Jesus Christ known and grown in all contexts. But we must adapt the manner in which we fulfill this mission to the current and future needs of our church and our world.
As I’ve said, one of our great strengths as an institution is our diversity–and the summer 2015 edition of GTS News Quarterly reflects that diversity. At the same time, we are all unified by one vision and one mission, rooted in our love of God, of Jesus, and of each other.
The Very Rev. Kurt H. Dunkle
Dean and President