An Early Spring

Dr. Michael DeLashmutt
Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs

This article is being published in the depths of winter, but I come to you to tell you of growth and fruition. Perhaps it’s cliché these days to talk about the changing landscape of theological education—some recent descriptions even take on an almost cataclysmic tone. But, as followers of Jesus, I believe we should be fundamentally oriented toward hope. And, as I see it, the landscape is rich and full and showing signs of potential.

In my short time as the Academic Dean, I have had the pleasure of seeing first-hand the “green blade” rising from the “buried grain” at The General Theological Seminary. Please forgive such Easter hymnody in the midst of Advent, but I see excitement and hopefulness in the eyes of my colleagues and friends in theological education when I describe the innovative and exciting work we are pursuing, such as the Way of Wisdom curriculum and our Wisdom Year residency, or the upcoming Master of Arts in Ministry degree, or the new academic M.A. concentration in Theology and the Arts.

Some of this resurrection spirit was clearly witnessed by the ATS Self-Study team who visited us this past November as part of our decennial re-accreditation. While they were here, the joyful spirit that characterizes life together on the Close, the collaborative energy faculty colleagues exude, and the commitment to education and formation that is shared widely throughout the seminary community, was on full display.

While we are not yet at liberty to share the results of the visit, we are pleased to hear from our visitors what we, as a community, believe: God is at work at The General Theological Seminary!

What has contributed to making this place such a bright spot in the landscape of theological education? Ongoing support of our alumni and friends during periods of difficulty and the fundamental commitment to vocational and spiritual formation that is so distinctive to and characteristic of this institution.

Last month, I read an article from the ATS entitled “Midpoint Reflections on Educational Models Project.” As the title suggests, the article stems from a major research project that is currently underway at ATS aimed at helping schools develop strategies and responses to the changing landscape go theological education. Funded by a nearly $6 million grant from the Lily Endowment, ATS is midway through a four-year research project that will evaluate and identify effective models of ministry formation and education across more than 250 member schools.

In the article, Stephen Graham, Senior Director of Programs and Services at The Association of Theological Schools, lists ten key findings from the initial research of the project. Of these, the first two deal squarely with the importance of formation in theological education: “In addition to intellectual and academic formation,” Graham writes, “students must be formed as persons of integrity and spirituality.”

While this may not be a surprising finding, what I found of interest was how the call for more intentional formation in theological education extended to the faculty and institution as a whole. Graham goes on to note, “A corollary to the emphasis on theological education as formational education is the need for faculty who are themselves formed and able to mentor the formation of theological students.”

As I read this report, I couldn’t help but feel that my hopefulness for the future of our seminary was affirmed by the research emerging from the Educational Models Project.

Our unified commitment to formation is reflected in our life together, centered around prayer, worship, and common meals and deepened through shared experiences of celebration and struggle. And at General, this formation is not something that we are doing to our students, but life together is something that we—faculty, staff and administration—are choosing to live with our students.

When I share with Academic Deans from other institutions that our faculty commits to spending over 15 hours a week in formational activities, such as chapel worship, community meals, and advising, they are astonished. General has been able to move beyond the modernist trap of theological education, which reduces theological study to pure scholarship alone. In its place, we seek to advance an intentionally integrative model of theological education where rigorous academic study, student learning, and a shared commitment to spiritual transformation can occur side by side.

Recently, one of our new Anglican Year students told me that what she found so refreshing about the spiritual life at General was the clear commitment on the part of the faculty to regular worship and prayer. She felt like the faculty created a welcoming context where students are invited to participate in a life of common worship. This contrasted with her experience at other seminaries, where faculty seemed to have little interest in worship and prayer.

I feel profoundly affirmed that General is headed in the right direction and am deeply hopeful that our unique response to the challenges facing theological education and the Church is the right one. Here, we are committing to a rhythm of life that is faithful to the DNA of this place, forged into the very architecture of the Close, where the Chapel stands at the center of our campus—both physically and spiritually.

So, yes, here in the depths of winter, I evoke an image of spring and resurrection. Much as the green blade emerges from the buried grain, I see great gardens and fruitful crops growing here at General. I am hopeful and excited for the future of education and formation at The General Theological Seminary.