The Way of Wisdom Update

Board of Trustees Affirms Support While Pilot Program Starts

Announced in spring 2014, The Way of Wisdom is a new approach at The General Theological Seminary that integrates all the disciplines of formation in seminary education, rather than separating academics, training, and experience. The Way of Wisdom inspires students to interpret and learn from every aspect of their time in seminary, from Chapel service and classes to parish ministry and the experience of living in New York City. Visiting experts offer lectures and workshops that help students to hone real-world ministry skills, like pastoral leadership, stewardship, and financial management, throughout their three years at General.

In their first two years, M.Div. students use the classroom as a springboard to focus on the interconnectedness of all their coursework. The dynamic changes in the third year when seminarians spend a significant amount of time in ministry, while utilizing the classroom as a place to analyze with professors and peers how the theoretical and the practical meet. The aim always remains the same: to form one’s entire self according to the mind and heart of Christ within the context of the Church.

The Wisdom Year
In their final year, The Wisdom Year, M.Div. students synthesize their entire seminary education through practical experience which goes beyond field placement. Students are placed in real-world, paid, part-time positions in a ministry setting. They are given support, mentoring, and tools to connect this experience to their academic pursuits on campus. The position carries all the responsibilities – and the paycheck – of a real job. Before leaving seminary, seminarians gain significant experience within a network of support among their professors, peers, supervisors, and mentors. Questions, challenges, and successes can be explored in familiar surroundings with those who are knowledgeable and trusted.

The Wisdom Year creates an environment that goes well beyond knowledge while wading into wisdom, reducing the cost of seminary tuition and housing by one third, and meeting the growing need of the 400 Episcopal churches in the area for eager, theologically trained pastors and leaders on a rotating basis.

The Pilot Year
The current academic year marks the inauguration of The Wisdom Year pilot program. Beginning last fall, two GTS seniors were placed in parishes in paid, part-time ministry positions, and the feedback from the participants in the Wisdom Year pilot has been largely positive. Hershey Mallette took the position of Pastoral Resident at Grace Church, Manhattan, where she was bestowed with all of the symbols of employment: keys, office, email address – along with all of the responsibilities.

The Rev. Matthew Welch, the other student involved in this year’s pilot, feels he has experienced a combination of empowerment and obligation. He has been able to foster his skills at creating relationships and has been given first-hand experience at outreach, all while meeting the responsibilities of a paid, pastoral position. As part of the pilot, he continues to give feedback to help fine-tune the program. His feedback emphasizes the need for peer groups and faculty mentoring, and he also sees the need to strike a balance, so that The Wisdom Year does not compete with academics.

The Rev. Donald Waring, Rector of Grace Church, sees The Wisdom Year as a creative possibility for General to meet the clergy needs of the church while providing students the experience they would have gained as curates in days gone by. He has signed on for another year and considers that The Wisdom Year will play an important role for parishes like his who can’t afford an additional priest, but still need someone to fulfill a part-time pastoral position.

In the past, Grace Church has been able to employ a third full-time member of its clergy staff who would have had the title of Curate. The challenging economic times have reduced the position to part-time, which severely limits the pool of applicants. But The Wisdom Year matches needs with resources both for the students and the church, since the students don’t require the housing and insurance that they already have through the seminary.

Waring sees a distinct difference between field placement and a Wisdom Year position. In field placement the primary purpose is learning. By contrast a GTS seminarian in a Wisdom Year position produces, delivers, and is responsible as a paid employee. Waring’s ideal situation would be to have a middler seminarian carry out a traditional field placement at Grace and then progress to a paid position in his or her senior year as part of The Wisdom Year program. He is also providing valuable feedback about how to strike an ideal balance among work, school, and worship for Wisdom Year seminarians.

The pilot of The Wisdom Year has reaffirmed that every combination of parish and seminarian is different, and that the program must be flexible enough to account for these individual needs.

Board of Trustees Affirms Support
At their meeting on February 6, 2015, the GTS Board of Trustees reaffirmed its support for The Way of Wisdom.

At the meeting, the Rt. Rev. Clifton Daniel, Bishop of Pennsylvania, and the recently elected Chair of the GTS Board of Trustees, remembered a summer he spent serving in a responsible parish position as “one of the most formative experiences in my seminary education.” And, referring to the lack of post-graduate curacy positions available, recent graduate, Jadon Hartsuff ’12, said he thought that The Wisdom Year is “an experience every student would want.”

The Board’s discussion reaffirmed the core aspects of The Way of Wisdom, such as the use of peer groups and mentoring. These components promote a structured formation and a high level of supervision. This is made possible with a highly connected faculty.

The Board has scheduled a significant amount of time at its next meeting in May to further discuss the development of The Way of Wisdom and its implementation.