December 12, 2012

TSM and The Episcopal Church

Many would argue that Trinity School for Ministry (TSM) has played a critical role in undermining The Episcopal Church. (The official name of the seminary remains Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, but “Episcopal” has lately disappeared from all publications.) Ostensibly, the seminary was founded to advance the evangelical cause within an increasingly liberal Episcopal Church. Arguably, it was successful in doing that, at least up to a point. Many of the school’s graduates have now left The Episcopal Church for the Anglican Church in North America or other ultraconservative denominations. Thus, Trinity and its alumni (and alumnae) are engaged in decreasing the influence of evangelicals in The Episcopal Church.

Trinity logoI don’t intend to document the trajectory of TSM here or to justify my belief that it should no longer be considered a seminary appropriate for the education of Episcopal clergy. Instead, I am writing this modest essay in response to my having just browsed through the Fall 2012 issue of TSM’s magazine Seed & Harvest. (The issue has not yet been posted on-line, so I cannot link to it here.)

An article titled “The Year in Review” can be found on page 11. It begins by mentioning the addition of three new faculty members at TSM. Two of the three are ordained, but neither is an Episcopalian. (I can verify Episcopal clergy on-line but have no sure way of identifying Episcopalian laypeople.) The story later notes that, last summer, “we had the opportunity to participate in three major denominational conventions,” namely, the Provincial Assembly of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), The Episcopal Church’s General Convention, and the Convocation of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). I can attest that TSM was represented at the General Convention, but I think it more significant that TSM had a presence at the ACNA gathering—ACNA was formed largely by congregations “liberated” from The Episcopal Church, ably assisted by TSM faculty and graduates—and the NALC Convocation. (NALC split from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with which The Episcopal Church is in full communion.) In reality, although TSM serves many churches, it is most conspicuously the principal seminary for ACNA.

Page 14 for Seed & Harvest lists TSM’s Board of Trustees and Faculty. (This information is also available on the TSM Web site.) Sixteen faculty members are listed, 10 of whom are ordained. Only three are Episcopalian; Dean and President Justyn Terry is not among them. Of the 25 trustees, I could identify only two Episcopal clergy, one of whom, the Rt. Rev. Greg Brewer, is bishop of the very conservative Diocese of Central Florida. The Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence is also on the board, but, of course, he is no longer an Episcopalian. Most of the remaining names, both of clergy and laypeople, are known to me to be ACNA members, including chairman Wicks Stephens, Robert Duncan, and Alison Barfoot. Geoffrey Chapman (of infamous Chapman Letter fame) is among the retiring trustees.

It must be admitted that TSM is working hard to to achieve acceptance among Episcopalians. The seminary is physically within the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, and it has not only had a presence at diocesan conventions, but has also provided food for receptions. Moreover, I don’t mean to suggest that all the school’s graduates remaining in The Episcopal Church—many are in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh—are members of a fifth column. I believe it is time to admit, however, that TSM has lost any legitimacy it may have had to be considered an Episcopal seminary.


Postscript. I can offer an earlier post on my blog to suggest the nature of TSM’s influence and that of its supporters. As I suggested earlier, I do not intend to be offering the definitive case against the school here.



5 comments:

  1. It's interesting that four of the five ordinands for your diocese's upcoming ordination service are TSM graduates.

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  2. Yes, it is. If we are to create a healthy Episcopal diocese, we need to increase the number of clergy educated at other seminaries.

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  3. Interesting to note that the former Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest, in Austin, has also changed its name, now "The Seminary of the Southwest." So far as I know the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge is the only remaining of our 11 accredited seminaries to have "Episcopal" in their name. In an era of declining numbers in the Episcopal Church (as in many other "mainline" denominations) seminaries are tossed into a multi-denominational marketplace for students. Trinity is of course professedly "an Evangelical Seminary in the Anglican Tradition." I expect there will be an increasingly diverse student body there, in terms of denominational background, as time goes on, but that a number of Episcopalians of the Evangelical tradition will continue to choose to study there. My impression is that Trinity is a very fine academic institution, but that the theological and social culture is probably not for everyone. (Of course, the theological and social culture of EDS is probably not for everyone either!)

    An interesting related question is the evolving role of "accreditation" as a seminary "of the Episcopal Church." With robust Anglican programs in places like Duke and SMU and with several excellent nearby Canadian schools (Wycliff and Trinity) with a number of Episcopalian students and with a tendency of dioceses to support ordinands studying closer to home in diocesan training programs or at Presbyterian, Lutheran, or other non-denominational institutions, the percentage of Episcopalian clergy who have 3-year M.Div. degrees from seminaries formally associated with the Episcopal Church is I think declining rapidly--again, driven primarily by the general economic and demographic decline of the Episcopal Church rather than by our recent divisions.

    Bruce Robison

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  4. Thanks, Bruce. I think you paint a pretty clear picture of the current seminary world from an Episcopal perspective. As The Episcopal Church shrinks, it is becoming increasingly difficult to support a denominational infrastructure. I surely don’t have any special insight as to how to deal with this reality. What do we let go? What do we hold on to at all costs? Where do we have to make allowances for changed circumstances? Whatever the right answers, I hope we find them in time.

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  5. I think you should concentrate on gay and lesbian issues; they're the only ones interested in becoming clergy anyway.

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