By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
Beeson Divinity School has joined the ranks of non-Episcopal seminaries that offer credits in Anglican studies. Beeson, an interdenominational seminary founded in 1988, is one of eight schools of Samford University, a Southern Baptist school in Birmingham.
In its fall semester Beeson launched a Certificate of Anglican Studies for students pursuing a Master of Divinity or Master of Arts in theological studies. The 15-credit program requires one course in doctrine and ethics with an Anglican focus; two practicums (normally completed in Anglican congregations); and two Anglican-themed electives.
The certificate program is taking root as more of Beeson’s 160 full-time students are becoming Anglicans during graduate school, said Graham Cole, Anglican professor of divinity, who directs the program.
“The need is generated from the fact that have so many folk become Anglican amongst our student body,” he said. “Then they start to think in terms of Well, where does God want me to serve?”
Beeson’s program comes at the initiative of Dean Timothy George, an evangelical Southern Baptist and longtime leader of Evangelicals and Catholics Together. He brought Cole to Beeson in part to start an Anglican Studies track within a school where students come from various backgrounds and often serve after graduation in their respective denominations.
Beeson’s Anglican Studies program builds on its ties to local Anglican congregations of varying theological stripes.
Graduates serve, for example, at Birmingham’s Cathedral Church of the Advent, one of the largest Episcopal congregations in the United States, and its deans have preached at the school chapel. Sixteen Beeson students are interns, Cole said, at Christ the King Anglican Church, a seven-year-old congregation of the Anglican Church in North America that worships in Beeson’s Hodges Chapel. Cole is an associate pastor at Christ the King.
Nearly 20 percent of Beeson’s student body is Anglican, Cole said. He expects about six new students will enter the program annually.
Beeson follows in the footsteps of several other theological schools that train students from a range of Christian backgrounds. Others include Duke Divinity School, Fuller Theological Seminary, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Reformed Theological Seminary.
“I’m getting inquiries about the certificate from prospective students in a number places in the USA,” Cole said, adding that the program is an effective recruiting tool.
Beeson conferred its first Anglican Studies diploma in December. The recipient, 27-year-old Peter Smith, was fairly typical of what Cole sees: a student who came to Beeson with a deepening interest in Anglicanism but little personal background in the tradition.
“In my final years of college and the year I took off from school between college and seminary, I discovered Anglicanism,” said Smith, who grew up in a non-denominational church and is now confirmed for ordination in the ACNA. “Here was my home. Certainly, the Church universal was, is, and will be my primary home in Christ, but these Anglicans shared my perspectives on theology, worship, and the Church.”
Cole recommends that Beeson students who seek ordination in the Episcopal Church begin working with a bishop as soon as possible. No matter what the bishop requires of them after Beeson, he said, they will have an early start by completing Beeson’s new program.
TLC Correspondent G. Jeffrey MacDonald is an independent journalist and author of Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul (Basic Books, 2010).
Image: Peter Smith (left), Beeson School of Divinity’s first graduate in Anglican studies, receives his certificate from Graham Cole. • Courtesy of Beeson School of Divinity