The Rt. Rev. Mark Sisk, chairman of General Theological Seminary’s board of trustees, releases an open letter to GTS students:
Thank you for your insightful, caring, and helpful letter to the board. Your unique role in being on campus and hearing first hand from the various parties involved, in a situation which grieves us all deeply, is instructive. We thank you for your heartfelt words.
As stated in our letter of September 30th, our primary concern is all of you who put your faith in us and chose to attend General Seminary. We seek to foster its survival and thriving in a new era for the changing church in a changing world.
Please be assured that your Executive Committee is working non-stop behind the scenes in an effort to move as swiftly as possible toward reconciliation of the current crisis, the severity of which we first became aware just a few days prior to you. As the Body of Christ we can do no less.
Our prayers and genuine concern are with each and every one of you. Thank you for your witness and ministry.
The Very Rev. Kurt H. Dunkle, dean and president, released a statement of nearly 2,200 words on October 3. Here are some excerpts:
Let me start as I will end this section: I support our LGBT community without condition. Period.
Of all the allegations made — and to be made, I’m sure — when fabricated things start to circulate, I know we have a collective problem. The issue about my embrace of our LGBT community is one of those. Now we have a worldwide community problem.
… Here at General, we have LGBT students. Some were just recently ordained. Joy for them and the flocks they will serve. But, it doesn’t just stop with enrolling, graduating, and ordaining LGBT seminarians. General is community for all of us.
For example, over the past six months or so, I personally approved a blessing of an upcoming same gender union in the seminary’s Chapel of the Good Shepherd. Even though my own bishop (as some do) prohibits his clergy from participating in same gender blessings and I cannot officiate, I told the couple I will attend and sit in the Dean’s Stall as a powerful symbol of my approval of this for General Seminary. By this action, I am following my own beliefs, what the Episcopal Church and General Seminary embrace as the current openness of our denomination, and my ordination vows of obedience to my bishop, even when I disagree with him. I take all three very seriously.
… Finally, the recognition that despite anyone’s best efforts of polishing our current mission, it is absolutely financially unsustainable into even the near future without continued major shifts and changes. Again: continued major shifts and changes. Without those which are ongoing and yet to be started, the required significant outside fundraising simply has no reasonable chance of success. Professionals tell me that “no one wants to get an institution out of a hole; they all want to build on a mountain.” I look forward to helping all our stakeholders build that mountain, but not until we deal with our structural problems.
So, just “coming back to work” means entering an environment which will continue to shift and change in massive ways. Why? Because we must embrace those uncertain changes or we will go out of business. “Coming back to work” better mean coming back with eyes open that the pressures will only increase for all of us, some felt more personally than others. But also come back with a hopefulness given by Jesus himself that the Church is not finished with General.
The eight dismissed faculty members have expressed their disappointment about the terms of a meeting set for October 16:
The chairman of the GTS Board of Trustees, Bishop Mark Sisk, apparently wishes to give the appearance of offering a conciliatory hand to the eight striking faculty members without actually engaging in a sincere effort at reconciliation. At least that is the implication of an email sent to Dr. Deirdre Good concerning the previously agreed-to October 16 meeting between the faculty members and board Executive Committee.
In responding on October 3 to Bishop Sisk’s invitation to meet, the faculty members wrote to the trustees in an entirely conciliatory tone that we welcomed the opportunity “with our most sincere hope of working with you to find a way forward.”
Our letter also made two important points: (1) That our original letter to the board on September 17 and follow-up communication to it never were intended as letters of resignation; (2) that a summary Bishop Sisk requested of a phone conversation between him and Dr. Good in which she asked the bishop to work with her to de-escalate the current situation in no way contained what later were characterized as demands.
It has been our assumption and intention that the purpose of the October 16 meeting was to provide a forum to air what we consider legitimate grievances before a group of fair-minded and curious trustees and to work together to seek genuine solutions.
Imagine our disappointment then when on October 6 Bishop Sisk emailed Dr. Good with a message that clarified his view of the meeting, essentially, as: We will hear your concerns, but you’re still fired.