The 14 members of Episcopal Divinity School’s Alumni/ae Executive Committee are distressed about the school’s plans to stop granting degrees next year.
The letter is dated July 22, one day after EDS trustees voted to grant the school’s last degrees at the end of the 2016-17 academic year.
The group, ranging from the class of 1977 to the class of 2014, includes one bishop: the Rt. Rev. Carol Gallagher, Bishop for Native American Ministries and Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Montana since 2014. The EDS Alumni/ae Association elected Bishop Gallagher as its representative on the board of trustees. Her term expires in 2019.
Most other committee members serve as rectors or priests in charge in the dioceses of Massachusetts, Maine, Newark, Pennsylvania, and (in one case) West Texas.
“Several members of the Alumni/ae Executive Committee were in attendance for Thursday’s public trustees meeting—in person and online—as were numerous other alumni/ae and friends of the School, along with students, staff, and faculty,” the letter said. “In stark contrast with other EDS trustee meetings, visitors were not permitted to speak as the trustees announced their decision and held a limited debate, with the result apparently largely agreed upon in advance. Beyond the trustees, only one non-voting student representative and one non-voting faculty representative were given voice. Others were forced to watch in silence. Though, as one might expect of an EDS community event, not all present accepted that silence and made their feelings of anger, frustration, and sadness known.”
The letter also finds reasons for hope:
Those of us present on campus experienced God’s incarnate and abiding love at a service of prayer and song in St. John’s Memorial Chapel following the trustees’ vote. Dean [Francis] Fornaro’s prayers, joined with those of the gathered community, lifted us in love. It is salutary to remember that for thousands of years people of faith have come together in prayer both in times of joy and in sadness. This life of prayer continually sustains us and leads us to hope for a better future. Thursday was most certainly an occasion of sadness, as well as anger, frustration, shock, and bewilderment. Thankfully the walls of St. John’s Chapel are sturdy enough to contain it all. That sacred place is steeped in the fervent prayers of generations students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and trustees, too, both longing for justice and being empowered to work for and incarnate it, in the church and in the world.
Among the trustees who voted with the majority were also alumni/ae. We do not doubt or question their loyalty and appreciation for the transformational education they received at PDS [Philadelphia Divinity School], ETS [Episcopal Theological School], and EDS, even as we firmly disagree with their decision. We know that their decision must have been reached in great pain and difficulty. The AEC holds them in prayer and is committed to working with all of our trustees to ensure that EDS has a strong and vibrant future. Even with this coming change, we are confident that there are tremendous possibilities for our beloved School. We enjoy considerable financial resources, a beautiful and well-maintained campus in the midst of one of the most significant educational centers in the world, and a deeply committed faculty, staff, and student body. There is no reason that EDS cannot thrive in a new way. We dare to hope for that future.