The Rev. Gary Hall, chair of Episcopal Divinity School’s board of trustees, and Canon Bonnie Anderson, vice chair, write to members of the EDS community:
In late July, the EDS board of trustees voted to end degree programs in June 2017 in order to conserve the seminary’s resources for its future mission. We’re writing today, as we hope to write periodically in the coming months, to update you on our progress.
Since the meeting on July 21, we have formed two committees. One, the New Directions Committee, will spend the next year considering options for EDS’s future. We are delighted to announce that the Rev. Anne Sutherland Howard ’85 has agreed to chair this committee. Anne, the former executive director of the Beatitudes Society, has been a trustee of EDS since 2015. Anne brings great personal and professional skills to this work. She served as canon to the ordinary in Los Angeles for Bishop Fred Borsch, and continues as preacher-in-residence at Trinity Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara, California. She is adept at working with groups to bring both leadership and consensus to achieving a visionary goal.
The New Directions Committee will consider options including those in the Futures Task Force report [PDF], prepared earlier this year by a group of EDS faculty, staff, trustees, and alums. The committee, which will also include Thomas Anderson, Robert Griffin (invited), Patricia Mathis, Robert Steele, and the two of us as ex officio members, is committed to identifying a future for EDS that will preserve our commitment to social justice and be a responsible use of the seminary’s endowment. The endowment has been dwindling at an alarming rate (see Anthony Ruger’s financial presentation to the trustees [PDF]) in the last several years as we sought to maintain degree programs that are not sustainable. But by curtailing unsustainable spending after next June, we will preserve sufficient funds to continue our school’s legacy for generations to come. The New Directions Committee will use the ideas and input of people from throughout the EDS community that were gathered by the Futures Task Force, as well as other ideas that have emerged from EDS and Episcopal Church leaders, to identify how that can happen.
The second committee, which we’ve named the Transitions Committee, will be chaired by Christopher Holding, a trustee since 2012 who served as board vice chair from 2013 to 2016. Christopher is an attorney in the Boston office of Goodwin Procter and a member of St. Paul’s Church in Brookline, Massachusetts, where his wife, the Rev. Megan Holding, serves as assistant rector. Christopher brings deep knowledge and experience of EDS governance and a deep commitment to the future of theological education in the United States. Together with the rest of the Transitions Committee, which will include Carol Gallagher, Hall Kirkham, Edward Nilsson, Warren Radtke, Dennis Stark, and the two of us as ex officio members, Christopher will ensure that student, faculty, and staff transitions are handled with dignity and adequate resources.
As we said in July, no faculty or staff members will be laid off during the upcoming year and students who will not finish their degrees at EDS will be “taught out” at other institutions at full credit and no additional cost to them. By ending unsustainable spending next year, we will have the funds to provide transitions that are worthy of EDS’s name. Any of us who has lived through other institutional transitions can attest to the pain associated with waiting too long and being unable to deal fairly with faithful staff, faculty, and students who remained until the money was gone. We are grateful that EDS has not taken that path.
Since the July board meeting, we have received messages from many of you. Most have expressed sadness at the end of this chapter in the life of our seminary but support for our efforts to conserve the endowment so that EDS’s legacy can live on. Some are relieved that the turmoil that has characterized too much of the school’s recent history can finally come to an end. Some of you are angry and believe that the board acted precipitously or that the degree programs are worth spending more of the endowment to preserve. We hope, especially if you are sad or angry, you will find the wherewithal to stick with us during this year of transition and contribute your prayers, your support, and your best wishes to the seminary we all love and to the people who will be working to close this chapter of its history and open the next.