When Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) left Cambridge, Massachusetts, last year for New York City, the move gave rise to a new void and a question: where will Boston-area candidates for ordination go for formation and coursework?
One answer is now coming from Boston University School of Theology (BUSTH), which is expanding its newly launched Anglican Episcopal Community of Learning. It is part of a multipronged effort at BU to fill more niches as economic pressures take a toll on the region’s theological resources.
Boston’s collection of major theological schools is shrinking from nine to seven with the departure of EDS and Andover Newton Theological School (ANTS), a clergy training hub for the American Baptist Church and United Church of Christ. EDS has joined forces with Union Theological Seminary in New York. ANTS is moving to Yale Divinity School this year.
“We are now responding to gaps in courses and formational opportunities, occasioned by the departure of EDS and ANTS,” said Mary Elizabeth Moore, dean of BUSTH, via email. “More important, we are trying to create something new in our BUSTH ecumenical, multi-denominational community.”
Though rooted in United Methodism, Boston University has long trained students from other denominations, including many who are attracted to the justice legacy of BU’s most famous alumnus, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In the last nine years, BU’s Anglican and Episcopal enrollment has ranged from 19 to 28 at any given time, Moore said.
In the past, BU students seeking ordination to the Episcopal Church’s priesthood or diaconate would need to cross the Charles River to take Anglican and Episcopal history courses at EDS. Now BU is working toward expanding its catalogue to offer such courses at BU.
“The move of EDS from Boston to New York means we have to come up with other ways to make sure some of those core courses are provided with the BTI [Boston Theological Institute],” a local consortium of theological schools, said the Rev. Edith Dolnikowski, canon for ordained vocations in the Diocese of Massachusetts.
The new learning community meets specific needs of the Diocese of Massachusetts, which collaborated with BU on the design. That influence is seen in its defining features: coursework, field work, fellowship, and spiritual formation.
“We are very hopeful that this community of learning will be a place where there can be real integration of academic, spiritual, and liturgical life,” Dolnikowski said.
Some of the biggest changes involve liturgical life at BU. Each day, Anglican and Episcopal students now gather to recite the Daily Office. Twice a week, they gather for Eucharist in one of two on-campus chapels. Morning, noonday, and evening prayer are each offered once a week.
This spring, new courses in “Planning for a New Book of Common Prayer” and “Dismantling White Privilege” are expected to draw Anglican Episcopal Learning Community students. Those seeking ordination, including students who transferred to BU when EDS relocated, can also take their General Ordination Exams at BU as part of the new initiative.
Still, Dolnikowski noted that it is too soon to tell whether BU will excel in this new endeavor.
“Of the schools of theology that have Anglican Episcopal communities within them, those schools vary in the ability to provide the kind of integration of experience that denominational seminaries can provide,” Dolnikowski said. “Some do a really wonderful job. And some sort of technically have these denominational houses of study, but really don’t function in the same way that a denominational seminary would.”
The Diocese of Massachusetts has about 40 candidates for ordination to the priesthood and diaconate studying at seminaries around the country. Four currently study at Boston University, but that number is expected to increase as the program grows and becomes better known as a local option.
In the future, BU hopes to offer a Certificate in Anglican Episcopal Studies, which would help meet ordination requirements for students with Master of Divinity degrees from non-Episcopal institutions. In the meantime, BU seeks to enhance its Episcopal Church relationships.
“We will expand our collaborations [with Episcopal dioceses] beginning in spring of 2018,” Moore said. “We have identified the importance of building our Episcopal faculty and leadership in the next three years.”