By Douglas LeBlanc
General Theological Seminary has announced a five-year plan that involves cutting the size of its faculty in half and shifting to a hybrid M.Div. program that does not require residential students. The plan will preserve the seminary’s 186-year presence in the historic Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea, albeit one in which students live on campus only for one-week intensive studies.
Under the plan, some students eventually would become part of a residential “intentional worshiping community modeled on St. Anselm’s at Lambeth Palace.” But General plans to first overcome an annual budget deficit and embark on campus restoration.
“GTS currently has an operating budget deficit of more than $2 million per year, due to a downturn in the market, a fall in revenue, rising operating costs from urgent campus maintenance, and increased staffing costs,” the announcement said.
The Very Rev. Dr. Ian Markham, president of General under its affiliation with Virginia Theological Seminary, told TLC through email that some decisions are in place regarding faculty, while others will be announced March 1.
“There will be some faculty that serve both institutions in an official way, namely Markham and Knowles,” he said, referring to himself and the Rev. Dr. Melody Knowles, Virginia’s vice president of academic affairs and associate professor of Old Testament. “We will soon announce the appointment of the Rev. Dr. James Farwell as the H. Boone Porter Chair of Liturgics.”
The Very Rev. Michael DeLashmutt, senior vice president and dean of chapel, will continue to teach theology, and the Rev. Dr. Eric Thomas, professor of New Testament and queer studies, will continue as a Louisville Scholar, an externally funded position.
“There will be positions in three additional fields, namely Church history, Bible, and practical theology, and current GTS faculty (both full- and part-time/affiliate) have been invited to apply. These three positions are tenure-track and the decision regarding who will be appointed will be made on March 1,” Markham said.
The announcement added that Lord Rowan Williams, 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, and Brian McLaren, evangelical pastor turned Episcopal parishioner, will become adjunct faculty members.
“The course co-taught by Lord Williams and Dr. DeLashmutt is tentatively called ‘Modern Anglican Theology in a Secular Age.’ It is designed as an upper-level theology course which seeks to prepare future theological leaders to articulate the faith in ways which overtly respond to the shifting plausibility structures of a secularizing America,” Markham said. “Brian McClaren will co-teach with our practical theology faculty. The course description is still under development.”
The announcement said General’s hybrid M.Div. will free space for more revenue-generating activities. General’s website promotes the campus as “A Private Oasis in the Heart of Manhattan” that hosts weddings, corporate meetings, catered social gatherings, and fundraisers for nonprofits.
The campus restoration will require a capital campaign.
“The focus on the hybrid M.Div. as the sole program for the coming five years enables more campus space to be used for revenue-generating activities,” the announcement said. “In addition, the board has voted to start preparations for a capital campaign to assist with the renovation of the chapel and repairs to the campus.”
The intentional community, a more distant vision, would involve a steadier presence of some students, and Markham casts it as a return to General’s roots.
“The intentional community that is imagined — and this is very much in early stages — will be made up of a small group of 10-15 students who are living in the student residences on the campus and are also studying on the seminary’s hybrid M.Div. program,” Markham said. “All students in the hybrid M.Div. program are required to be engaged in some kind of contextual learning placement for the majority of their program of study, and this is in addition to any further work commitments that they might have.
“Under the supervision of someone serving in a role akin to a prior or abbot, the students would follow a simple rule of life, at the heart of which would be a commitment to praying the daily office in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. Informed by the Catholic worker-priest movement, which was so central to the ethos of General Seminary at the turn of the 20th century, these students would be expected to find meaningful and substantive volunteering or work placement positions in church and nonprofits throughout the city.
“In keeping with the seminary’s Benedictine ethos, they would also play an important role in supporting the hospitality needs of General Seminary. As the hybrid M.Div. program grows, cohorts of 15 students visit the campus three times a year, meaning that the campus would be full of guests who are worshiping, studying, and living together in New York City at least 12 weeks out of the year. The intentional community will play a key role in not only sustaining the permanent worshiping life of the seminary, but also welcoming visiting students and guests during intensive weeks.”