By Douglas LeBlanc
Episcopal Divinity School is stepping away from its residential, degree-awarding program at Union Theological Seminary, and its dean considers this change an expansion of the school’s educational reach.
EDS’s mission “goes beyond a campus or any affiliation,” the Very Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, dean of EDS since 2017, told TLC via email. “Students are looking for more flexible formats, creative pedagogies, and innovative credentialing opportunities that go beyond the traditional master’s and doctoral degrees usually associated with seminaries and divinity schools. Episcopal students who choose to study at Union will be able to take advantage of the Anglican Studies curriculum that we developed there.”
Douglas will serve as interim president of EDS until it hires new long-term leaders.
EDS and Union announced their parting of ways in a joint news release issued on March 31. The two schools were simpatico in their theology and perspectives on justice. Union has been known since its founding as a hub of liberal Protestantism. In recent decades, this identity expressed itself through various liberation theologies, including Black (James H. Cone), womanist (Delores Williams and Dr. Douglas), and LBGT (Miguel Escobar, director of Anglican Studies, and Dr. Su Yon Pak, senior director of Queer Faith).
Douglas said the two schools began discussing this change “late last year, as we began to look at our strategic vision for the next 10 years.”
“There is clearly a paradigm shift in theological education if not the church,” she said. “This shift is in no small measure because of a demographic shift in our nation, but as well as in the church. If indeed the church is to be responsive to the needs of typically underserved communities, then we must find ways to provide access to ministerial formation that is at once theologically rigorous as well as grounded in the call of the gospel — which is social justice.
“In responding to these shifts and taking seriously our accountability to the church, disaffiliation will allow us to grow our mission, as well as expand access to theological and ministerial formation. In this regard we look forward to partnering with and supporting diocesan local formation programs, as well as strengthening strategic partners’ continuing educational programs in Anglicanism and social justice. EDS will maintain some of its theological education offerings for lay and clergy leaders and bring new opportunities to convene high-level conversations on Christianity and social justice issues.”
The Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, president of Union since 2008, spoke highly of EDS in the joint announcement.
“It has been wonderful to have this relationship with EDS over the past five years, which has been mutually beneficial to both of our institutions. Given our 187-year legacy, we have been proud to be home to EDS at Union students who share our commitment to advancing social justice.
Together with EDS, we created one of the best Anglican studies programs in the country. We look forward to continuing to offer current and future students the ability to pursue Anglican studies at Union Theological Seminary and to continue to build on the relationship we have with the Episcopal Church.”
“Our affiliation with Union provided EDS an opportunity to grow, and we are grateful for what we have been able to achieve together. Now we see a new opportunity to embrace the changing world and make the rigorous theological education that EDS is uniquely suited to provide more globally diverse, inclusive, and accessible as we focus even more on formation,” Dean Douglas said.
“I will enjoy working with EDS’ great and visionary leadership team as we think together with our partners and church leaders how best to not only foster ministerial leadership that is committed to social justice but to provide a socially just theological formation program.”