Before I offer my response, I want first to thank ECF for helping make doctoral study possible for me, which was in my life closely connected to the answer I am about to give.

The best thing we can do to form leaders for tomorrow’s Church is to promote in every way possible residential seminaries, endangered species though they be. The chorus of opposition has many voices. One hears things like: the ministry of the whole people of God requires a new pedagogy, and technology will save us, and study should be embedded in context. There are also opposing thoughts less often expressed: What good is theology? It only leads to strife, and anyway we’re Episcopalians! Or: Had we not better batten down the financial hatches before the tsunami strikes?

But all this is cognitively distorted. In fact the pace of change and the uncertainty of the future Church require more theology, not less. The importance of formation in the rhetoric of the Association of Theological Schools was not mistaken, and no dispersed program can match the intensity of formation of a seminary. Most importantly, viable residential seminaries are not a zero-sum game with new kinds of local education. Actually, they are the condition for local education’s flourishing!

It may be that, to some extent, the Darwinian moment predicted for our seminaries is finally and fully upon us. Surely there is now an important place for seminaries with Anglican houses of study. And there is value in the efforts that ECF has branched into. But at the same time it is simply impossible to look at our church and conclude that we have a surfeit of theological capacity at either the level of academy or parish.

We need to rediscover and to revive the vocation of the seminary at precisely the moment of its greatest risk. And to this end ECF must claim yet more firmly its calling to help a new generation of theologians emerge for our church. Surely, being faithful has as a precondition knowing the faith. What if the most radical and daring plan were, in these times, the most traditional?

♦ ♦ ♦

One question, eight reflections

This is the seventh of eight essays in which The Living Church and the Episcopal Church Foundation asked eight of the foundation’s Fellows this question: How can we form faithful leaders for tomorrow’s Church?

The eight voices published here represent only a small cross-section of over 50 years’ worth of ECF Fellows whose work continues to focus on forming leaders for tomorrow’s Church.

ECF identifies and supports scholars and ministry leaders who are committed to forming the next generation of leaders, both in the seminary classroom and beyond seminary walls. The application process for the 2018 Fellowship is now open and the deadline is March 16. If you would like to learn more about becoming an ECF Fellow, be sure to visit the ECF website.

About The Author

The Rt. Rev. Dr. George Sumner, ordained priest in Tanzania in 1981, is the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas. He has served in cross-cultural ministry in Navajoland and has a doctorate in theology from Yale. Bishop Sumner is married to Stephanie Hodgkins and is father to Marta and Sam.

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