On General Seminary

The news out of New York over the last several days has been difficult to hear. M and I love GTS deeply—it’s where she did her Anglican Year and earned an STM in Liturgics. I never went to school there, but I lived in 422—right across from The Close—and participated in community life and worship to the degree that I was able.

It’s always been my dream to teach there someday.

Now, however, the dream may be dying…

After having been in and around several seminaries, General seemed to me to have the proper blend of knowledge, wisdom, and piety needed by the modern Church. Seminarians were formed as people of prayer—and the prayer book—as well as people who knew stuff. I’ve seen some comments on Facebook/social media suggesting that the problems at General are a sign that it’s time to retire an obsolete 19th century way of doing seminary. I wouldn’t agree at all. When M and I were there, the community gathered for Morning Prayer, Daily Mass, and Evensong. Meals and classes were fit in around the chapel schedule. It offered an intentional liturgical community as the bedrock of priestly formation.

One of the points of controversy regards the current Dean’s approach to the liturgy and his alteration of this fundamental schedule. Apparently in the name of relevance he has cut this schedule back: there’s no Morning Prayer on Monday and Thursday, there’s no Eucharist on Wednesday or Friday (or Saturday or Sunday). Medievalists and those with a grounding in classical Anglican liturgy will, no doubt, note the irony of skipping Eucharists on Wednesday and Friday…

What’s the big deal? Well, the big deal is that this pattern teaches our future clergy that their spiritual obligations can be altered and shifted if they conflict with more important things. Of course, as time goes by, life interferes more and more until the very idea of an obligation is dispensed with in the name of efficiency and—I suppose—relevance.

I won’t belabor the point. Suffice it to say, there’s likely a lot going on here that external participants don’t know. It seems that the Dean is being “bold and decisive” but not collegial or collaborative. It seems that the professors are making broad appeals to community support, but the history and timing on some of this seems curious and tactical. It seems that the Board is out of touch, but I wonder what sort of messages they were getting from various sides at various times. Suffice it to say it seems like a mess all around. Sadly, situations like this make me feel better about my decision to stay in the corporate world rather than subjecting my family to the vagaries of the academic sphere.

Two final notes. First, I can’t help but see this crisis in light of the upcoming presentation on Thursday from TREC. Bold and decisive leadership sounds great—until it happens to you, and the bold and decisive decisions aren’t something that you like.  What will the Church and TREC learn from GTS? Second, seminary faculty need and deserve support and a just working environment. Unionization may well be one way to accomplish that. But it would be so much easier to get behind those noble motivations if the whole “adjuncting” situation weren’t a factor. The adjunct trap is a soul-crushing system of servitude. To advocate for justice and equity for the tenured, and silence for the rest strikes me as a bit off.

We’ll continue to follow the news as it comes out, but I pray that all sides will sit down and figure out a solid way to move forward. General as an institution and as a model for clerical formation is too important to lose over personality squabbles.

4 thoughts on “On General Seminary

  1. Daniel Pigg

    Derek, excellent, thoughtful, insighful! Interestingly enough this is why I did medieval studies for the PhD in English and not religion–although I’m working on that now!

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