This is the question that Pastor Carol Howard Merritt (PC(USA)) asks in one of her recent posts (you can see it here, and a follow up here) As a side note, if I were in the PC(USA) and I was in a Presbytery or a place of influence, I would listen to (almost) everything she says. There are few in PC(USA) that has the pastoral sensitivity to critique both of the extreme sides of her denomination and to critically engage the “Presbymergents” (probably the largest wing of the “hyphen”-mergents) without simply buying into some of the more impatient youthfulness inherent in “Emergent” movements.
Anyway. Pastor Carol says point blank that they* cannot. *(I’m going to speak of “they” here because she knows the PC(USA) intimately, and it is difficult to speak honestly of the whole “Mainline” since there is more diversity than we think to make broad strokes, and I do not know even the educational problems in TEC and others) She says:
“The cost of undergraduate and seminary education has gone up too high, and our churches have gotten too small”
She goes on to say that there are pastors on food stamps, so how could we consider making pastors go to seminary and pay $30,000+ for an education? She asks the denomination to question honestly about the current trajectories in money and congregational size.
First I want to applaud her for speaking with such honesty. It has been said that the Mainline is still suffering from a power hangover (and Evangelicals are suffering from a power buzz-but that is changing as well). Some of us do not want to admit that we do not have the afluence to keep some schools open. I do not know the issues intimately in TEC, but I do know that we are selling buildings at some established schools and that Seabury/Western is no longer taking students.
(As another side note, this cannot be said to be a problem only of the Mainline which if often naively thought to suffer from God’s wrath on their being too “liberal.” Readers know that I believe classical liberal Protestantism is a dead end, but its influence is continuing to wain because 1) our younger crowd is not as dogmatically liberal as our forbearers and 2) Liberals are no longer on the cutting edge of theology and biblical studies as their worldview is still tied into the supposed assurity of a “modernist” epistomology. But without the work of “liberals,” we would not have the work of Wright, Dunn, Brueggemann et. al. So let’s all cut the liberals a break.)
So on one front I absolutely agree with her. According to the current modes-of-operation in the education of the Mainline, it seems that we truly cannot afford to continue to send clergy to their indebted death.
BUT . . .
Having come from a fellowship which historically (I know that this is not universally the case – I did study with the NCU uber-trio of scholars after all) scorns education and revels in anti-intellectualism I know first hand that when clergy are not educated, we can slip into strange heresies and errors (not as if education solves this problem, we have our own to be sure). Now more than ever we need people in the church (not necessarily clergy, but why not? and how otherwise?) who are able to dig into our collective history for wisdom and clarity. We NEED clergy who know the basics of Church History, the development of doctrine, the foundations of biblical criticism, theology that takes from Gregory of Nyssa and (gulp) Calvin more so that Jung and anthropologists. We need to know what we believe and why. And we cannot expect lay people to know all these things (though we should educate).
And where will our clergy be spiritually formed?
So, this for me is a starting point to begin to speak of some of my proposals for new models of education and formation which could aid in solving some of the problems developiong in the systems as we have them. My fellow Theophiliacs can tell you that I think about what a seminary can and should look like ALL THE TIME. So I want to pitch some ideas around, ideas that I don’t suppose are well developed, but ones that I hope will contribute to an ongoing conversation on the way that we can shepherd the Body.