Church changes seminary funding

Those of you who follow the corporate life of the United Methodist Church may have already heard about a recent decision to change the way that the seminaries are funded.

Currently, the official seminaries (there are 13 of them at present in the US) raise most of their funds through tuition and donations, while 12-20% of their budget is appropriated directly from The United Methodist Church. That money comes from The Ministerial Education Fund, most of which divides equally among the 13 schools at present. However, beginning in 2012, that money will be distributed in a way so as to give more funding to those schools that prepare more candidates for ministry and produce more actual pastors for the church. See the full story here.

This move is a reminder that the seminaries do not exist simply as centers of academic theological inquiry or speculation, but rather they exist to provide pastoral leaders for the Church. From the point of view of the Church, that is their core mission. Some seminary professors and administrators have in recent decades pursued recognition and prestige in the eyes of the secular academy to the neglect of this core mission, with disastrous results for the church.

I think this move to change the way that the church funds theological education is a good first step in reforming our seminary education system.

There is another (more difficult) step that I believe clearly needs to be taken. We currently have 13 seminaries in the United States including 2 in the state Ohio, 2 in the city of Atlanta, and 2 in the Western Jurisdiction that currently has a relatively small number of Methodist churches. These six schools (and perhaps others) should be merged and bringing the total number down to 10 or less.

There are several good reasons to make this move. First of all, we simply don't need 13 seminaries: the Southern Baptists make due with 6, even though their church is nearly twice our size. This would also reduce costs by eliminating redundant positions and it would allow the United Methodist Church to increase its level of giving to the remaining 10 schools. Increasing our total giving to the seminaries is certainly a good idea because it would potentially decrease the ridiculous and inordinate debt load of our clergy and would also give the Church greater connection to the seminaries, that could be used to hold them accountable to their core mission.

On a final note, I also believe that the United Methodist seminaries (at least the one I attended, and I suspect most of the others as well) need to become more intentional communities of prayer and service - perhaps more akin to a monastic community - in addition to communities academic learning. My seminary offered daily prayer services and frequent services of Holy Communion, but (if attendance is any indication) these were seen by many students (and faculty) as 'optional add-ons' to the curriculum and not a core part of the seminary experience. There was also little in the way of organized service to the community to serve as a part of our 'total education.' I believe there are already moves being made in this more holistic direction in some places, and am hopeful we may see more.

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Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

here is an informative evaluation of the cost-per-ordained minister as it relates to our UM-affiliated seminaries:


2:49 PM, May 01, 2012  

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