Not one stone

A sermon for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, November 15, 2015

Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

Not one stone will be left here upon another.

When you read a text in a different tone of voice, its meaning changes. For instance, in our Gospel today, most of the time you hear it in an angry voice, a prophecy of violence and destruction. Christians have interpreted it as the prediction of the destruction of the temple by the Romans, and the judgment of God on the Jews.

What if we read this in a different tone of voice?

So Jesus and his disciples finish watching the people, including the widow with the two tiny coins, putting money Stones ruined templein the treasury, and they walk out of the temple. And one of the guys says, “Wow, look! Those are big buildings and look how big the stones that they are built with are!”

Then Jesus thinks for a while.

And he says, “ You know, the time will come when not one of those stones will be left on top of the other.”

We build edifices. Huge buildings. Churches, skyscrapers, systems of roads. They appear to us to be permanent. We invest a lot of ourselves in thinking of these works as permanent—that somehow they will last forever.  The other day, I was reading a book that dealt with the history of New York City in the early 1800s, about 200 years ago. It described some of the physical aspects of New York City at that time. Most of the land above 14th Street was open country, with farms and estates. There was a beautiful church, called St. John’s Chapel of Trinity Parish, with a beautiful expansive lawn out front. Actually it was a park, and it was called St. John’s Park. The park gave way to the freight rail yards of the New York Central Railroad and the church was torn down to accommodate the widening of Varick Street. Now that area is the approach to the Holland Tunnel on Canal Street.  There is no trace of that church building now, even though it was significant in the history of our city.

That disciple was so impressed by the buildings, but Jesus … not so much.  Jesus is not so worried about the buildings of the temple or the city.  There’s all that rhetoric about the timeless and eternal city, but it is God and God’s love that are forever, not the placement of stones, or roofs or gardens.

Most people are worried about these things. When will we lose things, when will bad things happen to us? The disciples were worried—they took Jesus aside. They try to pin him down, when? What will happen? How will this be accomplished?

Jesus responds—“Don’t be led astray.” “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed, this will take place.”   “But people will come in my name and say, ‘Look!’ – I know what’s happening! Look, here is the way of God!”

Just as I was writing this I heard about the shootings in Paris. One story said 18 people killed, another said at least 40 in 3 attacks. Killings and rumors of killings. Very real, right now. We have had far too many this year, far too much senseless violence. And all sorts of people will be telling us what this means, what God is saying. And most of them will be speaking about their own fear, about their own solutions and about whom they are angry with. Most of what most of us think, when something like this happens, is like the disciples: “What about the stones? What about the bricks? What about the things we have constructed?” And nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom—earthquakes and famines. And many will be afraid, and many will be angry.  And many will decide to be false teachers, and tell you exactly what to do and when God will do this, and how they really represent Jesus.

And none of that helps. Jesus says, “Do not be alarmed.” He is here among us, and though it was less than a week before his own crucifixion, he said, “Don’t be led astray.” Don’t panic—all these things that pass away, and these things that frighten us, and cause us to mourn are but the first fruits of the kingdom of God.

The Gospel of Mark continues with exhortations to courage, to witness to Christ, wherever we may be called upon to witness. But what is it to which we should witness? It is the hospitality of God, his gift and welcome in Jesus Christ.  Remember, this lesson started as he was walking out from the temple. And what had he been doing there? Jesus was watching that humble widow, doing a very ordinary thing, yet something that took great courage. She was giving of her substance for the sake of others. It was only two cents, but it was the full down payment on the Kingdom of God. That is what Jesus was teaching his disciples. There is no better time to witness to being Christ’s ambassadors of welcome to others, than in the midst of frightening events, and uncertain change. The Kingdom of God is being born among us, and indeed it is led by those who fear they have nothing. For the one thing that is worth giving in times such as these, is the love of God.

Let us pray for those who died in Paris. From our Psalm today:

I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; my heart teaches me, night after night. I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.

My heart, therefore is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also shall rest in hope. For you will not abandon me to the grave, nor let your holy one see the Pit. You will show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.


Go now to Zarephath

A sermon for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost, November 8, 2015

Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”

Where was Elijah when God told him to go to Zarephath?  I looked it up.  Elijah was out in the desert east of the Jordan River. Zarephath was a long way west of there on the Mediterranean coast. Elijah was hiding in a wadi. That is a kind of a creek bed that you get in the desert, which usually has dug down into the ground in sort of a canyon or ravine. A lot of times the creek is dried up, sometimes water is only in the wadi when a rainstorm causes a flash flood. Other times there is a creek at the bottom that flows, but might dry up in a drought.  Desert dwellers know that water gathers in these wadis, and even when there is no flowing water, sometimes you can dig down and discover some water in the moist underground soil. Elijah had predicted a three year drought when he confronted King Ahab, and he had been on the run from him ever since.  The thing is, the drought was real, so real that the wadi that gave him shelter and water dried up completely. So, though he had been guided to that wadi by God, Elijah had to listen to a new word from God, adapt, and move to the new place, even though it was outside the Kingdom of Israel, among the pagans, the worshippers of Baal.

When he arrives at that village, there is that widow, gathering a little fuel for a meager cooking fire.  “Bring me water, and while you’re up, a little cake of bread too.” The woman didn’t question the appropriateness of his demands. Giving water to a traveller was basic hospitality, something that anyone in the region would do. But when he asked for bread, her response was to explain that she had nothing. Or rather, how she had nothing to give him. It is very important to listen to this conversation: “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal and a little oil in a jug. I am now gathering a couple of sticks so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”

“Eat it, and die. “ This woman had been driven to the point that every alternative for her, even nourishing food, led toward death. She could not see any way to life.  Elijah said to her, “Do not fear.” Remember, Elijah came to this village because he was out of water and food. The Lord sent him to another place, but that place had run out, even of water. Elijah, and the Lord take privation seriously. But our God and Elijah’s God is the God of life. When we eat, we eat for the sake of life, not for the sake of death.

Now, we should respect this woman. She had suffered much and she had lost much. We can’t say she should have known what to do. But the worst thing that she had lost, living there in Zarephath, a town right in the middle of the land of Baal, the rain god, living there in the midst of a long drought, the thing that she had lost was the path to life. Even the meal that was supposed to nourish her had become a way station on the way to death. But the man of God, who knew about privation, and who knew that you need food and water to live, also knew the word of life for her. “Do not be afraid. Do as you have said, but first…”  But first, extend hospitality; welcome your guest; give away your fear and accept life.

The miracle is not just some random magic act. The flour and the oil lasted as a token of God’s presence, of the gift of life in the real world. The widow had been wrapped in fear, and it’s not that there was nothing to fear but the God of life was with her and brought her through. It was not then easy street, she was still impoverished, she still had barely enough to get by, but she got by, because the God of life was with her and gave her hope.

It is the same with that other widow this morning. Jesus didn’t do anything but watch her and explain. Most people, when they experience a lack of something they need, get worried, and then they decide to hold on—“I’ve got to take care of myself first, and not do anything for others until I’m taken care of.” How many times have you heard that said, or thought it yourself? That’s fear, and it cuts off our connections with others, and it lessens our life, our vitality. The widow put her two cents into the treasury. Jesus didn’t feel sorry for her. He said she gave all she had, all she had to live. And in giving that she gave away her fear, and gained life. So what do we do with this?  We could all double our tithes; that would help the church. You can check with our warden, I’m sure you can still update your pledge. But I think more to the point is to give away our fear and rejoice in the life that God has given us.

Jesus starts the Gospel reading by warning about those ecclesiastical types who look for honor and attention, with their long robes who say long prayers. Seeking comfort for themselves they devour widows’ houses. Jesus is saying, don’t follow that way of self-concern, it is wrapped in death. The real abundance is in the life of that nameless widow who gave away her fear and received the Kingdom of God in return.

Elijah stayed with that widow in Zarephath. They ate together, they were with one another when her son became sick and died, and the prophet prayed with all of his being to God, and the child was restored to life. They had enough, barely enough, throughout that drought, and then God called Elijah to return to Israel. To preach the truth, and God brought rain and restored life to the earth.

Let us pray:

O god, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life; Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he his pure; that , when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Ivory Towers –Harry Nicholson on Liberal Education

I saw a Facebook post by Harry Nicholson which seemed so insightful about education, theology and the

Harry Nicholson

Harry Nicholson

church that I wanted more people to see it.  To me it has much in common with the concerns of the General Theological Seminary faculty, when we published our Declaration on The Way of Wisdom in February of 2014. In any case, we share a common Christian faith and an appreciation of the importance of depth and breadth in education, especially theological education.

With Harry’s permission, I am re-posting.



Ivory Towers

No doubt ivory towers, whether they are pillars of David or monoliths of Mammon, are constructs of the entitled. Nonetheless the popular idea that business is better suited to rule a university, seminary or parish is worse. A mature common sense, sometimes capriciously called wisdom, leads to the appreciation of best as less than ideal; Socrates tells us that Democracy is the second worst form of government (since it so resembles Tyranny in the majority’s reign over the minority) but is nonetheless the only option. Can scholarship in community produce the best priests? Only in a romantic fit of Anglophiliac longing for the good old days can we possibly believe that a residential seminary is bound to guarantee delivery of fit priests and even that lunacy would require, of course, a deliberate abjuration of English literature which plays, rather delightfully, on tropes of inept vicars and pompous bishops.

Those of us who have been subjected to or who embraced a liberal education, that is, an education whose primary goal is the production of women and men who are more skilled at asking questions than answering them, will understand that one goal of any community of learning that actually embraces question, dialogue, dialectic, and most curiously and absurdly, and necessary in the case of seminaries, prayer, is the trying of students in that fire of thinking. The idea is not to produce scholars. The idea is to produce citizens of the state or clerics of the kingdom.

I speak with the bias of one who actually did suffer a liberal education. My college was distinctly liberal which to outsiders often looked extreme, even fanatical. There were no majors. All students took what basically amounted to one class which took four years to complete and comprised among others inculcation in philosophy, music, math, and Greek. Every student was required to learn music theory in order to be able to have a reasonable discussion of the Bach Matthew Passion. Although my college had no religious affiliation and was adamantly non-Christian, we all read the Bible, Augustine, Aquinas, Anselm, Luther, Calvin, Kierkegaard, Spinoza (just to mention a few of the “religious” authors). It did not make us all into scholars, certainly not me. But I don’t know anyone from my college who doesn’t have a worldview built from a lifetime of careful questioning. Our minds, and our souls, were forged in that liberal education. My experience of the priests from General is that their priesthoods were forged in a similar way by their education at the seminary. This became abundantly clear to me the first time my husband, Wayne, and I were discussing Matthew one night after Evening Prayer, and he offered an explanation for something I asked and I asked, “Yes, Wayne, but what does the text say?” and he responded, “Oh Lord, I’ve married my New Testament professor!” (My question was not pedagogical.)

I have had three parish priests formed at General. They were all completely different. One was a fiery activist. One is a renowned scholar. And my current rector (if you can count your husband as your parish priest, which you really can’t), is almost an eidetic pastor who is only peripherally scholarly. All three have had profound parts in the development of my Christian core. I think all three experienced General in completely different ways. I’ll speak about my husband only briefly, and in doing so, I am somewhat telling a tale out of school.

One of the things that, I think, made him a very good priest indeed was a personal crisis he had when trying to survive coursework, especially in Systematic Theology. Surrounded by younger students whom he stills considers to be far smarter, and feeling woefully incompetent, he sought both spiritual and psychological guidance, and both were necessary to the formation of his priesthood. He also learned a great deal, but to get there, he had to wrestle with an angel. While it may seem that Jacob is most alone when wrestling, Jacob’s struggle is both supported by communal history and about community in the future. And that certainly was the case with my husband. Two things come to mind: (1) the curriculum was challenging, and (2) he couldn’t escape the learning community, that is, the constant presence of the students who challenged him was confounded by the necessity of living with them, of some of them becoming bosom friends. He is a good priest today, a very good one, beloved by his congregation and at the same time actually effective by “business” standards. In the decade he’s pastored the only Episcopal church in our county, it has steadily grown, if at a glacial pace. Meanwhile, application of business standards has wreaked havoc and the probable end of General. You simply cannot serve God and Mammon. Five-year plans are not appropriate in the church or in liberal academia by which, of course, I mean the most conservative, and best, kind of intellectual and spiritual institutional schooling.

We can construct as many ideas for an “ideal” seminary as there are stars in the sky. We can base them on ideas of sound business principles, modern real-world training, huzza huzza missional fervor, or ease of access (among many possibilities), but to my mind two things are absolutely necessary: scholarship and spiritual practice, both of which depend on the good faith of a community in which trust (which is how I translate the Greek “pistis”–usually translated as “faith”) is paramount.

Ultimately, the ivory towers do turn out to be the places where truly liberal aspirations bear fruit. The struggle to embrace diversity is born in them, for instance, precisely because they provide the luxury of thought and debate.

Robert Cromey, from General, taught me how to fight for my rights as a human being. Bruce Chilton, from General, taught me that one could be scholarly and Christian, and he gave me many tools to do it even while agreeing to play Gabriel in my play, “Brave Christmas,” a Gabriel who spends most of the play trying to prevent God from incarnating. My husband, from General, a far better and kinder human being than I even strive to be, teaches me, even from the pulpit, that most of us are lucky enough to experience God’s kindness, something I did not even consider until late in life.

For the last 35 years, in other words, General has supported my life as a Christian, and more importantly, as a human being, in unfathomable ways. The demise of the seminary is, for me, who never attended anything there other than Evening Prayer, a bit like the destruction of the temple, a grief beyond measure.

Look—the dwelling of God is among people

A sermon for All Saints Day, November 1, 2015

Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

Look! The home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them, they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Today is an important day. It is the Feast of All Saints, when we celebrate all of the holy people of God, of all times and ages. Today is also the first anniversary of the death of Father Allen Newman, who was priest in charge at Trinity for seven years. On All Saints Sunday, a year ago I first met you in this Church, and that has been more important for me than I can explain. But most important, today we baptize two new Christians into the Body of Christ.

The Book of Revelation is the Vision at the end of the Bible that opens up the possibilities for our future with God. It does this in the context of all the things that might happen, and particularly those that we would fear. A big part of those ghosts and goblins that we experience on Halloween (which is just old timey speak for the evening before All Saints Day) is that those ghosts and goblins represent our fears and the dangers that assail the saints of God—that assail all of us.

Our lesson today from Revelation shows God’s Holy City arriving, pure, without any of the hurts and harms that we human beings have wrought on themselves and one another. It says that it was prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. Two weeks ago, Paula and I were at a wedding. The bride is a person who is always beautiful, always stylish, always independent. But on this day, it was something extraordinary. She had chosen a beautiful dress, appropriate to the occasion, but it was the bride’s radiance that adorned the room. She was prepared for her new life, a future with her beloved, filled with hope, and filled with all those characteristics of each of them, including independence, intelligence and respect for others. That white dress was symbolic of going into that future unsullied and unafraid.

Those things are what that new Jerusalem represents—a future that God’s people entered, hopeful, fully alive, unsullied and unafraid. That city is the home of God. And a voice comes down from heaven and it says, “Look—the dwelling of God is among people.”

The dwelling of God is among people

The dwelling of God is among people

God is here with us, welcoming us, sustaining us, giving us joy and hope. But it also says something else: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes.” Not that there will be no tears. We know we are talking about real life now. In real life there is suffering and there are tears, and God will wipe them away with his comfort and his presence.

We are baptizing these infants in this real world, a world in which many suffer, and many die. This month a year ago, we lost Allen and Keith. And there were tears. But in Jesus Christ, God has come among us, and dwelt with us. His facing death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead are also in that real world. God wipes away our tears and abolishes death by partaking of our life and death.

When we are baptized into Christ’s death that font is filled with all the tears of all the generations of our ancestors. But it is also filled with the fresh water of the new creation. The children will be baptized into the resurrection of Christ, where all tears have been wiped away and death is no more. They embark on a life growing up with the saints. There are saints in our background—of long ago, the apostles and martyrs of the early church; of recent history like Martin Luther King or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the young theologian who was executed by the Nazis or Nelson Mandela; or prominent contemporary witnesses such as Desmond Tutu or Michael Curry who will be installed as the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church this afternoon; or people from the heritage of this parish such as Allen Newman, Keith Warren or Father Wendell Roberts.

But these children will also grow up among the saints who are right here and right now. You also have been baptized into the resurrection of Christ—we are all witnesses to Christ’s love, to his death and to his resurrection. We live together in this real world, and all of our children live with us in the reality of this world. And that reality is the life and love of God who dwells here with us. We are the saints for these children who will be the saints of the next generation.

There is always more truth to emerge from scripture, no matter how many times we read it. And every time we have a reading from scripture, there is always more that follows it. This lesson from Revelation stops in the middle of a verse. I am going to read the end of that lesson again for you and include the rest of that verse:

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.”

We are all invited to the spring of the water of life, we share in one baptism and we live with God among us. Let us now proceed to the baptismal font.

Many sternly ordered him to be quiet

A sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, October 25, 2015

Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York

Many sternly ordered him to be quiet

Bartimaeus sat by the road in Jericho where it took off toward Jerusalem.  People tolerated him. They let him sit there. He was blind and not of any use to anyone, so he sat there and they would give him tips from time to time, which was all he had to survive on. They tolerated him, and sort of felt good when they gave him alms.

But there was this guy passing through town, a pretty big deal, a healer and preacher and there was a big group following him. And Bartimaeus cries out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” This is not normal.  “Son of David” was a messianic title, not a normal way to honor a person—and no one there had ever heard anything about Joseph or Mary having any descent from the royal family of Israel. Bartimaeus was a beggar because he was blind, now was he also crazy? And he shouted, and they tried to stop him—this was embarrassing.  “Son of David, have mercy on me!” and Jesus stopped.

Jesus had been called extravagant things before. Demon-possessed people said he was the Son of God, and he told them to be silent. But when he heard Bartimaeus, he said, “Call him here.”  Of course, all the people who had been disrespecting the beggar changed their tune and started scrambling around to look helpful.

And Jesus calls him over and he jumps up and goes to him and Jesus says, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Interestingly, that’s the same question Jesus asked last week. But he was talking to James and John, two of Jesus inner circle, and Jesus doesn’t give them what they ask, because they asked for the preferred places, at Jesus’ right and left hands. In this case, he asks Bartimaeus, “What do YOU want?” and Bartimaeus answers, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

Realize, languages don’t always match up. The translation we have read today says, “I want to see again.” And look_upindeed, the Greek means that—one word is translated, “see again.”  But the same word is also used to mean, “look up,” as in “Jesus looked up into heaven” when he was blessing the loaves and fishes. This man wanted to see, and it certainly can be understood straightforwardly, that he was tired of being blind and sitting there by the road. Who wouldn’t be? But let’s look at what happens next. Jesus had called Bartimaeus, right? And when Bartimaeus asks to see, Jesus says, “Your faith has healed you—Go.” And where does Bartimaeus go? Does he go home, or back to his family, or looking for a job? He follows Jesus on the way.

We don’t pick this up from the lectionary, but the very next story in the Gospel of Mark is the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Bartimaeus followed Jesus from Jericho to Bethphage and Bethany near the Mount of Olives. Holy Week, Jesus’ final week and his journey to the cross, began with crowds shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Before that, the only person in the Gospel of Mark to address Jesus as the Son of David, was the blind beggar, Bartimaeus.

He was a man of no account, and blind. Yet he had the vision to see Jesus, the Messiah. The courage to speak it aloud, when everyone around him wanted it kept quiet. The love of God that Jesus brings is costly, and it is not always comfortable. Jesus transforms this world, not by handing out and blessing power, but by healing his servants.  Following Jesus on the way is not a lark, but a life of love and sacrifice. I doubt that Bartimaeus had a really clear idea of what the Son of David would be. We know that he never had seen Jesus when he first said it—he was blind when he said, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” The vision of our way forward is not clear, it is not easy, and it is not accomplished by keeping things the way they were.

“Go. Your faith has made you well.” Go where? The blind man could see that he should follow Jesus down the road, but where do we go, each of us? The difference between the blind man whose request was granted this week, and the two disciples of the inner circle whose request was not granted last week, is that those two disciples, at that moment, were asking to be put above others—expressing their anxiety for their own security in competition with others; while Bartimaeus asked simply to see. He expressed his deepest and most real need, and it was both to physically see and to see the way of God, the Kingdom of God, the road of servanthood.  The one that nobody thought should have any privilege or even any rights cried out to Jesus for mercy. It didn’t matter what those with influence thought or said, Jesus gave him mercy, real mercy, real life. Jesus has mercy for each of us, real mercy, for our deepest hurts and our deepest needs. Where do we go? Jesus asks us. When we are healed, we follow him on the way of servanthood.

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and that we may obtain what your promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for and ever. Amen.

Open Letter from William F. Hammond to GTS Trustees (October 21, 2015)

William Hammond is a lifelong Episcopalian. He was a professor of mathematics at the State University of New York at Albany. He is now living in retirement in San Diego, California.  Bill sent the letter below to the GTS Board of Trustees this week.  He would like it to receive wider circulation, so I am posting it here in my blog.

Open Letter to GTS Trustees (October 21, 2015)

Be Servant Leaders

An Open Letter to the GTS Board of Trustees

William F. Hammond

San Diego

October 21, 2015

Mark 10:42-45
So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

It was a dark day in 1962 when I saw my long time friend, a priest who had graduated from The General Theological Seminary, fired from his post for daring to call out the congregation on its racially segregated status. The darkness was that of institutional power subverting the Gospel in the name of the Church.

Fortunately I find most days in The Episcopal Church to be days of light.


But a year ago October 1 was another dark day when the New York Times published an article entitled “Seeking Dean’s Firing, Seminary Professors End Up Jobless”.

An eight member majority of the Faculty had found that the new Dean, far from being a servant leader, was making it impossible for them to carry out their duties conscientiously. The conflict was complicated because your leaders had refused meaningful dialogue and had become a party to the conflict.

The eight members of the Faculty had written a letter to Bishop Sisk, then your Chair, beginning “We the majority of the Faculty,” saying that the hostile authoritarian posture of the Dean was making it impossible for them to continue and listing the changes they thought essential for them to be able to continue. In reply on behalf of the Board’s Executive Committee, Bishop Sisk sent individual letters to the eight disingenuously dismissing them by “accepting their resignations” apparently without bothering to check whether individually any of them had intended to resign.

Several weeks later you ratified that decision with a majority vote and then insensitively and dishonestly “made it unanimous” with a second vote where nay voters were pressured into abstaining.

Another priest friend, a teacher on the staff of a seminary, said: “The Dean was mean, and the Board sacked the Faculty.” My friend along with more than 900 seminary professors, theological scholars, and academically-oriented preachers signed a petition in protest of an inappropriate abuse of institutional power by your leaders, who, with your cooperation, had recently revised the Bylaws so as to make the Seminary an earthly kingdom with the Dean as king.

A year after the event, it is clear, as many had predicted, that dismissing eight of ten members of the Faculty was a nearly fatal blow.

It is not insignificant that since the Dean arrived a dozen members of the professional staff other than Faculty members, including three librarians, have left the Seminary.

According to grapevine information, this fall there were only 14 students (though fewer than 14 full-time-equivalent students) in the entering class. Of those only six are seeking the M.Div., among whom four are postulants.1

The latest newsletter from the Seminary indicates that giving in the past year, including giving by Board members, has greatly declined relative to the previous year.

There was a suddenly scheduled “focused visit” last December by an accreditation team from the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), which identified a number of issues: the broken state of the Faculty, confused theological vision, questions about workplace ethics, and a dysfunctional system of shared governance.

The Seminary faces a second focused visit from an ATS accreditation team before the end of the current term. As far as church observers from outside can see, there will be little progress to report on the concerns raised in the focused visit last year.

Last spring the Seminary submitted a canonically required triennial report to General Convention. That report neglected to mention the pending loss of a majority of the Faculty. In response to the inadequate report and spurred by complaints the 2015 meeting of General Convention passed Resolution D075 ordering the formation of a committee to review the relationship of The Episcopal Church with The General Theological Seminary.

Those of you who were angered and outraged by what you called the ultimatums of the Faculty were contributors to a stifling authoritarianism that has choked the Seminary nearly to death. That is not your calling nor the calling of your leaders. You are called to serve.

I think you should take heroic efforts to preserve the Close. That will take money. But that is far less important than preserving the Community whose beating heart is the Faculty. The Seminary could survive a move from the Close, but it cannot survive without a strong core Faculty of sufficient breadth. Rebuilding the core Faculty will be difficult because of the reputation you presently have in the community from which you will need to hire. You will need to dispel that.

It is time for the Board to apologize to the Church.

It is time for new leadership.

It is time for the Board to restore a proper role for the Faculty in the governance of the Seminary2— not only because that will remove one of the accreditation issues but also because leadership at the Seminary can then more closely match the Kingdom standard of servant leadership rather than the worldly standard of authoritarian leadership.

It is time to separate the positions of Dean and President, with the latter position focused primarily on fund raising (and not operating from a different city).

It is time for the Board to reconsider its size. To the extent that its present large size might have been established in the 1990s toward the end of raising funds, it now seems that end has not been met.

Finally, it is time for The Episcopal Church to find better ways to help support the seminaries that are able to survive and their students.


  1. * Previous information given to me, which had been in an early draft, was five entering M.Div. enrollees with one postulant.
  2. * For example, by reverting the Bylaws to the end of the year 2006.