The Tragic Death of Taft...
Yes, it is true. The proposed merger between Star King School for the Ministry and Meadville/Lombard Theological School has fallen through, sending a very minor ripple through the educational and religious worlds. If you would like the brutal analysis, please check out UU Enforcer. Enforcer must have better A/C than I do (and more coffee?), however, so I just have some quick thoughts.
I am not really all that disappointed that the talks have ended. I had nothing against the plan and, was pleased to see that there was some energy around actually doing something to stop the slide of two of our most important institutions. Our seminaries, as I have written before, do much to assist us in identity formation as a movement just by existing and serving as forums for discussion. I guess the energy still exists, judging from Lee Barker's comments. This is a good thing.
I am wondering, though, with Andover Newton here in Mass. considering the possiblility of adding the UUA to its list of affiliations (currently ABC and UCC), maybe the best thing for our seminaries would be to start to branch out as well. At the very least, it appears that M/L should spend some of this new found energy working on its relationship with the U of Chicago Divinity School and the other seminaries in Hyde Park (Chicago not New York). They are a lot closer, after all, and these traditional ties have been one of the major reasons people have attended the seminary in the past (myself included).
Also, maybe our seminaries should try not to get quite so caught up in the UU branding campaigns that seem so popular these days. UUs seem to be becoming more exclusive in their world view when, in the past, the movement was one that tried to bring different theological groups together. When I have posted on this subject in the past, people have expressed concern about diluting our "distinct culture". First of all, our culture isn't all that distinct. Second, the presence of many competent (and inspiring) graduates of other schools in the ranks of the ministry shows that this diversity of perspective is, in fact, a key element in our faith.
So, as we say goodbye to the Taft seminary that never was (and, yes, probably would have been named "Chalice School for Religion" instead) let us start looking outside our comfortable walls for support and growth. Let us strive to develop institutions that support the broad tradition of the Liberal Church, rather than the rather narrow strip of it that identifies as UU. If there are UUs that want to go the ANTS (and there are) it is possible that there are Baptists who would feel quite at home at M/L.
Basically, this all comes down, as it often does, to how you see Unitarian Universalism. Is it a religion? As I have said before, I think not. If it IS a religion, one large seminary with a narrow focus on training its clergy makes all the sense in the world. The religion of UUism would be a small sect lacking in influence and interest. Of course, such a thing needs exclusive seminaries to indoctrinate its priesthood into the rituals and teachings that keeps the group together. Of course, we aren't-really-this. We just forget, sometimes, as we worry about our "elevator speeches".
I believe the UUA is (or can be) part of something much bigger. If we keep our eyes on that greater goal, we will find that we are already not alone. We will find, in fact, that our relevance to the world's religious and social debates will increase with the exchange of ideas. That's not such a bad thing. To paraphrase the Rev. Mark Worth, it is time for us to leave the kid's table. To do this we need to be capable of adult conversation. Our seminaries, with a theologically diverse student body and faculty could be a leading part, less of a sect or denomination, but of a movement.
Yours in Faith,
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot M/L '00