Congregations hunger for well-prepared pastors who are spiritually centered, sound in character, and inclined to think theologically. Ministries need leaders who show resilience, creativity and adaptability; who pay attention to context, community and culture; and who collaborate well. Leading is hard work, requiring practice, balance and reflection. Pastors who lead well maintain focus through participation in transformative experiences in theological education. Why do PC(USA) seminaries matter? Pastors well-formed in PC(USA) seminaries are precisely why they matter.
Aimee Wallis and Bill Buchanan, both teaching elders, illustrate my point. They were early adopters of a growing group of transformational teaching elders. Familiar faces on Montreat and Youth Triennium stages, they founded Asheville Youth Mission (AYM) in Asheville, N.C., in 2009. AYM is a mission-minded ministry to and with persons on the margin that cultivates socially engaged youth and youth leaders. AYM provides a place for youth groups to explore service and art as a way of participating in God’s transforming work in the world.
Bill said he and Aimee, who died in February, owed much of their success in ministry innovation to what they learned in Presbyterian seminaries: “Because of PSCE (now Union Presbyterian Seminary) and Columbia Theological Seminary, we have been able to be well-versed in the Reformed tradition, and … forward-looking as part of the church’s continual reformation.” For Bill and Aimee, being free to participate fully in a community of innovators in seminary mattered. As Bill put it, “The financial help and the genuine excitement of (these seminaries) to have us there exploring creative ministry was crucial to us taking things where they are now.”
The PC(USA) has a distinctive opportunity as the U.S. population changes, ministry opportunities expand and boomer-generation teaching elders retire. I wonder if the PC(USA) can come together to nurture those gifted for ministry leadership and encourage them to:
» go to a PC(USA) seminary;
» trust our PC(USA) seminaries to form and prepare them for transformational ministry in the church today, starting with significantly more financial support;
» create abundant ministry placements in imaginative places, where graduates will lead us to engage in new ministry.
Many mainline seminaries are closing or deciding whether they will grant degrees. We cannot take our well-managed schools for granted, assuming they will perpetually prepare leaders. Our support of our PC(USA) seminaries, starting with gifts to the Theological Education Fund, is a critical investment in the future of the PC(USA) and the church ecumenical.
God’s promising future for our church is being discerned across our denomination, including with the Committee on Theological Education (COTE). A hope-filled video of a recent discussion at COTE’s spring meeting will soon be available under the title “Why PC(USA) Seminaries Matter.” Kathy Wolf Reed (chair), Jeffery Bullock (vice chair), Mindy Douglas, Ted Wardlaw, Max Sherman, Paul Roberts, Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri and Chandler Stokes will be featured in this third in a series of recent COTE videos.
Why do PC(USA) seminaries matter? Because, as organizing pastor of Chapel in the Pines PC(USA) (in Chapel Hill, N.C.) and COTE member Mindy Douglas concluded, their graduates have mattered for over two centuries in the U.S., still do matter and will matter in the future. PC(USA) seminaries matter because of their graduates who have been our mentors, prophets, priests and pastors. Maybe we need to be asking: Have we let them know they matter lately — every beautiful, broken, holy one of them?
LEE HINSON-HASTY is coordinator for theological education and seminary relations for the PC(USA) and lead staff to the Committee on Theological Education on behalf of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.