[Episcopal News Service, by David Paulsen] The two oldest and largest seminaries in the US-based Episcopal Church, Virginia Theological Seminary and General Theological Seminary, announced last week (13 January) that they had reached an agreement to begin “the process of exploring partnership options” that could include shared faculty and “collaborative governance” while maintaining two distinct institutions.
“Purposefully walking together in as many ways as possible is our goal going forward,” the chairs of the two seminaries’ boards, David Charlton at VTS and Atlanta Bishop Robert Wright at General, said in a joint written statement. “We both put service to the church at the top of both of our missions.”
General Theological Seminary is located in New York, and Virginia Theological Seminary is in Alexandria, Virginia.
The details and extent of this partnership are still under consideration. The seminaries underscored that their growing collaboration is not a merger. “This is an imaginative and innovative model of cooperation in a shared venture,” the seminaries said in a list of talking points about their discernment process.
General Theological Seminary in New York was founded in 1817. VTS was founded six years later in 1823. The boards of the two seminaries met on 8 January and each voted to begin a process of review, starting with the seminaries’ legal and financial positions and then seeking opportunities for “shared programming and some form of collaborative governance.”
The seminaries, in pursuing “shared leadership,” say they envision “a model that safeguards seminary identities and safeguards the assets and endowments of each institution.” Seminarians still will receive degrees from either VTS or General.
“The ultimate goal is two stronger institutions, with more faculty, more students, and more opportunities to create programmes that makes a real difference for the work of The Episcopal Church within the world,” the seminaries said. “Working together will enable the two seminaries to do more than they can separately.”
This partnership will build on the seminaries’ experience of working together on the TryTank Experimental Lab, a joint project founded in 2019 to develop new approaches to church growth and innovation.
“We have a lot more in common, which is serving the church and serving Christ in this world,” Lorenzo Lebrija, TryTank’s director, said in an interview with Episcopal News Service after the announcement. He graduated from General in 2014 and now is attending VTS for his doctorate.
A deeper partnership between the seminaries “opens up more possibilities for the future, and that’s really what this is about,” Lebrija said. There eventually may be some cost savings, he said, but with both seminaries financially sound, that wasn’t the primary motivation. “What do we do together that we couldn’t do by ourselves?”
To answer that question, the review of the seminaries’ operations and development of a collaborative framework is expected to continue through November, followed by decisions on how to move forward together.
“I am encouraged to hear that these two seminaries are exploring creative possibilities for how to more faithfully, effectively and strategically form leaders for the movement of Jesus Christ, through the Church, for the sake of the 21st century world,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in the seminaries’ news release. “This is the crucial question. All other issues of practicalities and logistics must fall under the primary question of what serves our participation in the mission of God as followers of Jesus of Nazareth and his way of love and life.”