Episcopal Divinity School, Union Theological Seminary agree on collaboration

Kelly Brown Douglas, scholar and racial justice activist, named EDS’s new dean

[Episcopal Divinity School] Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) and Union Theological Seminary announced May 19 that they have signed an agreement that will allow EDS to continue as an Episcopal seminary through a collaboration with Union at its campus in New York City beginning in the fall of 2018.

“We had three goals when we began to plan this news phase in EDS’s life,” said the Rev.  Gary Hall, chair of the EDS board. “We wanted to continue providing Episcopal theological education within an accredited, degree-granting program, deepen our historic commitment to gospel-centered justice, and provide financial strength and stability for EDS’s future. Today, I am delighted to say that we have achieved all three.”

“This is an historic moment,” said the Rev. Serene Jones, president of the Union faculty and Johnston Family Professor for Religion and Democracy at Union. “We are honored that EDS has chosen to partner with us and are certain that the stewardship of our deepest commitments will be fulfilled in the years ahead.”

The Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas will be the first dean of EDS at Union. Photo: Washington National Cathedral

EDS appointed the Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, Susan D. Morgan Professor of Religion at Goucher College in Maryland and canon theologian at Washington National Cathedral, as the first dean of EDS at Union. Douglas will also join the Union faculty as a professor. She is the author of many articles and five books, including “Stand Your Ground:  Black Bodies and the Justice of God,” which was written in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin.

“Kelly Brown Douglas is one of the most distinguished religious thinkers, teachers, ministers, and activists in the nation,” Jones said. “We are confident that Union’s longstanding commitment to both the Gospel and social justice will be strengthened and enhanced under her leadership.”

Ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1983, Douglas holds a master’s degree in theology and a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Union. Her academic work focuses on womanist theology, sexuality and the black church, and she is a sought-after speaker and author on issues of racial justice and theology.

“Kelly is an Episcopal Church leader and an eminent scholar—and she is a daughter of Union,” Hall said. “Working together, EDS and Union aim to advance the causes of social justice and theology in the world and Kelly is the ideal leader for this new venture.”

“I am excited for the challenge,” Douglas said. “What I am really happy about for the wider EDS community is that this isn’t the typical bad news of a small seminary closing. This is the news that this place believed enough in its mission that it went out and found a way to carry that mission forward in a viable fashion, and found a way for the mission to grow. EDS is going to continue. The EDS community has found the platform to do that, and they have found in UTS an institution that shares their mission. I feel privileged to be a part of this next chapter in EDS’ life.”

Beginning in 2018, students who enroll in the EDS program at Union will earn graduate degrees from Union and also fulfill requirements for ordination in the Episcopal Church. In addition to Douglas, EDS will hire a professor of Anglican studies to join the four Episcopal priests currently on Union’s faculty.

“I look forward to the amazing possibilities that will be brought forth through this affiliation,” said Union’s Board Chair Wolcott B. Dunham Jr. “Our work together will surely expand the ways we serve the church and the world.” A lifelong Episcopalian, Dunham is also senior warden of St. James’ Episcopal Church in the City of New York and a former trustee of the Episcopal Diocese of New York

EDS plans to purchase a floor in a new building being constructed at Union that will house offices, residential space for the dean, and other facilities. The EDS campus in Cambridge will be sold after operations there cease in July, and the proceeds will be added to the school’s endowment, currently valued at $53 million.

The EDS board has voted to cap spending at four percent of its endowment once expenses associated with the move to Union are paid. “We are in this for the long haul,” said Bonnie Anderson, vice chair of the EDS board.  “Enshrining our commitment to sensible, sustainable spending in our affiliation agreement was important to us.”

EDS alums will enjoy the same library and campus privileges accorded to Union alums. The EDS library and archives will be reviewed by representatives from both schools and Union will accept items that do not duplicate its own holdings. The Burke Library at Union, part of Columbia University’s library system and one of the largest theological libraries in North America, with holdings of more than 700,000 items.

The initial term of the EDS-Union affiliation agreement is eleven years, and both schools have the option to agree to extensions beyond that time. EDS will remain its own legal entity with its own board of trustees.

The two seminaries began negotiations in February after Union was chosen from among nine potential candidates that expressed interest in an alliance with EDS. The EDS board, spurred by financial challenges that were depleting the school’s endowment, voted in 2016 to cease granting degrees in May 2017 and to explore options for EDS’s future.

EDS has adopted a generous severance plan for its faculty and staff. All students who did not complete their degrees this month are being “taught out” at other seminaries with EDS’s financial support so as to avoid additional costs.

About Union Theological Seminary
Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York is a seminary and a graduate school of theology established in 1836 by founders “deeply impressed by the claims of the world upon the church.” Union prepares women and men for committed lives of service to the church, academy and society. A Union education develops practices of mind and body that foster intellectual and academic excellence, social justice, and compassionate wisdom. Grounded in the Christian tradition and responsive to the needs of God’s creation, Union’s graduates make a difference wherever they serve.

Union believes that a new interreligious spirituality of radical openness and love is the world’s best hope for peace, justice, and the care of God’s creation. Empowered by groundbreaking inquiry aligned with practical realism and a bias for action, Union is charting a profound new course for enduring social change. Union’s graduates stand out wherever they serve, practicing their vocations with courage and perseverance, and speaking clearly and acting boldly on behalf of social justice in all of its forms.

About Episcopal Divinity School

Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts was formed in 1974 by the merger of Philadelphia Divinity School (1857) and Episcopal Theological School (1867). For more than 40 years, EDS has offered a bold and expansive vision of inclusion and social justice in the service of preparing students to lead faith communities.

In July 2016, the EDS Board of Trustees voted to cease granting degrees in May 2017 and to explore options for EDS’s future that would carry on the seminary’s historic mission, continue accredited degree-granting theological education, and provide financial strength and stability for EDS’s future. More information is available here.

Comments

  1. Susanne Watson Epting says:

    I couldn’t be more excited about this partnership! In my work with Episcopal students at Union, over the years, it’s been clear that they are grounded within a justice framework deeply needed by our world. The scholarship represented by both institutions is remarkable. Kudos to all involved!

  2. This is great news. As an EDS alum (MATS ’05) I was saddened by the decision to close the Cambridge campus. But this move feels just right! And to have Kelly Brown Douglas as the first dean! How fabulous. Under her leadership, EDS can continue its unique voice in the constellation of Episcopal seminaries with its decades long commitment to anti-oppression and anti-racism.

  3. henry idema says:

    total disaster. We give up Harvard, Cambridge, a wonderful campus, for a second rate troubled Union. EDS will die. alumni giving will dry up. General is already in NYC. EDS could have experimented in continuing ed, a retreat center, etc. the endowment could have kept the campus going, es. since the faculty are gone.

    • Brian MacFarland says:

      I was thinking along to the same lines. With a move to NYC, why did they not explore a partnership with General.

  4. Karen McLean Hessel says:

    Thrilled with this news. Kelly Brown Douglas is a great choice for this new role. I celebrate this positive outcome and fantastic future for Kelly and these important institutions. (When I was an M. Div. Student at Union I actually took a memorable joint course with EDS & UTS.) And I was honored to have been a sister student when Kelly was at Union. Her recent book, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God offers an essential theological, ethical perspective for an important conversation.

  5. Gloria Payne -Carter says:

    Great collaborative. Just what The Jesus Movement needs in raising up new leaders in The Episcopal Church for the long haul. Congratulations.

  6. Cindy Savage-King says:

    This is beyond sad. Makes no sense that EDS didn’t partner with General. None. And sitting on a $53 million dollar endowment why didn’t they make someone (General, Union) come to them??? I’m sure EDS’s so-called “trustees” are patting themselves on the back but they shouldn’t. They destroyed a wonderful, historical school. “EDS” (why are they even calling it that???) will never get one penny from me.

  7. We already have an Episcopal seminary in New York, why the need for another?

  8. Les Singleton says:

    I wish a few years ago Seabury-Western had been a little more creative when they were charting their future.

  9. Christine Janis says:

    Makes perfect sense for these times … one thing, please have what is left of the old PDS library placed where independent scholars can access it. The Philadelphia/Boston mix was unique and may have contributed to so much amazing work done by so many early ‘institutional’ church leaders….

  10. John Rawlinson says:

    A few short years ago there was an effort to de-centralize the Church, and move some functions outside New York, now we have a counter move– co-locating seminaries in New York. Perhaps the Union-EDS collaborative should begin to negotiate with Virginia Seminary to move to New York, and then Nashotah House, and then . . . . Since New York is a high cost area, then we could mount a huge effort to raise money to help seminarians cover the costs of living in New York. We should be delighted to have a New York base, since that will equip graduates for the many small and rural congregations in the Church. This is another decision to mark the Episcopal Church as the church of the elite.

  11. Carol B. Clinton says:

    What will happen to Jonathan Daniels?

  12. Pamela G. Conrad says:

    I do think that Kelly Brown Douglas is wonderful. With regard to “EDS” moving to NY, I must point out that since no faculty, staff, nor students are moving to Union, EDS is not moving– its endowment is moving. The Body of Christ is composed of people, not buildings. This is true for seminaries as well. I am EDS.

  13. Tony Oberdorfer says:

    I agree with the criticism. The problem is that in recent years EDS had drifted so far to the left politically (like the nearby Harvard Divinity School) that serious Episcopalians could no longer take the place seriously. This clearly accounted for many of the financial problems that finally did the school in.

  14. Samuel Torvend says:

    It would seem that Identity Politics is now in the ascendancy in various parts of the church and, ironically, transforming Christian ministry at the service of all persons – whether Democrat, Green, Independent, Libertarian, or Republican – into a much more narrowly conceived commitment to particular emphases – an ironic reversal of the hard-won baptismal and expansive ecclesiology of a truly catholic community. I strongly support the BCP baptismal renunciations and promises that do not narrow pastoral ministry to one or two laudable concerns.

  15. Fr. Jeff Hulet says:

    …or might this be the death knell for GTS, my alma mater? The decline of GTS over the past decade or so means it may have even more trouble drawing students in the NYC area if EDS is a viable alternative. I was involved for a time in meeting with prospective students while at GTS (2003-2006) and a common struggle they vooced was the dilemma of prospects receiving no financial support at GTS vis-a-vis a good deal of support at VTS. Reputation, ethos, etc., were issues for the prospects I spoke with, but for a number of them, practical and financial concerns were paramount. This was during a time when another one of our sister institutions had just closed, rather suddenly, and there was much concern over the viability of the seminary for the obvious reason that no one wanted to invest year or two and then be forced to leave or move. There are some serious concerns for Deans and Trustees in all of this. AMDG

    • Robert B. Hunter says:

      The sperm count of American males is declining, this matches the decline of American Christian Churches

  16. Fr. Jeff Hulet says:

    …or might this be the death knell for GTS, my alma mater? The decline of GTS over the past decade or so means it may have even more trouble drawing students in the NYC area if EDS is a viable alternative. I was involved for a time in meeting with prospective students while at GTS (2003-2006) and a common struggle they voiced was the dilemma of prospects receiving no financial support at GTS vis-a-vis a good deal of support at VTS. Reputation, ethos, etc., were issues for the prospects I spoke with, but for a number of them, practical and financial concerns were paramount. This was during a time when another one of our sister institutions had just closed, rather suddenly, and there was much concern over the viability of the seminary for the obvious reason that no one wanted to invest year or two and then be forced to leave or move. There are some serious concerns for Deans and Trustees in all of this. AMDG

  17. I was hugely saddened by the news that EDS would be closing. Its departure from Cambridge, and from Harvard Square, will impoverish theological discourse at Harvard, weaken student links to the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (SSJE) monastic community, and be bad for local parishes in the thriving Diocese of Massachusetts where EDS students interned. Furthermore, there is an alarming, and striking, even shocking, lack of mention of what will become of General Theological Seminary, what its relationship with Union Theological Seminary and the new, but only, in the view of many, so-called, EDS, in New York, will be, and what provision is being made for the care of future seminarians from New England. Though EDS was a “national” seminary, it had a huge impact in its relationships with Episcopal, and other, churches in New England. The silence on these matters, thus far, is huge, and terrible.

Speak Your Mind

*

Full names required. Read our Comment Policy. General comments and suggestions about Episcopal News Service, as well as reports of commenting misconduct, can be e-mailed to news@episcopalchurch.org.