Implosion is a word frequently associated with demolition. Implosions are episodes where buildings collapse in upon themselves, in theory, harming no one on the outside. In 1992, as a starry-eyed, fresh Ph.D., I was hired by one of the then eleven Episcopal seminaries in the United States. Each had been around so long as to acquire a feel of almost biblical antiquity—something their governance models appear to reflect. Just over two decades later, the mythically wealthy Episcopal Church is watching its seminary structure implode. It’s not for want of funds, but from lack of will. With shrinking demand for clergy, some had to merge to maintain even their historic names. Others are effacing by degrees. The Nashotah House I was asked to leave was not the Nashotah House where I began my academic career.
Within hours of hearing rumors of a mass firing of the faculty of the General Seminary—The General Seminary!—I received confirmations both personal and from the Huffington Post. Eight faculty who had concerns over the Dean committed the (in the Anglican world) unpardonable sin of requesting a meeting with the board of trustees. At Nashotah, I served two stints as a faculty representative to the board of trustees and my nightmares have taken on a different quality since. In the Episcopal system the Dean is also President. Not a whiff of democracy taints these hallowed halls. They claim the title Very Reverend, no matter how appropriate, and some, if they’ve ever read Acton, did it for instruction. There must be incredible power knowing that higher education is in crisis and that faculty with legitimate complaints are only setting themselves up for protracted purgatories of joblessness, should they question you. Trustees don’t want to be bothered with the “formation” that is happening within. O Captain! My Captain!
I am heartsick. This is how Christians treat their most highly educated and dedicated—no one takes a job at a seminary without knowing the risk it poses to a career. A more protracted dismissal of faculty, including yours truly, took place in Wisconsin almost a decade ago. I knew those who lost their jobs—fine scholars and decent human beings—as apocopated visions of a fictional future flashed before the credulous eyes of true believers. Where do discarded seminary faculty go? Back into the arms of Judas? I could not. I admire those wounded healers who returned to the cure of souls. We started, did we not?, with the best of intentions. The church, it seems, forgets that even faculty are human beings. “Enlighten,” the collect for education reads, “those who teach and those who learn, that, rejoicing in the knowledge of your truth, they may worship you and serve you from generation to generation.” Or, barring that, speak the truth, and lose their vocations.
2 thoughts on “Theological Cemetery”