What is the vocation of our new Bexley Hall Seabury Western federation? Just before our recent, historic board meeting, the combined faculty of Bexley Hall and Seabury met for two days in Columbus with the Very Rev. Martha Horne, dean and president emerita of Virginia Theological Seminary, to consider this question.
Over many years serving on university and seminary faculties, I have learned that faculty members constitute the heart and soul of the educational enterprise. Especially at our seminaries, faculty are important not only for what they teach but also for who they are. As so many of our alumni attest, their teachers at Bexley Hall and Seabury played a key role in their students' intellectual and spiritual formation. This is a legacy we cherish, and one that will continue. But the radical changes and restructuring of the past few years of our shared history have forced us to re-examine our own vocations as theological educators, as well as the vocation of the institutions we are committed to serve.
To define anew the vocation of Bexley and Seabury, the combined faculty considered the characteristics of our two seminaries and the distinctive gifts they offer to the wider church. The list is full and rich:
• We are adaptable, flexible, and share a collaborative instinct.
• We are a resource for the whole church, lay and ordained.
• We are convinced that the context for theological education is the world, not the church.
• We value the integration of worship and academic life, the mutual interdependence of the life of the mind and the life of the spirit, and we seek to model this interdependence in the way we teach and present ourselves to our students and to the wider church.
• We want to speak to new audiences in new ways, particularly about religion and the public square.
• We believe that students are co-creators of their learning—that we teachers are also learners, and learners our teachers.
• We are committed to generous but critical theological discussion in a time of great public distrust of scholarly and academic work, especially in the church.
• We are ecumenically minded, but speak the Episcopalian/Anglican vernacular in our dialogue with other Christian and inter-religious perspectives.
• Our physical uprootings and relocations have emboldened us to embrace the freedom and unusual opportunities of a seminary in diaspora.
These gifts, we believe, allow us to conceive of this new federation as missional rather than traditionally institutional. Even—especially—as we face continued structural change and diminished resources in our mainstream churches, we believe that our new federation is called to be generous, not anxious, in its Christian witness to the world.
We are committed to sharing a global Anglican tradition of wisdom and learning, broken open and available to all. Our primary mission is to empower people to replicate the kind of teaching and learning that they have experienced in our courses—in their own congregations, dioceses, and places of daily work and ministry. We seek, in short, to train the trainers—to teach the teachers of the next generation of faithful Christians. Our aim is to create lifelong learners, faithful Christian leaders whose lives remain always open to transforming grace.
Bexley and Seabury offer these gifts and vocational aspirations to the wider church conscious that our size—we are the two smallest Episcopal Church seminaries—is in many ways a great advantage. Together we can maintain both a sense of proportion and a sense of humor. To paraphrase Paul, who knew what it means to live loose to institutional requirements, it is not we ourselves we preach, but the Gospel of Christ in the world. That is why we are here.