Death and Resurrection of a Seminary: EDS and its future.

The Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) is, as a stand alone seminary of the Episcopal Church, dead. I was able to be there as it breathed its last. It ended with lots of words, possibly inenviable political correctness, and vague promises for an afterlife as a new entity, EDS at Union Seminary. 

Those who hope for its future and those who simply mourn its past both have to deal with the reality that if there is a resurrection body, it is not the same as the body that died.  Whatever EDS will be about in its new Union suit, it will not be the same as it was when it wore Episcopal garb. That much is sure. What is not sure is whether or not EDS/Union will remind us of anything of value in the 160 year history of the Philadelphia Divinity School, the 150 year history of The Episcopal Theological School or of the joint venture, The Episcopal Divinity School. If not, the death of EDS will be just that, death and nothing after.  If there is in the new body EDS/Union some real connection to its predecessor bodies, and those connections bend the trajectory of the work of the new body, then EDS will have found resurrection.

For now, however, the reality is that there has been a death in the family. EDS is gone. 

I have not been a regular attendee at reunions, but this year marked 50 years since graduation from ETS and because I was additionally being honored as a distinguished alumni, I went to part of the celebration of this year's graduating class and alumni days. It was an emotionally confusing occasion. 

I am always struck by the ability of us "older" types to grouse about changes to the way things were. The question is, when are those complaints more than signs of our own calcification of brain pathways and when to they actually provide useful critique? Hard to say. But there was very little to give me hope in the remarks of various elders, or in my own remarks for that matter. 

About the only thing I had to offer was in remarks I made at a panel on "Celebrating our History."  There I suggested that it seemed to me that real theological education took place in community, and that the three year residential program provided a context in which students and faculty could interact with considerable "contact."  While the ways in which community was expressed could and did change, the fact of such community was invaluable to me as a ground for theological inquiry. To lose that immediacy and intimacy of contact makes it easier to be polarized, separated, and isolated.  I have no notion if anyone heard.

Meanwhile, at the last graduation days,  I heard a surprising amount of "special" language, language that was somehow meant to signal that the speakers were all on the side of justice and the virtues of true inclusiveness. EDS went out with a politically correct bang. But I heard little about how God's sense of both justice and mercy might be so unlike our senses of the same as to make our political correctness seem like the sounds of parrots mouthing right words without content. I heard little about humility, limits of reason, and sin ingrained in the righteous and unrighteous alike.

Frankly, the EDS that spouts the proper politically correct words does not impress me at all. Rather I remember with fondness the EDS / ETS communities that were willing to hear out each of us in all our incorrectness.  That aspect of our history of engagement in matters of justice seems more to the point. Any damn fool can believe themselves politically correct. But a community of damn fools, conscious of the limitations of each of its members, might lurch its way forward to do surprising things on the search for God's justice and mercy.

It would be good if some of that seeped into the new EDS at Union thingy... then perhaps the School will live again.


  1. What I experienced as an HDS student who would attend chapel and take some classes was a very closed community - especially if one did not fit the "mold" of EDS - as you say lots of justice talk but did not see much of it in day to day interactions.

  2. Thank you, Mark, for your elegant commentary that throughly overlaps my own reflection and experience of our late alma mater.

  3. Thank you, Mark, for this reflection. I am an EDS alum, 2002, and although I did not live on campus, I tried to spend as much time on campus as possible, and found the community life the most important and meaningful part of my education there.


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