June 30, 2014

Resourcing Our Mission

            At two year intervals, seminary Presidents and Deans gather for the Association of Theological Schools biennium.  This year we met in Pittsburgh, a metropolis that has rebounded from a moribund steel economy, with its pollution and peril for workers, into a vibrant financial, educational, sports entertainment, and manufacturing hub.  Pittsburghers are rightly proud, and they do love their city!

            The theme for our conference was “Resourcing Theological Education,” which addressed the ever present concern—how to fund the ongoing mission of our schools.  This is a larger challenge for free standing seminaries; those imbedded in universities are able to draw upon more expansive resources to sustain their work.  The economic challenges of the past five years have impacted both large and small schools, and some have been stressed nearly beyond recovery.

            On the cover of the program book was a lovely image of the disciples sharing in the loaves and fishes, an apt narrative for leaders to claim.  The image comes from the tile fireplace of the Bricker Room in Richards Hall (1916-1917) at Lancaster Theological Seminary.  As people of faith, seminary leaders know that they depend upon God’s provision, faithfully offered through donors who trust the promises the schools make to congregations and larger communities.
            The story of the feeding of the multitude is portrayed in all four Gospels, which means it claimed a place of honor and significance in the ministry of Jesus as they remembered it.  Whether it is an expression of creatio ex nihilo, multiplying the meager lunch of the lad, or a miracle of inspiration as Parker Palmer suggests in Active Spirituality, the theological teaching is about God’s abundance.
            One of the plenary speakers spoke about the “portfolio of capitals” that theological schools possess—network, intellectual, service, reputation, and finance.  She deliberately placed financial last, believing that if a school attends to the other   forms of “capital,” resources will follow.  The overarching theme of her presentation was simple:  there is plenty; you can find it; do not be afraid.  As one charged with ongoing fund development as I serve the office of the presidency, I found her message both bracing and encouraging.   
            The lessons of Pittsburgh were not lost on this gathering.  Being willing to adapt, give up old ways, and embrace a future not yet fully clear is essential if the mission of our schools endures.  Central has been energetic in its pursuit of adaptive change, and we are in a period of expansion rather than contraction in these days. Resourcing our mission is at the top of my list each day, and I give thanks for all who participate.

            Molly T. Marshall

            Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.  To learn more, continue visiting our website.

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