The Anglican – Fall/Winter 1993/94
September 21, 1993
By The Rt. Rev. Craig B. Anderson, President and Dean and Professor of Theology
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the vision is very near to you. It can be seen in what we have been doing these last two days: praying, singing, hearing God’s word read and responded to from that pulpit, hearing the profession of theology from this lectern; eating, laughing, and conversing. Being aware of the tension that informs this installation and celebration of new ministry; tensions that have taken on a high profile at this institution, but a tension that is experienced by the entire Church.
We have been glimpsing the vision. Our view to and of the future includes what we have been doing both yesterday and today. It is in that spirit that we continue:
“The Lord be with you. With the
psalmist, let us pray:
Teach me O Lord the way of your
statutes, and I shall keep it to the end.
Give me understanding and I shall
keep your law.
I shall keep it with all my heart.
Make me go in the path of your
For that is my desire.
Incline my heart to your decrees
and not to unjust gain.
Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless,
give me life in your ways.
Fulfill your promises to your servant,
which you make to those who fear you.
Behold I long for your commandments,
In your righteousness preserve my life. Amen.”
Within recent years, there has been a growing concern for “vision” as a primary component for leadership within government, business, and the Church. The oft-quoted dictum, “without a vision the people will perish,” is rehearsed and cited in calling ecclesial leaders to move beyond crisis management in providing a more sustained and comprehensive understanding of the Gospel and the Church’s mission in these turbulent times.
This current interest in “leadership” that has been paradigmatic of new ways of understanding the Church and its ministry mandates those in positions of public responsibility to be visionaries. This mandate applies to seminary leadership in general and, I would suggest, the leadership of General in particular! But in focusing attention on a vision for The General Theological Seminary, a brief preliminary consideration of the meaning of vision might well clarify our “vision”.
First, a common misconception of being a visionary involves understanding a vision as something that can be produced or manufactured on demand. Actually, a vision is the result of a process and is a gift. Theologically, it is that which is revealed. Theologically, a vision is God’s revelation to us. This truth came home to me in a powerful way through the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota notion of the “vision quest.” During my eight and a half years as the Bishop of the Diocese of South Dakota, serving some one hundred and twenty churches, I had the privilege of working and sharing ministry with seventy-five Episcopal congregations on the various reservations of the Great Sioux Nation. That experience helped me to see that a vision quest assumes that one “seeks,” but does not create a vision. As such, the “seeker” awaits a vision in a quiet place set apart. He or she undergoes various rites of purification, prayer, and self-denial as a way of attuning oneself to the transcendent so that there might be a receptivity to the vision as a gift.
Undergirding this disposition, readiness and receptivity to a vision is a clear sense, in Lakota culture, that the vision is sought by an individual on behalf of the community and in service to the community. Its efficacy is judged by the elders of the community through a discernment process wherein the vision is received, evaluated, and judged as to its truth.
For the past year, I have been on a protracted vision quest. Through prayer and ongoing conversations with various persons in the Seminary community and the Church, I have attempted to be open to vision for The General Theological Seminary in an attempt to see what God is calling us to be and do as a spiritual and intellectual center of the Episcopal Church. Given The General Seminary’s uniqueness as rehearsed so eloquently by Professor Franklin as the oldest, and only seminary created by the General Convention, I have discerned a call, I have sensed an invitation for us, as a seminary, to provide a leadership role in theological education in service to the whole Church.
In conversations with students, faculty members, clergy from around the city, and ecumenical partners, coupled with times of quiet reflection, a vision for The General Theological Seminary is becoming clearer… because you have helped shape, form, and focus that vision. I have asked, through the course of this past year, various groups from Los Angeles, California to New York City for their impressions of the seminary as to its image, the problems and issues that confront us, as well as the hopes that might inform a shared vision.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, on the page to which I have been referring in this manuscript there is a great big blank. In preparing these remarks I made a note to myself to try and draw on what has been said by others up to this point. For those of you who know me, you know I rarely work from a manuscript. So now it’s time to roll up our sleeves and talk about the vision. Let’s begin with what is immediately within view rather than a remote, far-off vision of what might be.
My first view of this place as I approached it after a walk from a little hotel in Gramercy Park was when I came to visit with the Search Committee For A New President and Dean. That first view and impression has lingered with me. A dissonance… an incongruity… a sense of a neighborhood undergoing change as in “gentrification.” A neighborhood of homeless persons. My further vision as I entered the Seminary was of a place enclosed and enclosing a “close” with not only ornamental wrought iron fences but above those fences, barbed wire. A view not only of walls of stone, but atop those walls, spikes to keep the homeless away. A vision of a place that was run over at the heels, and yet very clearly a place that was much loved, and beloved, by those living here and by those who had graced these halls and passed through this sacred space. The vision was, upon first entering, of great expectations, high hopes and many problems and issues confronting the Seminary as a community and as a part of the Church. In short, it was a vision of the Church today.
How to live in the midst of this city and provide a place for theological reflection, rigorous intellectual debate and the formations of persons for ministry within the Church? How to do this, given all of the problems of a city and all the opportunities of this wonderful metropolis?
This first glimpse was further focused in the form of questions during the interview process regarding human sexuality and housing policies, an issue that has since been escalated. In that regard, what has been so helpful in the course of these last two days has been the sermons and the lectures. Pam Chinnis’s gentle invitation, her challenge to us, but not only to us, to the large Church. The sharp and insightful utterance from Diane; Walter Brueggemann’s notion of a covenant community as an “othering.” And our experiencing the love of God in Christ, the transcendent Other, capital “O”, through the lower case “o” of the other, one another, in recognition in a deep and profound way of the great commandment to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength as inseparable from the mandate to love one another.
Much of the energy and anxiety that are a part of this day around this issue and other issues inform the vision. I think “visioning” requires us to look first at what is immediately visible so as not to trip in straining to see what lies ahead. There are many views, many perspectives and many ways of articulating the issues regarding human sexuality, all of which point to the need for a more comprehensive and inclusive theological anthropology, or doctrine of humanity. The present “discontinuity” between the Church’s stated teaching and practice will only be resolved when we move beyond reacting through rhetoric of accusation to a careful consideration of sexual orientation as an aspect of a more comprehensive understanding of human sexuality informing our knowledge of the human condition. Without simple awareness, stated passionately, complex questions in this regard will exacerbate the dissonance.
It is not accidental that I will be professing a course with such a title in systematic theology in the spring semester, because what I fear in terms of the issue before us is a reduction of it. A captivity of it to ideology and an ongoing hurling of slogans at one another that militates against that which we are called to be and do as a center for theological and moral discourse; a covenant community where we are called to speak with one another, and to one another, and not past one another.
“… the vision for The General Theological Seminary is to be open and sensitive to the many challenges before the Church, but not as an issue-driven institution, captive to any one ideology or cause.”
“Bishop, if you would just do the right thing…”
I would love to share with you cards and letters to me defining the “right thing.” They are many and varied. Some very helpful, some not so helpful. But all in all, written comments that reveal a sincere commitment- commitment to ideals, to individuals, to Professor Good, to the leadership of this Seminary, to the leadership of this Church and all those who have worked against a conspiracy of silence and in bringing this issue out into the open where we now have no choice but to discuss it, to talk with one another and to provide leadership in the hope of insight leading to a clearer vision and just resolution.
When I was teaching at the University of the South, at St. Luke’s Seminary, and got news of my election as the eighth bishop of South Dakota, a couple of colleagues came to me and said, “Are you crazy? Are you aware of all of the problems in South Dakota? It’s the poorest Diocese in the Church. It’s full of institutional racism and all sorts of difficulties and you won’t have any money to develop programs. There is a shortage of clergy…” and on and on and on. And I said, “Exactly! And therein lies the challenge!”
And when I was asked to come here, some of the good folk in South Dakota said, “Are you crazy! Do you know what’s awaiting you at GTS and New York City?” And I said, “Not exactly, but I hear it’s an interesting place.” Actually it wasn’t “awaiting” me; it came to me before I got here!
I don’t want to make light of that, but do want to say to you that I think that this is a special place. Given our history, and given some of the elements of what it means to be “near one another” articulated so beautifully by Professor Breidenthal, I want to reclaim the “the,” the definite article, in a vision of “The” General Theological Seminary that connotes leadership. And I say that to my fellow deans, and presidents, not as a claim or as a birthright, but as a pledge to work with you in service to the Church in addressing these and other pressing issues.
In an attempt to do the “right thing,” I shall continue to seek differing views. I have asked an advisory committee to help me in reviewing the housing policy of this Seminary and to consider the various options available to us in terms of providing leadership on this issue and to make recommendations to me so that I can share with the Board of Trustees in October. The advisory committee is made up of a balance of students, staff, and graduates of this institution, and what I would call neighborhood clergy. It is made up of faculty members with differing points of view and different commitment. It is made up of trustees who have different views. It is my hope that this advisory committee will come together and talk openly and be open to a vision that might help us to discern what God is inviting us to be and do in these times and with this issue. That’s an important part of the vision, but the process is equally important because there are other issues, not only for this Seminary but for the Church that require “othering,” that require that “nearness,” that require that sense of vision as a looking back, and not just forward, to discover what we have been, and who we have been, so that we might have a clearer vision of what we are called to be.
I don’t have “the” answer to all of the issues that confront us as a Seminary, as a Church, but I have sensed in these two days a growing clarity. Have you? I have not sensed a resolution of all the problems before us. But I have experienced movement. And I would invite all of us to relax our need for instant gratification, to see the process that has already been started by our Presiding Bishop, the House of Bishops, by the Church; and yet not to be satisfied with a protracted process that only maintains a status quo. But to urge, to cajole, or in the words of Brueggemann, to complain, until we hear God’s word. To call out and to ask God to speak, and in the request, to listen-in listen to the transcendent Other through listening to the Other in one another.
Dan Matthews, the Rector of Trinity Church, in the midst of one of our Executive Committee meetings, suggested that such dialogue should include the other deans in recognition that this issue is before the entire Church. I concur and hope that we might address this issue in a constructive way, and not through complicity in a conspiracy of silence.
And I thank the other deans for the support and advice when I called many of them and their willingness to share their own struggle with this issue and how it pertains to being a community of theological education and religious formation.
I think that the work of the advisory committee and that which will be before the Board of Trustees in October presents us with an occasion for leadership and, through prayer and openness, an opportunity for a moment of grace. We shall see.
As mentioned, I think the vision begins with that which is immediately visible: human sexuality, homelessness, racism, classism, sexism and all of the other “isms” that claim our attention and inform our ministry in calling for prophetic reform. These various “isms,” as divisions, disclose a vision of reform leading to reconciliation. A reformation no less profound than that period of history that we refer to as “The Reformation,” both on the continent of Europe and in England. But the present reformation is a “re-forming” of consciousness, values, and religious practice itself. The other “isms” that are so often rehearsed as characteristic of our day and time and some by our lecturers: pluralism, consumerism, narcissism, individualism, scientism, religious conservatism, and fundamentalism, disclose a growing diversity and in some cases division of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. With regard to the practice of ministry and theological education, one of the most obvious aspects of this reformation is the demise of “civil religion” and the concomitant breakdown of religious consensus. I think that many of these “isms” also mask a deeper confusion as to Christian identity and the authority, or perhaps more accurately, the demise of the authority of the Church as an institution unto itself and within the wider culture. Declining membership, dwindling resources and increasing appeals to the Presiding Bishop, Bishops, and the National Church for a clear vision and bold leadership are outward and visible signs of a crisis of confidence that is descriptive of all reformation.
Within the Church itself, another reformation is apparent: the increasing recognition and role of lay ministers as the prime ministers of the Church. Such a reformation has profound ramifications for theological education. First, while diversity and pluralism are important aspects of contemporary society and religious practice, there is the need for a unity that incorporates such diversity. A need, if you will, for a “Hobartian synthesis.” GTS and New York City is the place for such synthesis; a sharing of thesis/antithesis in dialogue that is descriptive of what theological education ought to be about at its best; a talking about and a talking to God by talking to one another; a willingness to be converted; a willingness to be open to differing points of view and a willingness to listen, at a very deep level, to the pain, the anguish, the despair that shape and form the words, or perhaps more profoundly, to the cries of those who are marginalized, those who are cast out, and those who are forgotten.
Within theological education there is a need for what Edward Farley has called a retrieval of “theology as a habitus – as a habit of the heart, and of the soul, and of the mind wherein we discipline ourselves to be available to one another, to listen to one another and to reclaim the art of godly conversation, a habitus that is grounded in a sapiential wisdom which serves as authoritative for our common life together as Christian. That sense, that habit, or those habits were shared by Walter Brueggemann yesterday in his rehearsal of “covenanting” having to do with “Othering.” Drawing on Marcel and Buber and others who have made it clear that we are finally and only “selves” in the context of the other the human being is, by nature, a communal being, a social being, and yes, a religious being. And religion at its root is religio which means weaving together or being bound together; that which is bound together is the diversity/the threads, when woven, make up a strong cloth that is difficult to tear. But the strands individually, the strands of individuals we see are all too frequently broken, torn and discarded as worn out. Such imagery reveals a vision of existence in “covenant community” which, I think, could aid in the rehabilitation of theological education by providing the unity needed in the formation of a habitus derived from common prayer, rigorous theological reflection, debate, and argumentation undergirded by the disciplines of study, prayer, work and service.
One of the joys for me as we began this academic year, was to meet and have a quiet day with returning students. During our time together, I shared the rule, the kind of habits, the habitus that the faculty follow and practice in terms of forming their own profession of theology and their own practice of ministry. I invited new students and old students alike to consider such a habitus, such a “rule of life” that might help shape, form, transform and inform, persons for ministry. Second, such a vision of “covenant existence” might help to restore a balance between the various orders of ministry in the building up of the Body of Christ as the “priesthood of all believers.”
At The General Theological Seminary this will mean offering theological education to all persons whose faith seeks understanding. It will also mean offering education, formation, and training for those ministries that have received little or no education within the covenant community. I refer explicitly to the need for a more intentional educational program for diaconal ministry and a more explicit way of educating newly-elected bishops for their ministry of episcopae. God knows they get enough of the blame! Let’s try to give them some help. A joint effort between the Office of Pastoral Development, the Cornerstone Project of the Episcopal Church Foundation, and The General Theological Seminary will attempt to answer this need through a College for Bishops which will provide an opportunity for new bishops to obtain theological education in the areas of administration, pastoral oversight, and ecclesial leadership in equipping them for the tasks to which they have been called and ordained. And I’m pleased to share with you today, that this vision is close to becoming a reality and will be presented to the House of Bishops at their meeting later this week in Panama. The response has already been most gratifying. What we are envisioning is an opportunity for newly-elected bishops to come and be together with members of this faculty and those who profess theology in other seminaries of the Church, to be with experienced Bishops who will help new bishops in terms of their role, office, and vocation, in recognition that the Episcopal office is not simply an extension of Presbyterial ministry, but brings with it the need for certain kinds of skills and sensitivities. This is a three-year program where Bishops will come on three different occasions to concentrate on the skills, the theology, and the help they need in providing the leadership that is so critical and so essential in the midst of this reformation.
Another aspect of this vision is a sensitivity to the cultural contest for the ministry that is a watchword in theology and in the writings of pastoral theologians these days – a need to see theological education as not defined or confined to the academy, as in the Seminary, but the need to retrieve an ecclesial base; the need to return theological education to God’s people as the birthright of every baptized Christian; to know the faith in a deeper way; to fall passionately in love with scripture and the tradition so that it can inform, and allow our lives to be transformed.
It is my sense that there is a shared vision for The General Theological Seminary to increase educational opportunities for those engaged in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and ministry. This will mean strengthening the Center for Jewish-Christian Studies and Relations, the Instituto Pastoral Hispano, the Center for Christian Spirituality, the ongoing and growing Parish Development Institute here at General Seminary. It is further anticipated that new forms of ecumenical and interfaith cooperation will characterize educational formation at GTS given the awareness of the breakdown, the dissatisfaction with the narcissistic turn of individualism and parochialism that was pointed out so clearly today in the lecture, and an awareness of the fact that we are connected and related to one another as a global community, as a global village, identified in the phenomenon that has been called “globalization.”
In a similar vein, to claim the uniqueness and gift of New York City as perhaps the most international city in the United States in helping national self-interest and national Church concerns be transferred to a Church that is worldwide and to see that what we do daily, in terms of the decisions that we make, affects not only others in our community and in our country, but persons throughout the world. Related to this awareness is the need to take some bold steps with other Churches in thinking about ecumenical theological education. I refer to our current efforts to work more closely with the Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia regarding a joint M.Div. program for both Lutherans and Episcopalians. I refer to strengthening ties with existing institutions such as the Union Theological Seminary, New York Theological Seminary, Hebrew Union College, Hunter, Fordham, Columbia, and various other educational institutions in this City, which will aid in offering more diverse opportunities to reflect on the uniqueness of Christian vocation in an urban and global context.
Undergirding these efforts to expand theological education as the birthright of every baptized Christian is the realization that such expansion will require an appropriation of “distance” and “interactive learning.” The conference held this past weekend at the Church Center, to explore how we might take advantage of the current technology in helping us with this task, and the many resources available in New York City will be crucial in this undertaking.
Finally, part of the tradition at The General Theological Seminary has been to provide the Church with scholarship and teachers. I hope that I will not be considered, as was a leader of this Seminary, Bishop Hobart, as a pugnacious high Church visionary! We have a superb faculty that is committed to expanding and strengthening our doctoral program in recognition of our longstanding tradition of scholarship in shaping future scholars and teachers for the Church. In looking to this past, a vision for the future necessitates expanding our current Master of Divinity, Master of Arts, Master of Sacred Theology, Anglican Studies, and Doctor of Theology programs at General to provide the Church with the needed scholars and teachers to profess theology for the next generation, and this generation of reformation. The unique collection of St. Mark’s Library, recently renovated, as well as our location, are obvious gifts in making The General Seminary
not only a spiritual center within New York City, but also an intellectual center of the Church. When Archbishop George Carey visited The General Theological Seminary last year he called for such leadership in quoting T.S. Eliot:
“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge.
And where is the knowledge we have lost in-information?”
The Archbishop then provided an answer in calling us to be a community of exploration in exploring the edges of faith … and redefining theology over against what has simply been received. Second, he called us to be a worshipping community in a recognition that “Doxology undergirds theology.” First we sing, then we pray, and then we believe. Third, the Archbishop suggested that our vocation as a Seminary is to be a mentor in the way we profess theology in word and example, as individuals and as an institution.
Given these various aspects of the vision, what sort of General vision comes into view? My sense is that The General Theological Seminary will look like a community of rigorous theological and moral discourse, where scholars, those preparing for ordained ministry, those seeking education for lay and monastic vocations will come together for shared worship, meals, study and interaction in both the classroom and within the Close, as a covenant community given to prayer, reflection, and to praxis. My further vision is that a variety of persons with a variety of talents will embody St. Paul’s vision for the Church as the Body of Christ made up of many and varied members; part-time and full time students engaged in different programs which will serve to enrich the context and vibrancy of GTS as a holy space and sacred space for participating in the reformation of theological education and rehabilitating of theology in the face of the varied challenges before the Church and the world. As such, the vision for The General Theological Seminary is to be open and sensitive to the many challenges before the Church, but not as an issue-driven institution, captive to any one ideology or cause. An important part of the ministry for General is contained in its name, in its charge, in its history, and in its ministry to the larger Church; to speak with courage, compassion and conviction to and about God. Amen.