Wednesday, April 5, 2023

General Theological Seminary is Struggling

The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church, the oldest seminary of its kind, is undergoing significant changes at the end of the current school year. While there have been rumors that the seminary is closing and selling its Manhattan campus, its shared President with Virginia Theological Seminary, Dean Ian Markham, has stated that this is not the case. However, the school is at a crucial point and is implementing a five-year plan that will determine its sustainability. The plan comes after years of deficit spending, deferred maintenance, and wishful thinking prior to General’s governance consolidation with VTS.

As part of the sustainability plan, General Seminary will conclude its residential program and solely offer a hybrid Masters in Divinity program. This move will result in a reduction of faculty from eight to four, and faculty will no longer live on campus from the end of the fiscal year 2023. The seminary is currently operating with a budget deficit of more than $2 million per year due to a downturn in the market, a fall in revenue, rising operating costs from urgent campus maintenance, and increased staffing costs.

General Seminary's position has receded over the years due to a decrease in enrollment, and properties on its campus have been sold off to pay down $40 million in debt. The seminary counts only 50 students, with a full-time enrollment equivalent of 31.3, and three full-time faculty, with a full-time enrollment equivalent of 4.50. This is down from the 61 enrolled seminarians at the end of the 2013-2014 school year.

The seminary is not the only one within the Episcopal Church to see significant changes in recent years. Other institutions have sold campuses, laid off faculty, and merged with other seminaries. As of now, Nashotah House, University of the South (Sewanee), VTS, and Seminary of the Southwest are the only degree-granting Episcopal Church seminaries offering traditional residential programs, while Church Divinity School of the Pacific, the only West Coast seminary of the Episcopal Church, has announced the conclusion of traditional residential study.

General Seminary's graduates include both orthodox and progressive clergy, among them Anglican Church in North America Archbishop Emeritus Robert Duncan and retired Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson. While the seminary is facing significant changes, it remains to be seen whether the sustainability plan will allow it to continue or if it will be the end of the road.

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