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May 03, 2006


Heidi Alvey

I think your suggestions are very sound and practical. I was never aware of the debt seminarians faced until my son chose his path. He had some challenges to face from the beginning - he was the youngest ever in our state to go through BACAOM, so young in fact that he wasn't even able to attend seminary for two years. He was, however guided by a phenomenal rector at the University of Alabama who saw that the church in our state had missed an entire generation of men and women who had an interest in seminary. By being the youngest, he also had the challenge of proving his maturity, sincerity and compassion. He did this by serving on the vestry of his church for three years, being President of the Studen Forum at his church ands by being President of the Interfaith Council for three years.

Hopefully, his example will set the way for younger seminarians who have not yet married and do not have the obligations associated with family. They are better able to take on the debt. But, even so, he chose Virginia over General because he will not carry any debt when he graduates.


Chris T.

Amen and amen! I've been blogging about this question a fair bit lately, as the priesthood in the independent sacramental movement is a "free ministry" and the formation model is quite organic.

A three week off-site summer program is pretty long, though. That would exclude a lot of younger people who might want to pursue ordination through such a program, as well as many low-income folks. If the church is going to restructure its models for forming clergy (and I think it should, which is why I'm in the independent sacramental movement in the first place), it shouldn't just widen the path a little. It should seek to empower people of all economic and social situations to answer the call to ministry, and that requires radically different ways of identifying and training ordained leadership.

your aspirant

we are at the point of deciding if we should pay for seminary with our retirement monies or take out student loans? which would be more financially sound? a question for our tax guy I think...but it is daunting to say the least. There's gotta' be a better way!

D. C.

It's often useful to step back, think about the mission, and ask not just, Are we doing things right? but Are we doing the right things? In that spirit, the church really ought to rethink the role of clergy.

Jared Cramer

I understand what you're saying, and I think that for some parishes and clergy, this might work. But, I wonder, what about those (like me) who wish to devote their life to serving a parish as a priest. I worry that one result might be that the priest will only be used on sacramentally required situations and she or he might lose touch of the living with a parish that gives priestly ministry much of its power and grace.

John Wilkins

I think that people whould be required to make some kind of sacrifice and build some sort of strong relationship with one another. Three weeks is the minimum - 21 days. Much less inhibits growth and formation - thus the observation that if you do something for 21 days, it tends to stick. Three weeks would be hard, but much easier than six months. They would have to give something up, and that is OK.

I do think there should always be full-time priests, however. One need not supplant the other. I simply note that we should be ready to move more deliberately into the bivocational world.

Phil Snyder

One problem with the seminary model is that it takes what should be a "professional" degree (such as a MD or JD) and makes is an academic one. Having said that, it is really hard to open the scriptures to people and to lead the people of God if you do not have intense study of the Holy Scriptures as well as their original languages and knowledge of how doctrine developed and the different heresies.

As a deacon, I was not required to take Greek or Hebrew and my education was done part time at the diocesan school. However, I can only think of one course that was not important to my formation and that is sacred music. Knowing how Gregorian Chant developed or who Henry Purcell was will not help me much in my ministry as a deacon - especiall since I have no desire nor gift to lead music.

Could we not do priestly education in a similar way? Provide a diocesan school where courses are taught by educated parish priests and where the students are then sent off to learn Greek and/or Hebrew in an intensive 2-3 month course (basically by immersion).

Another issue is seminary professors. We should allow a maximum time to teach without taking a specified time to be a parish priest. Say 5 years teaching with 3 years parish ministry. This would ground the professors in the practical application of what they teach. I think that too many of our seminary professors have been in seminary too long and out among the congregations in parish ministry for too short.

Phil Snyder


Maybe we should be ready to enter a bivocational world, but it will come with much kicking and screaming. We want our priests to be as expert in their fields as our doctors. After all, they do treat our souls. Descartes did a disservice when he separated the mind from the body. Although we inherently know this, we still balk at the psychological field, and feel that if we can just talk to a priest, our minds will be healed.

And, yes, there are many seminary teachers who need to practice practical ministry as well as priests who need to teach instead of practicing ministry.


Oh, boy. Some of this is the very issue we wrestle with every month at Bishop's Committee meetings. We're a small mission parish, we can't afford to pay full-time clergy, and we've been sharing our priest with another even smaller parish. In order to cut costs, our priest took a part time counseling/spiritual director position, and he changed his insurance over to be covered by his partner's work.

With all that, we estimate we've got another year or so before we're completely out of gas. Done.

This all goes directly back to a starry-eyed but completely failed diocesan plan in the 60's that set up a lot of small, underfunded missions in the suburbs that were supposed to be neighborhood churches tucked into obscure back streets, rather than building one or two well-funded, centrally located, highly visible churches located on major streets.

In the meantime, we're feeling a sense of mission for the first time in years - feed the hungry, throw open the doors to all - rather than remain the inwardly focused Church Club that we've been for all too long. We're trying to get our heads around the idea of being church rather than just going to church.

I'm going to some sort of meeting tomorrow organized by the Diocese that is supposed to be a follow-up with other "assisted" parishes like ours, and will be of the other issues you raised while I'm there.

Chris Tessone

It's interesting that Phil brought up the ScripturesI think he's right about this, and it's one of the issues my corner of Christianity, the independent sacramental movement, is definitely dealing with. However, in my experience, very few seminaries actually teach how to apply the Scriptures. You either get a whole bunch of academic sophistication about looking at them, or you get simplistic proof-texting.

IMHO, what should be emphasized is a discipline of Bible-reading and prayer in one's own life during the formation process. Courses in Hebrew, Greek, Old Testament and New Testament can certainly be useful, but only if they build upon a direct, unpretentious, undogmatic relationship to Scripture in the first place.

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