Bangor Theological Seminary to end pair of master's programs in 2013
Written by Jeff Woodard
February 23, 2012

Facing elimination of two master's degree programs at the end of the 2012-13 academic year, the faculty, staff and students of UCC-related Bangor Theological Seminary have prepared for "a new frontier," the Rev. Robert Grove-Markwood, Bangor president, told colleagues during a Council for Theological Education meeting Feb. 20-21 at the Church House in Cleveland. "In 1814, there was sort of a frontier for folks in Maine," Grove-Markwood said. "We're back on another frontier, in some sense. But I think we still have a role to play."

The school's Board of Trustees voted unanimously this month to suspend its M.Div. and M.A. degree programs in order to explore alternate options consistent with the school's historic mission of service to the church.

Grove-Markwood said seminary trustees plan to announce the school's new direction, which will affect its Bangor and Portland campuses, this spring.

For Bangor students midway through their programs in June 2013, Bangor is signing a teach-out agreement with such seminaries as Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Centre, Mass. "They are being very gracious and generous," said Grove-Markwood.

A teach-out enables students to move smoothly from one institution to another to complete their degree program under the curriculum plan from the original school without being required to start anew under different guidelines.

"Our problem was that we'd become too isolated," said Grove-Markwood, "and with The Bangor Plan going away, we'd lost our national draw."

Under The Bangor Plan, students could take two years of a baccalaureate program, then take M.Div. courses for three years at Bangor, said Grove-Markwood. "At that point, you wouldn't be ordained but you could be serving a church. Then you'd go back and finish your two years of college."

From every angle –– with all numbers and projections laid out –– no option was sustainable, said Grove-Markwood. "The question was, 'Can we keep doing what we've been doing?' And I'm very proud of our board's clarity. Their answer was 'No, we can't. This is something that's not sustainable.'"

"We had to say, 'Stop, take a deep breath. Absorb the hurt, it's going to be coming from lots of places,'" Grove-Markwood said.

The suspension of the programs will mean the elimination of 14 positions: six full-time faculty and eight staff members.

The Rev. David Greenhaw, president of Eden Seminary in Webster Groves, Mo., said Eden had spoken five years ago with Bangor leaders about proposing the elimination of degree programs in favor of becoming a "regional school for the study of religion in northern New England and a new foundation on which multiple tracks to ministry could be attained."

"The Bangor Plan could take people on a different path, and it already has a national brand," said Greenhaw, adding that Eden's level of commitment to the degree program was too extensive to make such a change at that time. "But something like that is a project that we could all do together. It would open up ecumenically, but would be principally focused on the UCC."

Grove-Markwood, seated next to Greenhaw, turned and replied, "I'm all over that. I think that would be incredible."

Other presidents provided updates about their schools, including those from the Rev. Alice Hunt, who shared exciting details about the new state-of-the-art facility at Chicago Theological Seminary; the Rev. Carol Lytch, who has completed six months at the helm of Lancaster (Pa.) Theological Seminary; and Susan Ebbers, who is balancing duties as library director and interim co-president of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities in New Brighton, Minn.

Meeting participants also included the Rev. Riess Potterveld, former president at Lancaster and current president of Pacific School of Religion; Tat-siong Benny Liew, dean at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif.; and UCC Conference ministers the Rev. Wade Schemmel (Northern Plains), the Rev. Timothy Downs (Southeast) and the Rev. David Moyer (Wisconsin).

The UCC's national staff was represented by: the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, general minister and president; the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister for Local Church Ministries; and the Rev. Holly MillerShank, UCC team leader for Ministerial Excellence, Support and Authorization (MESA).

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