A unique and historic gathering brought together representatives from seven United Church of Christ seminaries from across the country to meet with UCC national officers and staff members for the UCC Seminary Coordinating Conference. As seminaries begin to think about how best to offer education in the 21st century, the three-day coordinating conference will help those institutions and UCC national staff develop ways to do that together.
The goals of the conference were to open a dialogue on theological education that impacts the challenges seminaries face, understand the short-term visions and identify what actions the group can carry forward to strengthen their institutions.
"It's a rare opportunity for the presidents, the dean and the boards (of the seminaries) to be together," said Reiss Potterveld, the president of Pacific School of Religion for the last two-and-a-half years. "This was especially important because seminaries are going through changes of mission and online education.
"It takes effort to get all these people in the same room."
Among the attendees to the coordinating conference were four members of the UCC's officers of the church, members of the UCC's Ministerial Excellence, Support & Authorization Ministry team, conference ministers, and leaders of seven UCC seminaries (Andover Newton Theological School, Bangor Theological Seminary, Chicago Theological Seminary, Eden Theological Seminary, Lancaster Theological Seminary, Pacific School of Religion, United Theological Seminary).
The Rev. Ann Asper Wilson, a board member for 13 years and graduate of Eden, points out that each of the seminaries is different from the standpoint of size, geography and resources. But there's been a spirited conversation during the three days.
"I think it's been very exciting, and I think there's been a lot of energy among the representatives of the seminaries to find new and innovative ways to work together," Wilson said. "What is striking is the commonality of vision and values. All the UCC staff [who were] present were excited about the conversations."
Most of the discussions revolved around developing online and cross-cultural education for lay leaders, judicatory leaders and clergy, and developing international partners.
"Can we build the curriculum with all seven schools?" Potterveld asked. "We kind of have that mandate."
To move forward with that mandate, those who were present at the conference agreed the first step in creating a shared online educational opportunity is to create a pilot program, with more ideas to be put in place by late June.
The impact of seminaries in the future also affects UCC conferences and congregations, explains the Rev. Roddy Dunkerson, who is in his eighth year as Nebraska Conference Minister.
"We're deeply involved in this discussion because the life of seminaries is connected with our [conference's] ability to recruit pastors with vision and excellence," Dunkerson said. "As we recruit pastors, we want people with a commitment to the progressive life of the church."
Added Potterveld, "It was a big commitment of time for two to three days from all of the schools and staff. I think all of us recognize this is a place of strength for the UCC."