At a joint meeting at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, Feb. 10 the joint trustee consultation of Bexley Hall, also in Columbus, and Seabury Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, ratified a joint operating agreement to begin immediately and extend through June 30, 2012. During that time, a joint trustee committee will draft proposals for a permanent partnership between the two Episcopal seminaries, according to a press release.
"This partnership forms an innovative, flexible theological center in the Midwest," said Robert Bottoms, interim dean and president of Seabury, in the release. "We will educate clergy and laypeople to lead a rapidly changing church and realize efficiencies from streamlining operations while preserving our distinctive traditions and characters."
"Together Bexley and Seabury provide the full continuum of theological education," said Robert Reber, president pro tempore of Bexley, in the release. "Between us, we offer Anglican Studies courses, a three-year residential Master of Divinity, and Doctor of Ministry degrees in congregational development and preaching. To complement these academic programs, together we have already begun an innovative partnership for lifelong learning that provides high-quality theological education for laypeople and clergy alike."
Through the new partnership, Bexley and Seabury plan to share personnel in financial services, fundraising, communications and other operations. Institutional budgets will remain separate, though closely coordinated, and faculty will work toward joint operations. From July 1, 2011, until June 30, 2012, Bottoms will serve as the interim joint president of Seabury and Bexley. During this time, the boards of the two seminaries will study the model of having a single president with the intent of searching for a permanent joint president, according the release.
At the meeting, Seabury trustees promoted the Rev. Elizabeth Butler Jameson, class of 1997, who has served as the school’s vice president since 2006, to be Seabury’s vice president and chief operating officer.
"Laypeople and clergy across the Midwest will benefit from this partnership that makes the full spectrum of graduate level theological education and enrichment available more widely and efficiently," said Bishop Catherine Waynick of Indianapolis, a member of the Bexley board of trustees and the joint trustee consultation, in the release. "As Seabury and Bexley thrive, so will our congregations and communities of faith."
The two seminaries began discussions in 2007, facilitated by a team from Auburn Seminary’s Center for the Study of Theological Education led by former Virginia Theological Seminary President Martha Horne. After an initial 2008 report from Auburn that indicated "compelling reasons for each institution to consider a closer alliance with the other," a group of trustees from both institutions met during 2008-2010. In May 2010, the boards of both schools met separately and endorsed steps toward a strategic alliance recommended by the trustee group, and in October 2010 the boards met jointly to take further steps toward formal partnership.
The planning process included a review of financial viability by Auburn Senior Research Fellow Anthony Ruger. Ruger said: "Each school is financially stable and viable. Their alliance clearly comes from a desire to combine their strengths and extend the reach of their mission of theological education."
According to the release, officials of the two schools stressed that their existing partnerships with other institutions would continue and remain strong under the joint operating agreement. Bexley's Master of Divinity program is offered in partnership with Trinity Lutheran Seminary. Seabury's Doctorate in Ministry programs are offered in partnership with Church Divinity School of the Pacific and the Association of Chicago Theological Schools, and the school shares its library with Garrett Theological Seminary.