The oldest independent theological school in the United States has much to celebrate. In early 2007, Andover Newton Theological School will celebrate its 200th anniversary and open the doors to the new Wilson Chapel. The school's leadership is also looking to launch a new strategic plan that will continue to emphasize ecumenical initiatives.

Hebrew College and the Interreligious Center on Public Life

For a number of years, Andover Newton Theological School has been nurturing a relationship with Hebrew College, an interdenominational school that prepares undergraduate and graduate students to become rabbis, cantors, and Jewish educators. In 1999, Hebrew College purchased seven acres from Andover Newton Theological School to build a campus. "Increasingly, we're developing a joint approach to our campus use," said the Rev. Nick Carter, an American Baptist who has been president since 2004. "It's not just cohabitating -- they do their thing, we do ours -- but we've begun, with the trustees' involvement, a major border-crossings program where our students meet together and our faculty meet together."

Students have also embraced the relationship. "Our students have created a program called JOTH, "Journeys on the Hill," and they meet and participate in pretty in-depth dialogue," said Dr. Carter. "They worship together and explore different aspects of congregational leadership together."

In 1999, the schools created the Interreligious Center on Public Life, which now has a board of Christians, Muslims, and Jews. "We're exploring the resources of the three Abrahamic faiths to address some of the most difficult public issues of our time," said Dr. Carter.

Wilson Chapel

Symbolic of that school's new direction is the new chapel, the first new construction on campus in 45 years. The school chose a decidedly modern design for Wilson Chapel. "It will be a dramatically modern building in a traditional New England campus, which was a significant move on the part of the trustees and faculty here," said Dr. Carter. "The point was that we may be the oldest school, but we want to have a symbol about being the newest. We want to tell the story about the future of theological education, not just a story about the past."

Much of the funding for the new chapel was provided by longtime board member Albert O. Wilson Jr., and it is being named in honor of his wife, Carol Wilson. The chapel will sit prominently at one end of the school's quadrangle in the center of campus. Construction began earlier this year.

Anniversary celebrations

Many events throughout the 2007-08 school year will mark the school's 200th anniversary. Andover Newton is sponsoring a series of lectures on the state of theological education, and they will host a dialogue on the future of missions. In addition, a history of Andover Newton Theological School is being written that will be published in January 2008.

Andover Newton is affiliated with both the American Baptist Churches and the United Church of Christ, and leaders see this not just as a time to commemorate the past, but as an opportunity to launch a new strategic plan for the school.

"I think the significant thing for our board at this moment in Andover Newton's history is that this anniversary is coupled with a brand new strategic plan for the school," said Dr. Carter. "The board has taken this occasion to assess where the school's going. So it's an exciting and vibrant time here on campus."

Historical contribution

Andover was created in 1807, and the first class entered in the fall of 1808. Originally formed as a divinity department of Phillips Academy in Andover, the school merged with Harvard in 1910, only to separate in 1926. In 1965, Andover Theological Seminary merged with Newton Baptist Institute (founded in 1825) to form Andover Newton Theological School.

The modern missionary movement originated at the school. Adoniram Judson, the first missionary from the United States, graduated from Andover Theological Seminary in 1810.

A pioneer in graduate theological education, Andover Newton created the now conventional model of seminary education -- moving preparation for ministry from undergraduate schools and apprenticeships to graduate-level institutions. They also created the traditional three-year graduate program emphasizing the four traditional disciplines (theology, biblical studies, church history and pastoral ministry).

Matt Forster, a freelance writer, lives in Goodrich, Michigan.

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