Ten years ago I retired from the presidency of Wesley Seminary in Washington, D.C., after 20 years of service. Little did I realize what an exciting decade lay ahead. I became chair of the board of In Trust, helped the Association of Theological Schools design and launch the Presidential Leadership Intensive Week in Santa Fe, participated in a number of research projects with Lilly Endowment Inc. and Auburn Seminary, and mentored several seminary presidents and boards. Oh, how much I learned! I might even be a good seminary president now.
My family labels me a theological education junkie, and I plead guilty. I see our theological schools as precious institutions that make contributions far beyond their numerical size and economic resources. They preserve and interpret our faith traditions, and they prepare the next generation of inspired leaders. Without theological schools, the history, traditions, and vitality of our faith communities would greatly diminish.
The 21st century has brought increased turmoil, challenges, and threats to the survival and vitality of many educational institutions. Seminaries are caught and battered by these same trends. Our schools have seen a dramatic decline in church support. Fundraising is more difficult, more costly, and more demanding. The need to raise tuition has negatively affected students, increasing their debt—to crisis levels, in many cases.
At the same time, educational costs have continued to rise because of changes in our student populations and the demands for more convenient delivery systems and diverse programming. We’ve experienced changes in the role of faculty, increased costs for the maintenance of aging facilities, and a growing demand for additional scholarships. These challenges regularly end up on the agendas of seminary board meetings and the desks of presidents. They dominate faculty discussions.
The monetary squeeze on seminaries has been growing for more than a quarter of a century. The financial turmoil of the 21st century has accelerated this trend into a budget crisis for many schools. The dilemma for most of us is that we are not sure how to fix the broken financial model that faces higher education while meeting escalating educational demands.
In almost a quarter-century of existence, In Trust has supported theological schools in North America by strengthening seminary governance and equipping seminary boards. From its inception, In Trust’s leaders recognized that governance — that is, how an educational community defines its mission, identifies its challenges, develops its strategies, involves its stakeholders, and makes its decisions — determines whether a school can thrive.
Through the encouragement of Lilly Endowment Inc., In Trust is planning to launch an initiative to help theological schools discover new ways to meet their challenges and forge vital learning communities for the 21st century. Our pledge is to be an essential partner and resource in the efforts to help theological schools become the best they can be.
In Trust has matured and increased its service to theological schools over the past decade under the presidential leadership of Christa Klein. We owe her a great debt. The In Trust board has asked me to serve as acting president during this period of transition and expansion of In Trust’s service. I am excited by this new challenge and learning opportunity as I enter my second decade of “retirement.”