Photo Illustration by Isabel Espanol
The Very Rev. Dr. Michael DeLashmutt is Senior Vice President, Dean of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, and Associate Professor of Sacred Theology for General Theological Seminary in New York, NY. From 2021-22, he served as Acting Dean and President, and played a key role in steering the Seminary’s “Strategic and Faithful Partnerships” initiative, a five-year strategic plan announced in February. The plan, based in Anglican thought, led to an affiliation with Virginia Theological Seminary and a new hybrid residential and remote M.Div. program. It has allowed GTS to leverage its facilities to support its mission with income from space rentals and hosted events, and to fund deferred maintenance. He spoke with In Trust’s Matt Hufman about the process and stewardship; here is an excerpt from their conversation.
The Partnerships Initiative seems to be an interesting case study of the role of discernment in planning and decision-making.
I tell the students in my theology class something like, “if we can’t do anything with our theology, if our theologies aren’t helping us, they’re probably not worth keeping.” And what I mean by that is that I think theology has a kind of utility to it where it helps us to understand the nature of the world, the nature of ourselves, the nature of God.
Consequently, I believe that I can’t just lead it as if I were a corporate leader or a leader of a non-sectarian nonprofit. I have to lead in a way that is consistent with my values, my tradition, my being.
Wouldn’t it be better if I were to draw from the skills and competencies that I’ve developed over a lifetime of being a faithful Christian and brought that to bear on the task of leadership, as opposed to try to import something that’s completely extrinsic to my experiences or my self-identity?
By grounding our discernment in theologically weighty language, our trustees and leadership team were able to draw from these deep resources so that we weren’t simply acting as business leaders. I wanted these theological commitments to inform the nature of the discernment process. We could have very easily looked at the numbers and said, ‘OK, the simplest thing to do is to sell the property and to pack it all in.’
That may have been a very faithful way of stewarding the resources of this institution. But how we get to that decision, I think, is incredibly important. I think it’s important because of theological concerns. But I also think it’s really important because, we are stewarding the philanthropy of generations of people, and we have a responsibility to steward their gifts in a way that reflects their faithfulness.
That’s a great way to put it. Did those approaches bring clarity?
I think they did. It’s approaching reason and tradition and Scripture as ways in which God is revealing God’s self to us. It means that when we look at something like an enrollment or budget report that data isn’t the only story. Those data created a sense of crisis, a sense of urgency that I think was helpful. But that’s not the full story. There’s also mission as it has been stewarded for many generations. And, similarly, Scripture, the big story of what God’s been up to in the world. What does the Paschal Mystery tell us about our institution’s moment right now, knowing that we worship a God who is most strongly revealed in the death and resurrection of God’s Son? If that’s the fundamental bedrock of the Christian message, what does that say to Christian institutions?
To listen to the full conversation, as well as download DeLashmutt’s paper on the process, visit the In Trust Podcast.