Do prison seminary programs make a difference?

By Emilie Babcox

Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion has received a $1.3 million grant to study the long-term effectiveness of seminary programs in maximum-security prisons.

Funded by Premier Foto LLC, a subsidiary of Premier Designs Inc., the grant will be used to conduct a five-year study of Darrington Bible College (an extension of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary housed at the Darrington Unit in Rosharon, Texas) and Angola Bible College (an extension of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana).

The Angola program has been in operation for more than 15 years; the first class of the Darrington program met in 2011.

Dr. Sung Joon Jang, an associate professor of sociology at Baylor and co-principal investigator of the study, says that social science research can help provide empirical evidence about the possibility of long-term change in the lives of offenders.

Byron Johnson, director of the Institute for Studies of Religion, has conducted numerous studies on the role of religion in prisons. He says that “the idea is to test the proposition that what people think is happening is happening. The last thing people think about is to do research because they just assume that it [prison rehabilitative programs] works, but we don’t know that it works.”

In Trust profiled prison seminary programs at New York Theological Seminary, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary on pages 5–9 of its Autumn 2011 issue.

Read and print the article, “Maximum- Security Seminary,” at  

Cokesbury closing 19 seminary bookstores

The United Methodist Publishing House (UMPH) is shuttering all of its Cokesbury retail stores by April 30, 2013—including 38 full-service stores and 19 seminary bookstores. A self-supporting part of the United Methodist Church, Cokesbury plans to focus its retail operations on its online store, call center operations, and sales representatives. About 185 full-time and 100 part-time employees will be let go.

UMPH includes both the retail business and a book publishing imprint, Abingdon Press. Publisher and president Neil Alexander says that the overall business remains in the black, with $86.1 million in sales logged in the last fiscal year. But the revenue from stores, as a percentage of total revenue, has dropped by 50 percent in the last decade, and the cost of operating local stores now exceeds the combined sales from stores.

Methodist seminary decides to sell property, move to church campus

The board of trustees of St. Paul School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, has decided to put the school’s property on the market and move to a large suburban Methodist church. 

The school will begin offering classes next fall at the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, 20 miles south of its current site in the Historic Northeast neighborhood of Kansas City, Missouri. St. Paul School of Theology has occupied the current campus, which includes 217,000 square feet of building space, since 1965, but leaders estimate that only 30,000 square feet of building space is currently needed. (St. Paul School of Theology also maintains an extension site at Oklahoma City University which will be unaffected by the move.)

The Rev. Adam Hamilton, pastor of the Church of the Resurrection and a 16-year member of the seminary’s board of trustees, was board chair until he stepped down in November 2012, just prior to the board meeting at which the final vote to move was taken. He will remain on the board.

In “personal reflections” posted on the seminary’s website, Hamilton outlined the financial challenges faced by the school, including a decline in the seminary’s investment portfolio during the recent market downturn, a simultaneous dramatic reduction in support from the United Methodist Church’s Ministerial Education Fund, and a decline in student enrollment.

He estimates that the move to the Church of the Resurrection will immediately save the seminary about $600,000 per year.

Changes at the top

Albert Hernandez

■ The Rev. Albert Hernández, chief operating officer, academic vice president, and dean of the faculty at Iliff School of Theology, has been named interim president of the school, effective June 2012. Hernández succeeds David Trickett, the school’s president since 2006, who resigned in May as the board of trustees adopted a new strategic plan.

Hernández joined the Iliff faculty in 2001 and is currently associate professor of the history of Christianity. A United Methodist layman, he is a graduate of Florida International University, Nova Southeastern University, and Drew University. 

Iliff School of Theology, founded in 1892, is one of 13 seminaries affiliated with the United Methodist Church.

M. Craig Barnes

■ The board of trustees of Princeton Theological Seminary has named the Rev. M. Craig Barnes as the school’s seventh president. He takes office January 1, 2013, succeeding the Rev. Iain Torrance, president since 2004, who in 2011 announced his intention to retire.

Barnes has also been named professor of pastoral ministry at the seminary, which is one of 10 affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA), the denomination in which Barnes is an ordained minister. At the time of his appointment, Barnes was pastor of Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and professor of pastoral ministry and leadership at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He previously served Presbyterian churches in Colorado, Wisconsin, and Washington, D.C., and was a member of Princeton Seminary’s board of trustees.

Barnes is a graduate of the King’s College, Princeton Theological Seminary, and the University of Chicago. He and his wife, Dawne, an interior decorator, have two teenaged sons.

Ross Shecterle 

■ Msgr. Ross Shecterle has been named president-rector of Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wisconsin. He replaces Father Jan de Jong, a Priest of the Sacred Heart, who retired in June at the age of 74. Father de Jong led the school for more than four years. 

Msgr. Shecterle was previously rector of the American College of the Immaculate Conception in Louvain (or Leuven), Belgium, which closed in 2011. A licensed psychotherapist, he is a graduate of St. Francis de Sales Seminary in St. Francis, Wisconsin, Loyola College in Baltimore, and the Catholic University of Louvain.

Msgr. Shecterle is the 19th rector of Sacred Heart School of Theology and the first who is not a member of the Priests of the Sacred Heart. Ordained as a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in 1986, he was on the faculty of St. Francis Seminary from 1998 to 2003.

Roger Ferlo

■ In March 2012, the boards of Seabury Western Theological Seminary and Bexley Hall voted to federate and to elect the Rev. Roger A. Ferlo as the first president of the federation. Ferlo took office July 1, moving from Virginia Theological Seminary, where he was associate dean and director of the Institute of Christian Formation and Leadership.

Bexley Hall, an Episcopal seminary in Columbus, Ohio, was led by interim president Robert Reber from 2009 to 2011. Seabury Western, also an Episcopal school, was formerly in Evanston, Illinois, but has relocated to Chicago. Seabury was led during 2010 and 2011 by interim dean and president Robert Bottoms, the retired president of DePauw University. He then became interim dean and president of both Seabury Western and Bexley Hall, serving until June 2012.

Ferlo is an ordained Episcopal priest. He joined the faculty of Virginia Theological Seminary in 2004 and was professor of religion and culture at the time of his appointment to lead the Seabury–Bexley confederation. He was formerly rector of the Church of St. Luke in the Fields in New York and assistant professor of English at Yale.

A graduate of Colgate University, General Theological Seminary, and Yale University, Ferlo is married to Anne Harlan, a book artist and librarian, and they have one adult daughter. 

News summaries by Jay Blossom.

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