by Melinda Heppe

St. Herman’s Seminary in Kodiak, Alaska, has a dozen students, and a new curriculum. It is raising money to deal with deferred maintenance and to ensure that every student has a full scholarship.

Things were not thus a year ago when the island seminary—an institution of the Orthodox Church in America that is perhaps the most remote theological school in North America— was down to an enrollment of four. 

In fact, at one point, a notice of closing was posted on the door by the school’s rector at the time, Innocent, auxiliary bishop of Sitka and Alaska.

However, since the move had not been discussed with the school’s governing board nor with its president (Metropolitan Theodosius, head of the Orthodox Church in America), the notice was removed and classes continued.

“I think the previous administration was hoping to let the school dwindle until it could be closed and a new school opened in Anchorage,” said the Reverend Michael Oleksa, who was dean of the school for part of Innocent’s tenure, “but it’s impossible to be sure because I don’t think they were entirely above board about their intentions. We were kept in the dark, and we kept bumping into one another.”

Innocent himself is not offering explanations. 

He was reassigned early last year, but refused to accept the new assignment. When he did leave his office, he also cut off formal communication with the church, although he is still listed on the OCA’s web site as a retired bishop.

“We were kept in the dark, and we kept bumping into one another.” 

At about the time he moved out of the diocesan office in Anchorage, the office itself was stripped bare, including the computer files, his successor said. Later, in the summer of 2001, the school’s supporters received an issue of the diocesan newsletter which contained a collection of allegations about the mishandling of the seminary and of the diocese. The newsletter looked official, but it was not put out by the diocese. More letters have followed, but these have been anonymous.

Bishop Nikolai, Innocent’s successor, arrived in Alaska last June, and spent much of the summer visiting parishes. Along the way, he did considerable recruiting for the seminary. Most of the students who enrolled this year had spent a year or two at St. Herman’s at some point in the past. “We had a problem with students who were just too young, who didn’t necessarily have a vocation, but thought seminary would be a good place to think about it,” Oleksa recalled. “They’d stay for a year or two, and then just not show up.” Apparently time and experience watered the seeds planted at St. Herman’s for some of those students.

The new curriculum takes this phenomenon into consideration. Each year is a separate module, preparing students for a particular stage of ministry. Plans are in place for fourth-year students to live on the mainland in Anchorage, 250 miles across the Gulf of Alaska from Kodiak. Anchorage offers more opportunity for field work in parishes and institutions.

A new dean, the Reverend Benjamin Peterson, arrived in Kodiak in January from Anchorage, where he had been dean of the cathedral for two years. Before that he spent thirteen years in a parish in Hollywood, California. “Kodiak is like living in my own National Geographic special,” Peterson said. He conceded, however, having had to face some challenges such as living in a dormitory room for a period because the dean’s residence was uninhabitable.

The state of the deanery was one of a number of consequences of long-standing deferred maintenance. When Oleksa came to the school in 1996, he said, there was a debt of $160,000, about the same as the annual budget at the time. In 1998 the state suspended the school’s authorization to confer degrees because the default rate on student loans was so high. The current administration is committed to regaining the authorization, which means assuring that graduates can repay their loans, or that they don’t need them in the first place. Providing full scholarships is one way to free students from incurring debt, and the school’s supporters are responding, unfazed by the school’s recent challenges, Bishop Nikolai said.

It has in part to do with the school’s new-found commitment to accountability: when their new web site goes up, the budget will be posted, for example. In part, said Oleksa, it has to do with the trust the school’s supporters have in Metropolitan Theodosius. St. Herman’s existence has been precarious through most of its thirty years, but there are twenty-eight active Orthodox priests in Alaska now, nineteen more than there were when the school was founded. There are ninety-one churches, so the need continues.

BC Funding Cut
by Bob Bettson

The government giveth and the government taketh away. That’s what the Vancouver School of Theology and Regent College, both theological schools affiliated with the University of British Columbia, discovered earlier this year.

British Columbia’s new Liberal government under Premier Gordon Campbell has embarked on a massive $1.9 billion (Canadian) slashing of government spending. One of the smaller cuts on the list—which is having a large impact on VST and Regent—is removal of all support for theological education.

The $240,000 funding cut represents about 7 percent of VST’s budget. Principal Kenneth MacQueen says it was the school’s largest single grant and will force a new look at the whole budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The cuts took effect April 1. VST will probably have to postpone some academic or administrative hiring while efforts are made to replace the lost income. “We’ll just have to pull together to make up the difference.”

Regent College president Rod Wilson met with Advanced Education Minister Shirley Bond to discuss the cut. She told him the government decided across the board it can’t fund any private institutions, even if they are affiliated with a public university.

Regent’s grant of $238,000 was only about 4 percent of its total revenue, but accounted for 23 percent of donation income, says Wilson, so the college will have to work hard to replace it.

Wilson says Regent is grateful for thirty years of public support, something he says his constituency had always questioned. “We really wondered how long it would last,” he says, adding that theological schools have not been singled out. Wilson says one arts college lost a grant equal to 61 percent of its budget and will probably close its doors. He notes the cuts to theological education support are small compared to other cuts which have included laying off 12,000 civil servants and closing courthouses. 

Most other Canadian provinces continue to supply a modest level of support for graduate level theological education programs at institutions affiliated with public universities. But those funding levels have been reduced in recent years. 

Disability Meeting
by Melinda R. Heppe

More than 100 representatives of fifteen theological schools gathered in March in Washington, D.C., for a convocation on disability titled “Opening Minds, Hearts, and Doors in Seminary Communities.” The convocation was jointly sponsored by Wesley Theological Seminary, where it was held, the Washington Theological Consortium, and the National Organization on Disability.

People with a wide range of disabilities attended the convocation in mid-March along with participants enfleshed with what some termed “temporarily able bodies.”

A keynote address titled, “Accessing Faith: Theological Education in the 21st Century” and a variety of workshops provided discussion starters, but the heart of the convocation was the stories shared from all quarters. 

A leader at one workshop told of being diagnosed with learning disabilities during seminary, working successfully with her school to complete the program—and then being told by her denomination that she would have to fail the national ordination exams—offered just twice per year—four times before she could apply for alternate testing. 

Successes were shared, too, as participants talked about steps their schools have made toward allowing full participation of students with disabilities: these range from sending an American Sign Language interpreter along on a cultural immersion trip to Central America to asking students to self-identify disabilities when they are accepted into programs, which makes the planning of accommodation easier. 

“A realistic constellation of commitments,” was a phrase one participant used to talk about the limits of accessibility. She cited the story of a prospective student seeking ordination who described her disabilities as “severe memory challenges, panic attacks in the presence of groups of people, and an inability to be tested in any form.” It fell to a seminary admissions officer to suggest gently to the applicant that her gifts might be better used in some other form of ministry.

Seminaries are at different places in their involvement with issues of disability. While some have yet to begin making buildings accessible, others are trying to figure out how to integrate issues of disability into the curriculum as a whole. One disappointment that was widely shared, arose from the observation that all too many religious communities seem to think that they have completed their provision of accessibility when they install a wheelchair ramp and a sound system.

The Religion and Disability Program of the National Organization on Disability, which has focused since 1989 on encouraging congregations to become more welcoming to people with all types of disabilities, has added a “Seminaries: Access and Welcome” section to its website at

Luce Fellows Named
The Association of Theological Schools and the Henry Luce Foundation announced seven Henry Luce III Fellows in Theology for 2002-2003. Each fellow will receive up to $75,000 to conduct a year-long research project in some aspect of religious knowledge.

One of the new fellows, Karen B. Westerfield Tucker of Duke Divinity School, Durham, North Carolina, proposes to explore the role of hymnals in the churches. 

“I grew up in a family with a hymnal,” said Tucker, explaining the genesis of her project, “and it was formative for me. It wasn’t only something we used to sing hymns at church. We used it devotionally at home; I read it during boring sermons; and I used it as one of my music books when I started piano lessons. Now there is a trend among Protestants not to use hymnals at all, to get copyright permissions and project hymn texts onto the ceiling. And I wonder—what will we lose? Remember, too, that hymnals were themselves once a technological innovation, and that the way they’ve been used has changed. They weren’t always in racks on the pews, for example. Once there was an expectation that people owned their own.” 

Tucker, who teaches liturgics as well as hymnody, was surprised to realize that nobody has studied hymnals as a genre. “Hymnals within a denomination, sure. Types of hymnals, yes. But never the full sweep,” she said.

Tucker can’t name her favorite hymnal. “They do different things. There are topical hymnals, and those with a wide sweep. There are Sunday School hymnals. There are interfaith hymnals. There are hymnals produced by the government for chaplains—and how does that work?” She is interested in how the selection of hymns changes over time. “I’m looking at Civil War hymnals to see where the emphases are,” she said, “and at evangelical hymnals to see how in recent years there’s a shift from independence back to hymns about the body of Christ. Hymnals in pews are important, even when we don’t use them.” 

The other new Henry Luce III Fellows in Theology are:

Marilyn McCord Adams, Yale University Divinity School, “The Coherence of Christology”

Francois Bovon, Harvard University Divinity School, “The New Testament and Early Christian Apocrypha”

Francine J. Cardman, Weston Jesuit School of Theology, “Early Christian Ethics: Foundations and Frameworks”

Richard P. Heitzenrater, Duke University Divinity School, “Tradition and History: Principles and Practice in the Wesleyan Heritage”

Lizette M. Larson-Miller, Church Divinity School of the Pacific, “Holy Ground: Discerning Sacred Space in Public Places”

W. Eugene March, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, “The Widening Circle of Divine Love: God’s Gift of Religious Pluralism”

Yale-Lutheran Link
The Eastern Cluster of Lutheran Seminaries and Yale University Divinity School have formed a partnership that expands on the seven-year-old Lutheran studies program at Yale. Under the new agreement, students enrolled at Yale can take courses at the Eastern Cluster schools as part of their Yale program, and students at the Lutheran schools can take an “ecumenical year” at Yale. 

The Lutheran schools will also have a part in identifying visiting professors for Yale’s Lutheran studies program.

The Eastern Cluster of Lutheran Seminaries comprises Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (Pennsylvania), Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), and Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, South Carolina.

Changes at the Top
Rabbi Peter Rubinstein of New York’s Central Synagogue has been elected chair of the board of trustees of Auburn Theological Seminary in New York. His election marks what is likely the first time a rabbi has been named to the top governance post of a Christian theological institution. Rubinstein, who has been a member of Auburn’s board for ten years and has chaired its education committee, said, “I as a Reform Jew need Auburn. I need to have liberal Christian colleagues who are as committed to the principles of interreligious dialogue and cooperation as I am.” Auburn, which was founded as a Presbyterian seminary, merged some years ago with Union Theological Seminary. It no longer grants degrees, but conducts research, offers a variety of continuing education programs, and provides some services to Presbyterian students at Union.

The Reverend Titus Pressler, who has been rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts, since 1991, will become dean and president of the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, Austin, Texas, this summer. He succeeds the Very Reverend Durstan McDonald, head of the school since 1984, who is retiring. Pressler has been an adjunct teacher of mission studies and preaching at Harvard Divinity School, Episcopal Divinity School, and General Theological Seminary during his years in Cambridge.

The Reverend David F. McAllister-Wilson, executive vice president of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., will become the school’s next president in July. He succeeds Dr. G. Douglass Lewis, who is retiring after twenty years in the post.

The Right Reverend Frederick H. Borsch, a New Testament scholar who is retired Episcopal bishop of Los Angeles, has been appointed interim dean of Berkeley Divinity School, an Episcopal seminary that is affiliated with Yale University Divinity School. Borsch succeeds Dr. R. William Franklin, who resigned in December (See related story in this issue's "Balance Sheet").

Before becoming bishop of Los Angeles in 1988, Borsch had served nine years as dean and president of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Berkeley, California, and subsequently as dean of the chapel and religious life and professor of religion at Princeton University.

The Reverend Philip Butin will take office July 1 as president of San Francisco Theological Seminary, San Rafael, California, a Presbyterian school affiliated with the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. Butin, who has a Ph.D. in theology and church history from Duke University, has been pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Presbyterian Church, Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the last eight years. He will succeed Dr. James G. Emerson who has been interim president since 2001.

Dr. Robert M. Shelton, president of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary for six years and a member of its faculty for thirty-one years, has announced he will retire December 31 at the conclusion of the Austin, Texas, school’s centennial year. A search for his successor is under way.  

Phil C. Zylla is the new principal of Associated Canadian Theological Schools, a partnership of five evangelical schools at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. Zylla came to the post from seventeen years in a number of pastorates across Canada. Coordination of the ACTS partnership was previously provided by Guy Saffold, executive vice president of Trinity Western.

New principal of the College of Emmanuel and St. Chad, an Anglican seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, is Dr. Walter Deller. Deller previously was on the staff of the Diocese of Toronto with oversight of parish support, conflict management, youth, and children’s ministry.

The Reverend Riess Potterveld has been named as the next president of Lancaster Theological Seminary, a school of the United Church of Christ. Potterveld, currently vice president and acting dean of Pacific School of Religion, is a UCC minister who has served churches in California from 1971 to 1992. He will take office in August, succeeding Dr. Peter Schmiechen, who is retiring.

Stanley E. Porter, a member of the Evangelical Free Church, has become principal and dean of theology at McMaster Divinity College, Hamilton, Ontario, a school of the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec. He formerly headed the department of theology and religious studies at the University of Surrey Roehampton in London, England. He succeeded the Reverend William Brackney, who held the post from 1989 to 2000.

The Reverend Cornelius Plantinga has become president of Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan, a school of the Christian Reformed Church. Plantinga previously was dean of the chapel at affiliated Calvin College, and served seventeen years on the faculty of Calvin Seminary before that. He succeeded the Reverend James DeJong, who retired.

New president and rector of St. Augustine’s Seminary of Toronto is the Reverend A. Robert Nusca. Nusca previously was the school’s dean of students. His predecessor John Boissoneau has become an auxiliary bishop of Toronto.

Monsignor Helmut A. Hefner, formerly professor of canon law, associate director of field education, and pastoral studies chairman at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo, California, has become president and rector of the school. He succeeds Monsignor Jeremiah McCarthy, the seminary’s head since 1994, who has become director of accreditation and educational evaluation of the Association of Theological Schools.

William A. Graham, a professor of Middle Eastern studies and of the history of religion, became acting dean of Harvard Divinity School, succeeding the Reverend J. Bryan Hehir, who in February became president of Catholic Charities, U.S.A., based in Alexandria, Virginia.

The Reverend David Neelands will leave the directorship of the Toronto School of Theology in July to become dean of the Faculty of Divinity at Trinity College, Toronto. The faculty, an Anglican institution, is one of TST’s constituent schools. Neelands, an Anglican priest, is a former vice president of the University of Toronto.

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