When money gets tight in an organization, the first impulse of the leadership as often as not is to try to dream up new ways to increase the inflow of cash. In the world of graduate theological education, many of the schools that experienced a decline in M.Div. candidates who were heading toward ordained ministry moved to replace the vanished tuition fees with income generated by new educational programs.
There’s nothing wrong with that strategy on its face, if the new programs are related in some coherent fashion to what the school is and does. But the scattershot addition of a new tuition-generating program here and a new tuition-generating program there poses a real danger of blurring the school into undefinability. A major role, perhaps the major role, of a president and board, working collaboratively with the faculty, is to determine and put into words what the school they serve is and does.
This issue of In Trust explores the challenge of developing institutional definition in a number of ways and points up its relationship to the fund-raising in which nearly all theological schools must engage.
Gone are the days when financial support of theological schools was simply a routine budget item for congregations and denominations. Now a school and its leaders, and that includes members of its governing board, need to be able to articulate what the school is and what it does in terms that connect meaningfully with the lives of prospective donors.
In gloomy moments, those charged with finding and cultivating financial supporters sometimes fear that changing times and fashions have swept away support for theological education. The experience of those schools that have figured out how to define their character and role and how to convey that image effectively to potential financial backers, however, suggests that the pessimism is largely unwarranted.
What is dying out in our culture is not the willingness to support religious causes, but the willingness of donors to limit their participation in church institutions to “praying and paying,” as the old phrase had it. The Second Vatican Council may have been a Roman Catholic conclave, but all the churches are heirs to its insight that the church is the people of God. And the people of God, especially when they are reaching for their checkbooks, want assurance that the institution they are about to support is engaged in activities meaningful to their lives and that their gift will make a difference.
There are many appropriate roles for theological schools to assume, but no one school can successfully assume them all. So every governing board potentially has before it questions like: What are we here for? Why does it matter? What do we need in order to do it better? The school that can answer those questions succinctly and attractively has a built-in headstart on a development program that will work.
This issue of In Trust was prepared under the editorial direction of guest editor Bob Bettson. Bettson, a veteran journalist, is a now a divinity student at Trinity College in Toronto and a candidate for the priesthood of the Anglican Church of Canada. Prior to his enrollment at Trinity, Bettson was a staff writer and news editor at the United Church Observer, the national magazine of the United Church of Canada. The staff of In Trust, and I in particular, have been enriched by Bettson’s insights and perspective, and we are grateful for his sojourn among us.