From March to June, the In Trust Center hosted more than 20 webinars and Zoom conversations for administrators and board members of theological schools in the United States and Canada, both freestanding and embedded.
The webinars included a four-part series: Planning beyond COVID-19; collaboration with other schools; fundraising during COVID-19; and communicating with care during COVID-19. We also hosted a two-part webinar series on diversity, equity, and inclusion led by Dr. Doris García Rivera. All webinars are available here.
The Zoom meetings were facilitated, loosely structured conversations with different groups of leaders.
The first, which we titled “Governance in Times of Crisis,” provided a meeting place and discussion forum for board members and chief executives. The next was for board chairs — and we held several conversations over a few weeks, during which time many of the participants built a kind of online community with their peers. We also held conversations for presiding officers, with separate meetings for leaders of Canadian schools, leaders of theological schools embedded in colleges or universities, and new presidents who are in their first years of service.
What did these leaders choose to discuss? Here are some of the topics:
- Agility. The need to be able to respond quickly to environmental changes.
- Board engagement. Understanding the board’s role. Board culture. The importance of focusing on mission fulfillment during and beyond the pandemic.
- Challenges and opportunities for embedded schools. How university-wide mandates, budget cuts, and policy decisions affect embedded schools and how university affiliation offers opportunities and access to services.
- Community care during the crisis. Care for faculty, staff, donors, students, and alumni.
- Crisis management. Deciding which initiatives to drop or add, either temporarily or permanently.
- Encouragement and hope. Providing appropriate spiritual and psychological resources for the seminary community during emergencies.
- Enrollment and recruitment. Virtual recruitment strategies, enrollment forecasting, and the impact of the pandemic on summer 2020, fall 2020, and 2021 enrollment.
- Event planning and management. Making decisions about, planning for, and implementing commencement, board meetings, summer events, and fall classes.
- Executive leadership. Planning and implementing executive transitions during a crisis.
- Field education, internships, and CPE. What these programs will look like, how students will access them, and how restrictions may affect them.
- Finances. Government programs and funds. Salary reduction, staff retention, layoffs, financial forecasting, financial stress. The need to rightsize.
- Fundraising. Donor outreach, engagement, and care. Capital campaign implications. The impact of long-term declines in denominational support.
- Online learning after the crisis. Pedagogical quality and the difference between emergency-response remote teaching and true online learning. (Participants pointed out that there are many resources on this topic on the website of the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning.)
- Partnerships. Explorations of collaboration, shared services, and creative resource-sharing among theological schools.
- Strategic planning. Engaging the board, focusing on mission fulfillment, and planning for an uncertain future.
- Thought leadership. Seminaries as resources for the church, community, and society as a whole on the subjects of ageism, anti-racism, medical ethics, and more.
- Worship resources. Opportunities for theological schools to serve the church by providing theological and liturgical resources.
The articles in the following pages address a few of these issues. We trust that you will find them helpful as you work to fulfill your mission in the coming months.