We have two Unitarian Universalist seminaries in this country, Meadville Lombard Theological School and Starr King School for the Ministry. Together they educate a sizable percentage, but not nearly all (or even half, I believe), of our ministers. I went to Meadville Lombard (although I attended Starr King for a semester, as well). One joy of GA is usually the Meadville Lombard Alumni Dinner, where we all get together and hear about how the school is doing, catch up with old friends, hear some wonderful speakers reminisce about the old days, and eat some good food.
This year, as we were setting out for GA, Meadville Lombard released a big announcement--one we knew was coming, but I didn't know the extent of it. Meadville Lombard has been trying to both sell its buildings and merge with another institution, and now it is announced that they will merge with Andover Newton Theological School in Boston. And while there is a great deal of potential in this new model, it gives both alumni and students a great deal of anxiety because what the final product will look like is still so unknown. Of no small concern is the fact that Andover Newton looks like the bigger partner in all of this, and we're afraid our UU identity will get lost in the new identity. It's been pointed out more than once that Andover Newton was founded in opposition to Unitarianism.
There's a lot of confusion and rumor right now. For example, I heard one place we won't retain our name at all, and yet the press release says we will. Another example: we're selling our buildings, yet we're remaining in Chicago, yet almost all or perhaps all of the students will be distance-learning students. What sort of presence will we have in Chicago, and what exactly will it say on their diplomas? This is the confusion that is still out there. And for our entire movement, I hope you're wondering what will become of the library. The Meadville Lombard library is the only substantial Unitarian Universalist library in the country. It is an invaluable collection of resources and history for our faith. Surely some other library will be taking it, but will it be safeguarded, and will it be cared about, and will it be added to? These are the concerns we have.
I'm hopeful about Meadville Lombard's future, even in the midst of this uncertainty and fear. I do think they're doing innovative things with their new "Touch Point" approach to theological education. I'm going to be immersed in that myself as a Teaching Pastor. I know they're doing a lot to bring distance learning students together through conference calls and other distance learning tools.
Meadville Lombard was in a lot of transition in my day, too. I entered with one set of faculty and staff, and left with an almost entirely different one with only one faculty member and a few minor staff members the same. And yet, in the midst of all that, I gained a strong education which grounded me in our faith and I also built strong collegial ties that have supported me in my ministry. I trust that this will be true in this new period of transition, in part because it's something the seminarians themselves are seeking and helping to create.