Need for Financial Support of Seminary Students Increases
The General Conference of our United Methodist Church is meeting in Tampa, Florida, April 24-May 4, 2012. There are many important issues that are being addressed during this General Conference, but none greater that the issue of nurturing and supporting our seminarians that are preparing for a lifetime of service to Jesus Christ and the church.
In light of this, I was deeply concerned when I noticed that the General Council on Finance and Administration of the United Methodist Church (GCF&A) is recommending to the 1,000 delegates gathered in Tampa that the Ministerial Education Fund be REDUCED by a total of $7,412,000 or a 6.60% decrease over the next quadrennium (2013-2016). The Ministerial Education Fund, since 1968, has been used to support our 13 United Methodist seminaries across the United States—Boston University School of Theology in Boston; Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta; Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, California; Drew Theological School in Madison, New Jersey; Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina; Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta; Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois; Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado; Methodist Theological School in Delaware, Ohio; Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas; St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri; United Methodist Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio; and Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.
Down through the years, the Ministerial Education Fund has not only been used to support our 13 United Methodist Seminaries, but 25% of the total payments by each conference has been retained within that same conference to provide minimum scholarships for our seminary students, as well as other clergy who are participating in the courses of study program. A significant reduction in the apportionment for the Ministerial Education Fund for the next four years will simply be translated into fewer dollars that will be made available through scholarships for our seminary students.
While serving for the past 4 3/4 years as the volunteer President of a Foundation raising monies for our seminary students from the Alabama-West Florida Conference, I have learned firsthand the great impact that the downturn in the economy has made upon individuals, churches, conferences, and the general church. I also understand the position which the General Council on Finance and Administration faces with its recommendations to the General Conference.
When you see their overall budget recommendations that they are making in the general church apportionments, it is clear that they are asking for everyone to share in the pain! All recipients of general church apportionments are being asked over the next four years to do more with fewer dollars. In light of this, it would appear to me that our focus should not be upon restoring monies to the Ministerial Education Fund at the same level of the past quadrennium, but rather, we should focus on how the monies from the Ministerial Education Fund are presently being distributed and seek out meaningful change for future distributions.
An apportionment of $105,667,765 over the next four years for the Ministerial Education Fund is a large figure. With only 1,736 full-time United Methodist seminary students, according to the statistics compiled by our General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, one has to look closely at the big picture! A picture is worth a thousand words!
The “fact sheets” published by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry reveal that we have as few as 26 United Methodist seminary students at Claremont, 72 at Iliff, 80 at Gammon, 84 at Drew, and 86 at Boston. We have 314 United Methodist students at Duke, 202 at Candler, 179 at St. Paul, 156 at Methodist School of Theology in Ohio, 147 at Perkins; 139 at United; 133 at Wesley; 118 at Garrett. The percentage of full-time United Methodist students on our respective seminary campuses range from a high of 82% at St. Paul to as low as 29% at Boston.
Instead of cutting back the scholarship assistance for our full-time seminary students over the next quadrennium (2013-2016), perhaps, we need to ask several questions about the way that these Ministerial Education Fund dollars are presently being spent!
1. How long should we continue to financially support 13 United Methodist seminaries for our denomination whose membership has decreased from 12,000,000 to fewer than 8,000,000 with all of the expensive costs associated with property, administration, staff, maintenance, repairs, utilities, and other related expenses?
2. In our inclusive church, how much longer must we maintain seminaries because the institutions are historically related to the Evangelical United Brethren Church, United Methodist Church, or to African-American seminary students?
3. How can we justify having two of our 13 seminaries located in the same city of Atlanta? How can we justify having two of our 13 United Methodist seminaries within the same East Ohio Conference only 78 miles apart—Methodist Theological School in Delaware, Ohio and United Methodist Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio?
4. While we take great pride in our ecumenical spirit, does it concern us that our United Methodist seminaries, to which we are giving over $100,000,000 each quadrennium, have a majority of seminary students and professors that are non-United Methodists while our United Methodist students at these same institutions are continuing to struggle financially in an effort to complete their educations?
5. How far should we go in distributing monies from our Ministerial Educational Fund to prop up our weaker seminaries where the vast majority of the seminary students are non-United Methodists?
6. How can we deny supporting Asbury Theological Seminary that produces hundreds of United Methodist pastors each year (far more than the total of several of our United Methodist seminaries) when we support certain smaller United Methodist seminaries whose graduates you could count with your fingers each year?
7. Can we develop a fairer system where the dollars from the Ministerial Education Fund “follow the United Methodist student” at whatever seminary the student attends, just as long as the seminary is approved by our United Methodist Senate?
Down through the years, extensive research has been done leading up to General Conferences, taking a close look at the expenditures of the Ministerial Education Fund. Time and time again, it has been revealed that a disproportionate amount of monies from the Ministerial Education Fund has been distributed to some of our United Methodist seminaries with the fewest number of United Methodist students? This is a luxury that we can no longer afford!!!
There is an old adage that I sought to follow throughout my 40 years as an appointed pastor, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” However, I think that the very opposite holds true, “If it is broke, let’s fix it!” While so many of our seminary students today are struggling financially to complete their educations and graduating with large debts, it appears that the main focus of our distribution of monies from the Ministerial Education Fund is that of propping up institutions and not on the seminary students themselves. Let us recognize the error of our ways and bring about changes to “fix it!”