Lee Hinson-Hasty is coordinator for theological education and seminary relations in the Presbyterian Mission Agency of the PC (U.S.A.). Through his work Lee hopes to capture and share a more expansive view of theological education, of church leadership and of vocational discernment as he sees through the eyes of some exciting Presbyterians in and related to seminaries.
“‘Run your hand across a Bible text,’ says Barbara Brown Taylor, ‘and see what’s rough. What sticks out? What verses give a splinter? What stings? What would you rather just ignore? That’s what God is calling you to explore. Don’t take the easy way out. Take out the tweezers and magnifying glass, and dig right in.’”
- Adam J. Copeland quoting Barbara Brown Taylor, A Wee Blether, October 4, 2012
Last week the Committee on Theological Education (COTE) met at the new Charlotte campus of Union Presbyterian Seminary to exegete, in a way, the current theological education landscape. Two major research projects were presented and the Committee took time to dig in, magnify, and investigate what Barbara Brown Taylor might call the “splinters and the smooth places.” In March the COTE took action to find ways to serve the PC(USA) and the schools better by paying attention to relevant data and trends. It was for the COTE an opportunity to clarify questions that need answers and identify partners.
The graph to the left from the Board of Pensions demographic study in 2011 is just a sample of the type of information the Committee considered. The graph shows the largest group of teaching elders today will retire in five to ten years. Some of them are in their first call; others have been serving quite a while. We know from other studies that there is a cohort of 45-60-year olds who are likely to inflate the wave of retirements, as well as a large group of younger candidates for ministry. The dropping enrollment at theological schools, according to a recent Auburn Seminary Center for the Study of Theological Education (CSTE), further complicates this multi-layered picture of pastoral leadership in the PC(USA). Auburn’s CSTE has learned that since 2005, the only groups growing seminary enrollment in the U.S. identify as African American (+7%) or Hispanic (+26%).
Statistics like these raise such questions as, Will there be enough seminary trained ministers to fill the need of existing congregations? How about new ones? Will we have the right persons to fill the needs of churches? Membership in PC(USA) congregations is declining that clouds this picture. From 1987 to 2010, total church membership declined every year— from 2.98m to 2.0m, at an average rate of 1.7%, for a decline of 32.3%. The trend continued but slowed to closer to 1% in 2011, with membership at 1.95m and in 2012, to 1.85m.
What does all this mean? What do we know and what do we not know? What do we need to know? Who is thinking and/or pursuing information that needs to be on our dashboard for tracking? How do we best communicate what we are learning? Those are some questions that snapshots from various studies and sources raise in me, and things that COTE cares about, too. What do you think? Who do you think would be helpful in the conversation?
Looking forward to hearing from you,