Change is hard. We may hear that phrase often, though it’s still true!
A change of late in the wider Church involves my Alma Mater, Andover Newton Theological School (ANTS) in Newton Centre, Massachusetts. ANTS has educated generations of ministers, and CFC has been served by numerous ministers who are ANTS alums. ANTS is also affiliated with both our denominations: the American Baptist Churches and the United Church of Christ. Two schools (Newton Theological Institution [Baptist] and Andover Theological Seminary [Congregational]) came together to become “the School of the Church.” Institution Hill in Newton Centre has had a Seminary atop it since 1825. Andover Theological Seminary (founded in 1807) was America’s first graduate school. A proud history to be sure!
Though after years of struggling with deferred building maintenance, selling off bits and pieces of the acres of land ANTS owns, possible mergers with other Seminaries falling through, and declining student enrollment as Mainline Protestant denominations like the ABC and UCC have gotten smaller and fewer people are pursing ministry—the Board of Trustees made the difficult decision to sell the campus and formally enter a partnership with Yale Divinity School in New Haven. The school hasn’t closed. Though the school as we knew it is gone. Our beautiful hilltop campus is no more. Andover Newton Seminary at Yale Divinity School will continue the legacy and look ahead to a bright future, God willing.
As you can imagine, this has been an emotional and complex time. Reactions varied as we all deal with change and grief differently. On May 11th there was a Celebration of the Beloved Community. And on May 19th the last class graduated from Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Centre, MA.
The changes happening in Newton Centre and New Haven are reflective of the changes happening across denominations in the United States. (If you want to dive into the statistics, check out the studies done by the amazing folks at The Pew Research Center, Religion & Public Life.) Though the “narrative of decline” within Western Christianity is honestly boring at this point because I’ve been hearing about it since, well, my whole life. (One of my childhood ministers encouraged me to get my Bachelor’s in History as a back-up plan to become an educator like my parents because he was so worried about church decline.)
In these rapidly changing times, here’s what we know for sure—the Church of the future won’t look exactly like the Church of the past. The Seminaries of the future who educate and equip ministers to serve in churches won’t look exactly like the Seminaries of the past either. They just can’t because the times they are a changin’! Moreover, the packed churches of the 1950s and 60s has never been a reality for some of us! And God remains with us, right? It’s up to us to respond to church and societal changes with imagination and courage. For God has more light and truth breaking forth into our world. The world needs to feel the power of love. And the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ still needs sharing and embodying. So we can struggle and resist change in many areas of our lives, though time marches on. It’s not always easy and we’re allowed to feel however we feel in times of change. Though thank goodness we’re in this together.
(This Week’s Thoughts 5.24.18)