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The Proof of the Pudding

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The Very Rev. Kurt H. Dunkle

Dean and President

One of the delightful things about growing up is learning how humorous verbal misunderstandings had been in my youth. My mother kept a small notebook labeled “Malaprops.” It was never malicious; just humorous. For example, her best friend used to say she was wearing a “little casualty dress.” So, as I grew up, I listened for my own collection of malapropisms.

I always thought the phrase “the proof is in the pudding” was odd. Why the pudding, I thought? Is proof—as in yeast—something missing from pudding and, therefore, was the phrase more of a polemic? Perhaps, it had some Old English meaning lost on our contemporary ears about the composition of pudding. After all, the English still call dessert of all types “pudding.” Nevertheless, legions used it as a summary line of skepticism, with the doubtful possibility of being proven wrong for the fact just commented upon. I thought so until a few weeks ago, that is.

I finally heard someone use the phrase, in what I suspect has always been the right way. The proof is not in the pudding, as I had always heard. Rather, the proof of the pudding is in the eating!  Now that makes sense. You can talk all day long about some thing or some idea; but the true test is in the final analysis. After all, pudding is meant to be eaten, not speculated upon.

Seminary education is like that. We can talk all day long about thoughts and ideas and plans and curriculum. But, if the final product is not effective ministry, the pudding just tastes bad. In the Summer 2016 issue of GTS News Quarterly, you can read about some great new appointments, as well as the achievments of our students, graduates, alumni, and faculty—the proof in the pudding.

One of the most powerful proofs is how our graduates are deployed for work in the vineyard. It is with great pride that General Seminary graduates continue to be 100% deployed by, or shortly after, graduation in meaningful ministries. This year is no different and to make the point, we have been sending e-mails every week or so highlighting our graduates and their new ministries.

The breadth of our graduates new ministries is tremendous. So is the depth. Our young alumni are energetically beginning with jobs which touch many lives. The Rev. Charles Bauer was this year’s winner of the Edwin Cromey Prize for Excellence in Liturgical Studies and will now integrate his experience and seminary learning in his first call as Curate at Hickory Neck Episcopal Church in Toano, Virginia.

Mid-career alums are effectively using prior doctorates and other degrees to grow new branches on well-rooted stock. Before the call to ordained ministry, the Rev. Dr. Tommie Watkins, Jr., earned a Master’s in Social Work and a Ph.D. in Public Health from the University of Alabama, and spent over a decade doing HIV prevention and counseling in Miami and Birmingham, Alabama. He will now return to the Diocese of Alabama, where he has been called as Associate Rector at Canterbury Chapel Episcopal Church and Student Center, and he will also teach as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Alabama School of Social Work.

Students preparing for lay vocations are making truly remarkable contributions to ministry and scholarship. Graduating M.A. student Libbie Schrader’s master’s thesis, “Was Martha of Bethany Added to the Fourth Gospel in the Second Century?” was recently accepted for publication in the Harvard Theological Review, expected to come out in early 2017. This is tremendous for a student!

Faculty pudding these days is also very good eating. This past year our faculty applied for and received the most Conant Grants in at least the last decade. Prof. Todd Brewer traveled to Egypt in search of discoveries about the Nag Hammadi texts; Prof. Michael Battle refined his reconciliation seminars with research in South Africa; Prof. Barbara Crafton is able to complete her next book, Called; and Prof. Clair McPherson will conduct a pilgrimage/tour/course of the spiritual centers throughout Early Medieval Western Europe. The proof of that pudding is very good eating, indeed.

General Seminary’s education and formation have nurtured these lives of ministry in ways which would not have been possible without, well, General Seminary. A frequent way parishes assess their current state of affairs is asking the pointed question of whether their communities would be affected, or even notice, if they were not there. In The Episcopal Church, General Seminary’s presence is definitely noticed. Any lack of the good pudding being made by our faculty and students would similarly be a huge hole on the buffet table of our Church.

General Seminary’s pudding is becoming tastier every day. Come have a bite. You will see that the proof of our pudding is definitely in the eating.

Kurt Dunkle first name signature
Kurt Dunkle first name signature

Education and Formation

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The Very Rev. Kurt H. Dunkle

Dean and President

Many of you have heard or read my standard speech about what we do at General Seminary. In case you missed it, here it is: “We only do two things at General: Education and Formation. Each needs to be roughly in balance, and each needs to be integrated.”

In the past few years, we have spent a great deal of time developing the second of these two concepts: formation. We have heard from the wider church that formation is fundamentally important to our future mission and the overall sustainability of General Seminary. We have worked hard to make sure our formation is as fine as our education continues to be. And I am pleased to report that we have succeeded in doing so.

Chapel attendance and participation through student-led Eucharists is up, and faculty buy-in is universal. Daily lunch in the Refectory continues, and it is a joy to witness the theological lingering over coffee and cookies. This semester, we have radically changed student advising by establishing groups that now meet every Wednesday morning in faculty apartments, rather than just a few times a semester. This is working out very well.

The net result is that formation is re-solidifying at General.

But what about that other focus: education? It’s time to address that upfront again.

The Spring 2016 issue of GTS News Quarterly focuses on academics at The General Theological Seminary. I encourage you to read it over. Throughout the issue, you will see that the academic preparation here for church leadership in the 21st century is as strong as ever. Just like General Seminary well prepared many of you, our alumni, recently or in years past, we are rising to the challenges of our current environment by preparing future leaders for the church equally well.

This semester, we have dozens of academic offerings of all types by over fifteen faculty members of all types. One of the great benefits of being in the center of the major metropolis in our country is the breadth and depth of specialists and experts in practically every field. We are taking advantage of this abundance like never before at General. The use of expert faculty is not incidental or ancillary or some sort of second choice; it’s intentional. But, instead of imagining what they are doing, read about them throughout this issue.

Scholarship is growing, not just for our students, but for the entire church. In the next few pages, you will read about a new book from Prof. Michael Battle, a major academic paper presentation by Prof. Todd Brewer, and the research and translation projects of Prof. Clair McPherson.

The wider church confirms what I have been witnessing: our faculty are being invited to share their expertise. For example, Affiliate Professor of Liturgy, the Rev. Dr. Kevin Maroney, recently was asked to be one of the seminary professors to advise The Episcopal Church's Marriage Task Force, in preparation for General Convention 2018. Another example is Adjunct Prof. Stephanie Spellers’ recent appointment to the staff of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, as Canon for Evangelism and Reconciliation, in addition to continuing her residential academic duties at General. The list goes on.

In addition to the scholarship of our faculty, you can read about the travels and accomplishments of some of our talented students. The academic opportunities at General have allowed these students to shine in the world at large.

General Seminary is also engaged in ensuring fine academic leadership. Our focused search for a chief academic officer is ongoing, and the candidate pool is deep and wonderfully diverse. I fully expect someone to be in place by early this summer and look forward to the ministry of this new Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs to expand our horizons. I look forward to continuing the refinement of our ordination-focused M.Div. (Strategic Pillar I), growth of a newly energized non-ordination track, vocationally focused M.A. program (Strategic Pillar II), and helping identify the right partners and affiliations (Strategic Pillar III) for increasing our academic capacity and program strength.

Now, back to that familiar speech: “Education and Formation.” Without high quality and serious education, formation will be vapid and shallow. Similarly, without intentional and integrative formation, education is narrowing and useless to the wider church. Strengthening both together serves to form leaders who can—and will—help grow the Body of Christ and our beloved church.

I hope you read every word of this issue. I have always been proud of our academics at General, now more than ever. I bet you are, too.

As always, I enjoy hearing from you. Please let me know if you have any questions, comments or concerns.

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The Newness of New

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The Very Rev. Kurt H. Dunkle

Dean and President

There is an odd feeling in schools every fall. Autumn brings a climate which speaks of slowness and preparation for winter. But, schools around the world begin anew, awash with freshness and hope for the coming year. How Anglican—how both/and!

General Seminary is experiencing that sense of both/and right now. Emerging from a turbulent year, we, too, are experiencing that freshness and hope for the new year. This 198th year is an exciting time to be at General.

During Orientation Week in late August, we welcomed 14 new students into various degree programs. While not the largest entering class ever, neither is it the smallest. Representing a wide diversity of all expressions of our Anglican faith, the entering class also represents a growing trend: half are non-residential commuters. Also representing the historic diversity of General Seminary’s place in the Anglican Communion, some are from foreign countries: Haiti, Barbados and Kenya. General’s entering class this year is truly general.

We are grateful for the continued financial support of General Seminary. When we say “thank you,” we mean “Thank You!”  This past fiscal year we were able to meet our annual giving goal, and you can read a breakdown of all our revenue sources in the Report of Gifts. You are making a difference in the reformation of theological education—not only at General Seminary, but throughout our church.

Classes have begun and we continue to refine our Wisdom curriculum in imaginative ways. For example, this semester “Introduction to Pastoral Counseling” is being team-taught by noted psychologist and counseling professor, Dr. Gary Ahlskog, and equally noted and experienced pastor, priest and author, the Rev. Barbara Crafton. Decades of experience and wisdom are teaming up to offer students truly integrated education in the same team-teaching of “Philosophy for Theology,” by the Rev. Dr. Clair McPherson and Dr. Alina Feld. Foundational and elective courses continue to be offered and new one-credit, week-long Wisdom Year intensives are increasing from last year.

The Wisdom Year is also expanding. From a pilot pair of seniors, the program grows this year to 100% of graduating seniors and one additional S.T.M. student, who is returning specifically for the intense immersion experience of a Wisdom Year residency. Churches from the dioceses of New Jersey, Newark, New York, and Connecticut are eager participants. With the arrival of the Rev. Emily Wachner as the Director of Integrative Programs, one of the chief development tasks of this year is to ensure that almost 20 Wisdom Year residency sites for next year’s seniors, and those who will come to General specifically for this curacy-like experience, are available The Wisdom Year distinguishes General Seminary as a place of superior education and formation for church leadership.

General Seminary’s rich tradition of said and sung Morning Prayer and Evensong, together with community Eucharists, continues. While embracing our past, we are expanding into a new area of student-designed and executed services twice a week. Monday morning Eucharist is the subject of a one-credit practicum, “Setting the Table,” with affiliated liturgics faculty member, the Rev. Dr. Kevin Moroney, and Evening Prayer on Friday afternoon is being designed and led by all of the entering students. This may be a first for General Seminary. Formation in chapel takes many paths, and deeper student involvement in the planning and execution of worship is a key component to exercising a liturgical life grounded in history and lived out in joy for future church leadership.

The Alumni Gathering and Paddock Lectures on November 4 and 5 will feature new professors, the Rev. Drs. Michael Battle and Todd Brewer, each speaking on a common topic, but from their own unique academic perspectives. The lectures are titled The Goodness of Upheaval: Pauline and Apocalyptic Perspectives. That Wednesday evening there will also be a festive Evensong to honor the almost 40 years of David Hurd’s ministry to General Seminary and The Episcopal Church. We have something special for David that evening; I hope you can join us.

We are also getting our fiscal house in order. Even with a fully loaded budget (salaries, benefits, operational expenses, etc.), we have reduced our operating deficit by almost 75% over a two-year period. This is incredible progress, but the work is not yet finished. We must come to equilibrium, as the finance professionals say, in short order. Your continued support and embrace of General Seminary’s fiscal health for this essential work is important and appreciated. Thank you, again.

These both/and times at General Seminary live out our rich Anglican heritage. We are neither blind to the past nor ignorant of the unknowns of the future. As we continue to embrace each in preparation for our 200th anniversary in two years, I look forward to our continued growth together.

Thank you, all.

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