Oldest U.S. Graduate Seminary To Close Campus

Andover Newton Theological School announced plans to relocate and sell its 20-acre campus in Newton, Mass.

Until recently, mainline seminaries could rely on a combination of endowment proceeds and tuitions from students who expected to land full-time ministry positions after graduation. But now part-time pastorates are increasingly the norm as congregations with dwindling numbers can’t afford full-timers. Fewer would-be pastors want to incur five-figure student loan debt in exchange for a part-time job. So they don’t enroll.

 

(RNS) America’s oldest graduate seminary is once again blazing a trail for other mainline Protestant institutions to follow. But this time it’s a path many would rather not travel.

On Thursday (Nov. 12), Andover Newton Theological School announced plans to relocate and sell its 20-acre campus in Newton, Mass. The move will be part of “a bold new direction” for the 208-year-old school as it struggles with big deficits.

“God is doing something new in this time,” said Andover Newton President Martin Copenhaver. “We have to figure out what it is and get with the program.”

Whatever God is doing, it will be with a smaller faculty, lower overhead and new partnerships. On the table are two options: Become embedded within a more stable institution such as Yale Divinity School, where discussions are ongoing, or shift to a lean cooperative learning model. The latter would strip away broad elective offerings, focus on core subjects and dispatch students to do much of their learning in local congregations.

Either way, Andover Newton’s move is likely a harbinger of what lies ahead for about 80 percent of America’s 100 mainline seminaries, according to Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools. Built more than a century ago, they’ve relied primarily on residential education models that are fast becoming unsustainably expensive and ill-suited to current needs.

“Andover Newton is a canary in the mineshaft on the issue of, ‘what is the future of mainline institutions?’” Aleshire said. “You’re going to see some mainline schools seek to affiliate with other larger institutions. And the primary reason for that is the reduction of their indirect costs.”

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