What sort of theological training has shaped the new clergy coming through the United Methodist Church’s pipeline?
I recently obtained some official statistics from the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) about where United Methodists ordained in the United States last year received their seminary education. This includes a relatively small minority (less than five percent of the total) who received their ministerial education via our denomination’s “Course of Study” rather than the more traditional M.Div.
A couple summary observations are worth highlighting.
Asbury Theological Seminary, an independent evangelical institution in the Methodist tradition, maintains its dominant position. Of the 414 members of the ordination class of 2013, 64 (15.46 percent) went to Asbury, more than seven of our denomination’s thirteen official seminaries (Boston University School of Theology, Claremont, Drew, Gammon, Iliff, the Methodist Theological School of Ohio, and United) combined, continuing a long-time trend on which I have reported earlier. For those of you who like ratios, this means between one-in-seven and one-in-six newly ordained United Methodist ministers are Asburians.
Meanwhile, Claremont School of Theology and Iliff School of Theology, arguably our denomination’s most theologically radicalized seminaries, on which we spend a lot of offering-plate apportionments to prop up each year, only educated 4 (0.97 percent) and 10 (2.42 percent), respectively, of 2013 ordinands.
With 41 alumni entering the ranks of the ordained, Duke Divinity School maintains its position at the top of the UMC seminaries. Compared to a similar study of the ordination class of 2009 (which separately listed those ordained through the Course of Study), Duke saw its numbers fall rather significantly in the intervening four years. Over that same time period, Asbury saw its numbers slightly increase from 61 ordinands in 2009 (14.63 percent of that year’s class).
It is important to keep in mind that due to our denomination’s arduously long ordination process, there is a some inevitable lag time before differences in current student enrollment will be felt when alumni are finally ordained a couple years or more after graduation. Thus, the relatively unimpressive numbers for United Theological Seminary in the 2013 ordination class are probably related to it having been in really bad numerical shape a few years ago. Given how rapidly enrollment has increased since United’s newfound institutional commitment to historic Christian orthodoxy, we can expect much larger numbers of United grads among the ordination classes of the near future.
Winning the contest for the other denomination whose seminaries educate the most United Methodist ordinands is the Presbyterian Church (USA). Of the UMC class of 2013, 25 (6.04 percent) went to one of six PCUSA seminaries. Of course, despite that denomination’s recent hard-left turn, its seminaries are far from being a theological monolith.
Another 13 (3.14 percent) attended either a Southern Baptist or an independent, expressly evangelical seminary (Ashland, Fuller, George Fox, and Gordon-Conwell), though some of these include a bit of an “evangelical left” element.
It is also important to remember that plenty of people survive theological schools of a certain bent without ultimately reflecting the dominant perspective within their alma mater. After all, I’m an evangelical United Methodist who after three years of ultra-liberal Harvard Divinity School was no less theologically conservative than I was when I began.
Which non-UMC seminaries United Methodist seminarians go to is shaped in large part by our denomination’s University Senate. This body regularly decides which non-UMC schools will have their degrees accepted for United Methodist ordination. Over the years, they have removed quite a number of schools from the “approved” list, with such decisions often seeming to be driven by short-sighted institutional protectionism and perhaps theologically liberal biases rather than what is best for our seminarians or the long-term mission of our church. Rather than rushing to eliminate “competitors,” the University Senate would do better to actually look into why so few United Methodist seminarians want to go to liberal denominational seminaries like Boston University School of Theology, despite all the denominational pressure and financial incentives to do so. The University Senate’s removing evangelical Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary from the approved list 16 years ago, despite it being such a major national seminary with many United Methodist ties and an impressive track-record in urban and multi-cultural ministry, was a significant blow against faithfulness and effective ministry within the United Methodist Church. To be fair, we probably did not lose much when liberal seminaries like Andover-Newton were also de-listed.
Quite a number of the ordination class of 2013 attended seminaries not currently approved by the University Senate. I was told earlier by a GBHEM official that if everything else is in order, one’s seminary education at a non-UMC seminary will be accepted as long as that seminary was on the approved list at the time the student was enrolled, regardless of what the University Senate did later.
Without further ado, here are the full statistics for the seminary education of American United Methodism’s ordination class of 2013, with our denomination’s thirteen official seminaries in this country listed first:
|School||Ordinands||% of Total|
|All other schools||118||28.50%|
|Memphis Theological Seminary (Cumb)||7||1.69%|
|Christian Theological Seminary (DoC)||6||1.45%|
|Austin Presbyterian (PCUSA)||5||1.21%|
|Union Presbyterian (PCUSA)||5||1.21%|
|New York Theological Seminary||4||0.97%|
|Sioux Falls Seminary (NAB)||4||0.97%|
|New Brunswick Theological Seminary (RCA)||3||0.72%|
|Pacific School of Religion (UCC)||3||0.72%|
|Louisville Presbyterian (PCUSA)||2||0.48%|
|Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (ELCA)||2||0.48%|
|United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities (UCC)||2||0.48%|
|Chicago Theological Seminary (UCC)||1||0.24%|
|Eastern Mennonite (Menn)||1||0.24%|
|George Fox Evangelical||1||0.24%|
|Interdenominational Theological Center||1||0.24%|
|Moravian Theological Seminary (Mor)||1||0.24%|
|Northern Baptist (ABC)||1||0.24%|
|Southwestern Baptist (SBC)||1||0.24%|
Key to abbreviations for denominational affiliations:
ABC = American Baptist Churches USA
AMEZ = African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
ARPC = Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Cumb = Cumberland Presbyterian Church
DoC = Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
EC = Episcopal Church
Menn = Mennonite Church USA
Mor = Moravian Church
NAB = North American Baptists
PCUSA = Presbyterian Church (USA)
RCA = Reformed Church in America
SBC = Southern Baptist
SDA = Seventh-Day Adventist Church