March 28, 2011

Should United Methodist Funds Be Limited to Official Schools?

Official United Methodist Schools of Theology that train more ministerial candidates will now receive more denominational funding than schools that train less. This is the result of a new formula, approved by the Directors of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), for dispersing money from the Ministerial Education Fund (MEF). Rev. Sharon Rubey, an executive with the GBHEM's Division of Ordained Ministry explains the rationale behind this change: "We want to reward the United Methodist seminaries that educate more United Methodist students for ministry in the church."

My question is this: If the goal is to reward seminaries that train higher numbers of United Methodist students, then why limit the disbursement to official United Methodist Schools of Theology? I understand that the goal as stated is not actually to reward any seminary that trains more United Methodist students but to reward United Methodist seminaries.

My question intends to point to the inequity within the United Methodist educational system. The UMC has thirteen official seminaries; many other seminaries are approved for the training of UMC ministerial candidates, but since they are not official denominational schools, they get no denominational funding; this despite the fact that some of them train more United Methodist students than many of the official United Methodist schools.

Take my own alma mater, Asbury Theological Seminary, a school approved by the denomination for the education of ministers but not an official United Methodist School of Theology. It is my understanding that Asbury Seminary trains and graduates more United Methodist ministry candidates than any official United Methodist seminary, yet because they are only approved and not official, Asbury Seminary gets zero funding from the United Methodist Church despite the significant service rendered in providing clergy to the UMC. You heard that right. More clergy; zero cash; none; zilch, nada, nothing. In that light, it's amazing how many United Methodist students still choose Asbury Seminary even though there is no denominational support for scholarships!

Another way to frame this issue would be to consider whether the money should go directly to the schools or follow the student. It has been pointed out to me that if UMC ministerial candidates got equal funding for the official or approved school of their choice, then that would certainly be more fair and equitable. Also, the schools that are in high demand would thrive while those institutions that are faltering in their task would become irrelevant. You would get to see which schools are really doing a good job and which ones are presently being propped up for other reasons. Shouldn't there be equal funding opportunities for all UMC ministerial candidates?

So, if the UMC were really interested in rewarding schools that serve the denomination by training more clergy, would we not also reward those approved but not official seminaries that  train the most clergy? If the money followed the students, the whole system would seem much more equitable.

What do you think? Should there be a way of rewarding non-official but approved schools who serve the UMC by training more of its ministers? Is the distinction between official and approved seminaries even helpful? If a school is good enough to be approved, why shouldn't they get funding? I'd like to hear what you think!

2 comments:

Pastor Swish said...

I'm an Asbury alum as well, so maybe I'm a little biased, but I completely agree with you. I saw something the other day that pointed out how Gammon received over $800,000 in funding, but only graduated one UM clergy member.

We need to support our seminarians, not our seminaries, if we want to thrive as a denomination, and not become irrelevant as an institution.

Daniel McLain Hixon said...

I am a Perkins/SMU grad myself, though I did consider Asbury (but Perkins offered more scholarship money).

There is some conference-based scholarship money (at least in my conference) that is attached to the student, not the school. As long as the student is a certified candidate in the process and goes to an approved school, and agrees to work in this conference for 5 years, we pay a significant share of their costs (for me, it amounted to about half my tuition).

I don't know if other conferences have similar programs (but they should).

I do think there is value in funding the official seminaries directly, indeed funding them more than we do at present: it gives the church a certain degree of leverage that we will need if we are to reform the seminary system (as many voices are now saying we should as part of the Call to Action). The more dependent the seminaries are upon the church, presumably the more responsive they will be to the needs of the church.

I could see, however, how that might work out on its own in a more indirect way and over a longer timeframe, if we adopted your suggestion, provided there were some guidelines as to which seminaries qualified (presumably the "approved" ones).