Beloved in Christ,
At last year’s convention, I spoke about the ways in which the Holy Spirit is calling forth a diverse church ecology in this season of transformation. The future landscape of our diocese will very likely include a wide variety of expressions of what it means to be a local community of Jesus’ disciples. I truly believe that in the coming years we will have more faith communities than we do now, and that many of those will be very small, gathering in homes, outdoors, or public spaces, and primarily led by lay persons, even as they are connected in different ways to our longer-established congregations. I believe our diverse future will largely be lay led and clergy supported.
If that is indeed the future God is bringing forth, then our core work must be forming deeply rooted disciples of Jesus who can lead those emerging communities. After much prayer and many conversations with leaders in the diocese and around the Episcopal Church, we have begun the process of reimagining the School for Formation to focus primarily on that work.
We are in the process of designing a curriculum and cultivating partnerships with institutions and organizations to provide discipleship and leadership resources that will support lay leaders in existing congregations, help deepen the culture and practice of discipleship, and equip lay leaders for emerging expressions of church. These resources will be free and easily accessed at any time by lay leaders across the diocese. We will invest in technologies that facilitate deeper connection to one another across our geographic distance, allowing for cohorts of lay leaders to engage in prayer, mutual learning, and support. These partnerships will also result in significant savings in both financial and human resources. We will share more information as we finalize those details in the coming months, with a plan to launch a renewed school focused on lay formation in the fall of this year.
The School for Formation was created at a time when there was a significant gap between traditional seminary education for priests and the missional needs of the diocese. In the ten years since that time, local efforts like ours have significantly shifted the nature, focus, and accessibility of those seminaries, making that model far more accessible for a far greater number of people. This shift allows us to begin to set down the costly and time-intensive work of operating a diocesan seminary, and shift our focus to the critical work of forming lay leaders for the emerging diverse church ecology, which can only be done on the local, diocesan level.
There will continue to be a variety of pathways for the theological education and formation of both priests and deacons. In addition to traditional residential seminaries for priests, there are now many programs conducted almost entirely online, accessible to full- and part-time students, and there will continue to be individuals for whom it makes most sense to be trained entirely locally as part of a ministry team. Deacons in formation will be able to take all of their coursework online through an exciting program at Bexley-Seabury seminary. Everyone in formation for ordination will continue to gather regularly as a cohort for both community-building and spiritual formation, even as much of their coursework will take place through one of our emerging partnerships.
I am profoundly grateful for the Reverend Susan Daughtry's many years as Dean. She led the process of building the school from the ground up, and our whole church is in a better place for her efforts. I’m grateful, too, for the incredible work of our Interim Co-Directors, Gretchen Beck and the Reverend Cindi Brickson, as we have imagined this transition, and for all our mentors, chaplains, and instructors, as well as the extraordinary priests and deacons who have been formed in the School for Formation. This transition is possible precisely because of the great work they have all done together, which has inspired a profound and permanent shift in theological education in our church.
Please do be in touch with either me, Gretchen, or Cindi if you have particular questions in the coming weeks. I hope that you will pray regularly for the Holy Spirit to continue to breathe new life over the face of Christ’s Church in Minnesota.
Grace and Peace,