While there is grieving to do, which may be unique to us given our shared history, proximity, and relationship, my hope is that the news fuels our courage and imagination as we seek to pioneer new ways of “being church”.
Andover Newton has been sending out FAQ’s to help clarify their situation. They are doing a wonderful job keeping interested parties informed. Here are four excerpts from a recent FAQ that are of particular relevance to us as a church and some reflections on their meaning:
- "Our school has relocated twice, affiliated with other institutions three times, launched never-before-seen educational models and demonstrated readiness to change virtually anything but its mission to educate inspiring religious leaders."
- "Our mission, our work, will thrive under this change just as it has for the last 208 years."
- "Student headcount and number of credits students are earning each term are now 25% less than they were 10 years ago. Current enrollment is roughly half what it was a generation ago."
- "Considering that the shrinking applicant pool corresponds with a shrinking ministry employment market, we think it’s appropriate and ethical to engage in a redesign of our educational model rather than to continue to do that which is clearly unsustainable."
It will be valuable to identify questions raised by this situation that are most relevant to us. For example:
- For 208 years, Andover Newton met particular needs related to its mission "to educate inspiring religious leaders". What needs have changed and what needs have not?
- What is the cause of the "shrinking applicant pool"? A recent report by the Auburn Center for the Study of Theological Education contains some sobering numbers. However, it closes with a beacon of hope. “Here is some final good news: the measures that are good for a school’s enrollment picture—realistic institutional planning, incorporating new groups into old-line religious bodies, cultivating the young —are the measures that will help rebuild religion in North America.”
- Andover Newton says the ministry employment market is shrinking. Is the market shrinking or has the need for a particular kind of education or training changed, just as it has in other fields?
- Andover Newton considers itself a "Mainline Protestant" institution. Historically, First Baptist Church has considered itself a mainline protestant institution. Does the church still see itself (or desire to be seen) as such? Or does it envision being something else, maybe even a category in-and-of itself?
- Andover Newton’s move is courageous and driven by their mission "to educate inspiring religious leaders." What is the mission that drives First Baptist Church?
- Does Andover Newton’s experience affirm or contradict the Pew Religious Landscape Study? In the religious makeup of the United States, Mainline Protestants come in fifth place (14.7%) behind Evangelicals (25.4%), the unaffiliated religious “nones” (22.8%), Catholics (20.8%), and those having “nothing in particular” to say about religion (15.8%).
In the concluding part of this series we will reflect on these questions and offer some answers. Things may not really be so bleak, but hopeful answers will require a mix of reliance upon tradition and new creative imagination. Meanwhile, offer your own answers and further questions in the comments!