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UCC leaders comment on STM history and closing

The Seattle University Board of Trustees passed a resolution on April 30, 2020 closing the School of Theology and Ministry (STM) as a freestanding school offering master of divinity, other master degrees and a doctoral degree.

Jim Halfaker, top, and Lynnea and Don Mayer were among those in the Conference who supported the founding and years of the STM.

Many serving in ministry in the Pacific Northwest Conference UCC (PNC-UCC) and other regional denominations and faiths earned these degrees.

Many in the PNC-UCC were instrumental in its formation, funding and leadership. Several pastors taught there and many in UCC ministries graduated from the ecumenical-interreligious theological school.

Dee Eisenhauer, pastor at Eagle Harbor UCC in Bainbridge Island, who served on STM boards since 2002 and was on the Advisory Board when it disbanded, was disappointed it closed because of finances.

“The SU administration, considered the STM a financial drain. In the pandemic, SU made tough choices,” she said.

Dee remembered hiring Mark Markuly as a creative, visionary dean, even as “STM recognized that in 10 years many seminaries would close. Given there are fewer churches, there would be less need for people to earn master of divinity degrees.

“With fewer churches, it was not seen as a marketable degree,” said Dee. “Other seminaries already began distance learning. More theology degrees are now earned online. My last intern, a student at Meadville Lombard in Chicago, only went there for two intensives a year. The STM did not move online until the pandemic pushed it.”

As a unique, inclusive school, committed to interreligious relationships, the STM gained national and international recognition, drawing foundation funding.

In 2010, Dee described the STM “a lively model of creative cooperation in theological studies connected with a Jesuit school that emphasizes doing justice.” She said students needed to know about their traditions not only for their future ministries but also to engage in discussions about what their church believes and does when students of other traditions asked.

Conference Minister Mike Denton said: “As the numbers of those in church have declined, many seminaries have struggled. The Association of Theological Schools says seminaries have suffered more than a 25 percent drop in enrollment in the last 10 years.

“As seminaries and theological schools close, the question becomes, What will come in their place? We have an opportunity for great creativity,” he challenged.

Jim Halfaker, who was Washington North Idaho Conference Minister from 1971 to 1991, helped nurture and fund the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University along with other regional faith leaders and other PNC clergy over many years.

After retiring, he worked five years with the national UCC Make a Difference Campaign and returned to apply his fund-raising skills from 1999 to 2005 to raise nearly $7 million in endowed scholarships for students from 11 denominations. He also raised funds to remodel Champion Chapel as an ecumenical worship space and to remodel Hunthausen Hall.

“Seattle University will keep the physical property,” said Jim, “but it could shift some endowments to other seminaries, such as the Loren Arnett Endowment to the Disciples ’s seminary in Indianapolis.

Jim worked with Phyllis Anderson, the Lutheran director of the Institute for Ecumenical Theological Studies that transitioned into the STM. After she left, Protestant funding declined, and there were fewer ecumenical volunteers.

“If not involved, why would ecumenical partners give,” Jim said of SU’s efforts at consolidation. “The STM without the institutes was left to support of the Catholic Archdiocese and Seattle University, along with a few loyal ecumenical friends and alums,” he said. “The reorganization and consolidation led to the shrinking of involvement and resources.”

He said others with named endowments may redirect them for scholarships at other schools.

“It is painful to me,” Jim said. “I talked with people and congregations, telling them what a wonderful ecumenical school it was. I see no way to go back, but I hope donors to endowed scholarships for Protestant ministerial education will shift those funds to seminaries that share the vision and ministry.

“What we lost is eloquently described by alums and students on page 7,” Jim said.

Several PNC-UCC clergy served as adjunct faculty and on the advisory board, and were students, who now serve in congregations, spiritual direction and other ministries.

For 14 years, retired UCC pastor Rick Russell was adjunct faculty. He was aware two years ago the STM was running out of money, transitioning to close and helping students complete degree programs they began.

David Kratz, a retired UCC pastor, was adjunct faculty teaching UCC history and polity 10 years with Greg Turner.

“Family counseling, pastoral care and community leadership are transferred to other SU departments,” he said. “The STM lacked enrollment to be sustainable. We needed five students to teach a class. When I didn’t have that many, I did independent study with them.”

At a 2006 surprise party, Don and Lynnea Mayer, learned Jim raised funds for endowed scholarship named to honor their commitment to ecumenical theological education. They hope to shift the fund to a UCC related seminary.

“As STM lost enrollment and funds, SU’s Law School subsidized it,” said Don, who chaired the STM Advisory Board a few years and taught UCC history and polity three quarters. He then invited David Kratz and Gail Crouch to teach.

“My enthusiasm for STM was grounded in the belief that it embodied the theology behind the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational and Christian Churches uniting in 1957 to form the United Church of Christ,” said Don, recalling that in the spirit of Vatican II, a previous SU president and archbishop had prodded Protestant bishops at their breakfast not to send seminary students to Berkeley or Vancouver, because they wanted to offer theological education.

For information, contact Don Mayer at 206-715-9572, Jim Halfaker at 206-363-3653, or Dee Eisenhauer at 206-604-2167.


Pacific Northwest Conference United Church News © Winter 2021-22


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