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Students, alums seek answers on STM closing

Jessica Zimmerle, program coordinator at Earth Ministry/Interfaith Power and Light, and Lorenzo McDuffie, a doctor of ministry student, graduates of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry formed Speak Out for STM, a student alum group concerned about “sunsetting” the STM.

Jessica Zimmerle and Lorenzo McDuffie helped organize Speak Out group.

For them it was “an innovative, ecumenical seminary that cultivated creative methods for learning and meaning making for spiritual leaders. With dwindling resources for students, the STM will close in spring 2023.

Jessica, an ELCA Lutheran who graduated from the master of arts program in spring 2021, said ministerial programs offered pathways to careers in chaplaincy, ministry, counseling, nonprofit leadership, activism and more.

“The closure represents a loss of an intentionally inclusive, diverse space where students from different walks of life could learn from and with one another,” she said.

As Mark Lloyd Taylor, STM professor emeritus, said it bridged “either/ors” with “both/ands,” bringing people together across differences of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, age, theological conviction and religious practice.

They are concerned SU’s Board of Trustees’ decision to close the STM in April 2020 involved little communication with students and stakeholders. Some did not learn until June.

About 200 attended a student-called meeting in July 2020, when Provost Shane Martin said the transition was an opportunity for SU to engage stakeholders in re-imagining its commitment to theological education, religious studies and ministry formation.

In March 2021, President Steve Sundborg announced by email that SU would not explore future graduate theological education, said Jessica.

She and Lorenzo are concerned that there is an absence of “progressive, ecumenical, graduate theological education at a time of upheaval, change and lack of institutional trust.

“As the pandemic and political polarization show, the challenges of climate change, economic inequality and systemic racism require culturally competent, justice-oriented leaders to help imagine a new way forward,” they said.

“STM bore witness to the transformative nature of inclusive theologies, which create a beloved community. This unique school has been intentionally educating leaders and ministers as agents for change, through faith-informed, justice-oriented listening, presence and action in our places of worship, homes, workplaces and beyond,” they added.

“STM was a space to reimagine and reform church, a beacon for those wanting to engage in this work in the largely secular landscape of the Northwest. We hope the Seattle community will recognize this absence and consider how we evolve progressive, theological and spiritual education for future generations.”

The program was unique with a Catholic institution offering degrees to women and students from other traditions, said Rose Hesselbrock, one of the last students to graduate in Spring 2023, noting parishes depend on women as administrative and spiritual lay leaders.

Master of divinity student Jin Lee said the STM helped in her/his calling as a Korean American leader and minister since 2016, noting its closure “based on market values, contradicts values of transformative change” Jin learned there.

Lorenzo said STM opened doors to him as a black, queer Catholic to serve the church, but after it closes, queer Christians of color “will lack welcoming options to pursue a holistic ministerial education and live their vocation in the region.”

Eliana Maxim, an alumna and leader for the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Seattle, told of the unique approach to ministerial education gained by “many of our current pastoral and community leaders.” She spoke of the presbytery’s investment in STM and disappointment that the process of closing the school lacked transparency, forgot partners and leaves the area without a program for ministry formation.

In a 2018 document, “STM 50 Years of History,” SU said the program “emphasizes personal and spiritual development as critical learning outcomes.” The STM built a national and international reputation as a unique educational institution addressing changes in religion and religion’s role in society. A hallmark of the school was its ability to change in response to “signs of the times” and local and regional community needs.

Jessica said a committee has formed to discuss “carrying forth the charism of STM within the life of the university.” They also plan an event to honor STM and mark its closing in Spring 2023. The committee has a few outside representatives, including two from Speak Out for STM.

She knows of no opportunity for “stakeholder input” from the broader STM community.

She also referred to a Dec. 3 Washington Post article on the rise in seminary enrollments during COVID:

Speak Out prepared a timeline that is at

For information, email


Pacific Northwest Conference United Church News © Winter 2021-22


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