The ELCA Conference of Bishops acknowledged that the denomination is at a “kairos” moment in regards to theological education. In an Oct. 1-6 meeting in Chicago, the bishops considered three draft recommendations outlined in a report from the ELCA Theological Education Advisory Council (TEAC), which was authorized by the ELCA Church Council to address in a holistic way issues on theological education, leadership development, candidacy, call and rostered leaders.
The council’s draft recommendations are to:
- Create and sustain a network of theological education.
- Link vocational discernment and theological education for specific target audiences in and beyond the church.
- Ensure the mission vibrancy and financial stability of ELCA seminaries as they serve “their crucial roles in our theological education network.”
The conference focused on the third recommendation, which in part asks ELCA seminaries in the next three years to form a common theological education enterprise that has planning structures and decision-making. With the aid of an external consultant, TEAC and seminary leaders imagined five possible models for organizing and moving forward the seminary network.
The bishops considered the models and drafted a statement that reflects their preferences to be shared with the ELCA Church Council, which is expected to take action on the TEAC report in spring 2016.
The bishops expressed appreciation for the TEAC report and acknowledged “the courage of the leadership of our eight seminaries engaging” in conversations. “We remain sensitive to the disruptive and necessary change these proposed changes will bring,” they said.
The bishops’ statement also affirms their desire for the work to move forward. They rejected the model that would keep the status quo, and expressed their support for two of the five models that would move toward the greatest collaboration and common work.
The conference “strongly advocates the necessary reform that best serves the current and future mission of Christ’s church for the sake of the world. … In moving toward a more centralized model for the sake of better stewardship, we call for innovation, responsiveness, accessibility and flexibility. We pledge ourselves to this work with our partners at our seminaries.”