Being an introvert, I tend to process things, not in the moment they are happening, but afterwards. So vacations are often a time for recollection and introspection. And, as I am getting older, that introspection tends to turn to thoughts of how I have lived my life, what I have stood for, and how well or unwell things have gone.
A few weeks ago, at the Anglican Congress in Fort Worth, one of the workshop leaders--an emerging leader in his diocese and a graduate of Nashotah House during my deanship, referred to that decade as "a golden era" in the life of the House. A former faculty member with whom I had dinner last week said the same thing.
Again, being an introvert, I have never been good at self-promotion and, indeed, as a matter of godly principle, have eschewed it. During my ten years as Dean and President at Nashotah House, whenever someone complimented the good things that were happening, I invariably gave credit (usually with a finger pointed upward) to God--and rightly so--without Him we can do nothing. "God is doing great things; I am just going along for the ride," I often would say.
During that decade, we established two master's degree programs through distance education and a Doctor of Ministry program. If you look at the enrollment of Nashotah House today, it is apparent that, without these programs, the House would be faced with closure. We built Adams Hall, with its large assembly room and additional classrooms (the first public building constructed on the Nashotah campus since 1965), without which there would have been no room for the expanding degree programs or for the conference venue which the House seeks to become.
One of my greatest fears in life is having success be given the appearance of failure. The machinations and betrayal that resulted in my stepping down as Dean and President are, without doubt, the greatest pain of my life and, have, quite frankly, left wounds that may not heal this side of heaven.
In 2007-2008 I underwent the standard evaluation specified in my contract prior to the renewal of that contract. The external examiner for that evaluation was the Very Rev. Dr. Philip Turner, whose experience in the deanship of two other Episcopal seminaries makes him the unrivaled expert in the field. (He was selected by the Board, not by me, for this evaluation.) A Board committee conducted its own internal evaluation and the two reports were presented together. Both reports constituted a glowing evaluation which resulted in a five-year renewal of my contract and an embarrassing (but much appreciated) 33% raise.
Two events ensued almost immediately that proved challenging to the House. (1) The departure of four of the House's most supportive dioceses from the Episcopal Church and the subsequent formation of the Anglican Church in North America. (2) The Great Recession, from which many individuals and congregations still have not fully recovered.
For many years, the Diocese of Quincy had taken "refugees" into its ordination process (conservative aspirants for Holy Orders who had been rejected in more liberal dioceses). In the 2007-2008 academic year, Quincy alone accounted for 23 students in the House's student body, roughly one-third of the House's residential enrollment. When Quincy left the Episcopal Church, that pipeline closed down immediately, and over the next three years, we watched a portion of those 23 students graduate each year with no replacements forthcoming. A couple of the other supporting dioceses that left the Episcopal Church experienced "freezes" or moratoriums on their ordination processes with the result that nearly half of our residential enrollment was affected. If it had not been for the distance education degree programs we had already put in place, the situation would have been bleak indeed.
Then, in 2009, the Recession hit. I received letter after letter from rectors who expressed their continued support for the House but who said, sadly, that they were being forced to reduce their outreach budgets and that they would, for a time, have to reduce or suspend their giving to Nashotah House.
Both of these storms could have been weathered. The four dioceses that left the Episcopal Church now constitute only a small part of the growing Anglican Church in North America--which is not only a substantial source of new students and financial support, it is a Church which shares the orthodoxy that the House says it wants to maintain.
And so the second pain I feel is for Nashotah House. Instead of pursuing stronger relations with the Anglican Church in North America, the Board leadership could only misread the signs of what was happening in this crucial period to conclude that the House needed to redouble its efforts to reach out to the Episcopal Church.
By continuing to pursue the Episcopal Church to the neglect of the Anglican Church in North America and other conservative bodies, Nashotah House has placed itself in a paradoxical and untenable position: a seminary that has no ordained women on the faculty or staff and doesn’t allow women to celebrate at the altar, and that doesn’t recognize same sex marriages or allow same sex couples to live together on campus—and yet they are desperately pursuing the Episcopal Church where these things are all but mandatory. Nashotah House has missed a golden opportunity to “come out of the closet” as a conservative, countercultural seminary, serving orthodox Anglicans of whatever jurisdiction and conservative Christians of other traditions—and to let the Episcopal Church continue on the path to its own inevitable destruction.
There is no future in simply being another seminary of the Episcopal Church. (The examples of Seabury-Western and General Seminary should be lesson enough--and the contrast with the success of Trinity School for Ministry, which has pursued a more independent course, is startling!) But the House has too many trustees who are living in a romantic delusion, incapable of recognizing that their brand of Anglicanism is no longer welcome in the Episcopal Church. They will probably never figure this out in their lifetimes. But the House may well not survive either the dangerous fantasy or downright cluelessness in which many of the Nashotah Trustees are living. This situation could still be turned around; but, alas, there is no one with the vision to lead them.
These are the things I ruminate over as I sit on vacation. And sometimes it causes pain.