Friday, May 20, 2016

Continuing: The Positive Response to Change

For several years, I worked at a Cokesbury Bookstore located on the campus of Central Seminary in Kansas City, KS. A smaller store than most Cokesbury owned stores, we had a lot of customers who sought out the specialist books carried in a more "academic" type religious bookshop. One customer liked to say, "I prefer this place as a pastor. I can look until my heart's content."
Our shop was what it was set up to be: a seminary bookstore that handled all the course texts and then had the overhead of a larger parent company to be there year-round and also carry titles where the specialist interest (i.e. academic religious) could be well stocked. While not every book sold over and over again, it helped seminarians, pastors and interested lay readers find treasures to delight and inform them.

As with all other things in life, a Cokesbury seminary store or any other type of Cokesbury "brick and mortar" shut down two years ago. By then, I was off in the ministry field, yet I still felt sorrow when the decision came for the United Methodist Publishing House (aka Cokesbury, aka Abingdon Press/Upper Room Books) decided for its long-term future to conclude its retail operation and focus instead on e-commerce and their phone call center as points of connection with customers.

An era came to an end, yet the ministry of UMPH continues.

Dealing with congregations in various stages of life, I have empathy for church leaders when they begin the pathway toward closure, or better yet, the holy work of ensuring a church's legacy. In the past three years of Regional ministry work, I have assisted churches with the necessities that come with dissolution, yet I've also spent time talking about how the decision feels and how to process what it means to be faced with the decision, let alone deciding to start down the path.

Congregations, especially in my Baptist/Free Church tradition, have a great level of focus on ministry in the local church. Once a local church's life span comes to an end, it can be hard to remember that the local congregation may conclude its ministry, yet the Church goes onward. While you have to work carefully through the legal needs of dissolving a church and other due diligences related to asset distribution, it can be helpful for congregants and the pastor to reflect on the process of saying good-bye to a particular history, identity and sense of belonging. In turn, it is helpful to encourage church members to remember that the ministry of the Church (i.e. the larger Body of Christ) continues, and each person can go forward after the closure and become a seed to strengthen the ministry of another congregation by their joining and participation elsewhere.

A congregation's era comes to an end, yet the ministry of the Church continues.

Likewise, as news came in recent months of the decision of Andover Newton Theological Seminary and just this week of Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School to sell their properties and relocate seminary operations elsewhere, I thought this was quite appropriate. While a hard decision to let go of familiar surroundings, these two seminaries plus nearly every other ABCUSA related seminary (including my alma mater Central Baptist Theological Seminary) has decided to prioritize their educational mission over aging and outmoded buildings. ANTS will become part of the Yale Divinity School campus. CRCDS will be relocating elsewhere in the metro Rochester, NY area.

Reading about the most recent round of ABCUSA related seminaries beginning a significant "game changer" type transition, I commend Dr. Marvin McMickle's letter to the CRCDS community and related stakeholders about the decision. In part, he observes,

"More and more of our students are using fewer and fewer of the campus resources we provide – and pay for. The number of students who commute to campus continues to rise and these students have no need for our dorms, do not eat meals in the refectory, do not require a physical library, do not need a campus bookstore and do not have the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful campus grounds, given the significant demands on their time. When taken together, these factors lead to an unavoidable conclusion: our campus was built for a time and style of theological education that no longer exists. Remaining here will not meet our needs going forward and will not help us further the mission."
(To read McMickle's full letter, click this link:

About a decade ago, Central Seminary not only relocated a decade ago to another part of the Kansas City metro area, CBTS has also been able to expand its multi-site course offerings elsewhere and increasing its educational offerings while freeing itself of an older campus with escalating maintenance issues.  A capital campaign recently announced at Central is quite promising to help round out the current campus with additional amenities for students and other learners.  To learn more, click

A seminary campus' era comes to an end, yet the theological education efforts continue! 

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