When the founders of the University of the South first dreamed of a great university for their region, an emphasis on theological education was an essential part of their vision. In 1872, the first Sewanee-trained priest was ordained. By 1878, the Theological Department was formally organized as a seminary of The Episcopal Church, with its own faculty and facilities. Beginning in 1937, a summer Graduate School of Theology evolved in response to the call for further continuing education for clergy; in 1975, the School’s post-graduate programs were rearranged under Advanced Degrees. The program center for lay education was expanded and renamed the Beecken Center.
The history of the University of the South also has its roots in slavery and the slave- economy. The Roberson Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation at the University of the South has been investigating the university’s historical entanglements with slavery and slavery’s legacies. The Project’s name memorializes the late Professor of History, Houston Bryan Roberson, who was the first tenured African American faculty member at Sewanee and the first to make African American history and culture the focus of their teaching and scholarship. The Roberson Project seeks to honor his inspiring legacies at Sewanee: the devotion to rigorous teaching, the pursuit of scholarship, the dedication to social justice, and the personal example of high moral character. In doing so, the Roberson Project seeks to help Sewanee confront our history in order to seek a more just and equitable future for our broad and diverse community.
When the board of trustees refused to permit African American students to enroll in the School of Theology in 1952, seven School of Theology faculty, the head of the Religion Department, and the Chaplain resigned. In 1953, 14 bishops threatened to pull their students out of the School of Theology if it was not integrated. Unlike the previous year, the vast majority of trustees also now supported integration—but the decision came so late that bishops had transferred 35 of the School’s total 56 rising seniors and middlers. In September 1954, Merrick Collier was the first African American full-time student to enter the School of Theology. Harassed and hazed, he left after one year and later was ordained in the Presbyterian Church.
Alongside the story of the nine faculty who resigned are the stories of numerous Sewanee clergy who worked for desegregation. Pride of place among them is the Rev. Joseph N. Green Jr., T’65, H’10, who earned a master of sacred theology (S.T.М.) from the School of Theology in 1965 and thus became, along with his cousin, William (Bill) Fletcher O’Neal who also graduated with an S.T.M., one of the first of two African American students to earn a degree from the University of the South.
The School of Theology’s seminary is one of nine accredited seminaries of The Episcopal Church. The seminary has more than 1,500 alumni serving congregations and religious institutions, and others who minister as chaplains, writers, missionaries, and teachers throughout the world. The School is committed to providing theological education for all through its seminary and Beecken Center, a center for lay and clergy education and training.
Offering the degrees of Master of Divinity, Master of Arts, Master of Sacred Theology, Doctor of Ministry, and a one-year Diploma in Anglican Studies, the School of Theology educates people to serve the whole of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion in ordained and lay vocations. The School develops leaders for the Church and other denominations through a residential seminary program that offers a rigorous academic curriculum, with emphasis on priestly formation. From its beginning, the School of Theology assumed its characteristic position as an upholder of the heritage of the Anglican tradition and it continues to do so today.
The Beecken Center
The School of Theology continues to grow its seminary while expanding the Beecken Center as a resource to the Church for lay theological education. The Center offers programs to individual dioceses and congregations, including SUMMA Theological Debate Camp for high-school students; Sewanee Ministry Collaborative, and the Center for Religion and Environment. The Beecken Center serves more than 12,000 people annually.
One of the most distinctive and influential programs is Education for Ministry (EfM), developed at Sewanee 40 years ago and managed by staff at the School of Theology and volunteer leaders from across the globe. Utilizing the seminar model, EfM groups (typically six to 12 in number), learn to reflect theologically, bringing together the Christian tradition and the collective experience of the group members. In addition to groups throughout the United States, EfM can be found in Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the Bahamas, and Hong Kong. Over 70,000 persons have participated in the program, and in the United States more than 28,000 have completed the full four-year certificate program. More than 80 dioceses of The Episcopal Church as well as other denominations have contractual arrangements with EfM. EfM also offers support for online groups and training and is in the process of expanding into the Latino market next year.
In addition to the dean and associate deans, 12 full-time faculty, all with doctoral degrees, many with extensive parish experience teach at the School of Theology as well as several adjunct professors. Their scholarship and highly-acclaimed publications are without compare.
Approximately 170 people from dioceses across the United States and abroad attend the seminary at the School of Theology, drawn by its intimate Christian community and beautiful setting. Approximately 75 students are enrolled in the residential programs while the balance attend the advanced degrees program in the summer and the non-degree students (ACTS) attend twice a year. Many students bring their families to Sewanee, but increasing numbers are single and under 35. Students’ ages range from the mid-20s to the 60s, and their backgrounds represent a diverse array of socio-economic backgrounds.
The Master of Divinity core curriculum is a three-year program of coursework, spiritual formation, and field education experience designed to give students the preparation and skills to become committed and effective ordained clergy. Students are encouraged to take part in the many cross-cultural opportunities made available to them. The field education program offers different options and settings for students to apply their study to active ministry.
The School of Theology teaches a liturgical style grounded in the Anglican tradition at the School’s Chapel of the Apostles. Seminarians may choose to work and worship in surrounding parishes on the Mountain or with field education congregations domestically or internationally.
The School of Theology offers generous financial aid to supplement seminary students’ own resources and the financial support of the parishes and dioceses that send them. Financial aid is meant to serve the church’s mission by opening the way to excellent theological education to those who otherwise could not afford it, and to minimize the burden of additional educational debt carried into parish ministry. Thanks to the gifts of many generations, Sewanee has substantial resources for these purposes, and is able to be able to meet much of the students’ demonstrated financial need.