by Rev. Christopher Fisher
Evangelical Theological Seminary (ETS), located in Myerstown, PA has been officially re-approved by the United Methodist University Senate to educate UM ministerial candidates. The decision, received at the beginning of February, 2012 in response to a thorough re-evaluation of the school, contains no caveats, conditions, or time limits, and certifies ETS’ continued approval to train UM ministerial students for the next quadrennium (non-UM schools must be re-certified every four years by the University Senate as a matter of normal procedure). The Senate’s approval letter expressed gratitude for the Seminary’s “faithful work and commitment commitment to theological education” and sent “warm greetings and prayers for a fruitful ministry.”
While the Seminary never did lose approved status, it entered a probationary status in late 2010, when the United Methodist University Senate informed the Seminary that its 15-year history as an approved seminary was to cease, as they were encouraging United Methodist ministerial candidates to attend UMC-owned institutions. On hearing of the possible de-listing, a large group of UM students, alumni, teachers, regional UM clergy and friends, including Philadelphia episcopal area Bishop Peggy Johnson, began protesting the Senate’s decision, drawing attention to the school’s unique theological and geographical contributions to the church, and the quality of the leaders the School was sending out to serve in the church. The Seminary went through an appeals process initiated by former President Michael Sigman which included video conferencing and a campus visit by University Senate representatives, first winning a one-year extension and then full unconditional re-instatement as an approved seminary after the Senate’s joint session in late January, 2012. The good news was communicated to the school’s new president, Dr. Tony Blair in February 2012.
United Methodist students comprise approximately one quarter of ETS’ student body, representing the largest single denominational grouping at the school. In addition, the Seminary is the only formal theological training school in the Lebanon and Susquehanna Valleys, making theological training accessible and practical for regional local pastors and students who could not otherwise get their theological education. More than that, the Seminary has provided a transformative theological education with a distinctly Wesleyan and evangelical focus to the United Methodist churches of the region, meeting a unique set of needs of the denomination.
ETS is now offering a new distance education program, a Master of Arts in Christian Leadership with an emphasis in Spiritual Formation, as well as a new venue for its Master of Divinity program at the Harrisburg Institute of Messiah College, through a new partnership with that institution.
To find out more information about the seminary, check out its website at www.evangelical.edu.
Christopher L. Fisher is ETS Director of United Methodist Studies.