A History of General Seminary
Although it is frequently dropped in informal reference, the tiny article "the" in the Seminary’s name is an important reminder of the institution’s broader origin. For the Seminary was intended from the beginning to be a Church-wide resource for the whole Episcopal Church which created it.
In 1814, with American victory in the War of 1812 having brought final freedom from European entanglements, the Diocese of South Carolina, with a burst of national vision, proposed the founding of a theological institution that would belong to the whole Episcopal Church. Dioceses would share responsibility for the maintenance of one institution of learning. Students from all parts of the country who came to the school to study for the priesthood would experience close and lasting association with one another. It was hoped that in these ways the Church's general seminary would strengthen the bonds of affection among the Church's dioceses.
Bound up in its very name, service to the Episcopal Church nationwide became central to the Seminary’s heritage. In 1817 the General Convention met in New York City and on May 26-27 these two Resolutions passed both Houses:
- That it is expedient to establish a General Theological Seminary which may have the united support of the whole Church in the United States and be under the superintendence and control of the General Convention.
- That the Seminary be located in the City of New York.
This location in New York City quickly became General’s greatest asset. First, the parishioners of Trinity Church, Wall Street, who provided the financial underpinning of the nineteenth century renewal of American Anglicanism, also generously supported its new General Seminary.
In 1821 Jacob Sherred, a vestry member of Trinity Parish, provided $70,000 in his will to endow "a General Episcopal Seminary in New York City." This was enough to make General one of the best-endowed seminaries in the nation. Another Trinity parishioner who made a significant contribution to the Seminary was Clement Clarke Moore, famous as author of the poem which begins, "’Twas the night before Christmas." He owned a large estate in Chelsea, which at that time was an undeveloped area of Manhattan, north of the city--in Moore’s own words, "a quiet, rural retreat on the picturesque banks of the Hudson." He offered a tract of 66 lots on his Chelsea estate to the Church on condition that a seminary be built there. General was not able to occupy Moore’s lots until 1827 when an East Building was erected. When the student body had grown to 64 in 1836, the West Building was erected to house 60 students.
Another advantage of locating the Seminary in the Diocese of New York was its bishop, John Henry Hobart. In Chelsea Square Bishop Hobart wished to restore the ancient pattern of the bishop as teacher surrounded by representative voices of the whole Church. The Seminary professor who happened to be a bishop would preside over meetings of the faculty. Hobart did this himself until 1830; his successor as Bishop of New York followed the pattern into the 1850s. There was no real Dean of the seminary until the 1860s.
In addition to the clergy, Hobart now also appointed two laypersons to make the faculty more representative: Clement Clarke Moore, a linguist and Hebrew scholar who undertook instruction in Biblical languages, and Gulian Verplanck, a gifted and eccentric New York legislator who was appointed Professor of Evidences of Revealed Religion and Moral Science.
Bishop Hobart believed that this corporate and representative body, in union with the Bishop as president, shared collectively in the ministry of defending and interpreting the Apostolic Faith to the nation. He wrote of the Seminary in 1825:
Harmony, union, vigour, zeal, like the life-blood of the human frame, are thus sent from this heart of our system, into every part of the spiritual body.... Strength arising from... the primitive truth and order which the apostles proclaimed and established.
The challenge since the 1840s has been to combine the richness and variety which emerged from later patterns of Episcopal theological education with the idealistic vision of the earlier Hobartian era, a vision born out of the time of the adjustment of Anglicanism to the new cultural dynamic of democracy.
Throughout its history and today, General has sought to be a seminary of the whole church, and that vision has been extended to include the ecumenical community and the Anglican Communion. Diverse theological, liturgical and spiritual emphases of successive periods have found a home here, and the community aspires to reflect the richness of the whole People of God.
The General Theological Seminary believes academics, worship, and life in community are inseparable elements in the process of formation for ministry in Christ's church, whether lay or ordained. Services in our Chapel include the Eucharist, Morning and Evening Prayer, and Compline. While students who live on campus are free to develop their own individual routines, nearly all worship in our Chapel as a part of their daily life, as do faculty members and many members of the staff. Everyone may take further part, whether as sacristans, acolytes, readers or members of the Seminary's choir.
GTS treasures the diversity of its community. While most students are preparing for ordination or ministry as lay persons, many students come to General for personal growth in their spiritual lives. Although a majority of our students study full-time and live on campus, we also have a growing number of part-time and commuter students. The student body is nearly equally divided between women and men and an equal number of single persons and married or partnered couples. About 8% of GTS students are from racial groups that are often under-represented and a significant number of our students, staff and faculty are gay or lesbian.
The median age of our students is between 30 and 40. Many students have children and for them the Seminary offers a safe and beautiful outdoor environment as well as an on-campus preschool. Inclusivity at GTS also means special organizations for women, people of color, and GLBT students, and student-run ministries that provide clothing to the disadvantaged and a shelter for six homeless persons each weekday night.
While known for its rigorous academic standards, General also focuses on the needs of each individual student. Close relationships between those who teach and those who learn are furthered by common worship, meals, and social events. Learning thus becomes a highly collaborative endeavor. GTS offers a faculty/student ratio of about 1:12 and faculty members each have a small group of student advisees with whom they meet regularly, both individually and in groups. In addition to regular coursework, opportunities for learning abound with special lectures and international conferences at the Seminary's Desmond Tutu Center, which has greatly enhanced General's standing as an international forum for the Anglican Communion. Through the Center, the Seminary actively seeks to make vital connections between the enterprise of theological education and the world of science, commerce, and the arts.
General believes the Anglican expression of Christianity can inform and challenge the pressing issues of our day.
Students find a rich social life within the GTS community, and the Seminary's location in the heart of New York City offers a truly amazing array of recreational offerings, as well. The cultural opportunities found in this most international of cities are unparalleled. Along with General's worship, academic, and community life, the many cultural and recreational activities of New York combine to make General a unique educational environment.
Accredited by the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada, and the following degree programs are approved: MDiv, MA in Spiritual Direction, MA, STM, & ThD.
The Commission contact information is as follows:
All of its degree programs comply with the standards of the New York State Education Department, and are officially listed by the department’s Office of College and University Evaluation as meeting or exceeding its “minimum quality standards.” For more information see our catalog.
General Seminary's mission, to educate and form leaders for the church in a changing world, has been a central focus throughout its long history. Chartered by General Convention in 1817, General's very name was chosen to reflect the intention of its founders: that it would serve the entire Episcopal Church. Church leaders, with a burst of national vision, conceived a theological institution that would belong to the whole Episcopal Church, where students from all parts of the country would come to prepare for ordination.
An important milestone occurred in 1819. Clement Clarke Moore, who would later become a professor at General, but who is best known as the author of the poem which begins, "Twas the night before Christmas," gave a large parcel of land, an apple orchard, to the Church on condition that a seminary be built there. The land stood on the west side of Manhattan close to the Hudson River. East Building, the Seminary's first home, was erected in 1827 and was joined in 1836, by West Building, built to house 60 students. The Seminary's location in New York City quickly proved to be a great asset and defining characteristic.
Throughout its history General has followed its mandate to be a seminary of the whole church, a vision that has broadened to include the ecumenical community, the Anglican Communion, the City of New York, our country, and our world. Toward the end of the 19th century Dean Eugene Augustus Hoffman began an ambitious building program, dubbed in the press as "Dean Hoffman's Grand Design."'
By erecting a series of stately brick buildings--dormitories, faculty apartments, and a classroom building--around the perimeter of the block, a magnificent quadrangle or "Close," after the fashion of English universities, was created. At its center was the jewel of the Dean's design, the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. Between the 1930's and 60's several other more modern buildings were added including a new library.
Since 1822 General has graduated over 7,000 men and women. Our worldwide alumni/ae now total approximately 2,400. GTS graduates serve primarily in the Episcopal Church. In recent decades an increasing number of GTS students are preparing for serving Christ as lay persons along side those who plan to be ordained.
Click here for a more detailed looked at General Seminary's interesting past.
Contact Us & Directions
The General Seminary is located in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City, on the west side of Manhattan, occupying the full city block between West 20th and West 21st Streets and between Ninth and Tenth Avenues. The entrance is on 21st Street halfway between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.
Click here for Directions to GTS.
You may contact the Seminary by the following means:
The General Theological Seminary
440 W. 21st Street
New York, NY 10011
Telephone: 212-243-5150 (Reception Desk operator will route your call)
The General Theological Seminary, at 440 West 21 street, New York City, occupies the full block between 9th and 10th Avenues and between West 20th and West 21st Streets in Manhattan. The entrance to the Seminary is located midway down the block on the south-side of 21st Street. See map for our location.
Nearest subway stops are:
- for the Number 1 Train, the 23rd St. stop on Seventh Avenue (walk west on 23rd, turn left onto Ninth Avenue to 21st Street, then turn right onto 21st Street. The entrance to the Seminary is located midway down the block on the south (left) side of 21st Street.);
- for the C and E Trains, the 23rd St. stop on Eighth Avenue (walk west on 23rd, turn left onto Ninth Avenue to 21st Street, then turn right onto 21st Street. The entrance to the Seminary is located midway down the block on the south (left) side of 21st Street.).
From the North: From the George Washington Bridge, exit onto the Henry Hudson Parkway/Westside Highway/Route 9 South to 23rd Street. Turn left onto 23rd Street, continuing to Ninth Avenue. Turn right onto Ninth Avenue to 21st Street, then turn right onto 21st Street. The entrance to the Seminary is located midway down the block on the south (left) side of 21st Street.
From the West:
- From the Lincoln Tunnel, exit on 40th Street, turn right onto Ninth Avenue. At 21st Street, turn right. The entrance to the Seminary is located midway down the block on the south (left) side of 21st Street.
- From the Holland Tunnel, follow uptown signs to exit on Hudson Street. Follow Hudson north for many blocks -- fifteen or more, but don't bother with counting them, just continue north on Hudson and stay on it as its name becomes 8th Avenue. Not long after, you'll notice that the cross-streets begin to be regularly numbered (14th, 15th, 16th . . . ). When you reach 21st Street, the last few turns you make depend on the day and time of day, as follows. Evenings and weekends, turn left at 21st Street and go a block and a half (passing Ninth Avenue): the entrance to the Seminary is located midblock on the south (left) side of 21st Street. Between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm during school days, don't turn onto 21st. Continue on 8th Avenue to 23rd Street and turn left. Go one block to Ninth Avenue, turn left on Ninth and go to 21st Street, where you turn right. The entrance to the Seminary is located midway down the block on the south (left) side of 21st Street.
From the East: From midtown bridges & tunnels, take 2nd Avenue south to 23rd Street, turn right (west) on 23rd Street to Ninth Avenue, turn left and, at 21st Street, turn right. The entrance to the Seminary is located midway down the block on the south (left) side of 21st Street.
Parking: There is some on-street parking and many local parking lots and garages (at City prices). Two of the closest are located at 23rd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues (in the London Terrace complex), and on 27th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues.