A Letter from Interim President Lang Lowrey to All GTS Students

Dear Students of General Seminary,

As you may have read by now, on June 9 at a special meeting of the Board of Trustees I was elected to serve as your Interim President. I am honored to have been selected for this position. The trustees have asked if I could begin my work immediately and so I will be on campus three days a week for the foreseeable future. I have recently had an excellent conversation with Community Council President Elisabeth Tunney, during which she agreed that, because so many of you are off campus at this time of year, email is the most straightforward way for me to introduce myself to you.

The press release now on the GTS website will give you the details of my professional background. A cradle Episcopalian, I was ordained to the priesthood in 2004 and have spent most of my ministry at a parish in Georgia where I am the founding vicar. My last Sunday there is July 11 when I will be saying goodbye to my parish. I also serve as senior partner in two Atlanta firms offering financial services to banks and to small- and mid-sized companies. A number of the clients we have successfully helped in the past have faced financial situations not unlike those now being faced by GTS. I feel privileged to bring all of my skills, both priestly and those from the world of business, to my new job here at General. My first priority will be to address the serious financial situation of the Seminary.

I will not minimize the challenges that face us. The actions we must take need to be dramatic and immediate. Our single most important challenge is securing an influx of working capital to cover operating expenses for the upcoming school year. To meet this need we are exploring a number of options including sale of several apartments (which we now lease to outsiders), as authorized by the trustees. Of lesser urgency but certainly equal importance is the need to restructure the Seminary’s debt. General simply cannot afford to service its present level of indebtedness. The day following my election as interim president, I met with top executives of the Seminary’s primary lending institutions. I am pleased to report that we are close to reaching an agreement in principle that will allow us breathing room to envision our future.

The visionary undertakings of the last decade have brought the Seminary’s buildings, an important part of our historic legacy, into better repair than they have ever been. Without the critical expenditures  that were made, many buildings would now be in a seriously deteriorated condition.  Among the other initiatives, the Desmond Tutu Center is now a contributing resource to our educational mission, and the Seminary’s innovative geothermal system has become a model of environmental responsibility. Yet owing to unforeseen developments, the completion of these initiatives has left the Seminary severely overextended. This is a very serious but not insurmountable problem. Clearly, we must embrace the reality of our situation but, at the same time, we must seize the opportunity set before us to find a transforming solution.

In what I consider a very wise decision, the trustees, at their June meeting, have elected to separate the positions of Interim Dean and Interim President. Although the constitutional powers of the Dean and President have been lodged with the President, I will be continuing the search for a Dean to oversee the spiritual, academic and day-to-day operations of the Seminary. This position is expected to be filled before September. I am so very grateful for the friendship and guidance of Ward B. Ewing during this period of transition. Dean Ewing has graciously agreed to assist the Seminary and me during the months of June and July as Dean in Residence. I understand in August he and Jenny intend to begin the task of moving to their beautiful home in Tennessee.

I want you to know that I am acutely aware of the heightened level of anxiety felt in our community about our finances and about our future. I have no silver bullet for the challenges we face but I remain optimistic about the variety of options I see before us. Business negotiations being what they are, I may not always be able to share all the details of where we are at a given moment but I promise you timely, accurate, and honest updates.  My new office is on the second floor of West Building (the one formerly occupied by Prof. Good). I welcome your visit to discuss any concerns or suggestions. Simply contact Chris McFadden (ext. 282, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) to schedule an appointment with me. I also invite your emails at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I try to answer all emails within 24 hours.

I look forward to getting to know you all in the months ahead as we work together in the wonderful enterprise of theological education. I very much welcome your thoughts, suggestions, support, and prayers.

In Christ,

The Rev. Lang Lowrey
Interim President

An Open Letter to General Seminary’s
Faculty, Staff, Students, Friends, Alumni/æ, and the Church at Large
May 20, 2010
I am pleased to share with you the good news from the Board of Trustees meeting which took place earlier this week.  The Board adopted a Plan of Action that will provide financial viability for the future.  I regret the negative rumors about GTS that have been circulating this spring; I know some of you were alarmed by them.  The challenges General faces are real and are similar to challenges faced by many seminaries in our changing times.  However, I am confident that the plan just adopted will provide the financial security needed for the next Dean and President to move General Seminary into a vital and exciting future. 
Over the past ten years we have made strategic investments in Chelsea Square to preserve our urban campus, to develop the new library, to develop the Desmond Tutu Center and other innovative possibilities.  Our improved facilities now support our evolving programs much better, and building maintenance now takes a significantly smaller share of our annual budget.  In order to make the necessary $70 million investment in rehabilitating our aging buildings, the Seminary has taken on $33 million in debt.  The Plan of Action defines the steps that will meet both the financial and the programmatic challenges, steps that will secure the financial vitality and ensure the continuance of General Seminary in the future as it seeks to meet the needs of a changing church. 
The plan involves two primary parts.  The first part involves developing a $10 million pool of capital to bridge the gap between the present inadequate cash flow and the future when revenue streams will cover the cost of loans and operations.  In four to five years the revenue from the Desmond Tutu Center, from the endowment (at 5%), from the annual fund, and from tuition, fees, and room rental will meet the expenses.  The challenge is to get from here to there, and the way is to develop this $10 million operating reserve.  We will develop this capital by selling condominiums within Chelsea 2, 3, 4 and by raising funds from our closest friends and supporters.  The second part is a reduction of our annual costs by refinancing our loans to obtain a lower interest rate.  We are in conversation with several other Episcopal institutions that have very generously offered assistance for this part of the plan. 
Some have raised concerns about selling any part of our historic and beloved property.  In truth, we might have avoided the past few months of anxiety if we had been more willing to sell once we knew we could not build the seventeen story building on Ninth Avenue (which meant a loss of $15 million in anticipated revenue).  We have looked at many different options and determined this is the best alternative.  The specific apartments in Chelsea 2,3,4 have always been rented to outside tenants since they were created by the 2004 renovation of the building.  Selling them will not affect our mission or our program.  We already have people who desire to purchase them, so we do not have to look for buyers.  Included in the sale will be an option for the Seminary to have first refusal when they may be sold in the future.  Together with modest philanthropy, they will provide the desired $10 million reserve. 
When we have fully implemented this plan, I believe General Seminary will be on a path that will be more fiscally healthy than it has been able to achieve since the 1970s.  We will not be on easy street, but we should be viable.  Most of the deferred maintenance, which was the Seminary’s hidden debt, has been rectified.  We will be drawing a sustainable amount from our endowment.  And we will be putting funds aside in a plant fund for ongoing capital improvements. 
In the midst of these concerns about seminary finances, we have not lost sight of the program developments that are underway.  Adoption of the Plan of Action allows us to continue the work of developing new areas of and new approaches for theological education. 
  In the next few weeks we expect to hire the Alumni/æ Professor of Christian Formation and begin developing the Center for Continuing Education.  This position is funded by the endowment developed in the previous Leaders for the Church capital campaign and a grant from the William Woods Foundation.  In the Michaelmas term the Center, in collabor ation with the Godly Play Foundation and the faculty of General, will offer a Certificate for the Spiritual Guidance of Children.  The Rev. Jerome Berryman, the originator of the Godly Play curriculum, will work closely with the Center as advisor and instructor. This Certificate will become a requirement for certification of those who train Godly Playfacilitators. This development is an example of what I believe represents a new direction for theological education:  we are developing the program in collaboration with another entity (the Godly PlayFoundation); it will serve particular needs of the Church both in the U.S. and in Europe; it will enrich our M.Div. program; and elements of the curriculum will be available on-line. 
  We continue to strengthen our primary degree programs.  Archbishop Peter Carnley, former Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, will be on the Close during the Michaelmas 2010 and Easter 2011 terms as Distinguished Visiting Professor of Anglican Studies.  He will teach both systematic theology and ethics.  Archbishop Carnley received his Ph. D. in theology from Cambridge University in 1970 and is widely known and highly respected in the Anglican Communion.   He has authored a major work on resurrection theology, Structure of Resurrection Belief, as well as Reflections in Glass: Trends and Tensions in the Contemporary Anglican Church. 
  The gift of $5 million from Polly Keller Winter and Christoph Keller, III to complete the library, reported to you earlier, is a major step into the future.  The Board has named the library the Christoph Keller, Jr. Library in honor of the former Bishop of Arkansas who was a courageous and wise leader of the Church during the struggles for integration and the ordination of women.  We are moving toward completion of converting our card catalogue to electronic form and the architects are developing construction documents. We have also begun conversations with Virginia Seminary regarding sharing the costs of off-site storage and future digitalization of a portion of the library. 
  The Center for Christian Spirituality under the leadership of the Rev. Jeanne Person has developed important new initiatives and is moving forward financially as well as programmatically.  This academic year, the CCS opened the way for M.Div. students to earn a Certificate in Spiritual Direction concurrent with their M.Div. degree, enhancing the attractiveness of the M.Div. program and leading to higher enrollments in spiritual direction practicums. The CCS also introduced a one-credit weekend course in spiritual direction supervision that was fully enrolled; in June 2011, the CCS will offer a mid-week version of this course to meet the scheduling needs of local clergy who are spiritual directors. Going forward, the CCS will continue to explore new formats for teaching and will participate in the seminary’s discernment about offering a D.Min. program. 
  The Anglican Studies distance education program in partnership with the Diocese of Rochester and Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School has made significant progress this year.  Again, this represents new developments in our curriculum, a creative collabor ation, and delivery of theological education using electronic means. 
  Despite the publicity concerning the financial condition of General Seminary, it appears we will have a strong enrollment for the coming year.
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This is a crucial time for The General Theological Seminary as the Episcopal Church continues to struggle with decline in membership and dwindling support for its theological seminaries. 
Population growth in this country since the early 20th century has been in the urban areas.  Rural population has been in decline for at least a century and small town population has been, at best, stationary.  The mainline Protestant churches in this country are well-established in rural com munities and small towns, as well as in suburban areas.  However, we are less well-established in our major urban centers.  One can only surmise that part of the decline of the mainline churches is their failure to respond to the changing urban populations and urban environment.  General Seminary is the only truly urban seminary for the Episcopal Church.  An urban seminary where students experience life in the city and which can focus on issues involved in metropolitan ministries is essential to our church. 
General Seminary brings a particular focus in terms of education and formation.  Our academic excellence is supported by an outstanding faculty and the most important library collection in the Episcopal Church.  Our emphasis on liturgy together with those programs offered by the Center for Christian Spirituality balance the importance of academic preparation with an emphasis on spiritual formation.  This balance is essential for the formation of leaders who will be steadfast and creative. 
General Seminary is just beginning to develop new and exciting directions for theological education. In addition to the new programs just listed, the opening of the Desmond Tutu Center has brought new opportunities for programs, both those sponsored by the Seminary and those brought to us by those from outside.  The presentation before graduation on science and religion by Sir John Polkinghorne, noted physicist and priest, is just one example of the opportunities this facility provides to the students and faculty of the Seminary, and to all of New York, as well.  By achieving these innovations, General has laid the groundwork for future innovative collaborations and partnerships. We believe the future of theolog ical education will require such new models to complement the traditional, residential seminary program. 
It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as the Dean and President of General Seminary these past twelve years.  It has certainly been an adventure.  I have been surrounded by an amazing staff. We have struggled at times, we have responded to threatening challenges, and we have enjoyed one another’s presence and commitment.  Every person works out of a deep commitment to the mission of this Seminary and to the Good News of God’s all-inclusive love for all people.  We have been supported by alums and friends of the Seminary.  I look forward to the transition to the next Dean and President.  I believe the plan approved by the Board of Trustees will allow the new leadership to continue the process of re-inventing theological education, moving the Seminary into an exciting future. 
Ward B. Ewing, Dean and President

440 West 21st Street, New York City, NY 10011   |   tel (212) 243-5150  fax (212) 727-3907

The General Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church is a tax exempt organization under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.