President's Community Update - August 27, 2010GTS Community Update from President Lowrey
August 27, 2010
These are busy days for our faculty, students, and staff members as we are all gearing up for Orientation Week and the start of classes. Many of us have the added anxieties of moving into a new home and beginning life as students after many years away from school. It’s a time of new beginnings for everyone. Throughout the turbulent times in our lives worship and prayer are always powerfully centering elements, and so in the days ahead I would invite us all to be present in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd for as many of the services as we are able and, of course, to be faithful in our daily prayers. You have received several updates from me over the summer (also available at www.gts.edu in the Newsroom section). This update will fill you in on important new developments in several areas.
As explained in my last update, GTS and M&T Bank finalized a $5.3 million short-term loan on August 9. We are drawing upon these funds for current operating expenses. The loan will be repaid from the sale of residential units in the building known as Chelsea 2,3,4. Revenue realized from this sale is also expected to reduce the Seminary’s overall bank debt by up to $3.9 million. While the loan achieves the critical goal of sustaining us through the upcoming school year, it is a small component of the following four-point plan that the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees and I are working on to achieve financial and institutional health:
• Eliminate all significant debt. The Seminary cannot afford to service its $33 million of current bank debt (which, with the sum the Seminary has borrowed from its endowment, totals $36 million). Moreover, GTS is an institution that should really carry no debt whatsoever.
• Restore our endowment. The Seminary’s current $13 million endowment must be restored to a level of at least $50 million to yield sufficient revenues to sustain operations.
• Balance our budget. With a negative cash flow of over $5 million annually, we must find ways to reduce operating expenses and increase revenues.
• Refresh and renew our institutional health and mission. Financial instability has had an understandably negative effect on our programs and mission. We need to refresh GTS to full institutional health and vibrancy. This will be a major focus of Bishop Peter James Lee, our new Dean.
Together the first two points of the plan, eliminating debt and restoring our endowment, represent a “swing” of over $60 million. We are actively investigating how the Seminary’s current assets can be leveraged to generate this sizable level of cash. The specific actions that we must take to effectively eliminate our debt and restore our endowment are currently being formulated. Even while they are in the formative stages it is clear they hold much promise but involve risks and pitfalls as well. I hope to continue this process and, with the Executive Committee’s approval, to be able to submit a detailed plan to the full Board of Trustees at their meeting in October.
New Operational Structure
The elements of our four-point plan cannot be undertaken sequentially but must be achieved in tandem with each other. Toward the goal of balancing our budget some very difficult staff reductions have been recently implemented. I regret to report we have had to do a reduction in force this past week that included staff members in a number of GTS departments. I would like to thank all of those leaving GTS for their dedication to the Seminary and for the contributions they have made to our mission. We were as generous as possible with the terms and conditions of the notice and severance and, it should be noted, Tutu Center Coordinator and M.Div. student Chris Ballard resigned in order to undertake full-time study. These staff reductions, along with other related changes, will generate over $500,000 in savings. Although we anticipate no further significant reductions in our work force, we are working on some additional departmental reorganizations. The outcome of this I hope to report to you in my next community update.
New Working Group
Our life together last year and over the summer has been significantly impacted by increasing use of the Close for outside events and weddings. This is a sizable revenue stream for the Seminary. Another change to which we must adjust is the presence of our neighbors in the Chelsea Enclave. While these changes can involve understandable tensions, I do hope we will not succumb to having a fortress mentality about our Seminary. The church commissioned by Christ after all exists for the world and not the world for the church. To address the very real issues of privacy and security however, I have asked Billy Webster, our Director of Admissions, to convene a working group composed of staff, faculty, and students to consider ways in which the tensions arising out of our new openness can be effectively addressed.
Conduct Compliance Officers
This is a new title for the position held by Prof. Deirdre Good until her sabbatical term began. It assures that the Seminary has designated officers to whom any member of our community can bring concerns about sexual harassment, the safety of our children, or instances of discrimination of any kind. I am pleased to report that Debra Bush Ford, Financial Aid Administrator and Drew Kadel, Director of the St. Mark’s Library, are now our Conduct Compliance Officers. You may turn to either of them in complete confidence with any of these concerns knowing they will take immediate and proper action.
A survey of the Seminary’s information technology will be underway shortly, aimed at increasing end-users’ abilities as well as the capabilities of our network. More on this in future updates.
As mentioned in a recent email concerning Orientation Week, we are working to consolidate several Seminary calendars to create a single, all inclusive source for all Seminary programs and events. In the meantime, please note that the designated purpose of the calendar on the Seminary’s website is to inform external audiences of public events happening at the Seminary.
The calendar on iGoogle is the seminary’s academic calendar. I plan to have news for you soon about a new comprehensive calendar for all events.
Seminary alumni/ae from not too long ago will remember the wonderful sense of community enabled by having an evening meal together following the Holy Eucharist on Tuesday nights. I am pleased to report we have reinstated this supper and that it will be free to members of the community. It will be a simple meal consisting of a hearty soup, salad, bread, and, I’m told, a scrumptious desert. Please plan to make this a part of your week.
I would also like to recognize our esteemed faculty for all the work they have done over the summer to prepare for the upcoming school year, not only to prepare the full slate of offerings for the Michaelmas term, but also for the work of Dr. Ted Gerbracht in arranging courses featuring our splendid adjuncts and visiting professors.
Bishop Peter James Lee
As reported earlier, Bishop Peter James Lee, will be joining us for several events during Orientation Week and, after completing his ministry at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, will arrive as our Dean on September 30, in time to officiate at our Matriculation Service. Those of you present for Orientation will want to extend to him a warm GTS welcome.
I realize that nearly all the news in this update involves change, something all of us have difficulty with from time to time. But I would challenge us that our stated mission is to educate and form leaders for the church in a changing world. We, as the church, are in the “change business” and have been agents of change from our earliest days. So, as we begin this school year perhaps the challenge before us is to actually embrace change, knowing its proven potential to reify our mission in the world!
As always, I’m pleased to meet with you to discuss questions or concerns you may have about items in this update or other matters related to our life together. Simply contact Chris McFadden to schedule a time with me. Best wishes for the exciting days ahead!
The Rev. Lang Lowrey
The Rev. Canon C.K. Robertson Sermon
Sermon preached at the Eucharist in The Chapel of Good Shepherd, General Seminary
October 15, 2010 on the occasion of the meeting of Seminary Board of Trustees
The Rev. Canon C. K. Robertson, Ph.D.
I don’t like spicy foods. It’s strange, really. My mother loved her food fiery hot, the spicier the better. If it didn’t bring tears to her eyes, she said it was too bland. One might think, then, that it is in my blood, but no. A little black pepper is about as exciting as I can handle. So when I see something with curry or tabasco, I face a dilemma. I cannot get rid of it, so my only recourse is to dilute it somehow, add enough of something else—anything else!—to make it manageable. I cannot change the spice into something it is not, but I can find a way to make it less…effective.
Jesus’ words in this reading from Matthew’s Gospel offer an intriguing challenge to us today here at The General Theological Seminary. These words about salt and light come, we know, immediately after the Beatitudes. They form a bridge between the final blessing for those who are reviled and persecuted for Jesus’ sake to the practical challenges found in the remainder of the Sermon on the Mount. As such, these words about salt and light are properly understood as being words not for the masses but for those who claim to be disciples and disciple-makers, those whose actions, not just their words, would reveal whether they were building on solid rock or shifting sand. Indeed, as one of the first parts of the first set of teachings in this Gospel, these words about salt and light ultimately look towards the end of the story, to the risen Jesus’ command to make disciples, to baptize, to teach. Thus, while helpful for any part of the Church to read, these words are especially apropos for a system whose entire purpose is the training and formation of ordained and lay leaders to fulfill that great commission.The words are so familiar, however, that we may lose the essence of what is being said. We all know how the phrase “salt of the earth” is used to describe nice, decent, ordinary folk…but Jesus is talking about a lot more than simply being nice. Salt may be a preservative, but it does not preserve the status quo. No, that which it touches suddenly tastes different. In its own way, it spices things up. Light operates a little differently. It, too, is an additive, in that it is not inherently a part of the thing it touches. But when it touches something, when light makes contact with what was formerly in darkness, then suddenly it all seems different. Salt enhances, light exposes.
Both are change agents.
As some students here have heard me repeat, a former Army Chief of Staff once said, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance a lot less.” We need salt. We need light. No, we need to BE salt and light for the sake of all those who live outside the walls of Chelsea Square. Now, change for change’s sake is not what Jesus was talking about. After all, we know that if you pour a pound of salt onto your friend’s meal, she is not going to be very happy about it. And if you shine a really bright light towards a colleague, he will probably shield his eyes since you are actually preventing him from seeing anything around him. Salt and light are to be added in appropriate amounts to those things you want to enhance or see. But I am not convinced that the danger before our Church is one of being too salty or too bright. No, I think the greater danger we face is the dilution of salt by adding in so many other unnecessary things. With light, we don’t even have to put it under a bushel; our danger is in hiding it behind multiple layers of stained glass so that you can barely make out anything else in the room. The danger for us is not too much change; it is the avoidance of it at all costs.
“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus says, “but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?” It is, of course, a rhetorical question. Sodium chloride cannot lose its internal properties, but if it is diluted enough where you barely know it’s there, how in the world can you purify it, bring it back? The obvious answer is: you can’t. And once the Church has become irrelevant, how in the world can we hope to be a transforming agent for the world? Having lived and worked in the Church of England when I was doing my doctoral studies in Durham, I saw firsthand how few people went to church other than for special services of “hatching, matching, and dispatching,” as they said. I watched as the same parish church that was full to overflowing on a Saturday for the funeral of a beloved villager had only eight people in its pews the next day for Sunday Eucharist. When I asked one friend in my village why he did not go to church, he looked perplexed and innocently said, “Why would I?” The issue was not that he was against it. Rather, church and Christianity-as-represented-by-the-Church was, quite simply, irrelevant. We are not living in England or Europe, but in this case, sadly, we are catching up to them much faster than we want to admit. Only a few years ago, it was just the mainline churches that were in decline, as we were reminded again and again by other more robust denominations and independent megachurches. Now the most recent research shows that decline is almost universal, as the Southern Baptist Convention even experienced decline. When one Episcopal colleague heard this, he actually cheered. I hardly think any cheering is in order. “Why would I?” is a more pervasive, more perilous challenge before us than the usual inter- and intra-denominational conflicts that consume so much of our attention, our time, our energy. “Why would I?” is a question we must be able to answer.
Both before and since I became Canon to the Presiding Bishop, I have had the privilege of serving as a consultant, an outside voice, to congregational and diocesan leaders. Each time, I have begun by asking them a question: “Why do you exist? Why does you church, your institution exist?” I receive various responses, including looks of surprise, annoyance, or even anger. One vestry person actually shot back a verbal retort, “How dare you,” he said, “We’ve been here for over a hundred and fifty years!” I quietly replied, “I didn’t ask you how long you’ve existed. I asked you why you exist. What difference does it make to the world around you now that you are here?”
Years ago, in the first parish I served after ordination, I worked alongside a remarkable lay staff person named Louisa. Wherever she went, she exuded life. With whomever she met, she left an impression. When the cancer she thought was long gone suddenly reappeared, everyone around her began to mourn and grieve for her. She alone seemed unbowed; disappointed, yes, but unbowed. Not knowing she was walking up from behind, one friend was caught saying to me, “How awful that she is dying of cancer.” “Not so,” Louisa interjected, “I am simply living with cancer!” Until the moment she took her last breath this side of Paradise, Louisa did just that. Is it any wonder that lay leaders, priests, even a couple of bishops came to see her before she died, not so much to bless her as to be blessed by her.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes, “Times change and situations seem to change, but there is still a great need for prophets, for God's ambassadors, to stand up and be counted.” This is true for us as individuals, and perhaps even more for us as institutions. Let us be living institutions, not dying ones. Dying institutions worry and expend their energy on preserving themselves and the status quo; living institutions are committed to doing whatever is needed to help effect the transformation of the world around them. Dying institutions are obsessed with immortality—with making sure they survive in the way they have always known; living institutions are open to the death of some things, knowing that only then can they experience the resurrection that leads to a new life. Every week, we proclaim that we are a people who believe in the “resurrection of the body,” but more often than not our actions say that what we really mean is that we believe in the “ongoing preservation of this body as we know it.” Resurrection people invest their five talents in change and as-yet-unknown possibilities. Preservation people horde and hide their one talent, burying it so that they pretend there is no risk.
Jesus had little problem provoking his listeners, including—no, especially—those who claimed to be God’s ministers. He did this because he desperately wanted to see them be what they could be. He wanted them to be salt, he wanted them to be light. He wanted them to be disciples and disciple-makers, change agents for the transformation of the world. Now, as then, he invests time and energy in such leaders, that we might dare not to cling to what we think can never change, but to open ourselves to new possibilities and resurrection hope. Let us be salt, let us be light, to the glory of God.
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New Program in Spiritual Guidance of Children14 September 2010
GTS to Offer New Program in the Spiritual Guidance of Children
New York City – Beginning this fall, The General Theological Seminary (GTS), in partnership with the Center for the Theology of Childhood, will offer an innovative certificate program in the spiritual guidance of children. The program will provide both academic learning and practical training for leaders who seek to nurture children’s relationship with God. The Rev. Dr. Jerome W. Berryman, noted author, educator, and founder of Godly Play®, will join members of the Seminary faculty in teaching courses about children’s spirituality, theological views of children, wonder and play in a theological context, and the spirituality of children in literature and film, as well as parables, biblical theology and liturgy with a focus on children’s spirituality.
“Children have a natural, deep spirituality,” said the Rev. K. Jeanne Person, Director of General Seminary’s Center for the Christian Spirituality. “They know God even before stories and symbols. They need adults who can nurture their sense of the holy and help them discover a language for their faith.”
General’s new program will equip faith community leaders, clergy, chaplains, educators, parents, and others to offer spiritual guidance to children. Courses are designed in intensive formats, taking place over a period of a few days or a weekend, to allow students to pursue study concurrent with other commitments, such as jobs and families. Dr. Berryman will teach the program’s inaugural three-day course, Theology and Children: Past, Present and Future, on the weekend of October 22, 23 & 24, as well as The Spirituality of Children on November 10, 11 and 12. The Rev. Dr. Patrick Malloy, GTS professor of liturgics, will teach Children’s Spirituality in Worship on November 13 & 14.
Because the certificate program is new, General will offer rolling admissions this academic year which enables prospective students to apply at any time. The Seminary is also offering a discounted introductory tuition for students who pay for the entire program before October 1, 2010. Students are also welcome to register for individual courses to enhance their ministries, spiritual lives and relationships with children. Detailed information about courses and the certificate program, including housing options, can be found on the Seminary’s website, www.gts.edu.
“We’re delighted to be partnering with the Center for the Theology of Childhood in creating this unique program,” said Dr. Ted Gerbracht, the Seminary’s chief academic officer and himself a 35-year veteran of teaching and directing Christian education in a parish. “It’s really a groundbreaking venture for the Seminary,” he continued, “one that connects all the resources of the academy with children, who are the church’s future.”
The General Theological Seminary, located in the heart of New York City, educates and forms leaders for the church in a changing world. Founded in 1817 as the first theological seminary of the Episcopal Church, General offers certificate and degree programs including the Master of Divinity, Master of Arts, and Doctor of Theology. The Seminary is also home to the Desmond Tutu Center, a full-service conference center with sixty modern guest rooms.
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Media Contact: Bruce Parker
Executive Director of Communications
The General Theological Seminary
175 Ninth Avenue, New York, NY 10011
(212) 243-5150 x285,
Lang Lowrey Appointed Interim President
General Seminary Appoints Interim President
New York City – In accordance with an action plan made at their meeting last month, the Board of Trustees of The General Theological Seminary on June 9 unanimously approved the Rev. Lang Lowrey III, 56, to be the Seminary’s Interim President. Lowrey is currently founding vicar at St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church in Smyrna, Georgia and also serves as a senior partner in two Atlanta based firms, Renova, a bank restructuring and consulting company, and Genesis Business Advisory, which provides management and investment services to small- and mid-sized businesses.
Seminary trustees decided that the serious financial challenges currently faced by the Seminary would be most effectively addressed by dividing the position of Dean and President into two separate positions, a practice common in most academic institutions. As President, Lowrey will have all constitutional powers previously lodged with the Dean and President; however the Seminary will also begin an immediate search for a Dean to have oversight of the academic and day-to-day operations of General. “We believe Fr. Lowrey is uniquely qualified to lead the Seminary in addressing its immediate challenges and to prepare the way for longer-term leadership beyond the interim period,” said Chair of the Board’s search committee Dr. Michael Gilligan.
After college at Georgia Tech and Georgia State, Lowrey owned and ran several successful ventures before selling them to create Buckhead Technology Angels to incubate emerging technology companies. He twice was selected to run Fortune 500 firms facing difficult challenges, implementing complex turnaround plans and securing robust equity events. Following a period of discernment, he responded to a call to ordained ministry. As a postulant from the Diocese of Atlanta, he attended Candler School of Theology and was ordained to priesthood in 2004. Following parish ministry in Florida, Fr. Lowrey was asked by Bishop Neil Alexander to plant a church and day school in the Diocese of Atlanta. This new start involved locating, financing and purchasing land, designing the facility, building the church and most importantly, finding parishioners. St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church and Day School is now fully established, and is in the process of calling a rector to replace Lowrey, the founding vicar.
“Fr. Lowrey brings to GTS a unique combination of skills that match perfectly the Seminary’s immediate institutional needs,” said Board chair the Rev. Canon Denis O’Pray at a gathering of students, faculty, and staff following the Board meeting. “He has high-level and proven abilities in the areas of management, finance, and administration while also possessing an in-depth knowledge of the Episcopal Church and its ordained ministry.” Following the remarks by Canon O’Pray, Lowrey addressed the community. “God is offering us a great opportunity,” he told those assembled in Seabury Auditorium. “Dramatic actions are needed within the next sixty days but the opportunity to take this task and to succeed is truly awesome. We need to embrace the reality of the situation but I have confidence in our collective abilities.” O’Pray said that Fr. Lowrey would begin work immediately, before the departure of the Seminary’s current Dean and President, the Very Rev. Ward B. Ewing, so that there is ample time for the two to work together to ensure a smooth transition. Dean Ewing had announced in December of 2009 his intention to retire and, with his wife Jenny Ewing, to return to their family homestead in Ten Mile, Tennessee. On the evening of May 18 over 300 well wishers attended a Festive Farewell to the Ewings held in the space that will become the Seminary’s new library.
The General Theological Seminary in the heart of Manhattan is a vibrant community dedicated to the critically important enterprise of theological education. Founded in 1817 as the first seminary of the Episcopal Church, General cherishes its heritage while enthusiastically embracing the challenges of preparing leaders for the church in a changing world. Over the past decade, the Seminary has made a $70 million investment in preserving its landmarked campus; has opened a major conference facility, the Desmond Tutu Center; and has undertaken one of the largest geothermal initiatives in the northeast. General’s new state-of-the-art library is slated to open in 2011. The Seminary extends a warm invitation for all constituencies to share in its mission and in the excitement of its ongoing life.
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Executive Director of Communications
The General Theological Seminary
175 Ninth Ave. New York, NY 10011
(212) 243-5150 x285
Interim President's Letter to Students
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 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.
The Rev. Lang Lowrey
- GTS Names Interim Dean
- Seminary Adopts Plan of Action
- Board of Trustees Resolution May 18, 2010
- Trustees Address Financial Concerns
- Commencement 2010
- Executive Board Recommends Actions
- Summers at General 2010
- Congratulations to Mark Richardson
- Dean Ewing Announces Retirement Plans
- Ted Gerbracht is GTS Senior Vice President