BANGOR, Maine — Bangor Theological Seminary is going to continue preparing people for ministry into its third century, but will do that in a very different way than it has for nearly 200 years.
Instead of offering graduate degrees to men and women who go into full-time ministry, BTS will be equipping lay church members for part-time ministry in small congregations and helping them reach out to the broader community using some traditional methods as well as technology, the Rev. Robert Grove-Markwood, seminary president, said earlier this month.
“Our stated purpose will be ‘to equip and support clergy and laity for theologically grounded and effective 21st century ministry,” he said. “But, there also is this changing religious landscape that we want to be engaged in a conversation about.”
The seminary will award its last degrees in May 2013.
Last month, the board of trustees approved a plan to establish a Center for 21st Century Ministry in the place of BTS and appointed Grove-Markwood to serve as its executive director. He has agreed to serve through at least June 2014.
“Among other things, the center will provide: a forum for exploring contemporary Christianity in a pluralistic world; offer leading edge educational experiences, activities, and resources; and develop and support online and face-to-face peer learning communities,” the board announced in a statement posted on the seminary’s website. “Programming will include large group offerings such as our current annual convocation, small seminars and workshops, and relevant web-based resources,” the announcement said. “The center also will collaborate with strategic partners to create and deliver innovative programs and resources.”
Many things remain to be decided, such as where the center will be located, what will happen to the seminary’s library, what entities the center might partner with and whether there will be a demand for religious education designed to support congregations in one of the nation’s least church-going states, Grove-Markwood said earlier this month.
Associated with the United Church of Christ, the seminary has for nearly 200 years trained ministers and lay leaders in mainline Christian denominations including United Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans and Congregationalists. In February, BTS announced that it would suspend its master of arts and master of divinity programs at the end of the 2012-13 academic year.
Originally named the Maine Charity School, the seminary was founded in 1814 and shared space with Hampden Academy in Hampden for three years. The school relocated in 1819 to Bangor when Isaac Davenport, for whom Davenport Park is named, donated a hayfield, located on a hill between Ohio and Union streets, to the seminary.
In 2005, the seminary relocated to the Husson University campus and sold its historic campus. BTS will move off the Husson campus by the end of August 2013 when its lease expires. BTS also has offices and classroom in the State Street Congregational Church, UCC, in Portland. Whether and when the seminary might vacate that space is being discussed.
Where the new center will be located has not been decided, but it most likely will be in the southern part of the state, according to Grove-Markwood. More details about specific programs and events in 2013 and 2014 are expected to be announced next month at the seminary’s annual convocation, he said.
Grove-Markwood was named interim president of BTS in June 2011, a week after the Rev. Dr. Kent J. Ulery resigned after three years at the helm. For five years prior to being named interim president, he was a member of the board of trustees. Having received both master of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees from the seminary he now heads BTS. He also served as the institution’s director of admissions from January 1985 to June 1987.