BANGOR, Maine — Seminary students, alumni and officials this week expressed grief for the loss of the institution that has trained ministers for nearly 200 years and optimism that the center created to replace traditional degree-granting programs will equip and support clergy and lay leaders for effective ministry during the current century.
Bangor Theological Seminary will award its last degrees in June 2013. In November, the board of trustees announced that it would become an institute, which does not award degrees. During this week’s annual convocation, held from Monday to Wednesday at the Gracie Theatre at Husson University, it was announced the new entity will be called The BTS Center.
“Each of us in our own way, in varying degrees, and for a long time will grieve the closing of Bangor Theological Seminary,” the Rev. Gary DeLong, a member of the board of trustees, said Tuesday. “That’s the way grief and loss is, and no one is pretending otherwise. But if there was any one idea motivating our Third Century Committee over our recent nine-month journey, it was the refusal to let that grief, that loss and that disorientation define us.”
The Third Century Committee, of which DeLong was a member, spent the past year discussing what shape the new entity would take. The mission of the new center, he said, is “to equip and support clergy and laity for theologically grounded and effective 21st century ministry.”
Seminary president, the Rev. Robert Grove-Markwood, said Wednesday that how the center will function and operate has not been determined. Grove-Markwood has agreed to stay on at the helm of the project until June 2014.
In the first year, The BTS Center will build and strengthen a network for communication and connection by leveraging technology, he said Tuesday. It also will consult with experts on how to help ministers and lay leaders use technology and social networking to achieve their missions.
Where the center will be located has not been decided, but it will be in southern Maine, not Bangor, according to the president.
Jim Mello, 62, of Newport plans to graduate in June with a Master of Arts degree in theology. The Seventh Day Adventist said he reacted to the plans for The BTS Center with “fear and faith.”
“Fear of the unknown and change, and faith that the direction will be new and creative,” he said.
Annual convocation will continue, Grove-Markwood said. The theme in 2014 will be Heads, Hands, Hearts and Smartphones. It will be held Jan. 20 and 21 in southern Maine, at a location to be determined.
The BTS Center plans to sponsor other events once it is up and running, he said. It also likely will partner with other groups and organizations to present programs throughout New England.
In November, the board of trustees announced that the name of the new entity would be called the Center for 21st Century Ministry. That was scrapped in favor of The BTS Center, Grove-Markwood said Wednesday.
“We decided that BTS is how we are branded,” he said. “The letters just don’t stand for Bangor Theological Seminary any more.”
DeLong put it a bit differently.
“We call it The BTS Center because while we are smaller now and different, we still remember,” he said Tuesday. “And as often as those initials trigger Bangor Theological Seminary, the image might change almost immediately from past to present and now the words might stand for Bold Theological Synergies or other important words.”
About 140 people attended this year’s convocation titled Theology Matters. Much of the program focused on the environment, but one segment discussed traditional country music and how its themes reflected Scripture.