Seminaries make fall semester plans amid changing coronavirus context

Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Sep 1, 2020

[Episcopal News Service] Below are summaries of each of the nine Episcopal Church-affiliated seminaries’ plans for the start of the 2020-21 academic year.

Church Divinity School of the Pacific (Berkeley, California)
Classes begin: Sept. 8
The student body this fall: The seminary expects 30 students in residence and 53 in online programs.
Teaching model: CDSP will begin in a remote format, with some courses meeting in an asynchronous online medium and others meeting synchronously or in some combination of the two. “Asynchronous online” means that students access their course materials and complete their work online but do not meet at set times. “Remote synchronous” means that students meet at specific set times via videoconference. Residential students are expected to enroll in required courses designated for them, in order to foster community.
Housing and meal service: Fifteen students are living in seminary apartments and 15 are in modified non-dorm housing, each with a private bath and access to cooking equipment and food storage. Students who qualify for tuition and housing scholarships get a meal supplement.
Worship: The residential community will have a twice-weekly Liturgy of the Word, with a homily, via Zoom. In addition, all students are in small formation groups and each group will be required to pray a Daily Office together at least three times a week.
Consultation with other groups: CDSP is part of the Graduate Theological Union but made plans independent of other schools’ decisions.

Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut)
Classes begin: Aug. 31
The student body this fall: The school predicts it will have 50 students, 17 of whom will be new. Most are full-time students. Yale Divinity School will have more than 300 overall. The school has had six deferrals, which is unusual. The median age of the incoming class is 25.
Teaching model: BDS will offer some in-person classes but most will be online. Students have the option of taking classes only online for at least this semester.
Housing and meal service: Yale student housing is open. Berkeley usually has about half of its students in those apartments and the other half nearby in private arrangements. About 10% fewer students are living locally. There will be prepackaged meals available on a meal plan for pickup but no in-person shared dining.
Worship: All services will be online in a mix of live Zoom and some prerecorded elements.
Consultation with other groups: Berkeley is conforming to policies adopted by Yale University.

Bexley Seabury Seminary (Chicago, Illinois)
Classes begin: Sept. 8
The student body this fall: There are currently 59 students from 32 dioceses in the school’s master’s-level programs, along with a few additional students from other seminaries in the Chicago area and those who are taking classes as non-degree students or auditors. The students range in age from 24 to 75.
Teaching model: The faculty decided in early April to move all classes wholly online for the balance of that semester and for the entire 2020-21 academic year.
Housing and meal service: All students live in their own homes. There is no student housing and no meal service.
Worship: Every synchronous class will have some form of worship built in.
Consultation with other groups: There was no centralized decision from the Association of Chicago Theological Schools, in which Bexley Seabury participates, about this semester. The Doctor of Ministry in preaching program, which the school jointly administers with several other ACTS seminaries, will have its classes meet online.

Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary (New York, New York)
Classes begin: Oct. 5, with an academic session of intensive remote courses Sept. 8-25
The student body this fall: Union Theological has 254 active students; 39 have identified as Episcopal/Anglican. Of those students, 21 are enrolled in the EDS at Union Anglican Studies M.Div. and S.T.M. programs. The age range for Union Theological Seminary students is 22-76.
Teaching model: Union Theological Seminary and EDS at Union will begin the academic year teaching remotely and will continue “as long as it remains the healthiest, safest mode of being in community.”
Housing and meal service: Union expects to have 60 of its 190 student dorm rooms, apartments, and studio units occupied.
Worship: EDS at Union will meet online Monday-Thursday for Morning Prayer and Thursdays for Evening Prayer. Union chapel will be online Monday-Thursday, and each month, there will be a service led by EDS at Union. Discussions are ongoing about socially distant chapel services with limited capacity for students living on campus.
Consultation with other groups: EDS at Union followed the direction, recommendations and timeline of Union Theological Seminary.

General Theological Seminary (New York, New York)
Classes begin: Sept. 8
The student body this fall: The students range in age from mid-20s to over 65. There will be about 40 new students, 10 of whom are in the Doctor of Ministry program.
Teaching model: Classes will meet in person September through Thanksgiving, then move entirely virtual. If there are any medical or other circumstances governing a student’s need to opt for an online option, the individual will be accommodated. GTS can move to fully remote instruction if needed.
Housing and meal service: About half of the students live in seminary housing. In what it called a “painful decision,” GTS discontinued meal service for the fall semester. Periodic picnics are planned for the three acres of open space on the Close.
Worship: Chapel services will mostly be conducted outside, with occasional use of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd.
Consultation with other groups: The seminary’s plans are not reliant on any consortiums.

Nashotah House Theological Seminary (Nashotah, Wisconsin)
Classes begin: Sept. 8
The student body this fall: There will be 32 residential students and 35 hybrid distance students. The approximately 40 advanced degree (S.T.M. and D.Min.) students take courses only in January and July. The age range of residential students is 23 to 64, with a median of 32.
Teaching model: Residential classes will meet in person with an online option available for every course. Professors have the option to teach their courses remotely. Students have the option of taking in-person courses remotely.
Housing and meal service: All residential students will live in seminary-owned housing. Meal service will continue with staff serving food, so diners are not involved in getting food or drinks. Tables are spread out, including outdoors under a tent, with two people per table.
Worship: Services will be conducted outdoors, and worshippers must be socially distanced and masked. Daily Eucharist will be celebrated with bread only.
Consultation with other groups: Nashotah House consulted with fellow members of the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

School of Theology, University of the South (Sewanee, Tennessee)
Classes begin: Aug. 24
The student body this fall: Sewanee welcomed 75 students. Their average age is 37.5 years.
Teaching model: All classes are offered both in person and online. Students have the option to choose on a daily basis whether they attend in person or online.
Housing and meal service: All students live in school-owned housing and all units have kitchens.
Worship: Morning and Evening Prayer are offered to a limited number of community members for in-person worship in the chapel. Those services are also livestreamed. There is no singing or choir. The term’s first Wednesday Eucharist was held outdoors with social distancing and masks required. All other Wednesday services will be held in All Saints’ Chapel, the university’s chapel, for a limited number of people and livestreamed.
Consultation with other groups: None

Seminary of the Southwest (Austin, Texas)
Classes begin: Aug. 31
The student body this fall: The approximately 150 students range from young adults to many who are retirement age or older.
Teaching model: All classes will either be entirely remote or have a remote option, with a handful of classes planned with in-person sections. Those classes will also have a remote option, and students can decide which mode they want to attend. In-person classes will be limited to less than 25% capacity for the space being used. Faculty and students must wear masks at all times. Classrooms will be disinfected between use. HVAC systems in all buildings have been upgraded to include virus-rated filters and increase the introduction of outside air.
Housing and meal service: Students in seminary housing were allowed to stay in their housing since the pandemic began. The school is welcoming a new class that has moved into much of the available housing. Students will have a limited meals-to-go plan for the fall. They will not be allowed to use the dining space to eat; it has been retrofitted to be a study hall. The number of weekly meals has been reduced from four to two on a trial basis.
Worship: Southwest has reduced its pattern of three daily services (including a daily Eucharist) Monday-Friday in Christ Chapel to two prayer services daily on Monday-Thursday. One is a Zoom service and the other an in-person prayer service on the campus’s large central courtyard, known as the Motte.
Consultation with other groups: The school communicates with the Association of Theological Schools and other accreditors to ensure changes conform to standards. The school is a neighbor of the University of Texas at Austin and Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and so has many policy models and data resources at its disposal.

Trinity School for Ministry (Ambridge, Pennsylvania)
Classes begin: Aug. 31
The student body this fall: The school will have 156 students in residential and online courses. Their average age is 38.
Teaching model: Trinity will offer a combination of in-person and online learning. Students can opt for online only.
Housing and meal service: Six students will live in seminary-owned housing. Meals will be served by the kitchen staff behind a plastic shield. Anyone dining in will be required to follow social distancing.
Worship: The seminary’s leadership formation groups are assigned weeks to lead worship. Worship will be livestreamed from the chapel to classrooms where other students and staff will gather in groups of 12-18 with social distancing. The services include Morning and Evening Prayer, as well as a weekly Communion service on Wednesday.
Consultation with other groups: The North American Lutheran Seminary is embedded on the Trinity campus and is following the school’s reopening process.

Virginia Theological Seminary (Alexandria, Virginia)
Classes begin: Sept. 8
The student body this fall: The seminary is at capacity, with an incoming class of 59 and approximately 140 degree students. The average age is 44.
Teaching model: VTS students are able to participate fully in class and in chapel online, and those at higher risk are encouraged to take this option. There are face-to-face opportunities for those who feel comfortable.
Housing and meal service: The campus is fully occupied. Families in apartments can stay year-round. Residence hall students will be asked to leave the campus at Thanksgiving and continue their learning online for the remainder of the semester.
Worship: The community will worship primarily online, with options for outdoor services. The school hopes to move to face-to-face gatherings at the end of the first quarter.
Consultation with other groups: VTS leaders have been in conversation with the Washington Theological Consortium, but its plans have not been dependent on the group.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg retired in July 2019 as senior editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service.