This morning I woke up with a sense that last night’s comments put a knife in the back of someone I STRONGLY respect and admire, namely, The Reverend Rosemary Bray McNatt. Several years ago she was the Minister of the Week for my annual sojourn at Ferry Beach, so there was plenty of time and space to gain an appreciation of her diverse talents, insights, qualifications, and personal qualities. These are the diversities she will soon make paramount to anyone who knows her.
Secondly, I do not in any way disparage the educational assets of the many SKSM alumniae serving in our UU ministry, or the faculties which have trained them. On the contrary, SKSM has, since I first encountered it in the early 1970s, doggedly pursued excellence in ministry. Its graduates have often been, and might still be, the largest single cadre in our collective ministerial presence.
Thirdly, my concern is not that more of us attend Harvard or any other Ivy League School. Harvard Divinity School has long been an object of my criticisms, for much the same reasons as I criticized SKSM last night.
Rather, I support the movement which emerged in the late 20th century, the NUUTSS (Non-UU Theological Schools Students) as more protective of ministerial families and local spiritual character. However, having grown up in the Bible Belt, I appreciate that NUUTSS often complain that their online UU courses foster a sense of spiritual loneliness that can only be slaked by occasional sojourns in dedicated UU seminary community. Samuel Atkins Eliot founded SKSM precisely because he supported regionalizing, and thereby strengthening, Unitarianism’s academic anchors. In our current financial straits, we are forced — as I was forced on that search committee — to choose between the two goals. Either we shall provide local presences in various locations, or we shall maintain a dedicated UU seminary community. All three of our once-dedicated schools, as with all mainline seminaries, have had to abandon denominationalism in order to maintain academic excellence.
From time to time, we hear rumors of possibly merging SKSM and Meadville-Lombard Theological School, in hopes of becoming somewhat more denominational without completely giving up our geographic commitment to UUs outside Greater Boston. Perhaps it behooves me to give those suggestions more thorough attention. My instinct, though, involves something more denominational and less academic: regular gatherings for dedicated mutual support and formation, along the lines now provided for Accredited Interim Ministers and Ministers in First Settlements. These were tried a few years ago, but under the auspices of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee, with their unfortunate agenda of judgment and selection; what I propose would share collegial resources from the UU Ministerial Association and UU Society for Community-Based Ministers, assisted by denominational money.
I hope members of the SKSM community will accept my apology for ungraceful expression, and, in particular, that Reverend McNatt will accept my good wishes for her ministry in that community.