Award for Sewanee’s seminary highlights need for expansion

By Henry Thornton

Photo courtesy of theology.sewanee.eduThe Dean of the School of Theology, Rt. Rev. J. Neil Alexander

The School of Theology at Sewanee has been named one of the 2015 “Seminaries that Change the World” by the Center for Faith and Service. According to the center’s website, the schools chosen “represent distinguished academic institutions that have a living legacy of scholarship and a commitment to service and social justice issues.” Sewanee’s seminary has won this award previously, including 2014 when it was the only Episcopalian seminary named. The full list of 2015 winners will be made public in a few months. The Dean of the School of Theology, Rt. Rev. J. Neil Alexander, confirmed that Sewanee had received This continues a recent trend of success for the Sewanee seminary. According to a 2012 study of Episcopalian seminaries by the CPG Research Group, 88% of the Sewanee School of Theology alumni are employed five years after graduation, the highest percentage in the study.

The increase in renown for the seminary comes at a time when expansion is being heavily discussed. “We’re scrounging for classroom space,” Reverend Alexander admitted. “We’ve outgrown our facilities.” According to him, “during the University’s last two capital campaigns nothing significant was focused on the School of Theology.” The Dean added, “We have one teacher whose office is in the corner of a classroom – when the room is occupied for class, she has to move.”

Renovations and expansions for the School of Theology are on the table for the upcoming capital campaign currently being undertaken by the University. However, according to Reverend Alexander, “Undergraduate dorms are still the top priority.” He added that donors “have a huge amount of influence over how their money is spent.” When asked if donor influence had steered money away from the School of Theology he quickly said, “No, any money given to the University helps everybody, all the checks are made out to The University of the South.” Later in the conversation he added, “There is a much higher earning potential among undergrads than our priests.”

Reverend Alexander was quick to put down the idea that the School of Theology was in any kind of trouble. “Checks for things we want to do come in every week,” he said, “but many of them are for specific things like foreign service programs that we don’t have the budget for.” After his trip, for Sewanee’s 2014 selection on their website, the Center for Faith and Service listed Sewanee’s top highlight as “Building Global Bridges.” The highlight was in recognition of Sewanee Seminarian Alex Andujar who travelled to Cuba in January of 2013. The Episcopal Diocese in Cuba has 43 congregations but only Andujar established the Foundation for Hispanic and Latino Ministry. According to its website, “FHLM was founded with the mission of supporting Hispanic and Latino Ministry in the United States and the Americas.” When asked about being the head of a theological school that must recruit students from an increasingly secular generation of people, Dean Alexander said, “I do see some of that, but I mean, we’re busting at the seams here.” He paused for a moment, and smiled before adding, “if anything, the young people today who’ve chosen to make faith part of their lives are more faithful servants of God than the generation before them were.”