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Nashotah House President Reflects on his Seminary and its Mission to the Church

Nashotah House President Reflects on his Seminary and its Mission to the Church

By David W. Virtue with Mary Ann Mueller
October 9, 2009

The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Munday, President and Dean of Nashotah House spoke recently with VirtueOnline and agreed to answer questions about his seminary, its role in the church, and its hopes and aspirations for the future. Nashotah House Theological Seminary is based on Mission Road in Nashotah, Wisconsin.

VOL: Will Nashotah House grads be welcome in the new TEC that is pluriform in theology and not sympathetic to orthodox Christianity? Are you having difficulty getting students placed in TEC?

Munday: The demand for Nashotah graduates continues to be very strong, both within TEC and elsewhere. Nashotah House is known for producing faithful, well-trained priests who know how to lead congregations--and, in most cases, that is the primary concern of most parishes when they are searching for a rector or a curate.

Are there dioceses that will actively try to keep out priests who are orthodox? Yes, there are. But there are also a number of dioceses where the bishops have told me the best, most effective priests they have are Nashotah House graduates.

VOL: Are you preparing students for Anglican jurisdictions other than TEC?

Munday: Yes, while a majority of our students still come from dioceses of the Episcopal Church, we have a growing number from other jurisdictions. In contrast to the politically charged atmosphere that exists in many places as to whether one is from a TEC diocese or another jurisdiction, there is surprisingly little discussion of those kinds of issues on our campus. We are concerned with seeing individuals grow in their relationship with Christ and forming priests whose primary motivation is to love God and serve the Church. Where our graduates serve after graduation is a matter that is between them and the jurisdiction that ordains them. Our primary concern is that they serve faithfully in Christ's one holy catholic and apostolic Church and that they become the best priests they can possibly be. You can't imagine how freeing it is to view our task that way and let God take care of the rest.

VOL: TEC Liberal seminaries are withering and slowly dying. Is that the case with Nashotah House?

Munday: The rising cost of a three-year, residential seminary cost has risen over the last few decades to the point where many seminaries (both liberal and conservative) are seeing declines in enrollment. Anglicans and Episcopalians used to pride themselves on having the best-educated clergy of any tradition. And they even tended to look down their noses at evangelical traditions who they believed did not train their clergy as well. The problem is that Anglicans and Episcopalians have historically provided very little financial assistance to seminaries or students attending seminary. This has continued so that Anglican/Episcopal parishes, dioceses and jurisdictions still want the best-trained clergy, but they have never gotten into the habit of paying for it. So we are looking at a crisis affecting all seminaries, but it is perhaps affecting Anglican/Episcopal seminaries more than most.

In general, Nashotah House has fared better than more liberal seminaries in recent years. Our students come from conservative parts of the Church that are either growing or at least have not seen as great a decline as more liberal parts of the Church. Our greatest challenge is convincing conservative churches that we can provide the kind of clergy leadership they need and persuading them that they must do more to support seminaries and students attending seminary if they truly want excellent clergy.

VOL: If not, what is it that separates you from liberal TEC seminaries?

Munday: I believe the fact that we have not seen the declines that other seminaries have experienced is primarily because, when congregations compare clergy who are trained at Nashotah House with clergy who are trained elsewhere, they realize that we produce priests who are very faithful to the teaching of Scripture and the tradition of the Church, highly committed the calling God has given them, and exceptionally well-trained to articulate the Faith and to lead growing congregations.

VOL: Are you working hand in glove with Trinity (Episcopal) School for Ministry as the only other orthodox seminary? What is your relationship like with them?

Munday: We have a very good relationship with Trinity. Bishop John Rodgers, former Dean of Trinity, once said "the real difference in the Church today isn't between those who are high-church and those who are low-church, but between those who believe Jesus' tomb is really empty and those who don't." Both Trinity and Nashotah House share a commitment to the authority of Scripture and the tenets of the Creeds, and we rejoice that the Faith that unites is is far more important than those things that distinguish us from each other.

One thing that gives our two schools a close affinity is that I was a faculty member and associate dean at Trinity for 15 years before coming to Nashotah House as Dean. Father Doug McGlynn, our Seminary Sub-Dean at Nashotah House, taught on Trinity's faculty as well. Fr. Arnold Klukas, our professor of Liturgy and Spirituality has taught at Trinity also. So we have lots of ties and friendships between the faculties of the two schools.

We have hosted Trinity's entire faculty for a visit at Nashotah House, and our faculty looks forward to reciprocating with a visit to Trinity in the future. There is a warm fellowship and collegiality between the members of both faculties, and we are often involved with the same mission agencies, speak at the same conferences, and cooperate in all sorts of ways.

VOL: Trinity (Episcopal) School for Ministry is focused on evangelicalism. Nashotah House is more on the catholic wing can you see a uniting of seminary forces in the future?

Munday: Leaders who are thinking seriously about the future of Anglicanism recognize that we must cultivate Christians-and especially leaders and clergy-who are grounded in Scripture, steeped in sacred tradition, and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. We often speak of the future of Anglicanism (and of Christianity as a whole) as being necessarily a "three stream movement."

Nashotah House brings its rich heritage and its emphasis on the catholic tradition to this movement. We take Scripture just as seriously as evangelicals, plus we are well versed in the early fathers and doctors of the Church and other aspect of Church tradition so that we understand the history of the Church's interpretation of Scripture and its application in the faith, order, and ministry of the Church.

VOL: What do you see as Nashotah's greatest strength? What can Nashotah most offer the various Anglican Communion churches in America?

Munday: Nashotah House has four strengths: 1. the formation of the whole individual in the Benedictine tradition of prayer, study, and work. 2. The worship life of our Chapel, which consists of daily Eucharist and Morning and Evening Prayer. 3. Life on a beautiful campus in a warm and caring community that provides a great environment for seminarians and their families. 4. The outstanding quality of our faculty. Alumni who have returned to Nashotah House for visits attest that our faculty is the finest they have ever seen-not merely experts in their fields, but personally interested in the growth and formation of students into Christian leaders and priests.

VOL: What do you consider Nashotah's greatest accomplishment?

Munday: Probably our greatest accomplishment in recent years is that we were the first Anglican/Episcopal seminary to offer a master's degree program through distance education, so that students who cannot relocate to seminary for three full years can receive excellent training for ministry while remaining in the jobs and ministries they already have. This program combines online learning with residential weeks on Nashotah House's campus, so that all our students engage in our formative life in community and receive other benefits of a residential education as well.

We are also very pleased with our new Doctor of Ministry program, offering continuing education and an advanced degree for clergy in biblical exposition, liturgy, Anglican spirituality, and congregational development.

VOL: What do you see as Nashotah's worst failing?

Munday: Our greatest failing is that we have not done an adequate job of presenting what we have to offer to all those who need it. People who visit Nashotah House, encounter our worship and our community, and experience the teaching that goes on in our classes fall in love with the place. We continue to struggle with how to provide a taste of Nashotah House to all those who could benefit from what we have to offer.

VOL: Nashotah House has been around for more than 150 years. Do you see it being around for another 150 years?

Munday: Yes, we have been here for 167 years, and we are already planning for what Nashotah House will look like, God willing, at 200 years and beyond.

VOL: Why?

Munday: We believe that Nashotah House has a vital role to play in communicating the apostolic tradition and the Anglican ethos to future generations of the Church-not merely Anglicans, but the whole Church.

VOL: How has Nashotah House helped to formulate the current face of American Anglicanism today?

Munday: Nashotah House was established by Bishop Jackson Kemper, the Episcopal Church's first missionary bishop, when Wisconsin was the American frontier. Churches all over the upper Midwest and as far away as California were planted by early Nashotah graduates. Nashotah House's first graduate, in 1845, Gustav Unonius, ministered in the United States for 17 years before returning to his native Sweden and continuing his ministry there. A later graduate, Bishop John McKim, took the Gospel to Japan. Fourteen American and Canadian bishops who are graduates of Nashotah House were in attendance at the 2008 Lambeth Conference, and this does not count those who have received honorary doctorates, which includes nearly two dozen American, Global South, and British bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury. Our aim today is to learn where the mission frontiers are in this generation and to take the Gospel there. Our training in missions and evangelism and planting and growing congregations is aimed at insuring that we play a role in fulfilling Christ's Great Commission and reaching future generations around the world with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.

VOL: Is Nashotah House able to successfully teach both the evangelical as well as Anglo-Catholic spiritualities which are inherent to Anglicanism?

Munday: Our emphasis at Nashotah House is very definitely that of the Anglo-Catholic tradition, and we reflect the spirituality of the whole of the catholic tradition-the early church fathers, the medieval mystics and doctors of the church, the Caroline Divines, etc. But the tradition of the whole catholic Church also includes evangelicals, pietists, Puritan Divines and others who have made rich contributions to Christian spirituality. We are not only capable of incorporating the evangelical and charismatic streams in our teaching; we are very strongly committed to doing that, so that our graduates reflect the accumulated wisdom of the whole Christian tradition in their ministries.

VOL: How will Nashotah be able to keep its traditional orthodox Anglican teaching stance in the future with very essence of Anglican faith and order being undermined by the spiritual pollution of the world which has crept into the Church?

Munday: The founding Dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, Bishop Alfred Stanway, had a number of principles or aphorisms that guided his work. One of the principles he articulated was, "Under God, having the right people is the key." I have always found that to be true. The key to keeping a school orthodox is, first of all, having faculty and trustees who are committed followers of Jesus Christ and who understand that, as James 4:4 says, "friendship with the world is enmity with God." That is to say, we recognize that there are worldly values that are in conflict with the Gospel and the teaching of Scripture; and when those values collide, our unswerving allegiance must be to Jesus Christ our Lord, who saved us and "bought us with a price" (1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23).

VOL: What is the most important aspect of priestly formation? How does Nashotah House meet it?

Munday: The most important aspect of priestly formation is Christian maturity. We must, first of all, begin by training those who are fully, radically committed to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. If you start with anything else, it is like trying to make a piece of fine furniture out of wood that has knot holes in it.

Through the years, I have met people who viewed seminary as a place to "find their faith" or even to "have their faith taken apart and put back together again." I have to say that this is not the right way to think of seminary. There have been occasions when we have admitted students who were less than completely committed to Christ as Lord and Savior, or who used those words without fully understanding what they meant. And, frankly, we got burned-and so did they, and so did the Church. So that has made us all the more serious about not admitting students with a view to helping them "find their faith," but rather admitting students who are mature in their faith and called and gifted to be leaders, and then forming those individuals into priests.

Then, in addition to Christian maturity, priestly formation involves priestly identity. We gain an understanding of the identity of those God calls to be priests from Scripture and the Church's tradition. We aim to live out that tradition by incarnating the message of the Gospel for those to whom God calls us to minister. I think of George Herbert's poem, "The Priesthood," which contains this stanza:

But th' holy men of God such vessels are,

As serve him up, who all the world commands:

When God vouchsafeth to become our fare,

Their hands convey him, who conveys their hands.

O what pure things, most pure must those things be,

Who bring my God to me.

The call to the priesthood (and the diaconate and episcopate as well) is not like any other vocation. While I am convinced that God can and does call everyone (if we listen to Him) into that profession by which we can best glorify Him and use the gifts He has given us, ordained clergy have the task of conveying God to the world. There is something very special about that. Clergy are God's gifts to the Church. At the same time, the worst thing clergy can do is to think of themselves as "God's gift to the Church"-if you know what I mean.

Finally, at Nashotah House we are engaged in teaching the craft of being a priest-and all that that entails. Students here are steeped in things that other seminaries simply can't approximate. That is why I often hear bishops say that graduates of Nashotah House are better able to "hit the ground running"-that is, they are better able to take a parish and know what they are doing from the first day than graduates of any other seminary.

VOL: As Nashotah's dean what is your greatest accomplishment? As Nashotah's dean what would you still like to accomplish? When you eventually leave Nashotah, what would you like your legacy to be?

Munday: In addition to our new our Doctor of Ministry program and our Master of Arts degree by distance education-I am very pleased that the enrollment has grown considerably in my eight years as Dean, and that our finances are in better shape. However, we still have much work to do in both these areas of enrollment and finances. A major concern of ours right now is that, in addition to the Episcopal dioceses we have served in the past, Nashotah House will be embraced by newer Anglican constituencies (such as ACNA, AMiA, CANA, etc.) who need the training that Nashotah House is uniquely able to offer.

The accomplishment that gives me the most satisfaction, personally, is the quality of the faculty that has come together under my deanship. Nashotah House has an outstanding faculty of professors who are exceptional teachers and who reflect their love for God and for students in what they do. They are uncompromising in their faithfulness and very committed to seeing that what they teach enables our graduates to go out as priests and leaders who can transform congregations.

But, really, both my greatest accomplishment and my legacy are illustrated by something that was pointed out to me recently: We pray for a portion of our alumni, by name, in Chapel every day. We also pray for a portion of our current student body (both residential and distance students) every day. As we came out of Chapel the other day, Dr. Carol Klukas, our Director of Admissions, asked me: "Have you noticed that the list of students and alumni we pray for each day is twice as long as when you began your deanship, and half the names are those who have graduated from Nashotah House in the past eight years?" Frankly, I hadn't thought about it, and it was stunning to realize that it was true.

While we may have added degree programs, seen our enrollment grow, and beautified the campus in various ways, the only legacy I really care about is what God has done in the hearts and minds of those who have studied here under my deanship. Faithful graduates of Nashotah House are having an impact on countless lives and souls of people in the Body of Christ, the Church. That is the only legacy that really matters, because it is the only legacy that lasts for eternity.

VOL: Thank you Dr. Munday

Footnote: Some 15% of the student body of 115 on campus, including graduates and distance learning are women with a number going into the ordained ministry. Nashotah House trains women for the priesthood.


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