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Seminaries Catching Anglican Studies Bug?

Seminaries Catching Anglican Studies Bug?

By James Diddams
January 19, 2021

Much has been written on the trend of non-denominational Evangelical Protestants finding their way into liturgical expressions of Christianity including Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy.

For example, in 1989 Robert Webber wrote Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: Why Evangelicals Are Attracted to the Liturgical Church and in 2019 Winfield Bevins released Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Allure of Liturgy for a New Generation. Despite being written 30 years apart both these books chronicle the same phenomenon: a genuine interest among young people in a different form of worship than the smoke and light filled Sunday morning Christian rock concerts that are expected.

Articles with headlines like "Twentysomethings are flocking to Anglo-Catholic services for traditional worship with not a tambourine in sight" from The Times in 2019 or "Liturgy-hungry young Christians trade altar calls for Communion rails" in Religion News Service are also examples. Some who feel this pull towards a more traditional faith ultimately become Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic, like Rod Dreher of The Benedict Option fame, or Elizabeth Breunig of the New York Times.

For some Americans, Anglicanism (known as the via media or middle way between Catholicism and Protestantism) provides an increasingly attractive option for those hungering for a deeper sense of history and liturgy. This trend is not all-encompassing, of course, and in terms of overall numbers there are many more young people leaving Christianity than transitioning to a more historically rooted form of it. But, while much has certainly been written on the changes parishioners have been undergoing, what's been less publicized is an increasing shift in the form of Christianity American pastors are pursuing.

American seminaries align under familiar denominations: Methodist, Baptist, Reformed, Lutheran and non-denominational Evangelical. But across that spectrum of theological schools a new certificate is increasingly common: the Certificate in Anglican/Episcopal Studies (C.A.S.).

Dozens of seminaries now offer certificates, concentrations or tracks in Anglicanism. All of the seminaries officially affiliated with the Anglican or Episcopal churches now have these certificates. But many notable non-Anglican/Episcopal schools like Asbury, Duke, Candler, Reformed Theological Seminary, Drew, Gordon-Conwell and Northern have also begun to offer them -- and more are likely on the way.

"Proliferation is a good word to describe the spread of these certificates," Russell Warren of Trinity School for Ministry told me. "They are everywhere."

It's a simple rule of economics that the supply of education follows the demand for it, so this begs the question of why so many seminarians are choosing to pursue Anglican certificates in addition to or instead of a Master's of Divinity. I spoke to five people at five seminaries (Ridley, Berkeley, Nashotah, Asbury and Trinity School for Ministry) to learn about these certificates and found interesting commonalities among everyone I talked to.

The first common theme is that many future Anglican clergy do not ultimately end up ministering in the denomination they first train in. A large number of Anglican priests attend Reformed, Baptist, Methodist and non-denominational seminaries. While they receive good biblical training at these schools, later in life they come to view Anglicanism as the best fit for them. However, since the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) and The Episcopal Church both require specific training in the traditions of the Church of England these pastors cannot just transfer to an Anglican church. At the same time, it would be impractical to insist that all of them pursue a second MDiv at an Anglican-affiliated seminary.

In comes the Certificate of Anglican Studies, which bridges the gap between a pastor with solid theological training and ordained Anglican clergy. Kristen Olver, the director of admissions at Wisconsin's Nashotah Theological Seminary, said that it is a common choice among seminarians who hadn't been exposed to the Church of England until after finishing their MDiv. Ridley, one of the seminaries I spoke with, was established just a few years ago for the primary purpose of equipping those who already have graduate degrees in ministry with specific Anglican training. Candler School of Theology at Georgia's Emory University, affiliated with the United Methodist Church, recently added a scholarship for students pursuing Anglican and Episcopal studies as part of an MDiv.

Another common phenomenon is students pursuing ministry, attending seminary and then during the course of their course work deciding to pursue Anglicanism academically. In order to make that education available at non-denominational or otherwise non-Anglican seminaries it's become increasingly common to have an Anglican studies certificate or 'track' to go along with an MDiv.

For students at Baptist, Methodist, Reformed and non-denominational seminaries, specializing in Anglican studies at their non-Anglican school enables them to study what they're really interested in without changing schools. Schools are smartly noticing this trend; by equipping their seminaries with an Anglican certificate or track they can attract students who would otherwise pursue those studies at another institution.

But why are so many pastors determining later in life -- once they're already at seminary or have graduated -- that they want to transition to Anglicanism? As the books and articles cited above show there's a well-documented movement among a certain group of younger people towards historic liturgical traditions. But, it seems that it is also appealing to a large number of professional ministers too. Olver told me she suspected that this was indicative of the ACNA's rapid growth overall, but in particular its appeal to Christians interested in "liturgy and historical rootedness."

Dr. Jonathan Powers, a professor at Asbury, told me that the ACNA is in the unusual position of having "way more pastors than churches" as a result of an increased number of people interested in graduate education in Anglican theology.

A shift in American Christianity towards a stronger sense of historicity as its means of preservation against modernism may very well be underway. But if this is so then it seems like the pastors who are more attuned to this future than the laypeople. Especially as the ACNA grows and more pastors seek to serve in it, there seems to be no reason why these certificate programs won't continue growing more common. The question seems to be if the number of ACNA congregants can continue growing at the same rate as their clergy.


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