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Plans for Interfaith Seminary Shelved

c. 2011 Religion News Service

(RNS) When leaders of the nation’s oldest seminary and a Unitarian Universalist theological school began to dream of building a new partnership, they planned to create a futuristic model of religious higher education.

But after more than a year of discussions, Andover Newton Theological School outside Boston and Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago have canceled plans to jointly create a multifaith institution.

Although the schools’ different religious identities were a key aspect of the negotiations, presidents of both schools said other matters — from finances to accreditation issues — prompted a halt to their talks.


“We found ourselves in a stronger financial position in a stand-alone model than we would have been in the cooperative venture, and that meant that we had to look really hard at our own fiduciary responsibility to our own seminary,” said the Rev. Lee Barker, president of the Chicago school.

The Unitarian Universalist seminary, which is transitioning to a nonresidential school, has about 130 students, most of whom only visit Chicago for occasional intensive classes.

Andover Newton, which is based in Newton Centre, Mass., has about 300 students and is affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA and the United Church of Christ.

Interfaith relations are “not impossible to create,” Barker said, but with congregations tending to give less financial support to seminaries, it wasn’t the right time for such a partnership.


“There was a great deal of enthusiasm” about the academic aspects of the proposal, said the Rev. Nick Carter, president of Andover Newton. “It was the governance and the consequences of the governance on things like finances … that really started to take it apart.”

As of 2012, the nearby Hebrew College will be housed on Andover Newton’s campus. The two Massachusetts schools have been collaborating for a decade and had “more lead time” for a closer affiliation, Carter said.

Barker and Carter hope the multifaith model they envisioned may still take root someday, even if it is not created by their two schools. Other schools expressed interest in the proposed “theological university” but did not enter formal discussions.


“We’re tied to the real world of institutions and constituencies and fiduciary responsibility,” Barker said, “but in no way in my mind does that undermine the vision of what we were trying to do.”

The two schools still plan to offer joint programs for their doctorate of ministry students, including a preaching class in June at Andover Newton.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    That’s a shame that it couldn’t be worked out. As a Unitarian, I would have liked to see it happen. Maybe later—-

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Concerned Citizen

    UU are a bunch of hooey! The truth is UU churches are atheistic in nature. It’s time to expose the UU for what they really are a joke. Nobody should take them seriously, in thought they are entitled to their ridiculous beliefs. Like all athesists they tend to live in a small box. They are not willing to understand things outside of the physical realms of life.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Michael

    Actually Concerned Citizen, we have many among us who are not Atheists. I myself believe in a higher power and am also a active member of a UU congregation here in Cincinnati. I find it humorous that you say it is us who live in small boxes, when you yourself do not even have a grasp on the basics of this wonderful faith. Perhaps you would do well to learn a bit about what you are trying to bash. Are atheists any less deserving of respect and dignity than you or I?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    C. Citizen: On what do you base your opinion of the Unitarians? Obviously not by experience. They have a long and proud history. Started out of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century, in Poland and Transylvania—and in England in 1774, the USA in 1793. Obviously it isn’t for everyone but then what religion is? Not everyone wants to be Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim etc. There is no one size fits all faith. So whatever you consider yourself—great. I’m a proud UU (convert by marriage) and it works for me. It seems that whatever you call yourself, it doesn’t teach tolerance for other faiths.

    Michael: Well said.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Professor Middle Path

    This is not surprising at all. The primary impetus for merger was financial. Since ML was able to right itself, there no longer a financial urgency. As seminaries (and faiths) move to be more pluralistic, while still retaining theological traditions, Meadville, as well as the wider UU approach dancing around theology, becomes less appealing. My guess is that Lee Baker and crew realized that the merger was more of ANTS absorbing ML. They quickly put the breaks on as a way to buy time to figure out what exactly distinguishes ML (and UU).

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