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The New Seminaries

The most obvious result so far is the increasing—some say overemphasized —concentration on inner-city ministries. Unitarian Universalist churchmen have approved an experimental plan that will allow seminarians to freewheel around New York for three years, taking courses wherever they want to, living in the ghettos if they choose, learning to minister to the world principally by living in it. A larger and more structured program along similar lines is apparently working well. Last year Manhattan's onetime conservative New York Theological Seminary made a major shift in direction by choosing as its new president George W. ("Bill") Webber, 49, liberal former pastor of the experimental East Harlem Protestant Parish. Out went required courses; in came such things as a part-time bachelor-of-divinity program, which those in secular employment can finish in five years.

In Somerville, near Boston, young Jews are trying a different approach —not by moving out into the city but by moving in toward each other. The group calls itself Havurat Shalom Community Seminary, but it bears little resemblance to a traditional Jewish divinity school. It is actually a fellowship of about 40 well-educated members, including married couples, who meet in a small frame house to study Jewish mysticism and devise experimental forms of worship. Similar group-seminaries are springing up in New York and Philadelphia.

By far the major development in religious education will be the ''cluster seminary," modeled on the successful Graduate Theological Union on "Holy Hill" in Berkeley. Founded only seven years ago, G.T.U. now includes nine seminaries and seven associated centers, including Episcopal, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran and Unitarian institutions, and three theological schools of Roman Catholic religious orders: Jesuit, Dominican and Franciscan. The Boston Theological Institute has brought together six Roman Catholic and Protestant seminaries and a graduate department of theology in a similar union; other clusters are being formed in Rochester, N.Y.; Washington, D.C., New York City, Toronto and even Dubuque.

The conglomerate seminary has obvious practical benefits. Libraries are better. Snared facilities raise teaching standards while keeping individual seminary costs at a bearable level. Cross-registration affords each student the chance to pursue his own curriculum under the best available teachers. The interaction of the diverse groups also contributes dramatically to future changes in the church. President John Dillenberger of G.T.U. even hopes that local parishes will tie in to the cluster and participate directly in this transformation.

Such, ferment in the seminaries indicates that the church has any number of options. The suggestions from the schools—and from ghetto, pulpit and cloister—are broad: team ministries, part-time ministries, specialized ministries; elaborate celebrations, informal rituals; large, united churches, small groups. Some forms that now seem incompatible may well come to live side by side. Most of them are already being tested by ministers even now.

A Special Magic

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