The Seminary

Memory Monday
This post was written for a different blog. For various reasons, it will never be published there. So I'm putting it here instead. I need you to know this story, because I may be processing it for some time. For now, names of the relevant places are being simplified to The Seminary and The Institution. You'll see what I mean.

I’ve been thinking about Grandpa Madeira lately.

Also with Jenn

Grandpa and some other visionary pastors founded a seminary in the mid-1980’s. Originally comprised of four “centers” in various Northeastern states, The Seminary was designed in such a way that students who were already in ministry, or already working full-time in general, could still attend and get a legitimate degree. It had an innovative spiritual formation and mentoring component incorporated throughout its program—an unusual feature for seminaries at the time. The hope was to prepare students to minister in the spiritually desolate Northeast and beyond. Some who were trained in that seminary now serve overseas. Some still pastor churches in the Northeastern United States.

Disaster struck in the mid-1990’s. In an attempt to keep the groundbreaking Seminary funded, leadership had opted into New Era Philanthropywhich turned out, to their surprise, to be a ponzi scheme. It didn’t end well. The school almost went under. Grandpa succumbed to what turned out to be Alzheimer’s, although it took a long time to be diagnosed. Many of us in the family hypothesized that the ponzi scandal was enough to shock him into a defense mechanism from which he never escaped, but before he submerged entirely, he observed that sometimes, maybe the Church tries too hard to utilize the methods of the world to accomplish the purposes of the Kingdom.

Grandpa meant New Era, of course, but sometimes other things happen that remind me he said that. Maybe, he suggested, the leadership of The Seminary should have had a little more faith. Then, just when it seemed all was lost, another visionary Institution took steps to acquire The Seminary. The school survived, eventually fully merging with the larger, stronger entity. I don’t think Grandpa’s mind outlasted the merger, and his body followed suit some time afterward, but his legacy and the vision of his friends and colleagues had been validated and strengthened by the providential help of The Institution.

I was just out of college when the New Era deal came crashing down, working as a nanny in Connecticut. Some time later I became a missionary among refugees in London, England, and five years after that, returned to the US, to attempt a seminary degree in counseling. The school I chose was a good one, but a terrible fit for me at that time. I moved back to New England. About five years after that, I resumed studies, this time in an MDiv program at a New England institution. But not all institutions are designed for people already in full-time ministry, who can’t quit their jobs, pack up, move to campus, and dedicate most waking hours to study.

“Why don’t you try The Seminary?” suggested my mother, my counselor, some local youth leaders with whom I fellowship. I didn’t want to. Grandpa had started that school, and deep as my respect for him runs, I had this idea that a seminary that met in rented space in a church, and had been partially founded by a family member, couldn’t possibly give me a degree worth having.

Then again, the logistics of my second seminary were proving impossible. After another year and a half or so of soul-searching and prayerful struggle, I finally applied to, was enrolled in, and began classes as a MATS student at The Seminary. I finally felt peaceful about my decision, and God began to provide financially for me to attend. Within the first week of classes I was overwhelmed by the sense of community and the depth of spirituality inherent in this place. It was my third seminary, but, excellent as the other two are, I had never experienced anything like it. Mind and spirit are being fed in ways I, in my setting, desperately need. The body is being fed, too, during the periodic potluck dinners!

Last week, The Seminary students received word that our center is closing. The times, as Dylan sang before they had even changed this much, they are a’changin’. The theological training landscape looks different. Sometimes organizations must reprioritize. I believe the powers that be when they tell me I will, regardless of the imminent closure, be able to finish my degree, finally–if for no other reason than that their accreditation requires it. I still regret that I didn’t start here sooner. That was my mistake.

I also regret, though, that the Northeast is losing a resource—and the theological landscape is losing a paradigm—that is not, as things stand now, replaceable. New England is beautiful, and so are its people. But its soil is stony, and hearts are, too. The “local” alternatives are not true alternatives to the types of students who are attending here. The Seminary was shining Jesus’ light in dark places in ways other institutions couldn’t. I pray we hold tight to what we’ve learned of Him as we’ve studied here, and that we continue to shine His light where He calls us as this particular set of doors closes behind us.


21 thoughts on “The Seminary

  1. Beautiful Jenn…..You expressed it in ways I cannot but my pain and sadness are similar to yours…..I am so glad we met at The Seminary. I pray that the loving, searching and honest community we found there will continue in another form………

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  3. Thanks Jenn. I remember the New Era deal as it had impact on an institution I was working at the time. Yeah should have started earlier. Who knew….okay God did, but…

  4. Hi Jenn,
    Thanks for sharing your story with us. I too was just getting acclimated to the Bethel community and spirituality of learning and growing and now it is ending. And all I can do is to remember Romans 8:28, “all things work together for good for those who are the called according to His purpose.” I pray for you and all of the students, faculty and staff in New England and in Maryland where I attend.

  5. Hello Jen,
    Thank you for sharing this story. It was well writtien. May we all hold on to the memories and friendships we have developed.
    Keep holding on to God’s unchanging hand and HE will direct our paths.

  6. Jenn: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. The Seminary really is unique, isn’t it? As much for the fellowship as for the academics, I think. I am grateful for what Grandpa Madeira started. And his legacy lives on in you, and in me and in so many others who have been blessed by his vision. Grandpa Madeira must have become much wiser through his ‘seminary’ experience. And I’m pretty sure that if he were able, he would comfort you with this assurance: that, even though The Seminary is closing, God is about do some amazing work in the lives of those who studied, taught and ministered here.

  7. Jenn, this is great. You put into words what I dare to voice to anyone except God, and that is this wonderful sense of community, support, and family that we have at The Seminary will be difficult to replicate. We truly have something special and for that, I am extremely grateful that God allowed me to be a part of it.

  8. Jenn, thanks so much for sharing – please continue to write. I knew your grandfather and was blessed by knowing him, learning from him, and being able to attend BSOE. God has been giving all of us such amazing teachers and mentors. BSOE has totally equipped me to pastor churches in New England. The more important gift has been how I was discipled, mentored, and grew as a Christian because of each of the faculty at BSOE. God has worked powerfully through this seminary. God continues to be at work.

    • It’s true. Thank you so much for commenting and letting me know the connection and a little of your story. That’s really cool. I do agree that God has done great things with this place (and its people).

  9. Dear Jenn,
    I’m so glad I found your blog this evening. You recount the ups and downs of The Seminary with a touching, real approach.
    You will survive this latest setback, just as The Seminary survived the scheme, although I agree with your suspicion that your grandfather’s Alzheimer’s was advanced–if not caused by–the scheme.
    Good and honorable people, places and programs have God on their side, and therefore, a way of surviving even the worst obstacles.

    • Yes, I really feel that’s true. I’m kind of feeling like there would’ve been things coming down the pike which would’ve prevented the Seminary from being what it was designed to be in the first place, had the Institution hung onto it, and so maybe “nothing” is better than that. I don’t know. But I’m almost excited to see what happens with these remarkable people here next.

      Thanks for your kind words. I’m interested that you concur about the Alzheimer’s advancing because of the scheme. I guess you might have some knowledge about that sort of thing . . .

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