Church Divinity School of the Pacific to withdraw from Graduate Theological Union

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Jan 31, 2024

Students at Church Divinity School of the Pacific during a recent graduation ceremony on the campus in Berkeley, California. Photo: CDSP

[Episcopal News Service] Church Divinity School of the Pacific on Jan. 29 announced that in January 2026 it will withdraw from the Graduate Theological Union, a consortium of multi-faith institutions in Berkeley, California, that CDSP helped found in 1962.

The announcement from Stephen Fowl, the seminary’s president and dean since Aug. 1, 2023, said that after the school moves to a fully hybrid model for Master of Divinity students beginning in the summer of 2025, few opportunities will exist for the kind of collaboration GTU has afforded students in the past.

A year ago the seminary described plans for the new hybrid educational model in a joint announcement with Trinity Church Wall Street. In 2019, CDSP announced a new cooperative agreement with the New York church that affected leadership and governance.

In the withdrawal announcement, Fowl said the seminary’s new model would “focus the mission of the school’s credit-bearing academic programs on preparing priests for The Episcopal Church, which means we will not be accepting MA, MTS or Ph.D. students for the foreseeable future.” And with students able to live anywhere and visit the campus only for required on-site sessions, they would have few opportunities to take classes offered through GTU or to use its campus library.

In response to questions posed by Episcopal News Service by email, Fowl noted that both the cost of being a part of GTU and the ongoing lack of opportunities for students to engage there led to the decision to leave the consortium. The announcement was made now, he said, because GTU partners are legally obligated to give two years’ notice before withdrawing.

Rather than partnering with another institution, the model the seminary has developed “relies much more on cooperation between CDSP and the local contexts across The Episcopal Church where our students live, work and will serve after graduation,” Fowl said. He added that students in the new hybrid program can qualify for a fully funded two-year curacy after graduation.

CDSP currently has 53 enrolled students, he said, and 11 of them are part of two existing residential classes and live in Berkeley. Another 31 students are part of the hybrid program, which he said was nearly full. “Our hybrid students consistently tell us that this program is what made it possible to answer God’s call to serve as a priest, and that the community they form onsite and online is tight-knit and life-giving,” he said.

Fowl acknowledged that the seminary and its campus had been a special place for alumni, many of whom had “life-changing experiences” taking classes through GTU, but the move from the residential model they experienced to hybrid learning required a different approach.

“If we thought our residential program was sustainable in today’s climate, we might have made a different choice,” he told ENS. “We believe continuing to improve our well-respected hybrid program is the way we can best serve The Episcopal Church.”

–Melodie Woerman is a freelance writer and former director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas.