Recognizing the changing needs of the diocese’s congregations and evolving trends in vocations for ministry throughout the region, the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire has announced it is creating a School for Ministry. Its curriculum and educational design will focus on the local and regional formation of priests and licensed lay ministers.
The School for Ministry’s teaching model will utilize curriculum from the Iona Collaborative and combine online, internet-based learning with monthly, weekend in-person classes and student meetings. The in-person portion of the program will be held at Trinity Episcopal Church in the central Lakes Region of New Hampshire.
The Rev. Kelly Sundberg Seaman, has been appointed the School’s Dean by Bishop A. Robert Hirschfeld. She began her duties December 1 and will lead in the development and launch of the School. Classes will begin in 2020.
The School for Ministry grows out of new realities for the church, the priesthood, and spiritual leadership. “Churches are increasingly moving to a ‘bi-vocational’ model for ministry,” said Tina Pickering, Canon for Ministry Development in the Episcopal Church of New Hampshire. “Importantly, this model involves the entire congregation, and even the larger community, in ministry rather than the traditional top-down approach of ministry exclusively through a full-time priest.”
As a result, the a bi-vocational model calls for lay leaders to play a larger role in service, and pastoral care. Canon Pickering says that, “A significant element of the School will be to educate and facilitate the formation of licensed lay ministers as well as those preparing for the priesthood.”
Life circumstances for local and bi-vocational candidates for the priesthood, as well as people called to become licensed lay ministers, often make it unrealistic to attend an out-of-state seminary or school of theology on a full time basis. “We saw that creating a New Hampshire-based school to meet the need in Northern New England was critical,” said Canon Pickering. The School for Ministry is the first such school to be established in Northern New England and the first Iona Collaborative-affiliated school in Province 1.
Dean of the School, the Rev. Kelly Sundberg Seaman, was ordained to the priesthood in December of 2015 and currently serves at Holy Spirit Episcopal Church in Plymouth, NH and St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Ashland, NH — roles she will continue to maintain. She also served as Episcopal Chaplain to Plymouth State University.
A university teacher and public affairs officer prior to answering the call to the priesthood, the Rev. Sundberg Seaman said, “Every strand of who I’ve been over the years is coming together as Dean of the School for Ministry. The bi-vocational trend is important for the Church to recognize. It’s also important to realize that sometimes it’s impossible for someone to put their life on hold and attend a distant seminary or theological school full-time. The School for Ministry will address a vital need.”
“The enthusiastic response to the proposal that we create a School for Ministry in New Hampshire to train ordained and lay ministers has confirmed for me that this is a moment for the Holy Spirit,” said Bishop A. Robert Hirschfeld. “Likewise, I am certain that the Rev. Kelly Sundberg Seaman is just the right choice as we establish the School. Her many gifts, including teaching, vigilance, leadership, and her pastor’s heart, will help create a School for the Church of the present, and for the Church of the future.”
The School for Ministry will deliver its classes using a low residency, flipped-classroom framework. Students will meet face-to-face one weekend per month at Trinity Episcopal Church. In between, students read, view videos, follow online study guides, and complete assignments on their own — and based on their individual schedules. The Rev. Sundberg Seaman also attended a low-residency program to prepare for the priesthood — offered by the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkley, CA.
Much of the content of the curriculum will be available to the School for Ministry through the Diocese of New Hampshire’s partnership with the Iona Collaborative. “As part of the Iona Collaborative network, the School for Ministry will offer tremendous opportunities for learning, worship, experimentation, and development, added Sundberg Seaman. “From the start, we’re building the School with locally and regionally-based and bi-vocational callings in mind. I’m very excited because the low-residency model is a great way to educate and train priests.”
Sundberg Seaman’s initial priorities include preparing Trinity Episcopal Church’s space for monthly in-person student learning, working with the Episcopal Church’s various discernment processes to develop enrollment, and creating plans for the long-term financial sustainability of the School.
The School’s curriculum will offer three primary areas of study — Bible, church history, and theology and ethics — and will be flexible to meet individual student needs. The application process will occur through Episcopal formation and discernment, however, every student has travelled a path that is uniquely theirs. The curriculum will be adaptable to accommodate prior learning and training.
“We want to make it easier for people to answer their call,” added Canon Pickering. “The School will work with students to customize curriculum, so prior learning is recognized and new learning at the School for Ministry helps them complete their training effectively.”
According to Sundberg Seaman, in spring of 2020 the School for Ministry is planning to offer a “taster course” or two — a sample of what’s to come with special, tuition-free class offerings. A full launch of the School of Ministry is planned for fall of 2020.