Monday, March 09, 2015

22. Don't underestimate the power of a symbol.

Year Five: The Year of Accreditation (2013-14)
1. We moved into our own seminary building in May of 2013.

For the first four years of our existence, we had our offices in the old Noggle Christian Ministries building, and we had our classes in Noggle. But many of us thought it was important for Wesley Seminary to have an address, even though we are primarily an online seminary.

I agree with ATS that the face-to-face launch of our classes creates a connection that would take a lot more time and effort to create if there were no "embodied" components to the curriculum at all. The same goes for the MA launches. There is something about being on campus for two days that creates a connection and a cohesion that just would take more time and effort if the degree programs were entirely online. It could be done, but it would take a lot more work.

Similarly, the existence of this building grounds the Seminary's existence in a time and place. It's important. There is a Protestant shallowness sometimes that goes purely cognitive, as if some Gnostic disembodied thinking was all that really counts.

But most humans aren't like that. They find themselves in identity-forming stories, symbols, and rituals. If you walk into 12Stone®, you'll see sculptures of Gideon that echo a story that helped form the church's identity.

Wayne and others put a great deal of thought into the symbolism of the Seminary building. It points outward, with a large glass looking out at the world, because "the world is our parish." It has both the red brick style in the middle that says, "We belong to IWU" and the more international, variegated style on the sides.

On the side of the building facing the campus, there are twelve pillars, each with a different part of the Apostle's Creed on it. Henry Smith liked to think of the oval section on the campus side in terms of Wesley's field preaching. Karen Clark, as in so many cases, made a lot of nuts and bolts decisions that have helped to make the building what it is.

When the planning first started, there were a number of houses where the building now stands. Other places were considered. For example, President Smith wondered if it would be nice long term for the Seminary to be next to Noggle. On the other hand, that would have killed some nice green space and where would students have parked?

Bob Whitesel thought it might be nice for the building to be on the back side of campus, where people would see it coming in from I-69. On the other hand, some thought the south side of campus might eventually become a kind of Graduate School Park, with the Seminary as a kind of kick-off. There had been a ceremony to lay the cornerstone on April 12, 2012, and we were in the building by May of the next year.

2. I might add, since I have not found a place to mention it thus far, that the Seminary has a weekly blog. I started it on this site the very first month of our existence in July 2009. My first posts were predictably theological. With each new person they got more practical, and we switched to the current site in January 2012. There was talk of an online journal. For a while we populated a resource page with the stipulation that all the materials be practical.

I also think it is significant that we have a Facebook group, Wesley Seminary Cafe. In the early days, when it felt like we were having some communication problems, this site allowed me to get out information quickly in emergency situations. It was/is also a convenient place to post job openings and other announcements.

When they come in, Kami Mauldin encourages new cohorts to form their own Facebook groups to keep each other informed and motivated. (And I encourage them to add someone from the Seminary so they stay positive when they're about 2/3 through.)

3. I've mentioned the beginning of a Benjamin MA in August 2013. That August we also started an MDIV cohort in Bogota, Colombia. Joanne Solis-Walker flew down and launched the cohort. A church helped underwrite at least some of their tuition. They took a break for a year and then started back up in January of this year (2015).

Meanwhile, we started two new MDIV cohorts in Bogota January 2015, one Wesleyan and one non-Wesleyan. Joanne did the orientation online in December so they could go ahead and start online this Spring. Then she will go down with Hugo Magallanes in June for the face-to-face launch.

4. In my next post, I will talk about the process that resulted in our ATS accreditation in our fourth year. But we had been dreaming of a next step long before that process was complete. We both had the people, the drive, and the mission to think it would eventually be appropriate to launch a DMIN program. Even as I write, we are in process on this goal.

But there were steps to take before we would even start that process. We determined that we would not begin to plan specifically about a DMIN until after ATS granted us accreditation. (remembering that we had been accredited through the Higher Learning Commission since before we began)

We also knew that there would be lots of our former MA in Ministry alumni who would be interested in a DMIN from us. As I recall, the ATS materials at that time read that a student needed to have been in ministry for two years after the first postgraduate theological degree in order to be eligible to apply for a DMIN. This was one of those situations where ATS meant something without saying it. "First theological degree" meant an MDIV or its equivalence to them, at least 72 hours of relevant graduate work.

Our MA in Ministry is a 36 hour degree. Thus was born the idea for what we eventually called a "Master's of Practical Theology" or an MPTh. It would be another 36 hour master's whose very existence was to form a bridge from a 36 hour MA to MDIV equivalence so someone could apply for a DMIN program, ours in particular.

Yet again, we formed a task force. As I recall, Lenny Luchetti had the winning idea. We would use our existing MDIV courses. The MPTh would basically be half an MDIV. Pick 3 of the 6 praxis courses, do the four foundational courses, do the Pastor, Church, and World course with other MDIV students and then take a capstone that meets with the MDIV capstone.

It was ingenious. A whole degree built out of existing parts. Kudos to Lenny! Our first MPTh students started trickling in January 2014.

Previously on Seminary take-aways:

1. There are key moments of opportunity.
2. You need the right people.
3. Good leaders collaborate and navigate.

Year 1: Launch Year
4. Innovation requires some trial and error. (1)
5. Innovation requires some trial and error. (2)
6. Innovation requires some trial and error. (3)
7. New leaders bring new strengths. (1)

Year 2: Growing Pains
8. Administration never ends.
9. New leaders bring new strengths. (2)
10. New leaders bring new strengths. (3)

Year 3: The Year of Maturity
11. Complexity works against sustainability.
12. There are advantages to being embedded in a broader university. (1)
13. There are advantages to being embedded in a broader university. (2)
14. Our guinea pigs survived.

Year 4: The Year of the Faculty
15. Faculty share governance with administration. (1)
16. Faculty share governance with administration. (2)
17. Faculty share governance with administration. (3)
18. Faculty share governance with administration. (4)
19. Growth means addition. (1)
20. Growth means addition. (2)
21. Growth means addition. (3)

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