Tending the Vine: Connectional Outreach

The landscape of theological education is undergoing rapid change.  Technology is making an ever wider range of programmatic options available to students.  The number of part-time students and second career students is much higher than in previous generations.  The consumer mentality that drives product selection in virtually every area of commerce creates similar expectations among students as well.  If ESR is to compete in this market, it must have attractive, cutting edge options that appeal to today's students.

Similarly, denominational loyalty within Christendom is at an all time low, being more important to previous generations than to current ones.  This elevates the influence of factors such as geographic location, program appeal, and convenience, over denominational affiliation in seminary choices.  If ESR is to remain connected with Friends, they must engage them in multiple ways.  This requires cultivation of relationships, demonstrating genuine interest in the future of Friends.  And, if ESR is to compete for prospective students from groups other than Friends, the school must provide quality education in appealing formats.  This section of the Case proposes three ways of tending the vine via connectional outreach.

A. ESR Access

ESR was founded to prepare Friends for ministry–but many find moving to Richmond, Indiana a challenge.  Time and time again, prospective students share their yearning to enroll, but face the frustrating realization that their situation will not permit them to relocate to Richmond.  Perhaps family obligations prevent the move.  Or perhaps the person is already engaged in ministry, and while called to education do not feel released from their ministry setting.  The reasons are many!  In response to this dilemma, ESR created ESR Access.

ESR Access redraws the boundaries of community!  No longer must students rip themselves from their current support community or ministry context in order to relocate elsewhere for the sake of preparing for ministry.  This program builds on the best of Quaker structure in that it connects ESR's powerful educational model with persons at the grassroots level of monthly meetings, churches, and other ministry contexts.  It shortens the distance and time between educational process and integration of ministry gifts into practical contexts.  ESR Access has the potential to inject spiritual vitality into ministries practiced by and among Friends.  This quote from a current student illustrates the immediate impact of this program:

"Almost as soon as I started taking courses, I began getting feedback from people in my meeting that the messages I bring are more challenging, spiritually and intellectually."

This venture is a radical redesign of how ESR relates to the Religious Society of Friends.  ESR funded the trial years of this project, investing significant resources into the development and implementation of the program.  New funding is needed to continue the program.  These funds will underwrite institutional technology costs and create some scholarships for ESR Access students.

Philanthropic Goal: $40,000 annual support – $1 million endowment

B. Traveling Ministries (faculty speakers bureau)

ESR's new generation of faculty possesses an eagerness to travel among Friends and other groups to offer their ministry of teaching.  In the past, ESR has offered, upon invitation, workshops on a range of topics including: eldering, retreats focusing upon spiritual formation, and seminars on leadership and religious education.  Given the absolute importance of enhancing faculty connections in the wider Quaker community, ESR initiated a faculty speakers bureau in early 2005, named "Traveling Ministries".

The Traveling Ministries program's activities provide double value: they edify the groups served while, at the same time, raising the visibility of ESR as a resource to Friends.  In addition, these activities keep seminary leaders grounded in the reality of the groups we seek to serve, which ultimately aids the School's efforts to craft a curriculum that provides leaders, both for Friends and for the wider world.  This ministry outreach also enhances student recruitment and fundraising opportunities.

Given the central importance of the activities of Traveling Ministries to the implementation of ESR's strategic plans, this program has been developed and implemented before securing outside funding.  In order to sustain the program over the long term, however, ESR will need to raise dedicated funding for the program from outside sources.  These funds will cover the travel and publicity expenses for faculty outreach among Friends and other groups.  They will contribute directly to delivering spiritual and educational nurture to Friends at the monthly meeting level.

Philanthropic Goal: $10,000 annual support – $250,000 endowment

C. Conferences

Conferences and lecture series provide academic stimulation to the campus, and provide opportunities for ESR to invite select friends of the school and the general public to campus.  They also provide added value to prospective student visits.  And, crossing the barrier between seminary and community is important for building strong relationships.

The Writing Colloquium is funded by its own endowment.  The Pastors Conference and Spirituality Gathering are two additional conferences that have become regular parts of our school year.  Occasional conferences are also of value, as evidenced by the Quaker Values and Business Ethics conference that brought together several Quaker businesspersons to consider what Friends could contribute to business in today's world.  Each of these is proving to be a significant event internally and externally, and worth continuing.

These conferences have been funded by special gifts and repositioning funds to date.  Registration fees generate partial income.  To continue at the current level, additional funding is needed.  Future funding will be used to cover conference expenses, including speaker honoraria and scholarships to participants.

Philanthropic Goal: $10,000 annual support – $250,000 endowment