Charlotte, NC—Sharon Presbyterian Church, founded in 1831, is now the site of the new Charlotte campus of Union Presbyterian Seminary that hosted the fall meeting of the Committee on Theological Education (COTE). The setting was apropos for leaders in theological education and the church, especially within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
The leadership of young adults is seen around the COTE table. Kathy Wolf Reed—the chairperson of COTE and a pastor in Tuscaloosa, Alabama—is a young adult herself. Other young adult members of the committee include Nicholas Yoda, pastor head of staff of Pleasant Ridge Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati; Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri, ruling elder at First Spanish Presbyterian Church in Miami; and Alan Bancroft, Presbyterian campus minister at Vanderbilt and Belmont universities in Nashville.
Important PC(USA) educators joined COTE fall meeting for the first time. One of them was Nancy J. Ramsay, teaching elder, commissioner to the 220th General Assembly in Pittsburgh, and professor of pastoral theology and pastoral care at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth. Ramsay was recently elected to serve on the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, a successor to two boards that she served in the 1980s in the Presbyterian Church in the United States and the PC(USA). Ramsay has served the church in a multitude of other ways and is now serving as an elected member of COTE and liaison to the board. David Esterline, director of the Institute for Cross-Cultural Theological Education and associate professor of cross-cultural education and ministry at McCormick Theological Seminary, and Sharon L. Miller, interim co-director at Auburn Theological Seminary’s Center for the Study of Theological Education, presented separate recent studies on seminarians and global theological education, respectively.
Among other things, Miller commented on what gets people to seminary. “No one goes to seminary by accident,” she said. Her research shows that youth programming is crucial, along with other religious environments. Families of origin matter, and seminarians often are from religious homes. Mentoring has a profound effect. She described a college professor who mentors groups of students and encourages them to go to seminary. Miller cited a larger ethnographic study that quoted a seminarian being influenced by a college class: “I wanted to fall in love with the God my professor was in love with.”
“As we think more globally, our students will think about ministry in different ways and will understand the world differently because they will actually come in contact with people (from all over the globe)” Esterline said.
COTE is considering how the PC(USA) and its seminaries could benefit from more closely tracking research such as that done by Miller and Esterline on theological education in the U.S. and internationally.
COTE voted to recognize two people with its Award for Excellence in Theological Education in the 2013–2014 biennium and at the 221st General Assembly. Cynthia M. Campbell, pastor of Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville and president emerita of McCormick Theological Seminary, and Jack B. Rogers, professor emeritus of San Francisco Theological Seminary, were selected by unanimous committee action.
COTE seeks to identify, develop, and propose strategies for a systemic approach to theological education within the PC(USA), and this is precisely what it is achieving through these meetings. At the same time, there is a strong relationship between COTE’s work and the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s directional goal of developing transformational leaders. This is exactly why seminaries matter, because they develop that type of leader every day on their campuses. COTE continues to develop and strengthen the bonds between the PC(USA), the Presbyterian Mission Agency, seminaries, and churches all over the nation.