I worked previously at a Cokesbury Bookstore located on the campus of Central Baptist Theological Seminary.
A smaller store than most Cokesbury-owned stores, we had a lot of customers who sought out the specialist books carried in a more “academic” type religious bookshop.
We handled all the seminary course texts and then had the overhead of a larger parent company to be there year-round and also carry titles where the specialist interest (academic religious) could be well stocked.
While not every book sold over and over again, it helped seminarians, pastors and interested lay readers find treasures to delight and inform them.
Cokesbury shut down all of their “brick and mortar” stores three years ago. By then, I was off in the ministry field.
Yet I still felt sorrow when the United Methodist Publishing House (also known as Cokesbury and Abingdon Press/Upper Room Books) decided for its long-term future to conclude its retail operation.
It now focuses on e-commerce and their phone call center as points of connection with customers.
An era came to an end, yet the ministry of UMPH continues.
Dealing with congregations in various stages of life, I have empathy for church leaders when they begin the pathway toward closure, or better yet, the holy work of ensuring a church’s legacy.
In the past three years of regional ministry work, I have assisted churches with the necessities that come with dissolution.
Yet I’ve also spent time talking about how the decision feels and how to process what it means to be faced with the decision, let alone deciding to start down the path.
Congregations, especially in my Baptist/Free Church tradition, have a great level of focus on ministry in the local church.
Once a local church’s life span comes to an end, it can be hard to remember that the local congregation may conclude its ministry, yet the universal church goes onward.
While you have to work carefully through the legal needs of dissolving a church and other due diligences related to asset distribution, it can be helpful for congregants and the pastor to reflect on the process of saying good-bye to a particular history, identity and sense of belonging.
In turn, it is helpful to encourage church members to remember that the ministry of the universal church continues.
Each person can go forward after the closure and become a seed to strengthen the ministry of another congregation by their joining and participation elsewhere.
A congregation’s era comes to an end, yet the ministry of the church continues.
Likewise, as news came in recently of the decision of Andover Newton Theological Seminary (ANTS) and Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School (CRCDS) to sell their properties and relocate seminary operations elsewhere, I thought this was quite appropriate.
While a hard decision to let go of familiar surroundings, these two seminaries plus nearly every other ABC-USA-related seminary (including my alma mater Central Baptist Theological Seminary) has decided to prioritize their educational mission over aging and outmoded buildings.
ANTS will become part of the Yale Divinity School campus. CRCDS will be relocating elsewhere in the metro Rochester, New York, area.
Reading about the most recent round of ABC-USA-related seminaries beginning a significant “game changer” type transition, I commend Marvin McMickle’s letter to the CRCDS community and related stakeholders about the decision.
“More and more of our students are using fewer and fewer of the campus resources we provide – and pay for. The number of students who commute to campus continues to rise and these students have no need for our dorms, do not eat meals in the refectory, do not require a physical library, do not need a campus bookstore and do not have the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful campus grounds, given the significant demands on their time,” he observes.
“When taken together, these factors lead to an unavoidable conclusion: Our campus was built for a time and style of theological education that no longer exists. Remaining here will not meet our needs going forward and will not help us further the mission.”
About a decade ago, CBTS not only relocated to another part of the Kansas City metro area but has also been able to expand its multisite course offerings elsewhere, increasing its educational offerings while freeing itself of an older campus with escalating maintenance issues.
CBTS is beginning some new expansion efforts: some to their physical campus and as a seminary now accredited to offer a full master’s of divinity online.
A seminary campus’ era comes to an end, yet the theological education efforts continue.
Faced with these challenging trends, leaders would do well to help their constituents recognize that Christian ministry continues even when specific churches, seminaries or other ministry initiatives come to an end.
Jerrod H. Hugenot is the associate executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of New York State. His writings can also be found on his blog, Preaching and Pondering, where a version of this article first appeared. It is used with permission.