Thursday, May 27, 2021

The Seminary Paradox: All (or most) are near public transit, but cars still dominate clergy/congregational life

A couple weeks ago I got on my bike and pedaled over to St. Paul to visit with Rev. Dr. Molly T. Marshall, the Interim President of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.  I wanted to welcome her to the Twin Cities and to catch up.  It was a delightful visit, and if you've ever been her presence then you know I learned many things, was gifted by her wisdom, and smiled a lot.  

This was my first visit to UTS since it moved from New Brighton to St. Paul.  The campus is located at an old Case Tractor Factory, it is a lovely new building and facility.  

I taught one class at UTS when it was located in New Brighton, the first half of the bike commute was nice, the last half - not so much.  I smiled when the former president pulled into his parking spot in a Mercedes SUV while I locked my bike up one morning (symbols matter).  The bike commute to the new St. Paul campus from south Minneapolis is a lovely ride all the way.  

Part of the reason for the move from New Brighton to St. Paul was accessibility and proximity to the urban core and public transit.  In this picture you can see that the new seminary is located 11 minutes from a light rail station, serviced by the #67 bus line, and is on a road with a bike lane (however, according to my eyes, I could not locate any bike parking on the new campus).  

Every seminary that I have attended (BTSR, no longer open, and CRCDS) took a class at (Wake Forest Divinity School, ANTS, Episcopal Divinity School, Yale Divinity School, McAfee School of Theology, or even visited (Palmer Seminary, Harvard Divinity School) sans Bethel Seminary is accessible by public transit.  But if you were like me then you attended seminary with a car and never even thought about taking public transit or riding a bike for transit.  

I do recall Jon Singletary while at BTSR one time taking out a Richmond bus schedule to figure out his travel for the day.  And during my senior year at CRCDS I did try to ride my bike to my field education site and to class.  Interestingly, there was no bike parking at the church I worked at or the divinity School.  

The given assumption or working hypothesis was/is: a car is essential for theological study and pastoral work.  

I realize seminaries are in difficult times and circumstances.  And I know they are only reflecting the dominance of car-culture that is represented in local congregational life.  And I know most seminaries do not function with a residential model (students living in the community or on campus).  And I know most students at seminaries are older, working other jobs...  And on and on.  But I still wonder about symbols: could seminary faculty and staff be encouraged to walk, bike, or take public transit?  Could seminaries have transit kiosks located on campus with maps and schedules?  Could bike share stations be on campus?  Could seminaries have Earth Day(Earth Month) celebrations where the community is encouraged to walk, bike, or take public transit for classes or to their home churches?  

Something to break the cycle and imagine anew church life that is not car-centric.  Because if something doesn't change at the seminary or denominational or local church level this (picture below) will continue to be the result: No parking in the bike lane, unless it's on a Sunday morning while people are worshipping (for the record this church does have handicap parking, off street parking, and plenty of available on street parking).  

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