A Letter From the President
Meadville Lombard turned 166 years old in 2010, and we were showing our age. Our student enrollment was flat. Our finances were slumping. Our campus was deteriorating. And, most importantly, our approach to ministerial education had not changed substantially since we moved to Chicago in 1926. Ford was still making Model T’s in 1926- much has changed in the world since then. And, much has changed at Meadville Lombard since 2010.
Led by our visionary faculty and our wise Board of Trustees, we now occupy a place in theological education where we are lauded and emulated by our peers for providing an innovative education that is perfectly tuned to the needs of a 21st century ministry. Our offices, classroom and library are now seated in the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. The architecture is breathtaking and the building is a model of interfaith cooperation. Even with the largest Unitarian Universalist student body of any theological school, our enrollment is growing and our student body is becoming increasingly diverse. We have come so far, riding an unprecedented wave of growth. We are achieving our goal to shape the future of Unitarian Universalism and the larger world through the work we do. And we have no intention of stopping.
In the last year or so, through the initial stages of a special gifts campaign, we have raised 4.9 million dollars in pledges to the school and have already received two and a quarter million dollars in cash. Those generous gifts are helping us to expand our multi-faith and international programs, to develop innovative religious education and faith formation programs for congregations, to provide scholarships to a growing student body, and to digitize our treasured UU archive of documents that tell the story of Unitarian Universalism through history.
It’s all thrilling, and necessary, but don’t for a moment think that we have forgotten that the most important thing we do for Unitarian Universalism, and for the world, is to provide amazing ministers who are able to lead in these times. Let me share some of the elements that distinguish a Meadville Lombard education. Ours is a contextual learning program that emphasizes service learning, cohort reflection, and collaborative leadership. We give our students the tools and theological perspective necessary to lead across borders and through all types of changes. We teach them to minister to the new world, which is increasingly religiously pluralistic and racially and culturally diverse.
And how essential it is to be able to minister effectively in these times- the simmer of racial injustice exploded this year, didn’t it? As the Black Lives Matter movement emerged out of the fires of violence and racial hatred, it became obvious how Meadville Lombard’s approach is necessary to achieve all we hope for our country and for our churches. Slogans and Facebook postings alone are not going to temper hatred and indifference. Strategies are going to change the world, as long as they are planned and carried out by diverse communities of people, as long they add to the spiritual and religious growth of all involved, as long as they are anchored by meaningful worship and theologies that both acknowledge pain and raise hope.
This is what we do at Meadville Lombard. This is the ongoing, day to day work in which our faculty and students are engaged. We are constantly refining educational methods to get our students to that place. So that we can help our congregations get to that place. So we can help the world get to that place. We come together day after day to do this work: to build the bridges that will change the world.