Dear Alumni/ae and Friends of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School (CRCDS),
The world around us is changing and it is now time for CRCDS to consider in a new way how to best carry out its mission in the rapidly changing landscape of the church and the world in the 21st Century.
The Pew Research Center has presented the Christian community with some data that must inform every move we make going forward. For the last decade, the number of persons that self-declare as Christian has gone down by 1% each year. That has implications not only for church attendance and membership, but also for persons that are seeking careers in ministry, for churches that want to hire full-time clergy, for donors who choose to support the church and the seminary, for alumni/ae who care deeply about our mission and for our current and future students who struggle to afford the ever-rising cost of higher education. CRCDS must re-envision how to live out its vitally important mission in this new day. I am pleased to report to you we are already well on our way.
The first thing that struck me when I arrived as president of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in 2011 was the richness and the complexity of the school’s legacy. I knew, of course, about the school’s excellent reputation for putting forth progressive leaders, some of whom were my own mentors. What I had not fully realized, however, were the numerous past iterations of what we have come to know as “CRCDS” and the multitude of locations where its mission has been carried out. It soon occurred to me that CRCDS really has been much more like the tabernacle of ancient Israel, moving with God from place to place, rather than a Temple complex where the school’s identity and physical location are inseparable from its mission and purpose.
CRCDS has experienced a multitude of changes throughout its almost 200 years with each change driven by one central concern: what is the best way to serve God and to live out the school’s mission in this day and at this time? From its early beginnings in Hamilton, NY, to its subsequent mergers with Rochester Theological, the Baptist Missionary Training School and Crozer Theological, to its numerous partnerships- Bexley Hall, St. Bernard’s, Ithaca College, the American Cancer Society and the Veterans Outreach Center – CRCDS has maintained its focus on the core mission of preparing students who are pastoral, prophetic and learned. Keeping its heart grounded on mission and its eyes focused on the here and the now, CRCDS has remained relevant and effective in meeting the needs of the church and the world as they unfold in each age.
CRCDS is once again tackling the challenges of our time head-on as evidenced by the school’s strategic plan. This new plan calls for significant investment in our traditional graduate degree programs, with an emphasis on recruitment, in order to make sure we are getting the most – and the best – students we can. It also calls for an investment in new programming with alternative models and structures, including investment in online initiatives and the development of new learning communities that will engage broader audiences in unique and enriching ways. Finally, the plan calls us to a heightened sense of stewardship focused on building a strong foundation for future growth and success based not only philanthropic initiatives, but also a continued focus on effective stewardship of all the school’s assets.
This last emphasis led me and the school’s Trustees to once again engage in a vitally important conversation about the best physical environment and location for the school going forward. This is by no means a new conversation – the school has wrestled with questions about the suitability and sustainability of its current South Goodman Street campus for the better part of 20 years. What is new, however, is that our present discussions are driven primarily by our concerns over the ability of the current setting to meet the changing needs of our students. Coupled with our awareness of the ever-increasing costs of maintaining the current campus and the overwhelming costs of deferred maintenance, it is clear to all of us that we need to seriously re-think how CRCDS will meet the needs of all those we serve going forward.
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. 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.
Over the years, we have received numerous offers to purchase the current campus, but none of these offers made sense, then or now. None of them provided us with the financial resources necessary to establish ourselves in a new location where we could provide a 21st century model of theological education and thus, none of them served the interests of our students or the mission. That, however, has now changed.
I am pleased to share with you the news that we have received an offer that will, in fact, provide us with the resources necessary to establish CRCDS in a new location that will meet our needs and the needs of our strategic plan going forward.The offer provides us a generous time frame for identifying a suitable site for our next campus as well as the assurance that the beauty of the current facility will remain intact for people to enjoy after we leave. The Trustees have accepted my recommendation to accept this offer and our intention is to establish a new campus location in the greater Rochester area by the 2018 academic year – the year of the school’s bi-centennial celebration. How appropriate that as we look back on the 200 years of mission and ministry that are behind us, we are poised to look ahead to the next 200 years of mission that lie before us!
Great care will be given to the discussion of exactly where the school will be located in the future and just what kind of facility will best meet the needs of its mission. Should we build a new campus? Can a renovated existing structure meet our needs? Should we commit to remaining within the city limits of Rochester or explore opportunities in the surrounding suburbs? What is the best physical space for delivering the type of education CRCDS has come to exemplify over the years and what are the opportunities for utilizing space to meet new needs in our community and beyond?
The answers to these questions and to questions still to be discovered are yet to be determined, and I promise you they will not be made behind closed doors. Alumni/ae, donors, current students and staff, present and former faculty, and other friends who hold dear our beloved CRCDS will be invited to weigh in on this discussion over the next 6 months and I look forward to sharing the details of this process as it unfolds in the very near future. We have dedicated the next edition of the Bulletin to exploring the questions facing CRCDS and theological education as a whole in this new era and I hope you will take the time to read it and to engage this moment in our history along with us. I also ask for your continued prayers during this process as we live into our strategic vision for a renewed and vibrant CRCDS. God has presented us with a great opportunity to lay the foundation for a new period in the history of our school and I am eager to begin our important work together.
The future of CRCDS is bright. The need for our school and its graduates is urgent. I invite you to come with us as we begin this new journey, this new chapter, and this next move in the life of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.
To share your thoughts, prayers or comments, please email: CRCDSPresident@crcds.edu
Your servant in Christ,
Rev. Marvin A. McMickle, Ph.D.