Pondering the new House of Studies

So, an interesting bit of news: that a Unitarian Universalist House of Studies is opening at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio “early in 2016.” This was announced yesterday.

No, at first I thought this an audacious move. There are two Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)-related houses of study, respectively affiliated at Vanderbilt and the University of Chicago. These have buildings, including student housing, a developed program and formal denominational recognition. Likewise, the “General Convention” Swedenborgians transformed its freestanding seminary, taking from a small Cambridge, Massachusetts institution and embedded itself into Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. These are seminaries in miniature, and the UU program at MTSO isn’t that. And that’s worth noting in case it’s written off as a pale imitation.

But Duke Divinity School has two “houses of study” (for Baptists and Episcopalians/Anglicans respectively) that’s more of a student nexus with an academic track. Something more programmatic than institutional, and that may be the model Dean Lisa Withrow and Susan Ritchie, the house of studies director, who the announcement describes as the minister of her church and “immediate past trustee and secretary on the national board of the Unitarian Universalist Association.” Nothing about her role at the Starr King School for the Ministry, which is itself strange and noticeable. But as a program with in a school, rather than alongside a school is quite reasonable.

In this light, perhaps this house of studies will be seen as a rival of Starr King, or even the much closer Meadville Lombard. But aren’t all schools that aren’t one of these — I didn’t go to either for what it’s worth — and the house of studies still functionally in the experimental phase. I am concerned that MTSO is one of the smaller contributors to the Unitarian Universalist ministerial college. If I were to develop one strategically, perhaps Boston University or Wesley here in D.C., where there are a significant number of congregations for field education. (There are only five UU congregations within 50 miles of MTSO, and only one has more than a 150 members. Field education needs field supervision.)

Which brings me to my point: this looks less like an alternative to Starr King or Meadville Lombard than an alternative to the fading option of Andover Newton. And its role in forming Unitarian Universalist ministers will be hard to replace, so good luck to the UU house of studies. It’ll be interesting to see how it develops.

2 Replies to “Pondering the new House of Studies”

  1. Thank you for finding this. I would never have known. In Spring, 2016, Rev. Susan Ritchie will teach two courses at the UU House of Studies at the Methodist Theological School. I had heard her name before: she resigned her professorship at Starr King in August, 2014. She received her M.Div. degree from Methodist Theological and she is pastor of a congregation near Methodist Theological. It will be interesting to see whether she can pass the baton of control of what she has created to someone else. They say that turning control over to someone else is a sign of maturity in political parties, which arise around one person but which fail sometimes when that person retires or dies.

  2. Eden Seminary has a Disciples House of Studies. Earlham thought about starting a UU House because for a number of years, UUs were the second largest group. And they did establish an official Swedenborgian House.

    As I can tell from schools that have them, it’s doubtful that it will be any kind of rival for Meadville (especially since Meadville has gone mostly non-residential). It might be a bigger rival to Earlham, because of the proximity, but even that is a long shot.

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