Brite to offer Episcopal Studies program

Editor’s note: This story and its headline were revised for accuracy at 7:39 p.m. Monday.

The Brite Divinity School will launch a program this fall will allow students of the Episcopal Church to prepare for ministry, the president of Brite said.

Newell Williams, president of Brite Divinity School, said the program will be beneficial for people in the area who want to prepare for ministry in the Episcopal Church, but for whatever reason cannot go to seminary in Austin or out of state.

“It’s something that we have wanted for a long time and local Episcopal leaders asked if this might be the right time for a program like this and we said, ‘yes,'” Williams said.

The Diocese of Fort Worth split from the Episcopal Church late last year, becoming the fourth diocese to do so, according to news reports.

The Rev. Frederick Schmidt, director of spiritual formation and Anglican studies at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, said the controversy in the Episcopal Church about the split revolved around issues of the ordination of women, an openly gay bishop and interpretation of scripture.

“The issue of the ordination of women and the ordination of gay clergy is not at all necessarily the same question, but people on both sides of the issue for different reasons have tended to associate the two,” Schmidt said.

He said there is now a new Diocese of Fort Worth that has taken a stand against the ordination of women, even though the ordination of women was approved by the national Episcopal Church. He said that since the late 1970s, the Diocese of Fort Worth had lived in some tension with the larger Episcopal Church.

The effect of the split on the program is unclear because the Rev. Fred Barber, acting director of the Episcopal Studies Program at Brite, could not be reached for comment in time for publication because of scheduling conflicts.

Williams said Barber, a priest at Trinity Episcopal Church, has been involved in Brite Divinity School’s field education for students for years.

In the Episcopal Church, everything that concerns educational decisions is up to the judgment of the bishop, so officials at Brite talked with the Rt. Rev. Edwin Gulick Jr., provisional bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, to ask for his opinion, Williams said.

It made sense to hire Barber as acting director of the program because he was already part of the faculty with the approval from Gulick, Williams said.

The reason the title is “acting” director of the program is because Gulick is a provisional bishop and there will be a new bishop in a year or two who might want someone else to direct the program, though Gulick will likely remain, Williams said.

Dean of Brite Nancy Ramsay, Barber and Gulick will probably work over the summer to develop courses and identify who will teach them, Williams said.

Barber has been a theological discussion group leader for students at Brite and meets regularly with students on campus who serve in the church and discuss their experiences in ministry, Williams said.

Cathy Neece, vice president of development at Brite, said the next step after launching this program is the formation of an advisory board. She said plans are in place to begin the development of the board and there may be an announcement within the next six months to start looking for potential members of the board.