Episcopal Divinity School

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Episcopal Divinity School
Eds logo.jpg
Former names
Episcopal Theological Seminary, Philadelphia Divinity School
Type Private seminary
Established 1974
Affiliation Episcopal Church
Endowment $53 million
President William C Nelsen (interim)
Students 48
Location Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
Campus Urban, 8 acres
Website eds.edu

The Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) is a seminary of the Episcopal Church based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States. The school is in a period of transition, having decided to cease granting degrees from its Cambridge campus after May 2017, with its final graduating class. The Board of Trustees announced on February 24, 2017 that they had "voted to pursue an affiliation with Union Theological Seminary that would create an EDS entity to provide Episcopal theological education and other programs at Union’s campus in New York".[1]

The Episcopal Divinity School has offered Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Theological Studies, and Doctor of Ministry degrees, as well as a Certificate in Anglican Studies. It has a longtime relationship with Harvard Divinity School that includes cross-registration. The Episcopal Divinity School is a member of the Boston Theological Institute, a consortium of nine Boston-area seminaries and divinity schools that share library and academic resources and allow cross-registration for courses. Since 2010, EDS has shared part of its campus, offered cross-registration, and pooled resources with Lesley University.

Established to train people for ordination in the Episcopal Church, the seminary also trains students from other denominations; since 2011, members of the Metropolitan Community Church can train for ordination in their church, receiving specific instruction on their church's polity.

Known throughout the Anglican Communion for progressive teaching and action on issues of civil rights and social justice, its faculty and students have been directly involved in many of the social controversies surrounding the Episcopal Church in the latter half of the 20th century and at the start of the 21st.


Episcopal Divinity School, 19th century

The Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) was founded in 1974 by combining the Episcopal Theological School (ETS) and the Philadelphia Divinity School (PDS). Both institutions were facing bankruptcy at the time and by basing the new school on ETS' campus and otherwise combining resources the new institution was able to ensure a modicum of financial stability.

The Philadelphia Divinity School was founded in Philadelphia in 1857 as the Divinity School of the Protestant Episcopal Church by Alonzo Potter, Bishop of Pennsylvania.[2]

The Episcopal Theological School was founded in Cambridge in 1867 by Boston businessman Benjamin Tyler Reed. ETS had from its inception a close relationship with adjacent Harvard University, which was Unitarian at the time. ETS also had a close relationship with PDS. Its first dean was John Seely Stone, who had previously taught at PDS.


PDS and ETS had both attempted to insulate themselves from affiliations with partisan factions within the church. Where other seminaries that existed or would come to exist within the Episcopal Church often affiliated themselves with either the high church or low church movements, PDS and ETS focused on broad social and academic matters rather than issues of churchmanship as such. This may affiliate them with broad church movements, although neither institution explicitly identified themselves as such. EDS has continued in that tradition.

Social issues[edit]

St. John's Chapel at EDS

PDS, ETS and EDS have all been known for their focus on pastoral action around progressive social issues.

African-American education[edit]

From its inception, PDS admitted and trained African-American students, which was not done anywhere else in the world. The Episcopal Church itself, originally as the Church of England under the Bishop of London in British colonies in North America, had early seen several attempts from within at including African-American and indigenous American peoples in the full life of the church; the first person to be baptized in the Church of England in North America was a Native American person. Social values, particularly with the rise of racial slavery in North America, meant that there were considerable obstacles to such practices, and debates over whether it was right to baptize African-American slaves were controversial. Clergy who baptized slaves were often expelled from their parishes by the wealthy vestries which held their contracts. The church was largely controlled by affluent whites and despite rare actions by clergy, African-American slaves and ex-slaves were largely excluded from participation in the life of the church.

In 1968, ETS hired its first African-American professor, the Rev. Robert Avon Bennett.

Education and ordination of women[edit]

In the 1880s, PDS begin training women as deaconnesses. In 1929 women were first admitted at PDS in small numbers to theological education programs designed for those preparing to teach religion in colleges.

ETS became the first Episcopal seminary to hire a woman, in 1941, to its full-time faculty.

In 1974, after the formation of EDS, 11 women known as the Philadelphia Eleven were "irregularly" ordained to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church. Several EDS faculty members took part in the ordination and two of the new priests, Carter Heyward and Suzanne Hiatt, were employed as EDS faculty. The affiliation of EDS with this ordination would cause many bishops to refuse to send their postulants for ordination to EDS to receive a theological education. EDS retained a reputation for controversy stemming from this incident even after the Episcopal Church as a whole voted to ordain women to the priesthood in 1976. EDS quickly became the first Episcopal seminary to have women teaching in all fields of study.

Civil rights[edit]

In 1956, Bishop Henry Knox Sherrill, who graduated from ETS in 1914, spoke out at a press conference on September 18, 1956 in favor of racial integration for the whole church. He said, “integration in the whole church is inevitable; it is fundamental to the heart of the Gospel.”[3]

In 1964, members of the ETS community marched in Boston to protest the racially motivated Birmingham church bombings. In the following year, ETS students and faculty traveled to Alabama to take part in the Selma to Montgomery marches. Several students sought to return to Alabama after the Selma marches to continue to work for racial integration in that state. Jonathan Myrick Daniels, one of those students, was shot and killed outside a store in Hayneville, Alabama, while trying to protect a young African-American woman, Ruby Sales, from a gunman. Sales would go on to attend ETS herself and work for civil rights, founding an inner-city mission dedicated to Daniels who is remembered as a martyr of the Episcopal Church and is remembered regularly at EDS.

LGBT rights[edit]

Lawrence and Reed Halls on EDS's Flemish style quadrangle

In the 1960s, ETS students who were suspected of being homosexual were dismissed, but as church and social opinion began to slowly turn in favor of tolerance of homosexuals, EDS would become a leading center of studies on LGBT issues within the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion. In 1974, ethics professor William Hayden McCallum came out as a gay man to the school community. Associate professor and priest Carter Heyward came out as a lesbian to the church in a nationwide publication in 1979. By the 1980s, EDS permitted same-sex couples to live in campus housing as it did heterosexual couples previously. In 1995, when St. John's Memorial Chapel was opened to marriage services by Dean William Rankin, both heterosexual marriages and same-sex unions were permitted, contrary to the trend in the Episcopal Church at the time. In 1999, the school's then dean, Steven Charleston, was the author of the Cambridge Accord, an attempt to reach consensus over the human rights of homosexual people, notwithstanding differences within the Anglican Communion over the moral status of homosexual acts. In 2009, the Very Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale became the Dean of EDS, the first openly lesbian person to be dean of an Episcopal seminary.

Clarifying the future[edit]

On July 21, 2016 the EDS Board of Trustees decided by an 11 to 4 vote that the school would cease granting degrees after the end of the 2016-2017 academic year. [4] After several months of evaluating options for ways in which it may continue to support the school's mission of theological education, the Board of Trustees announced that they would pursue affiliation with Union Theological Seminary in New York City. In the Board of Trustees' announcement of their February 24th action, they noted ''Union already has a strong Episcopal presence. Four of its 22 faculty members are Episcopal priests and five members of its board of trustees are Episcopalians, including the board chair, Wolcott Dunham, senior warden of St. James’ Episcopal Church in New York City and former trustee of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, ..."I look forward to the amazing possibilities of bringing an affiliation between Union and EDS into reality,” said Union Board Chair Dunham. “Our work together will surely expand the ways we serve the world and the church.”[5] The schools' boards are expected to take final action in May 2017 on the proposed affiliation by EDS with Union and its move to New York City.

Notable people[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • A History of Episcopal Divinity School: In celebration of its 25th anniversary by Matthew Peter Cadwell, published by The Trustees of the Episcopal Divinity School, 2000
  • Installation Address by Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, Dean and President of Episcopal Divinity School, October 23, 2009
  • A Brief History of the Episcopal Church by David L. Holmes

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°22′39.25″N 71°07′31.45″W / 42.3775694°N 71.1254028°W / 42.3775694; -71.1254028