Program Manager, Walker Leadership Institute

The Walker Leadership Institute, at Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, has an opening for a full time Program Manager. This position will work primarily Monday through Friday with occasional support of events and programs outside of regular working hours. This position reports to the Dean of the Seminary.

Full time positions are eligible for our generous employee benefits package including pension program, affordable health insurance and generous vacation time.

Job Summary

Working closely with the Dean of the Seminary, the Program Manager will implement and manage Walker Leadership Institute and Eden Seminary non-degree programs, classes and events. These include working with faculty and church, business and non-profit leaders in providing continuing education in theology, ministry and ethics. The Program Manager also will participate in developing, recruiting, marketing, and evaluating these programs and events.

Responsibilities include

  • Organize and support Eden’s Program Development committee.
  • Implement projects designed by Eden faculty and Walker leadership
  • Manage events, classes, lectures and speakers, attend to project requirements and timelines
  • Communicate Eden/Walker’s events via social media in conjunction with Eden’s processes
  • Engage in market research for Eden/Walker projects


  • Bachelor’s degree required, Master’s degree in business, theology, or related field preferred
  • A minimum of 5 years of experience in project management and program development in an education, non-profit or church setting
  • Commitment to the Progressive Christian Movement and enthusiasm for the vision and mission of Walker Leadership Institute
  • Good communication skills, use of social media
  • Proven record of accomplishment of goals and projects
  • Strategic and creative thinker and designer
  • Ability to support the racial, economic, gender and religious diversity in the larger Eden community
  • Strong collaborative and organizational skills

Please send inquiries and/or applications with cover letter and CV/resume to Dean Sharon Tan, [email protected]. No phone calls please.

About Us

Working at the intersection of faith and business, the Walker Leadership Institute at Eden Seminary equips business leaders with skills and experiences to guide their organizations in better serving the Common Good. The Institute partners with other academic, religious, and business groups to put together workshops, conferences and forums to identify, encourage, and activate community leadership. Our goal is to empower and connect communities.

Founded in 1850, Eden Theological Seminary has been educating women and men to become community leaders for almost 170 years, primarily through ordained Christian ministry. Eden offers a variety of professional and graduate degree programs including: Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Professional Studies, Master of Theological Studies, Master of Community Leadership and Doctor of Ministry, among others. As one of the six seminaries of the United Church of Christ, Eden is a welcoming, inclusive and ecumenically diverse community.

Eden Theological Seminary is an equal opportunity employer.

Learn more about the Walker Leadership Institute.

Eden Theological Seminary, a leader in the progressive Christian movement, is seeking a qualified candidate to fill the position of Associate Dean of Students.

The Associate Dean of Students will support the vocational development of students from the time of the application process to graduation. This person will aid student access to community, financial, denominational, spiritual and professional support structures. Although primarily administrative, the position may include teaching opportunities in the person’s area of competence and expertise.

The Associate Dean of Students will manage the student matriculation process, lead new student orientation, act as a liaison with student government and activities, and collaborate with faculty and seminary personnel to support student discipline and retention. The candidate should demonstrate strong leadership, management, and pastoral skills, and must be able to support the religious, theological, denominational, cultural, racial, and gender diversities in the Eden student body.

The Associate Dean of Students reports to the Dean of the Seminary.

Minimum qualifications:

  • Master’s degree in theology, ministry or related area (starting rank Assistant)
  • Intercultural competency and experience with effective implementation of antiracist, multicultural and/or cross cultural programming
  • Excellent communication, organizational planning, management and supervisory skills
  • Collaborative approach to relationships with students, faculty, staff, local community leaders, alumni and other constituencies of a seminary.
  • Strong assessment and pastoral skills that demonstrate intercultural care and compassion.

Preferred qualities:

  • Terminal degree in or related to theology, ministry, or education (Associate rank)
  • Ordination in the United Church of Christ or another of the denominations represented in the Eden student body (e.g. AME, United Methodist, DOC)
  • Able to contribute to the breadth and depth of Eden’s curriculum

For more information and to apply, send cover letter, resume and contact information for three references to Dean Sharon Tan at [email protected]

Eden Theological Seminary will award honorary degrees at its upcoming May 17th commencement to three outstanding leaders whose accomplishments in St. Louis and around the world embody the values which are fundamental to Eden.

“These dedicated leaders demonstrate unwavering commitment to the church. Their faithful service is changing lives both within their communities and around the world,” said David Greenhaw, president of Eden Theological Seminary.  “We are humbled by their accomplishments and proud to bestow these degrees upon them.”

The 2019 Eden Theological Seminary honorary degree recipients include:

Honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree – Reverend Musa Kipkorir Kapkong Maina of Eldoret, Kenya, Moderator of the Reformed Church of East Africa (RCEA).  Rev. Maina is a 2005 graduate of Eden Seminary, earning a Master’s in Theological Studies (MTS) degree. His education at Eden allowed him to engage the RCEA in progressive ideas that are inclusive of women as preachers and worship leaders.  He has also been a strong and bold leader in his church for the ordination of women. Last July he helped achieve this milestone transformation when, for the first time in RCEA’s history, women were ordained as ministers in the RCEA church.  His efforts, with support from Eden and others, also resulted in the first RCEA woman, Everlyne Biboko, to attend Eden and earn a MTS degree to prepare for ordination in the RCEA church. Rev. Maina attributes this progressive church advancement, in part, to the insight he gained of women in leadership roles in many U.S. churches while studying at Eden.

Honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree – Reverend Philister Tuwei Keter, of Nairobi, Kenya, the first woman ordained in the Reformed Church of East Africa (RCEA).  Her persistence and urging helped make this transformation of that church possible.  Born into a humble background, Rev. Keter has volunteered in her church since high school and then studied divinity at St. Paul’s University in Nairobi at a time when women had no hope for becoming ordained. Saying that gender equity is central to serving God, she is now a voice for the voiceless and vulnerable people in society.  Rev. Keter embodies the energy, passion and determination of all the newly-ordained RCEA women.

Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters – Mrs. Jean Dremstedt, a laywoman from Evansville, Indiana.  Jean is well-known, and many times honored, for her life-long support and commitment to charitable causes. She served Eden as a trustee for twelve years, chairing the Advancement Committee, and has been a strong financial supporter of Eden.  She is a member of Bethlehem United Church of Christ and has served with distinction on the board of the Deaconess Hospital of Evansville and the Retirement Housing Foundation of the United Church of Christ.  In 2005, she received the Samuel D. Press Service Award, named for the seventh president of Eden Theological Seminary, to recognize and honor outstanding service to Eden and its mission.

Honorary Degrees and Awards recognize ordained ministers whom Eden believes are models for ordained ministries connected with the traditions, ministries, ecumenical concerns, and values that have been central to Eden and to the United Church of Christ.  The Honorary Degrees and Awards also recognize laity who have lived out their baptismal ministry through their vocations, through their service to society or community, through their service to the church or through some particular witness that expresses commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Eden’s commencement will be held on May 17, 2019 at 7:30 p.m. at Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ, 826 Union Boulevard in St. Louis.  In addition to the honorary degree presentation, Rev. Dr. Ted A. Smith, Associate Professor of Preaching and Ethics at Candler School of Theology – Emory University, will deliver the ceremony’s commencement address.

Declining church attendance is forcing some religious leaders to make difficult decisions — namely, what to do with outsized or vacant places of worship.

Many U.S. churches were built decades ago during times of religious growth. In some communities, however, shrinking congregations no longer have the financial resources to maintain these large church properties. Eden Theological Seminary will host a two-day symposium this week focused on ways religious and community leaders can repurpose these buildings.

Many old churches have “substantial value,” said Robert Simons, professor of urban planning at Cleveland State University.

“For the most part, there’s a pretty short list of prohibited uses most faiths subscribe to,” said Simons, who will speak Wednesday at Eden Theological Seminary. “If you decommission the building and take out the sacred objects, it becomes a piece of real estate.”

Developers and private individuals are repurposing old church buildings for a variety of uses, including housing, retail and restaurants. Urban Krag climbing gym in Dayton, Ohio, shown here, is housed in what was once an abandoned church.
Credit Urban Krag

Developers and individual buyers have repurposed churches in Missouri and across the country for new uses, including cultural centers, housing and restaurants.

In St. Louis, a team of skateboarders and engineers converted St. Liborius — a 130-year-old Catholic church — into an indoor skate park.

Jubilee Church in Webster Groves sat vacant for more than 10 years before it became a bed and breakfast in 2016.

Similarly, the Grandel Theatre in Grand Center — now managed by the Kranzberg Arts Foundation as a performing space — was once a First Congregational Church.

Though the age of the church and its condition are important, Simons said, the real estate market is the main factor that affects whether it sells.

“You can have a great building in the wrong location and there’s not much you can do at all,” he explained, adding historic preservation tax credits may provide additional incentive for developers.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this Webster Groves church was home to seven different congregations since its original construction in the late 1890s. It sat vacant for more than ten years before it was converted into Tuxedo Park Bed and Breakfast.
Credit Tuxedo Park STL

‘It’s not about closing buildings’

Beyond the logistics, shuttering a church can be an emotional task for parishioners.

Memories “accrete over time” in places of worship, said David Greenhaw, president of Eden Theological Seminary, making it difficult for congregants to let them go.

“People have a loving relationship with these spaces,” Greenhaw said. “They were married there, their children were baptized there, they attended funerals in these spaces.”

But these aging buildings can place a financial burden on congregations, particularly as membership declines.

There’s a psychological aspect as well, said Greenhaw, because overly large churches can “expedite the decline of the congregation itself.”

Eden Theological Seminary is hosting a symposium exploring solutions to empty churches.

“You expect to see a whole lot of people when you enter, and instead it doesn’t have much energy or life,” he said. “It feels half empty, and that leads to it becoming more empty.”

The public symposium at Eden Theological Seminary will feature lectures and discussion groups on a variety of related topics, including how to relocate into a new worship space.

Downsizing to a new space may not be the answer for every church, said Greenhaw.

Instead, some may consider repurposing unused spaces for new community programs. Union Avenue Christian Church, for instance, now houses an opera company, office space for church outreach and an art gallery.

“It’s not about closing buildings; it’s about thinking strategically about how to use them wisely,” Greenhaw said. “How can they be repurposed in meaningful ways to contribute to the community?”

If you go:

Where: Eden Theological Seminary, Press Hall, 475 East Lockwood Ave., Webster Groves, Missouri 63119

When: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., April 23 and 24

Cost: Varies, online registration available here

Reprinted from St. Louis Public Radio

Follow Shahla on Twitter: @shahlafarzan

Eden Theological Seminary is participating in GIVE STL Day on May 1, 2019. On this day, charitable St. Louisans and others can grab their credit or debit cards, go online to, and donate $10 or more. Please type in Eden Theological Seminary in the search box to give to Eden on May 1. Your gift can help support Eden’s mission of educating women and men for ministry, enlivening critical reflection on faith and supporting bold Christian discipleship.

You can give now by prescheduling your gift. Click here to give now!

What is Giving Day?
Give STL Day is a 24-hour, online giving event organized by the St. Louis Community Foundation to grow philanthropy in the St. Louis metropolitan area.

The minimum donation is $10 and the maximum is $100,000. The goal is to inspire the community to come together for 24 hours to contribute as many charitable dollars as possible to support the work of local nonprofit organizations., COLUMBIA, Mo. – April 9, 2019 – NextGen Ministries announced its intention to plant a new place for new people in Springfield with a focus on the college-age population. Bishop Bob Farr has appointed Rev. Tracey Wolff (Eden M.Div. 2017) to this new post. A recent graduate of Missouri’s Planting Academy, Wolff’s affinity for Springfield, particularly Missouri State, makes her a great fit this ministry.

“Some time ago, NextGen Ministries team identified Springfield as an open mission field for college-age ministry,” said Rev. Ron Watts, NextGen Ministries team chairperson. “We have been patiently awaiting the right person and we are pleased that the Bishop and Cabinet has chosen Tracey for this appointment.”

Wolff’s work will be focused on the college campuses in Springfield, particularly Missouri State University, Drury University and Ozark Technical College. This is the first time the Missouri Conference has launched a conference-funded campus ministry in recent memory. In 2007, following the work of the Pathways task force, the Conference shifted how it funded Wesley Foundations at several state universities and charged local churches with connecting with campuses in their neighborhood.

“At the time, it was the right decision to defund Wesley Foundations as we looked toward a new way of connecting with next generations of Christians,” said Jeff Baker, Director of Next Generation Ministries. “In some places, we’ve seen local churches take seriously a call to connect and disciple young people, but the Conference has struggled in some areas to connect with campuses and college-age persons. With this place for new people, we’re trying something new.”

This won’t be a Wesley Foundation, however. The leadership team is approaching this ministry like many new places for new people – with a period of visioning and the assembling of a launch team. Those will be Wolff’s primary objectives in the first months of her appointment.

Campus life has been formative for Wolff’s career. She walked onto the Missouri State’s women’s basketball team in the mid-1980s as a sophomore before becoming a full scholarship student athlete by her senior year. Following graduation, she spent two years as a graduate coaching assistant for the Lady Bears before leaving for Milwaukee in 1991 to serve as Marquette University’s assistant women’s basketball coach, a post she held for 10 years. After Marquette, she worked as Director of Women’s Basketball with Athletes in Action, the sports ministry of Cru Ministries, formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ. Her experience working with students helped her realize a call to ministry to that age group that has persisted through the years.

“I want to create a space where college-age persons can ask the questions they want about what it is to be faithful,” said Wolff.

Ozarks District Superintendent Lynn Dyke couldn’t be happier to see the possibilities of connecting with Missouri State University, which has experienced 20 percent growth in enrollment over the past two decades. The Office of Next Generation Ministries will be working with the Ozarks District and Springfield-based local churches to identify the best location for the administrative functions of the ministry hub.

“There are 40,000-plus students at Springfield-based campuses,” said Dyke. “As a denomination, we are not reaching this critical mission field. Launching a new place for new college-age people in the Ozarks District will be important to raising up new missional leaders for the purpose of connecting Christ to the world.”


The Office of Next Generation Ministries is responsible for children and youth discipleship ministries, camping, campus-based ministries, Next Generation Ministries team, Crossroads college-age internships, youth ministry and youth leadership team.



Eden Theological Seminary is seeking a Vice President of Advancement, with an ideal starting date in the spring of 2019. The new vice president will have an opportunity to assist the Seminary in implementing a new strategic plan that seeks to establish Eden as an innovative leader within the ecumenical and progressive Christian movement in the United States and abroad.

Eden’s strategic plan flows from its mission and vision statements and sets a strategic direction for the school.

Mission Statement.  “Eden Theological Seminary is called to strengthen the life of the church by educating women and men for ministry, enlivening critical reflection on faith, and supporting bold Christian discipleship.”

Vision Statement. “Eden Theological Seminary will be recognized as an ecumenical educational center for the progressive Christian movement.”

Strategic Direction. “Eden Seminary will be a catalyst for building, encouraging and communicating hope for the now and future church by taking to scale select programs that lead to measurable transformation of local congregations, institutions and the wider communities they serve. The programs will include clergy education, scholarship for the church, and a robust set of expanded educational programs.”

As a progressive Christian seminary, Eden is deeply committed to the church-both as it is and as it should be—and seeks to use critical reflection to reinterpret its traditions in more just and fitting ways for changing times. It is committed to social justice and change and approaches other religions and cultures with an irenic spirit of openness. At the same time, it focuses on Christian theology and practice as central to its mission and heritage, utilizing an approach that is non-sectarian, critical, and intellectually honest. It strongly rejects the impulse to exclude on the basis of race, ethnicity, class gender, or sexual orientation.

Eden has 12 full-time faculty, including the president and dean of the seminary.  It enrolls a diverse student body of 150 plus. The Seminary offers the following degrees:

  • Master of Divinity (M.Div.) is the prerequisite degree in many Christian denominations for ordination. This professional degree integrates rigorous academic work with participation in and reflection upon the practice of ministry in their denomination.
  • Master of Theological Studies (M.T.S.) focuses on the biblical, historical and theological foundations of Christian faith. Students in this degree program focus on academic work and engage in faculty directed scholarly research.
  • Master of Arts in Professional Studies (M.A.P.S.) focuses on theological reflection for the practice of ministry. This is a degree for persons who choose to serve as lay, diaconal or recognized ministers in a specialized form of ministry.
  • Master of Community Leadership (M.C.L.) an intensive fourteen-month degree that focuses on leadership for not-for-profit organizations and integrates practical learning, business education and theological reflection.
  • Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) is an advanced degree for people with at least three years experience in ministry after receiving the M.Div. degree. This degree provides an opportunity for continued theological study and disciplined reflection on the practice of ministry.
  • Dual Degree Program (M.Div. or M.A.P.S./M.S.W.) is designed for students to earn both a Master of Divinity or Master of Arts in Professional Studies degree from Eden Theological Seminary and Master of Social Work degree from George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri.

Eden Theological Seminary is accredited by the Association of Theological Schools and the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. It is also approved by the University Senate of the United Methodist Church for the training of United Methodist students.

Eden’s annual budget is $4.5 million, and its total giving from all sources is about $2.5 million. Its annual fund is about $725,000 per year and is almost evenly divided between gifts from individuals and congregations.


The Vice President of Advancement reports directly to the President and is responsible for planning and managing all aspects of the Seminary’s fund-raising and constituent development. The Vice President of Advancement is specifically responsible for the following:

  • Serves on the president’s administrative team with the dean of the seminary and chief financial officer and provides staff support to the Board of Directors for fundraising and constituent development.
  • Supervises five direct-reports including donor relations, scholarship administration, communications, church relations, gift accounting, and support services.
  • Works with the president, director of communications, and board of trustees to develop the Seminary’s “brand” and coordinate the telling of the Seminary’s “story” to al constituency groups.
  • Coordinates and implements a comprehensive development plan, including annual and long-range fundraising goals, administration of a development budget, management of all data bases, oversight of a planned-giving program, the implementation of restricted gifts, and the recruitment of volunteers.
  • Pays special attention to the growth of the annual fund through both individual and congregational giving and the utilization of board members to increase the donor base in the St. Louis area and beyond.
  • Provides leadership and day-to-day management of the development staff by providing on-going training, setting annual and long-term financial and performance goals for individuals and programs, developing up-to-date job descriptions, and conducting regular performance evaluations.
  • Evaluates and implements a coordinated plan for sending receipts, acknowledging and reporting of gifts, and maintaining a comprehensive and accurate system of data collection and utilization.
  • Assists the president in coordinating development contacts, preparing/developing donors for the president’s call and “ask,” and strategizing for the best use of his fundraising activities.


The successful candidate for this position will have the following experience:

  • Successful track record asking for and securing large and small gifts; managing complex development operations that includes grant writing, data management, and capital campaigns; and involving other key Seminary leaders, especially the president and board members, in fundraising activities.
  • An understanding of mainline Protestant church life and a willingness to commit to Eden Seminary’s progressive religious identify and mission.
  • Experience with institutional “branding” and the ability to develop in cooperation with others a comprehensive marketing plan to support the Seminary’s institutional advancement program.
  • Strategic leadership qualities, including the ability to see the big picture, design creative and complex strategies for achieving advancement goals, and motivate others to strive for excellence in their work.
  • Highly effective verbal and written communication skills for conveying to staff, volunteers, and other Seminary personnel how the advancement program contributes to Eden’s objectives, and to potential; or current donors how the Seminary serves the broader community.
  • A collaborative working style that recognizes the importance of team work and delegates significant responsibilities to team members.
  • Sophisticated relationship-building skills that develop lifelong connections for the Seminary, build strong team loyalty, and bring into the advancement process a broad constituency of students, faculty, staff, and board members.


Compensation will be based on the candidate’s experience and credentials. The benefit package is comprehensive and attractive, including health and life insurance, short/long term disability, a pension plan, a flex-plan that covers medical and dependent care expenses, and tuition remission benefits. Relocation costs and assistance to the St. Louis area will be provided.


This position is designed for an energetic and creative advancement professional interested in managing an expanding and maturing development operation to serve the needs of an innovative, forward-looking Seminary that aspires to become the recognized leader in training ordained and lay persons for service in the progressive Christian movement. The next Vice President of Advancement can expect the following challenges and opportunities:

  • Help implement a daring new strategic plan. Thanks to the current economic crisis for the majority of religious seminaries in the US, all theological schools are under significant stress. This is especially true in those schools with small endowments, lagging development programs, and an insufficient support base. At a time when numerous schools are worried about ability to survive, Eden has developed an exciting new strategic plan that intends to expand its already strong academic program by adding new programs, cooperating with the UCC and other mainline denominations in developing new multiple paths of preparation for ordination, and starting new programs of non-degree theological education in order to provide training for lay leaders at a scale unknown before. These are bold goals that will require a well-thought out development strategy to achieve. The new vice president will be challenged to support a program that seeks to take a radically different approach to theological education.
  • Develop a new donor base. The Seminary’s donor base is aging, which requires the development of a significant number of new donors for the future. Generational differences in philanthropic giving require new approaches. The strategic plan intends to generate new donors through its expanded and innovative programs that reach new lay constituencies by serving the needs of a progressive Christian movement that is currently under stress because of loss of morale and membership. The new vice president must be able to take an active and aggressive lead in such new donor development by utilizing the Seminary’s mission.
  • Expand levels of participation in advancement. A successful advancement program involves more than the development staff. It includes a broadening base of participation by trustees, Seminary personnel (administrators, faculty, and students), and other stakeholders. The next Vice President will have an opportunity to develop such fundraising participation in creative and productive ways.
  • Support the advancement staff. The advancement staff is deeply committed to the mission of the Seminary and meeting fundraising goals. The next vice president must be able to mobilize the staff to work together in new ways by enhancing communication, setting clear-cut goals, providing regular performance evaluation, and delegating responsibility. Key to future success is helping staff members see how their work fits into the “big picture,” how the parts contribute to the whole.


Nominations and applications will be held in confidence. Applications should include a letter outlining the applicant’s background, qualifications and vision for the position: curriculum vita/resume: and contact information for five professional references. References will not be contacted without the prior approval of the applicant. Review of applications will begin immediately and will continue until the position is filled. Submit all applications electronically to Ms. Danita Carter, Executive Assistant to the President at: [email protected].

Eden Theological Seminary is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, age, race, color, marital status, national origin, disability or veteran status.

As I approach the end of my three-year journey of earning my Masters of Divinity at Eden Theological Seminary, I have finally had a moment to reflect on the decision I made four years ago that led me to Eden and to a new path for my life.

Four years ago, I had no idea that attending a protest in Ferguson, Missouri, during my undergraduate senior year, would have such a huge influence on my future. While in St. Louis, I had a chance meeting with another protestor, Deborah Krause, who I learned was the Academic Dean of Eden Theological Seminary.  I distinctly remember her fiery and determined spirit.

Following that trip to St. Louis, I met Eden alumnus Rev. Starsky Wilson, and coincidentally also met two other people, who all recommended that I consider seminary and to consider Eden Theological Seminary among others. It felt as if God was calling me to Eden and, although I had never considered seminary before, I took the leap of faith and enrolled in the Master of Divinity program.

As a first-year M.Div. student, my Eden experience stretched and challenged me in a variety of ways. I learned more about church history and theology, but most importantly, how context is essential in shaping both of those subjects. My experience has also helped me to add to my language toolbox to articulate my beliefs and identity, which is constantly forming and reforming, as a Christian and one raised in the black Pentecostal tradition.

My studies at Eden have shored up, challenged and deepened my faith. If your faith holds water, it will stand up to being at Seminary.

We support each other within Eden, and I know we will take that beyond Eden’s doors. Ministry can get lonely and having people to reach out to will be very important.

At Eden I have been exposed to strong, black women preaching social justice along with the gospel. It has been inspiring. The women I admire have doctorates, so I think that is what I want to do next; preaching and working academically toward a PhD.

This has been a journey of ups and downs, and seminary has been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I think it will also turn out to be the one of the best things I’ve done. I have been blessed in too many ways to name, and I look forward to what the future will bring to me.

Alexis Tardy
Master of Divinity
Eden Theological Seminary Class of 2019


NPR/February 23, 2019


There’s a debate in the United Methodist Church over whether LGBTQ people can serve as clergy and permit same-sex marriage. Church leaders are meeting in St. Louis beginning today to decide and will vote on the issue. But some worry that it could tear United Methodists apart. St. Louis Public Radio’s Shahla Farzan has the story.

SHAHLA FARZAN, BYLINE: Several dozen people fill the pews at Lafayette Park United Methodist Church in St. Louis.

FARZAN: Among them is Kristen Leslie, an ordained elder in the church. Many of the worshippers here identify as LGBTQ. That’s why Leslie and her husband chose this congregation

KRISTEN LESLIE: Because it was a church that we knew was living in a place of justice just by its very presence of who was in the congregation.

FARZAN: But current rules prohibit clergy in same-sex relationships from actually serving in the United Methodist Church. Pastors also aren’t supposed to officiate at same-sex weddings. But Leslie, who’s a professor at Eden Theological Seminary, has defied that rule. Since the early ’90s, she’s performed at least 25.

LESLIE: We are made in the image of God. And how we love each other, as long as it honors God, who am I to say? Love is love is love is love, as Lin-Manuel Miranda said.

FARZAN: The United Methodists have debated for years whether to make church policies more inclusive for LGBTQ people. It’s largely been a conversation within the U.S. And that’s something that concerns seminary student S. Jewell S. McGhee.

S JEWELL S MCGHEE: I feel like the message that American Christians have given too often is that the rest of the world doesn’t matter as much. And that is a message that is against the message of Christ, as I see it.

FARZAN: The United Methodist Church has more than 12 million members spread across the world. U.S. membership has declined in recent years. But, globally, the church is growing, especially in African nations. And that presents a challenge, says United Methodist Council of Bishops president Ken Carter.

KEN CARTER: In some nations of the world, homosexuality is a taboo subject. Or it’s against the law. And so it’s just a more complex conversation for us.

FARZAN: At the St. Louis conference, more than 860 delegates from across the world will decide whether to lift the ban on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex weddings.

There’s a lot at stake, says Daron Smith, a gay man and lifelong United Methodist.

DARON SMITH: It’s a little nerve-wracking for a group of people you don’t really know to make a decision about you. But I’m hopeful this time. If the decision doesn’t go our way this time, we’ll keep fighting.

MARIE GRIFFITH: They avoided the issue as much as they could for as long as they could because they knew this was going to divide the church somehow.

FARZAN: Mary Griffith is a historian of American religion at Washington University. She says the United Methodists are part of a long line of Protestant denominations that have grappled with this issue, including Lutherans, Presbyterians and Episcopalians. The difference is that Methodists have held together a vast and disparate coalition longer.

GRIFFITH: Some lean very progressive on the issue. Some lean very conservative. And it will be very, very interesting to see if they manage to hold that together this time or if the thing finally blows apart.

FARZAN: Methodists have weathered divides over social justice issues in the past. The church split over slavery during the Civil War and later reunited. And that gave seminary student S. Jewell S. McGhee hope.

MCGHEE: And I have a lot more faith in a denomination that has already been through trauma, that has already said, wow, we have gotten it wrong. So whatever happens, I am glad to be a part of this history.

FARZAN: Even if there is a split within the United Methodist Church, she says there’s always the possibility it will heal. For NPR News, I’m Shahla Farzan in St. Louis.

Feature Photo: Daron Smith, left, and his husband, Chris Finley, right, worship at a Sunday morning service at Lafayette Park United Methodist Church in St. Louis, Mo. Smith, a lifelong United Methodist, said he feels hopeful ahead of a vote on LGBTQ ordination and same-sex weddings in the church.

Photo Credit: Shahla Farzan/St. Louis Public Radio

Eden Theological Seminary is seeking comments from the public about the seminary in preparation for its periodic evaluation by its regional accrediting agency. The seminary will host a visit on February 25-26, 2019, from a team of peer reviewers representing the Higher Learning Commission. The team will review the institution’s ongoing ability to meet HLC’s Criteria for Accreditation. Eden Theological Seminary has been accredited by HLC since 1973.

Comments must be in writing and must address substantive matters related to the quality of the institution or its academic programs.

Submit comments to HLC at or mail them to the address below. All comments must be received by February 18, 2019.

Public Comment on Eden Theological Seminary
Higher Learning Commission
230 South LaSalle Street, Suite 7-500
Chicago, IL 60604-1411