Mainline decline? Or something worse?
Back in 1975, McCormick, a seminary of the Presbyterian Church USA, shacked up with the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. McCormick moved its campus to be next to LSTC, and they began to share facilities, while keeping an independent administration.
Now, there's nothing really remarkable about this arrangement. Seminaries are not large institutions, and various cooperative relationships are commonplace. These range from fairly distant (opening a few classrooms so that an out-of-town school can offer extension classes) to the nearly symbiotic (San Francisco's GTU, or McCormick).
Sharing facilities is an especially reasonable strategy, because of the peculiar nature of many seminaries. They require exactly the same resources, including the same specialized libraries (and chapels). But, because of their denominational connections and theological perspectives, they can't just merge. (Although mergers within a denomination are not unusual, even those can be problematic; just ask Hartwick.) And of course, they are generally small -- and shrinking. So they share.
Anyway, after 35 years of so, McCormick is "disengaging" from its relationship with the Lutherans. Why, you ask? Hint: Not because it has finally saved up enough money to strike out on its own.
We aren't sure yet what's actually going to happen to McCormick. We expect they aren't either. But it probably doesn't involve going forward as a property-owning, degree-granting institution. Which makes us wonder whether there is room for another Auburn Seminary in the world, much less in the PCUSA.
So. Is this just more of the same, as the so-called mainline churches shrivel up and die? Is it further fallout from the financial mess? Or is it the result of the wishful thinking that too often governs church affairs -- did it really make sense to fund 70 percent of your budget from an endowment? (For comparison, the average for endowed institutions is 20%, but much higher among seminaries -- Harvard and Yale run 35-45%; and Princeton a whopping 76%).
Or is there a fourth possibility: that the PCUSA, with about 3 million members, doesn't need ten denominational seminaries and two "seminaries affiliated by covenant." The ELCA, with almost 2 million more members (at least until the schism next year), probably doesn't need its eight seminaries and two extension centers. And that's not about decline; that's about efficiencies of scale, resulting from the mergers which created the current church bodies, but didn't address the surplus sems of the predecessor bodies. In which case, the end of McCormick (like the end of Wartburg, Trinity, or either of the Pennsylvania schools) is really just a case of Darwinian economics doing what bureaucrats didn't.