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GC2009: Nashotah House focuses on training Episcopal priests

GC2009: Nashotah House focuses on training Episcopal priests

Mary Ann Mueller in Anaheim
Special Correspondent
July 13, 2009

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA---"Nashotah House has been training priests for The Episcopal Church for 167 years," declared The Very Rev. Robert Munday, the Milwaukee-area Wisconsin seminary's president and dean. "And we have no intention of doing otherwise."

The Dean's comments, which were met with applause, came Saturday night during the Episcopal General Convention's Seminary Night gathering. More than 200 Nashotah House sons and daughters (alumni) as well as friends and associates crowded into a fourth floor meeting room of the Anaheim Hilton, just a stone's throw from the Anaheim Convention Center.

Things got a little crowed in the Palisades Room because 150 faithful Nashotah alumni and associates were expected to show up. Many more did. Priests and bishops clustered together with drinks in hand, munching on the California version of Tex-Mex cuisine. They fondly remembered their own intense seminary days at The House where they learned the theology of the priesthood, the liturgical celebrations of The Episcopal Church, as well as the deportment, manner and spirituality of their sacerdotal calling.

Years after the first bishop of Wisconsin was installed, the beloved Jackson Kemper founded Nashotah House, which is nestled on the shores of Upper Nashotah Lake, as a college of piety and learning. The seminary is still turning out quality-trained Anglo-Catholic priests for The Episcopal Church.

With his friendly Indian guides, Bishop Kemper tromped Territorial Wisconsin two centuries after Father Marquette explored the Wisconsin. Both men have left their unique pastoral imprints on the spirituality of the Dairy State.

The Episcopal seminary holds a rare Territorial Charter. The House was charted in 1847 as Wisconsin's first institution of higher education. This happened before statehood was granted in 1848.

"We have received several reports in the last few years from dioceses that give canonical exams, that our graduates excel and are the best prepared of any graduates they see," Dean Munday proudly explained. "Bishops tell us our recent graduates are easily the best trained clergy in their dioceses."

Even with the recent fracturing of Anglicanism in the United States, Nashotah's student population reflects a 90 percent TEC student body, debunking Internet blog chatter that the traditional Episcopal seminary has turned its back on its deep Episcopal roots and is training more non-TEC clergy than Episcopal Church priests.

"I want to make it clear for the record here," Dean Munday emphasized, "more than 90 percent of our students come from dioceses of The Episcopal Church."

However, the Dean did lament that there were several notable absences in Saturday's celebration.

"As I looked over the guest list of those who are here tonight and thought of those who were at the Nashotah House dinner in Columbus 2006, I see some conspicuous absences this time compared with past General Conventions," he reflected.

Notability absent were some Nashotah House-friendly bishops such as William Wantland, Jack Iker, and Keith Ackerman as well as newly elevated ACNA Archbishop Robert Duncan.

However the bishop's ranks were not totally depleted. Many former Nashotah graduates and Friends-of-the-House who have reached their bishopric were on hand including: Mark Lawrence, South Carolina; Bruce MacPherson, Western Louisiana; William Love, Albany; John Howe, Central Florida; Bud Shand, Easton; Russell Jacobus, Fond du Lac; Charles Jenkins, Ed Salmon, retired South Carolina; Dabney Smith, Southwest Florida; and Peter Beckworth, Springfield.

"At Nashotah we are committed, as God enables us to model the unity for the Church , and we do that by seeing the Church the way God sees the Church," Dean Munday told the Nashotah House gathering. "All who follow Christ, who have been baptized into His Body, and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit are one in His eyes."

The Dean continued: "We take a huge risk. We continue to count as sons and daughters (and friends) of the House those who have left and we continue to be steadfast in our commitment to serve the dioceses of The Episcopal Church."

Dean Munday also explained that the number of TEC dioceses The House serves continues to grow and that during the past eight years the residential student body has experienced considerable growth. The Dean chalks this up to the fact that Nashotah House draws the most dedicated seminary faculty in the church.

"God has brought together a remarkable faculty," he explained. "This faculty is the finest I have ever worked with in terms of scholarship, skill as teachers, concern for students, passion for forming gifted competent clergy and lay leaders who can effectively lead and grow congregations."

Nashotah House points with pride that former Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey walked the hollowed cloister as a House professor following his retirement from Lambeth Palace. The Hundredth Archbishop of Canterbury's academic commitment to the southern Wisconsin seminary is being honored by a new Nashotah House fellowship of prayer, giving and spiritual formation.

The newly formed Ramsey Society will allow Nashotah friends to become House associates, similar to the way the laity can become associates of a religious order.

"I hope that you will be moved to join with us as companions in the work God has called us to do," Dean Munday urged.

Finally, the Nashotah House dean affirmed that any and all alumni are House sons and daughters for time immemorial nor matter how far afield they may travel.

The Dean explained that in light of the various theological differences plaguing The Episcopal Church and driving some clergy from the Episcopal fold, he has received communiques from several elderly clerics who faithfully lived out their priestly ministries in The Episcopal Church, but in later life have found it necessary to leave TEC for greener spiritual pastures.

""I am no longer in the Episcopal Church,'" these brave souls confess to Dean Munday. "'Is it still possible for me to be buried in the Nashotah House Cemetery?"'

The Nashotah Dean reaffirms the inquiring clergy that there is nothing they can do to sever their ties with The House. They are family forever.

"If you are a son or daughter of Nashotah House, there is nothing you can ever do that will change that," he tells the assembled crowd and was again met with thunderous applause as the sons and daughters of The House basked in a time of mutual fellowship and camaraderie at the 76th General Convention while in the shadow of glitz and glitter of Disneyland.

---Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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