Home Christian News An Episcopal Seminary Found a Solution to Its Fiscal Woes. Then 7...

An Episcopal Seminary Found a Solution to Its Fiscal Woes. Then 7 Bishops Intervened.

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The General Theological Seminary campus in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, New York, is called the Close. (Photo courtesy GTS)

(RNS) — A plan to save a troubled historic Episcopal seminary in New York has come under fire after seven bishops registered their opposition to offering a long-term lease of the seminary to a nonprofit with alleged ties to a Catholic music school funded by a conservative donor.

The bishops, who lead Episcopal dioceses in New York and Long Island, issued a statement last month objecting that the School of Sacred Music, which is negotiating to sign a long-term lease with General Episcopal Seminary in New York, has ties to a donor that does not support rights for gay, transgender and queer people.

“We are concerned by the lack of full acceptance of the LGBTQ stance of its founders and the lack of transparency in its funding,” the bishops said, according to Episcopal News Service, an official church publication.

Founded in 1817, General, the Episcopal Church’s oldest and once most prominent school for training clergy, has, like many mainline Protestant seminaries, fallen on hard times in recent years. In the past fiscal year, it ran a $2.7 million deficit. The school’s campus, known as the Close, is also in need of tens of millions of dollars of long-deferred maintenance work.

The school recently replaced its residential student body with a hybrid online-in person Master of Divinity program and has little need for the dorm rooms and modest apartments that formerly housed students.

A school spokesperson said the hybrid program has proved popular with prospective clergy. “Our hybrid MDiv is meeting a strong need in the church, and we currently have 96 open applications for 20 spaces for the 2024 cohort,” said Nicky Burridge, vice president for communications for GTS, in an email. “While the hybrid MDiv is highly successful, we do need to find a solution to cover the annual running costs of the Close and tackle previously deferred maintenance.”

The School of Sacred Music, which currently rents space at the seminary for vesper services two days a week, hoped to sign a long-term lease that would allow the seminary to retain ownership of its property.

“Any agreement would also likely see the SSM cover the running costs of the Close, pay GTS an annual rent, and carry out essential maintenance on the exterior of the buildings,” Burridge said in an email. “We cannot provide further details until we are closer to reaching an agreement.”

Negotiations on a lease for the Close, first announced in November, have been approved by the school’s board. At the time the negotiations were announced, few details about the nonprofit interested in leasing the campus were disclosed.

But earlier this year, local bishops — who have no direct authority over the school — and local government officials learned that the School of Sacred Music hoped to sign a long-term lease. The SSM was founded by the Ithuriel Fund, a nonprofit based in Connecticut, which has about $70 million in assets, according to IRS documents.

One of the donors to the Ithuriel Fund is Colin Moran, an investment banker and chair of First Things, a journal founded by the conservative Catholic priest the Rev. John Neuhaus. Moran’s ties to the school, according to Episcopal News Service, may have prompted concerns from bishops and local officials.