BY HOLLY MCCRAY
The Oklahoma Conference’s five-year Special Apportionment is set to culminate this year for Saint Paul School of Theology at Oklahoma City University. That prompted a series of conversations in December and January among leaders of those three entities. Charles Neff stepped up to help them answer a key question.
What has been the impact of this United Methodist seminary in Oklahoma?
OCU’s vice president for University-Church Relations, Rev. Dr. Neff relates to all three groups. From analyzing online statistics, he made these conclusions.
The establishment of Saint Paul at OCU has drastically altered the trend of ordinands in the Conference.
The number of part- and full-time Local Pastors attending seminary and serving churches in the Conference has undergone a dramatic shift since Saint Paul at OCU was established.
A seminary within the borders of an annual conference will attract the highest percentage of that conference’s seminarians who continue toward ordination.
Seminarians will travel far afield to study when their home conference doesn’t have a seminary within its borders.
Saint Paul classes at OCU began in 2008, as a satellite to the seminary’s main campus in the greater Kansas City area. Now a student can fulfill all degree requirements at either location. The first doctoral graduates at the Oklahoma City location will be recognized this month.
Enrollment in Saint Paul at OCU has been steady, about 45 students since 2009, while the primary campus in Kansas has seen a decline during that period, from almost 250 to about 120 students, according to Neff’s numbers.
The Kansas campus relocated in 2013, and the seminary has gone through several key leadership changes in a short time. On Feb. 23, it was sanctioned by the Higher Learning Commission. Saint Paul’s status is "Accredited — on Probation."
The sanction added urgency to the discussions by the leaders of the three entities. Neff provided his analysis to assist as they consider next steps.
The proposed 2018 budget for the Oklahoma Conference does not include funds for Saint Paul at OCU.
The Oklahoma Conference isn’t arbitrarily ending the Apportionment for the school, Neff clarified. The Conference has "fulfilled its obligation; in fact, it extended it once since the initial promise."
Neff said two seminaries shared almost 50-50 in 2011 in educating the deacons and elders who were ordained in the Oklahoma Conference. Those schools were Phillips Theological Seminary, Tulsa, which is affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); and Perkins School of Theology, a United Methodist seminary at Southern Methodist University, Dallas.
That year also saw the first graduation ceremony for Saint Paul at OCU. All five members of that Class of 2011 became provisional clergy members in Oklahoma, journeying toward ordination.
In 2016, according to Neff’s analysis, 56 percent of Oklahoma’s deacon and elder ordinands were educated at Saint Paul.
He also sees benefit in an increasing number of United Methodist-trained student local pastors.
"Most notably, prior to Saint Paul’s arrival in Oklahoma, almost all of our student appointments were coming out of Phillips," he said. "That changed pretty dramatically when Saint Paul at OCU became an option. Now half of our student appointments come out of Saint Paul."
Close to home
As Neff examined the statistics, "The overall thing that became clear to me was that a seminary within the borders of an annual conference will be THE seminary for that annual conference. The majority of the ordinands will come out of that seminary."
He believes this reflects people’s desire to stay close to home while pursuing their calling, especially those who are married, perhaps with children, and those for whom ministry is a second career.
The home conference also benefits because the presence and leadership of those students stay in that conference, Neff pointed out. The data showed only 50 percent of students return to the home conference when they attend schools beyond its borders.
Students of Saint Paul at OCU "are receiving United Methodist training in ministry, are available to serve concurrently in Oklahoma churches, and participate fully in Conference committees, camps, leadership teams … that benefit a wide range of constituencies," Neff said. Those connections also strengthen students’ relationships within Oklahoma early in their ministry careers.
Thirteen United Methodist seminaries operate within the United States.