frgavin on July 16th, 2009

Speaks at General Convention of Episcopal Church
Jeff Walton
July 15, 2009

Note: To read IRD President Mark Tooley’s commentary about the Rev. Katherine Ragsdale’s appointment to lead Episcopal Divinity School, click here.

Read other IRD articles covering the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church here.

The. Rev. Katherine Ragsdale joins General Convention deputies to share her views on the future of Episcopal Divinity School and seminary education.

The controversial new Dean of Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) in Cambridge, Massachusetts predicts an influx of new seminarians from unexpected sources. The Rev. Katherine Ragsdale spoke at an event organized by the Consultation, a group of liberal and revisionist organizations in the Episcopal Church. Ragsdale joined General Convention deputies for a brown bag lunch and shared her views on the future of the EDS and seminary education.

“How do we survive in these economic times?” Ragsdale asked. “As we embrace these things [revisionist changes], we find new partners who never would have considered joining a religious institution because all they’ve heard of is the rabid religious right.”

Nicknamed by conservative detractors as “The High Priestess of Abortion” for her unapologetic defense and advocacy of abortion on demand, Ragsdale is the former chairman of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) as well as a board member of NARAL Pro-Choice America. Ragsdale came under heavy criticism two years ago for her statements in a speech at an Alabama abortion clinic that “Abortion is a blessing.” That criticism returned when Ragsdale was announced as the new Dean of EDS, one of the Episcopal Church’s 11 accredited seminaries and one of its most liberal. Ragsdale pointed out that she is only the second woman called in the Episcopal Church to lead a seminary, and the first openly homosexual person to step into the role.

“The church is changing,” said Ragsdale, recalling her first General Convention in 1985, also in Anaheim, California. Ragsdale said that this was the first convention she had been to where there was not a “big, organized opposition” to the Consultation.

“This is a really exciting time in the life and history of the church,” the beaming new EDS dean said.

The Episcopal Divinity School has struggled with a diminishing number of both enrolled seminarians and finances in recent years. In 2008, the school announced the transfer of many of its historic buildings to neighboring Lesley University in a sale that generated $33.5 million in urgently needed income.

The Episcopal priest said that the economic situation had led to both residential and distance options being made available at EDS, with the traditional three-year residential seminary program no longer affordable or accessible to everyone that wished to pursue a seminary education. This has led to an increase in cheaper distributive learning options, according to Ragsdale. It hasn’t changed the school’s liberal views, however.

“We are grounded in feminist liberation theologies,” Ragsdale said. “We do not believe truth is grounded in yes/no answers.”

Ragsdale also promoted her idea of ecumenism and interfaith work, hypothetically asking how Episcopalians could embrace the richness of other faiths while keeping the integrity of their own, the kind of question she expects EDS will explore in the coming years.

“The occasional Jew or Buddhist at EDS does not compromise our mission, it enriches it,” Ragsdale said. “I don’t subscribe to the ‘we should all be one’ mentality. Our traditions are each unique and got us where we are.”

Ragsdale displayed a pin labeled “CAVU” that she said represented her optimistic view of EDS’ future. Explaining that she, like Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, is a pilot, Ragsdale said “CAVU” stood for the aviation term “Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited.”

“That’s where EDS finds itself right now,” Ragsdale said. “There is no limit to what we can envision, what we can do.”

“There is a burning, starving hunger for what we have to offer in the world,” the seminary president said. She shared a story about a woman who tearfully collapsed in her arms after hearing her speak, saying that Ragsdale had changed her life.

“She had thought that God had no place for her due to her abortion,” Ragsdale said.

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