Bexley Seabury Seminary was formed in 2012 through the federation of Bexley Hall Seminary in Columbus, Ohio and Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois. The history of the two seminaries, now shared, is deeply rooted in the pioneering spirits and frontier ministries of their 19th century founders, Philander Chase and Henry Benjamin Whipple. Each of them pushed the envelope in their entrepreneurial development of priests, planting of congregations, and service to both new settlers and native people in the Ohio River Valley and the prairies to the west.
Bexley Hall was established in 1824 by Bishop Philander Chase in conjunction with the establishment of Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. Bexley Hall was later identified separately, named in honor of Nicholas Vansittart, the 1st Baron Bexley, an early benefactor of Kenyon College.
The seminary disassociated with Kenyon in 1968 and moved to Rochester, N.Y., where it affiliated with Colgate Rochester Divinity School (now Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School). The 1839 seminary building in Gambier now houses administrative offices for Kenyon, and is still known as Bexley Hall.
In 1999, after 30 years in New York state, Bexley Hall re-established an Ohio campus through a partnership with Trinity Lutheran Seminary of Columbus, in a suburb coincidentally named Bexley. In 2008, the Rochester campus was closed to focus efforts on the collaboration with Trinity Lutheran Seminary.
The highly collaborative partnership between Bexley Hall and Trinity Lutheran Seminary predated—and some would say presaged—the historic Called to Common Mission agreement between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church. For 17 years, each of the two seminaries contributed to a dynamic ecumenical partnership that produced hundreds and hundreds of ordained and lay leaders prepared and credentialed to lead either or both Episcopal and Lutheran communities.
Bexley Hall was a founding member of the Theological Consortium of Greater Columbus (TCGC), along with Trinity Lutheran Seminary, the Methodist Theological School in Ohio (MTSO), and the Pontifical College Josephinum. Students were free to take courses at any of the TCGC member schools.
The origins of Seabury-Western are in Illinois and in Minnesota.
In 1858, James Lloyd Breck founded Bishop Seabury Mission in Faribault, Minn. to provide education from primary school through theological studies for both Native Americans and Euro-American settlers. He envisioned his “School of the Prophets” as the center of evangelism for the about-to-be organized Diocese of Minnesota.
The first Bishop of Minnesota, Henry Benjamin Whipple, quickly became a staunch advocate of the Dakota and Ojibwe people in his growing diocese and, in 1860, incorporated the Bishop Seabury Mission as three separate institutions: a school for boys, a schools for girls, and the Seabury Divinity School for the training of clergy.
In 1883, under the leadership of Chicago’s Bishop William E. McLaren, the Western Theological Seminary was chartered and built in Chicago. Its first class was held in 1885. Western’s mission was to educate “fit persons in the Catholic Faith in its purity and integrity, as taught in the Holy Scriptures, held by the Primitive Church, summed up in the Creeds, and affirmed by the undisputed General Councils.”
Western Seminary moved from Chicago to Evanston, Ill. in 1929 at the invitation of Northwestern University and the Garrett Biblical Institute.
Complementary concerns and common interests led the boards of Seabury and Western to combine resources. The merged Seabury-Western Theological Seminary opened its doors in Evanston on October 10, 1933. In 1994 the Seabury Institute was founded as a ministry of the seminary to create a partnership with parishes seeking to exercise innovative forms of leadership for mission.
In 2009, Seabury-Western made a stewardship decision: to sell its property to Northwestern University. The transaction, completed in July 2009, allowed the seminary to eliminate its debt, balance its budget, and position itself to realize a new mission as “Seabury Next,” located once again in Chicago.
Becoming Bexley Seabury Seminary
Bexley Hall and Seabury-Western began the process of federation in 2007. Conversations exploring common ground were facilitated by a team from Auburn Seminary’s Center for the Study of Theological Education led by former Virginia Theological Seminary President Martha Horne. Dialogue continued prayerfully, deliberately, with due consideration to how the two institutions might best serve the church.
In February 2011, the two seminaries ratified a joint operating agreement. At historic meetings in March 2012, the boards of Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Chicago and Bexley Hall in Columbus each voted unanimously to federate and to elect the Rev. Roger Albert Ferlo, PhD, DD, as president. President Ferlo was inaugurated in April 2013 at a festival Eucharist in the chapel of Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.
Bexley Seabury, with campuses in both Ohio and Illinois, was accredited as a single institution by the Association of Theological Schools in 2013. In July, 2016, following the recommendation its Board of Directors’ Beyond Walls Task Force, the seminary consolidated its operations and degree programs in Chicago on the campus of Chicago Theological Seminary.
Bexley Seabury is one of six seminaries located within a one-square-mile area in the historic Hyde Park/Woodlawn district of a Chicago, long an ecumenical center of graduate theological education and ministerial formation. In July 2016 Bexley Seabury became the sixth (sole Episcopal) seminary in a one-square-mile area in Chicago’s historic Hyde Park/Woodlawn district, long a center of learning and formation.
Bexley Seabury is located on the second floor of Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS) at 1407 East 60th Street. The entire campus is fully ADA-accessible and environmentally responsible, from its vegetated outdoor landscape to its striking green-roof edifice. The CTS campus has been awarded Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certification status.
Co-locating with CTS represents a deepening of the two seminaries’ association, which dates to 1984. Both Bexley Seabury and CTS share a commitment to ecumenical and interfaith experience as a key component for the formation of lay and ordained leaders to better equip them to lead change in the church and in the world.