Features

Name dropping: Episcopal school weighing a change

National

Issue: "Soldiers in harm’s way," Nov. 15, 2003

Trinity Episcopal School of Ministry, a refuge for conservative seminary students, may change its name.

"We would just drop the word Episcopal from our name," the Rev. Peter Moore, dean and president, told WORLD. Nothing is final, but such talk underscores the potential realignment in the Episcopal Church (ECUSA) following the consecration of gay Bishop Gene Robinson.

Tucked away in Ambridge, Pa., Trinity has been turning out biblically orthodox Christian graduates since 1979. The fully accredited evangelical school is located in the conservative Diocese of Pittsburgh. Bishop Robert Duncan, a Trinity supporter and a top leader in the evangelical-oriented American Anglican Council (AAC), leads the diocese.

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Trinity's handprints were all over the AAC-organized gathering in suburban Dallas last month, where thousands took a stand against ECUSA's apostasy and called on the world's Anglican leaders to intervene (WORLD, Nov. 1). Several Trinity graduates were major presenters.

As for leadership in the conservative wing of ECUSA, "Trinity has arrived," said Trinity graduate David Wilson, rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in nearby Kittanning, Pa. Although the votes on sexuality issues went against them at ECUSA's triennial convention last summer, Trinity graduates in key positions were in the thick of the battle. It was "probably the first time in 30 years we were able to exert some leadership," the Rev. Wilson said.

Students and faculty at Trinity sign a covenant that affirms the place of sex within heterosexual marriage, among other things. "People who go there take the Bible seriously," one student said. "Sexual sin would be scandalous at the school."

Trinity holds its own property, keeping its property safe from confiscation by hostile authorities in the Episcopal Church. Birthed in response to the increasingly liberal bent of Episcopal seminaries in the 1970s, classes began in the fall of 1976 with 17 students. None had sponsoring bishops, the norm for seminary candidates. Current enrollment: 315 (130 full-time).

Contrast Trinity to a typical Episcopal seminary like Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Va. The Rev. Jonathan Ostman, rector of St. John the Evangelist Church in Newport, R.I., "endured" his training for the priesthood there. He described it as "post-Christian, beyond liberal.... The creed was ridiculed. The various tenets of the faith were ridiculed. Things like the ascension were rejected. It was a very negative experience."

To survive the hostile environment, students gathered in his home on a regular basis for prayer and support. Anglican evangelical scholar J.I. Packer was among the many visitors, including some bishops. Students sent money to support the then-fledgling Trinity.

Today more than 350 ordained graduates and an equal number of laymen from Trinity are ready to fight for the traditional Anglican faith. "They will very much be part of the new network of confessing churches and dioceses that will be created as a result of [ECUSA's actions] and will be key to its success," the Rev. Moore said. "They will remain Anglican but will no longer look at the Episcopal Church as their home."

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