Sarah B. Drummond
As astonished as I was by the United Kingdom’s recent vote to withdraw from the European Union, the widespread will among British citizens for independence was particularly thought-provoking for me as I consider the historic changes taking place at Andover Newton Theological School.
Since we announced in November that we would relocate from our large, expensive campus and refocus our energies on our core mission, I have heard many assumptions about what Andover Newton will keep and what it will give up when it comes to self-determination. As we bear witness to our neighbors across the pond and prepare to celebrate Independence Day in the United States, answers to questions about the nature of freedom are anything but self-evident.
Locally-governed seminaries are often described as “free-standing.” If Andover Newton creates the partnership it is pursuing with Yale Divinity School, it will no longer be free-standing. Some have expressed sadness with a sense of loss, saying that they mourn for the institutional autonomy they associate with the School.
From where I sit as academic dean, however, “freedom” is not an accurate description of what it feels like to lead at Andover Newton. Constant worries about money have led to a chronic institutional mood of scarcity. With no margin, new program development came only at the expense of current programs, and the current programs need constant attention. In my role, I have received a constant stream of good ideas that could not be pursued due to lack of resources.
The School also was and is a place of tremendous joy in discovery, inspiration, and mutual care within the community, so there is much to celebrate; freedom, however, is not the thing I mourn to lose. One does not mourn what one did not have.
When I look to the future, with an eye toward developing an educational program for congregational ministry within a university divinity school, I am struck by how freeing it feels to focus on Andover Newton’s historic core mission. No question: when Andover Newton does not own a campus or run its own accredited degree programs, it will lose some of its independence. But it actually gains freedom where few knew how much of that freedom had, over many years, worn away.
President Martin Copenhaver often tells constituents that the reason we are making bold changes is to free ourselves to pursue our mission. I am made mindful as I track the news about England that freedom and independence are not, actually, the same thing. “Independence” is a term devoid of content, in that it only means anything in relation to dependence. For its own sake, independence is devoid of worth. The bumper sticker that reads “Freedom Isn’t Free” actually misses the mark: freedom isn’t even freedom.
The Apostle Paul tells us that we die to ourselves in order to rise in Christ. The only true freedom we can ever know is in Christ’s death and resurrection, which set us free while simultaneously binding us to a life of service to others not because of obligation, but because of love. None of us is actually free, but we have the capacity to choose that to which we bind ourselves. Andover Newton has chosen to bind itself to its mission rather than its buildings or its free-standing institutional structure. This choice was conscious, and it is, even in its narrowing and wagon-hitching, incredibly liberating.