Marrying the Right School

Martin B. Copenhaver

For weeks on end in the early summer the most emailed article in The New York Times was, “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person,” by the philosopher Alain de Botton. His point in the article is that the familiarity and intimacy of marriage will, inevitably, reveal flaws in the other person. He writes, “We seem normal only to those who don’t know us very well.”

So when the flaws of one’s spouse become clear (and, of course, vice versa) it is a temptation to conclude that you have simply married the wrong person when, in fact, it is simply part of the process of seeing one’s spouse more clearly.

Stanley Hauerwas, a prominent ethicist, says that he gives a sealed envelope to couples on their wedding day and tells them not to open it until they have their first big fight. The message in the envelope? “Everyone marries the wrong person.”

I appreciate the reminder that there can be too much emphasis on finding the “right” person to marry, when so many other factors can be more important for a marriage to succeed.

When I consider what it takes for an affiliation of two theological schools to succeed, however, finding the right match is critically important. It may not be the only thing required for a partnership to succeed, but it is essential nonetheless.

When we announced that Andover Newton was exploring an affiliation with Yale Divinity School, we received many questions along these lines: “Why Yale? Why not [insert name of school here]?”

The short answer is that Yale Divinity School is the right match for Andover Newton to pursue. Here’s why:

The two schools have a common history and shared commitments. Timothy Dwight (grandson of the great Jonathan Edwards), while president of Yale, helped found Andover Theological Seminary. The remarks he gave at the opening convocation are still reflected in our mission today. Both schools were founded for educating learned clergy to serve “small c” congregational churches. Both schools have histories that are intertwined with the history of New England.

Both Andover Newton and Yale Divinity School would stand to benefit from a partnership with the other. That’s important, also. In such a partnership, if it becomes permanent, Andover Newton gains a sustainable future with the freedom to focus on our mission, rather than expending much of our energies on institutional maintenance. Yale Divinity School stands to gain a reconnection with pastoral ministry, particularly pastoral ministry in the “small c” congregational traditions, that have been a key part of its mission. By joining together, both schools would take an enormous step toward addressing the problem of student debt.

Perhaps most important, Yale Divinity School is the right match for Andover Newton because YDS has experience with working creatively and cooperatively with an embedded school. In 1971, Berkeley Divinity School (a seminary of the Episcopal Church) was on the verge of closing. Today, in partnership with Yale Divinity School, it is thriving.

No other university has experience with this model of affiliation. Could we have affiliated with another school or university? Absolutely. The line of potential suitors would have stretched down Herrick Road. But those institutions would have been interested in absorbing us, not working cooperatively with us into the future.

The stakes are high. In such a circumstance, it is essential that we marry the right school.