Introduction: Planting the Seed

The first two parts of this Case respectively examined the history and present status of both the Religious Society of Friends and the Earlham School of Religion.  The first part established that Friends have, throughout their history, provided a critical form of ministry that has served as a balm to an injured world.  At the same time, though, it is now quite apparent that Friends have not adequately tended to the health of the very Society that gives forth this ministry.  If current trends in membership continue unchecked, the Society of Friends will cease to exist in North America sometime toward the end of the 21st century.  If the Religious Society of Friends is to persist in providing its urgently needed ministry to the world, the vine that gives forth this fruit will need to be better tended.

In the second part of this Case, ESR's central role in providing ministering leaders after the manner of Friends was examined.  To this day, ESR remains the only graduate seminary in the world with a primary mission of serving the ministry and leadership training needs of Friends.  Over its forty-five year history, ESR has granted more than 450 graduate degrees in religion and ministry.  Many of these degree recipients have since gone on to assume important leadership roles in the Society of Friends, many affiliated Quaker organizations, and well beyond.  As well, ESR has provided instruction to countless non-degree learners through its distance and part-time education programs, conferences, and faculty workshops and lectures. ESR provides an outstanding level of instruction, and at a much lower cost to its students than most every one of its institutional peers.

With the outstanding generosity of its supporters throughout the years, ESR has managed to offer a consistently high quality of seminary education, while at the same time meeting the exigencies of maintaining financial stability and strength.  As ESR approaches the fiftieth anniversary of its founding, though, it faces a number of daunting challenges, many of them purely financial in origin, that threaten the School's ability to maintain its high level of instruction and low cost to students into the future.  Chief among these financial challenges has been the poor performance of ESR's endowment, stemming from recent trends in the stock market.

At present, ESR's development priorities are driven by two primary factors: financial constraints, and the need for ministerial leadership training after the manner of Friends.  In terms of financial considerations, ESR budgetary constraints originate from a "perfect storm" of four interrelated sets of considerations, these being:

  1. Declining future returns from the School's endowment, corresponding with recent declines in its investment principle.
  2. Stagnating and even slightly declining enrollment, in terms of student FTEs, which has resulted in both declining revenue from tuition and increased tuition.
  3. Increasing costs, stemming partly from the dramatic increase in student headcount.
  4. Stagnating and even slightly declining performance in ESR's Annual Fund.

The need for training ministerial leadership after the manner of Friends, on the other hand, relates directly to the current weakened state of the Religious Society of Friends in North America.   An obligation to become "the best seminary in the country" as articulated by an Earlham Trustee at ESR's inception as a seminary, as well as by several of those surveyed in ESR's Among Friends consultation.

ESR must develop a strong base of philanthropic support to safeguard existing programs and to develop new programs to meet the leadership needs of Friends.

ESR's development priorities have been organized into four broad categories:

  1. Tending the Roots: Core Programs
  2. Tending the Vine: Connectional Outreach
  3. Tending the Branches: Cross Cultural Ministry Studies
  4. Tending the Leaves: Student Scholarships