Where did new UMC ministers go to seminary?

John-Lomperis-webpic_newWhat sort of theological training has shaped the new clergy coming through the United Methodist Church’s pipeline?

I recently obtained some official statistics from the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) about where United Methodists ordained in the United States last year received their seminary education. This includes a relatively small minority (less than five percent of the total) who received their ministerial education via our denomination’s “Course of Study” rather than the more traditional M.Div.

A couple summary observations are worth highlighting.

Asbury Theological Seminary, an independent evangelical institution in the Methodist tradition, maintains its dominant position. Of the 414 members of the ordination class of 2013, 64 (15.46 percent) went to Asbury, more than seven of our denomination’s thirteen official seminaries (Boston University School of Theology, Claremont, Drew, Gammon, Iliff, the Methodist Theological School of Ohio, and United) combined, continuing a long-time trend on which I have reported earlier. For those of you who like ratios, this means between one-in-seven and one-in-six newly ordained United Methodist ministers are Asburians.

Meanwhile, Claremont School of Theology and Iliff School of Theology, arguably our denomination’s most theologically radicalized seminaries, on which we spend a lot of offering-plate apportionments to prop up each year, only educated 4 (0.97 percent) and 10 (2.42 percent), respectively, of 2013 ordinands.

With 41 alumni entering the ranks of the ordained, Duke Divinity School maintains its position at the top of the UMC seminaries. Compared to a similar study of the ordination class of 2009 (which separately listed those ordained through the Course of Study), Duke saw its numbers fall rather significantly in the intervening four years. Over that same time period, Asbury saw its numbers slightly increase from 61 ordinands in 2009 (14.63 percent of that year’s class).

It is important to keep in mind that due to our denomination’s arduously long ordination process, there is a some inevitable lag time before differences in current student enrollment will be felt when alumni are finally ordained a couple years or more after graduation. Thus, the relatively unimpressive numbers for United Theological Seminary in the 2013 ordination class are probably related to it having been in really bad numerical shape a few years ago. Given how rapidly enrollment has increased since United’s newfound institutional commitment to historic Christian orthodoxy, we can expect much larger numbers of United grads among the ordination classes of the near future.

Winning the contest for the other denomination whose seminaries educate the most United Methodist ordinands is the Presbyterian Church (USA). Of the UMC class of 2013, 25 (6.04 percent) went to one of six PCUSA seminaries. Of course, despite that denomination’s recent hard-left turn, its seminaries are far from being a theological monolith.

Another 13 (3.14 percent) attended either a Southern Baptist or an independent, expressly evangelical – albeit perhaps with an “evangelical left” element – seminary (Ashland, Fuller, George Fox, and Gordon-Conwell).

It is also important to remember that plenty of people survive theological schools of a certain bent without ultimately reflecting the dominant perspective within their alma mater. After all, I’m an evangelical United Methodist who after three years of ultra-liberal Harvard Divinity School was no less theologically conservative than I was when I began.

Which non-UMC seminaries United Methodist seminarians go to is shaped in large part by our denomination’s University Senate. This body regularly decides which non-UMC schools will have their degrees accepted for United Methodist ordination. Over the years, they have removed quite a number of schools from the “approved” list, with such decisions often seeming to be driven by short-sighted institutional protectionism and perhaps theologically liberal biases rather than what is best for our seminarians or the long-term mission of our church. Rather than rushing to eliminate “competitors,” the University Senate would do better to actually look into why so few United Methodist seminarians want to go to liberal denominational seminaries like Boston University School of Theology, despite all the denominational pressure and financial incentives to do so. The University Senate’s removing evangelical Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary from the approved list 16 years ago, despite it being such a major national seminary with many United Methodist ties and an impressive track-record in urban and multi-cultural ministry, was a significant blow against faithfulness and effective ministry within the United Methodist Church. To be fair, we probably did not lose much when liberal seminaries like Andover-Newton were also de-listed.

Quite a number of the ordination class of 2013 attended seminaries not currently approved by the University Senate. I was told earlier by a GBHEM official that if everything else is in order, one’s seminary education at a non-UMC seminary will be accepted as long as that seminary was on the approved list at the time the student was enrolled, regardless of what the University Senate did later.

Without further ado, here are the full statistics for the seminary education of American United Methodism’s ordination class of 2013, with our denomination’s thirteen official seminaries in this country listed first:


School Ordinands % of Total
Duke 41 9.90%
Perkins 38 9.18%
Candler 34 8.21%
Garrett 23 5.56%
Saint Paul 17 4.11%
MTSO 16 3.86%
Wesley 16 3.86%
United 12 2.90%
Drew 11 2.66%
Iliff 10 2.42%
Boston 6 1.45%
Claremont 4 0.97%
Gammon 4 0.97%
Total UMC 232 56.04%
Asbury 64 15.46%
All other schools 118 28.50%
Phillips (DoC) 8 1.93%
Dubuque (PCUSA) 7 1.69%
Memphis Theological Seminary (Cumb) 7 1.69%
Christian Theological Seminary (DoC) 6 1.45%
Hood (AMEZ) 6 1.45%
Ashland 5 1.21%
Austin Presbyterian (PCUSA) 5 1.21%
Erskine (ARPC) 5 1.21%
Palmer (ABC) 5 1.21%
Princeton (PCUSA) 5 1.21%
Union Presbyterian (PCUSA) 5 1.21%
Fuller 4 0.97%
New York Theological Seminary 4 0.97%
Sioux Falls Seminary (NAB) 4 0.97%
Eden (UCC) 3 0.72%
New Brunswick Theological Seminary (RCA) 3 0.72%
Pacific School of Religion (UCC) 3 0.72%
Sewanee (EC) 3 0.72%
Vanderbilt 3 0.72%
Brite (DoC) 2 0.48%
Colgate (ABC) 2 0.48%
Gordon-Conwell 2 0.48%
Lancaster (UCC) 2 0.48%
Louisville Presbyterian (PCUSA) 2 0.48%
Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (ELCA) 2 0.48%
Union-NYC 2 0.48%
United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities (UCC) 2 0.48%
Andrews (SDA) 1 0.24%
Chicago Theological Seminary (UCC) 1 0.24%
Eastern Mennonite (Menn) 1 0.24%
George Fox Evangelical 1 0.24%
Harvard Divinity 1 0.24%
Interdenominational Theological Center 1 0.24%
Moravian Theological Seminary (Mor) 1 0.24%
Northern Baptist (ABC) 1 0.24%
Pittsburgh (PCUSA) 1 0.24%
Southwestern Baptist (SBC) 1 0.24%
Yale 1 0.24%
Grand Total 414 100.00%


Key to abbreviations for denominational affiliations:

ABC = American Baptist Churches USA

AMEZ = African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

ARPC = Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church

Cumb = Cumberland Presbyterian Church

DoC = Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

EC = Episcopal Church

Menn = Mennonite Church USA

Mor = Moravian Church

NAB = North American Baptists

PCUSA = Presbyterian Church (USA)

RCA = Reformed Church in America

SBC = Southern Baptist

SDA = Seventh-Day Adventist Church


John Lomperis is a special contributor to UMR. This article originally appeared on his blog, found here.

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This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to

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George Nixon ShulerJim HarnishEileen AyusoMarkJohn Lomperis Recent comment authors
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Jim Harnish

Along with the obvious bias of the author, this article also misses one of the most significant factors for choosing a seminary, namely, geography. Particularly for second-career or married persons with families, the opportunity to get their education without relocating often trumps every other consideration. It’s not about “liberal” or “conservative” but about accessibility.

John Lomperis
John Lomperis

FWIW, here is an article about the University Senate doing some relatively recent “cullings” of seminaries on its approved list, with a rather abrupt lack of consultation. Bishop William Willimon, then a University Senate member, very explicitly described the reasoning as trying to eliminate competition for the sake of corraling students towards official UMC seminaries, rather than the seminaries they would otherwise choose: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/september/19.18.html

Keith A. Jenkins, Ph.D.
Keith A. Jenkins, Ph.D.

Mr. Lomperis, you state that “It is also important to remember that plenty of people survive theological schools of a certain bent without ultimately reflecting the dominant perspective within their alma mater. After all, I’m an evangelical United Methodist who after three years of ultra-liberal Harvard Divinity School was no less theologically conservative than I was when I began.” I cannot tell for sure who your intended audience was in this piece, but I sincerely hope whoever reads your article will not adopt your thinly veiled contempt for theological education, which you suggest must be “survived” with as less impact… Read more »


Mr. Jenkins, please expand on why you think it was a waste of time for Mr. Lomperis to go to Harvard. The implication–which smacks of elitism–seems to be that unless you embrace modern liberalism (as distinct from classical liberalism, which Mr. Lomperis has spoken favorably of), you have not been properly educated.


Well stated, TD. As a person who has attended classes at several universities in several states the liberal bias comes through loud and clear, and it has nothing to do with intelligence but, rather, a culture that has evolved over several decades. Why this is the case would be an interesting PhD dissertation, but it surely has something to do with 60’s draft evaders who stayed in school to avoid military service. Many of them are now tenured profs in their 60’s, having established a university culture that embraces all things liberal and eschews all things traditional.

George Nixon Shuler

There nothing more traditional than liberalism – its founders were the Old Testament patriarchs and Jesus Christ. “Liberally biased” is Faux Newspeak for “based in reality.”

George Nixon Shuler

TD wrote: “Theology schools affiliated with universities have been greatly influenced by their secular divisions, obviously, in these times. We all know the drill. Unless you embrace modern liberalism on the college campus today, you’re not legitimate, you’re not a true intellect, you’re not a full fledged member or your discipline ,or a peer equal of your colleagues. In fact, it is intellectually fashionable and academically enhancing to criticize and ridicule traditional Christianity and orthodox Christians. Thus, theology schools on these campuses are under tremendous pressure to conform. Unfortunately, many have conformed and abdicated their duty and mission in order… Read more »

James Capps

A number of years ago the University Senate dropped their accreditation of the Seminary I attended, Lexington Theological Seminary. They were told they didn’t have enough UM students enrolled at the time. I didn’t know that was criteria, they are a fully accredited school and affiliated with the Disciples Of Christ. At least one of our Bishops attended there at the same time I was there (Bishop Lindsay Davis), and they educated many UM’s for many years prior to their losing their status with the Senate.

Riley B. Case

Years ago when I was considering a seminary I was advised by some of the leaders of our conference to go the United Methodist seminary because, among other things, it was “diverse” and “balanced.” It was an interesting understanding of balance. There were professors who theologically and in other ways were extreme left, some were left, some were moderately left, several I would call were centrists. There were no true conservatives, no evangelicals, no fundamentalists, no charismatics. In short there was almost no one who would have sympathy with the kind of parishioners I was serving at the time. The… Read more »

Nathan Mattox

is this an opinion piece? Please UMR, I know it’s a busy time of year but don’t scrape the bottom of the juicy ecumenism barrel without saying what the source was and maybe consider editing out the worldly antagonistic gibberish from an otherwise informative piece. Love, your friendly neighborhood radicalized Claremont grad serving liberal bastions like Waldron, AR, Morris, OK, and Tulsa.


Does anyone know if the number for St. Paul’s reflect both the Kansas City (now Leawood) and Oklahoma City campuses combined?


A very good compendium of UMC seminary trends. This is information people in the pew rarely get. It’s important, especially today, that laity be aware of pastoral training. For example, in contrast to what has been suggested, if you are aware of the different programs and philosophical approaches at Claremont and Iliff Schools of Theology, I think it is reasonable to suggest they are, indeed, the most extreme of the UMC affiliated seminaries. This is the kind of information–e.g., that Claremont is a center for Process Theology–that should be readily available to any UMC member. Also, again in contrast to… Read more »


A few questions. How do I tell if a seminary has been radicalized? Are there signs on campus or something? Maybe they all get their news from MSNBC. Why should I care? If an ordained elder is preaching the doctrine and discipline of The UMC does it matter if he went to Harvard or got his MDiv off the back of a cereal box? Where he has been does not matter much to a pew sitter like me. Where he is taking me is what matters. What is the point of this article?

George Nixon Shuler

It depends upon who is using the term. Jesus Christ as portrayed in the Gospels was certainly a “radical” by today’s standards. I’d have to say UM theology School faculty are not exactly firebrands by and large. But you will find few who believe Faux News gives them “the truth,” and that shows they are not idiots.

Jeff Reed
Jeff Reed

The author clearly has no idea of how schools are added/deleted by the University Senate; some good journalism would go along way to clarifying some of the misconceptions that are presented in the article. Furthermore, the author seems to be making the claim that students are preferring ‘conservative’ seminaries to ‘liberal’ ones (I mean come out and say it, don’t dance around your thesis here!) but fails to consider the admission requirements, geographic location of the school, and a multitude of other factors. News flash, it is more difficult to be admitted to Duke, Emory, or Perkins than it is… Read more »

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