Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Gnostic Seminary at the Gnosis Institute

As first publicly announced to the Internet Gnostic community last year, having been in the planning stages for more than six years prior to that, the Stephanus Seminary, or Ministry Preparation program, will be the lead academic program of the Gnosis Institute. It being proposed as the first educational program of the Institute for many reasons, the most important being the need for such a program.

The program takes the view that students are serious about preparation for active engaged Gnostic ministry, and are not simply seeking the fastest track to ordination. Gnostic ministry is a difficult task in the best of circumstances, one that many set out to devote their lives to, and a very few succeed in actually living out. Rather than focus on ordination, we focus on serious preparation for ministry that is academic, both broad and deep, and practice oriented. With the limitations of distance, the lack of personal contact and experience central to Gnosis, being overcome to the extent possible via residential conferences. Temporary learning communities that will allow us to grow our vital Gnostic community beyond the limitations of where we reside.

This allows for the best of both worlds, professional level preparation through an academic institution, in conjunction with formation and specific training within an ecclesiastical context. Although some may try to make this into a false dilemma, turning it into an exclusive choice, no such dualism exists.

The model followed is that of an open academic not-denominational seminary, such as Harvard Divinity School or Union Theological Seminary, but Gnostic in focus and designed to prepare for active spiritual ministry. This may be considered in contrast to the model of a seminary as a church institution for formation to the priesthood within a single denomination, like a Roman Catholic or Lutheran seminary. The strictly denominational model of seminary has been on the decline for quite some time, with most seminaries representing more than a single denomination, or being open and used by more than one. The open academic not-denominational model only represents a small percentage of seminaries, these usually having grown from denominational ones.

While they vary to a great extent, every church has a formation program. A process of becoming and learning that leads to ordination. Due to the limitations of distance, and the immediacy and inexpressibility of Gnosis, Apostolic Gnostic churches in general do not have distance formation programs, with only recent years seeing some limited occurrences. Formation has been considered something that occurs in-person. It is in this and broader contexts that the Stephanus Seminary at the Gnosis Institute is designed to operate.

The vision of the program is that of an open professional seminary that will essentially serve in the areas of formation that are academic and general. This has the additional benefit of bringing together students from different churches and traditions to be able to have a sense of going through the process together. There are few enough of us, and in any given formation program there are fewer still. These ties will continue to connect the Gnostic community long after students graduate.

The benefit to church formation programs is that they no longer need to be in the business of being a school: either trying to do it all with few resources, or doing much less; but can instead focus on the more personal aspects of formation, and aspects of practice. Additionally, the program is modular, both to adapt to the individual ministry for which it is preparation, and to adapt to the different focuses of Gnostic churches and traditions—to be able to serve all those seeking serious preparation for Gnostic ministry.

The Stephanus Seminary at the Gnosis Institute is an open professional Gnostic seminary. This will allow those seeking preparation for ministry to do so, regardless of the form of that ministry. The Gnosis Institute will be open to all, with ordination between candidate and church, as always.

Students are advised that some churches require other academic programs, ones that are contained within their organization. Students who seek ordination are advised to consult with their ecclesiatical body if they seek to use this program as a part of their formation process. However, graduates of such denominational academic programs will still want to enter this program. Benefiting from its modular nature so as to focus more on the areas that were not previously covered.

Additionally, the Gnosis Institute will offer three other allied programs: Developing Psyche & Spirit, Gnostic Studies, and Living Philosophy. More information on the educational programs of the Institute will follow.


Roger Kuhrt, PhD said...
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Rev. Troy said...

As to the name, it was chosen in honor of Stephan Heoller in a large part because of how he is universally regarded. Due to the nature and seriousness of his work, he is the Gnostic figure who transcends the petty organizational politics of Gnosticism. And so, it is quite the opposite of what you suggest. In a world where “universal” means a denomination, and any other abstract term will be associated with a particular and narrow view, when the name Stephanus finally occurred to me, I saw it as the only practical way to really show that we are universal, open, and seriously committed to the highest standards. It is also a way to simply show that this is not an attempt to please everyone with a program dictated by outside counsels or committees for their own purposes. The Seminary, like the rest of the Institute, will be a leader guided by the highest standards, rather than a follower of trends, groups, and politics.

It wasn't the first idea for a name that came to mind, but just as there are the standard default names for Gnostic chapels and such, there are the standard default names for Gnostic seminaries, and for schools and seminaries that teach subjects of a less main-stream nature. It has been one of those ironies that as a life-long seeker and lover of wisdom, that names involving Sophia are so common that I don't want to just “join in” in using them. (I'll leave aside the odd label of “Sophianic Gnostics” for now.)

Honestly, the EG is the least personality cult-like Gnostic church I have encountered. Other organizations take me by surprise continually by their narrow considerations, their secretiveness, and their “us vs. them” mentality. I've taken some strong blows from having this as a non-issue in my own life and in the organizations I am involved with. Everyone seems to want to follow old religious patterns in Gnosticism, Stephan Hoeller with the EG has actually been living a different vision for longer than I have been alive.

It was after attempting to support Jeremy in his endeavors that it became quickly apparent that my concerns were not even understood, and so were dismissed. Perhaps it is the result of having given these things serious consideration, sweat, tears, and yes, blood, for most of my life that has given me a different perspective, a desire to do something that is real and of service to individuals seeking to follow the path of Gnosis to liberation.

There are places for the efforts going on, but let's simply be frank and say that the visions and goals are very limited. These, in fact, rest upon an external foundation that has been provided by others, and has simply been adopted, most often without a deep understanding. What I seek to do is to examine that foundation—and also expand it.

I also don't agree about the importance of perception (marketing/marketability), the most important thing is always the reality. The rest is psychology, stories, and tricks. We are too used to the marketing being the important part, that the product is often an after-thought. If I wanted to market something, I'd pick something much more marketable than rigorous explorations into the nature of reality and our relationship to it. In fact, almost anything else would fit that bill. ;)


Roger Kuhrt, PhD said...
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Rev. Troy said...

No problem. I didn't think you were being critical of Stephan. And, as I was trying to get across, it wouldn't be an issue if you were.

The obvious absence of an apostrophe-s, and it being a part of the Gnosis Institute, should be clear enough. I know it won't be for everyone, but nothing ever is.

As far as control goes, it is always a matter of both extent and scope. People have a tendency to forget about scope, but having control over how lunch is made, is a very different animal from having control over how the laws governing the land are made, for example.

A steward of a church, bears that responsibility, and the ability to carry out that responsibility. But the scope of that is very limited and falls within the scope of the practicalities of the church. Such things as liturgical form, for example. Another way of looking at it is simply the ability to say, definitively, what is a part of the public expression of the church and what is not. And this may be the simplest definition of a particular church as opposed to any other.

Some dislike that in an abstract way, as being undemocratic. Others see it as an impediment to changing the church to suit their current notions of what they want. And most don't understand that the model of orthodox creedal religion is not the one Gnostics follow.

The opposite issue we remain largely unaware of in our culture, is that of the splitting off of responsibility and the ability to carry out that responsibility. That can lead to a lack of responsibility by those who do act, or to stasis as those with responsibility can't act.

It is also, on a practical level, difficult to impossible to find people willing to take on responsibility who actually would carry it out diligently. So that, even if you wanted to delegate responsibilities, it often isn't possible when it comes down to it.

We must always be mindful of the many dangers and pitfalls on the path and in our attempts to follow it: neither making too much nor too little of them. Where we can make big mistakes is to put our faith in forms, rather than in mindfulness. If we ever think that anything "solves" these problems, we are headed for a collision.

However, this doesn't have any bearing on the choice of name. And, unless someone else has told him, Stephan doesn't even know about the name choice yet.