Baptist unions across Europe are being consulted on the future of the International Baptist Theological Seminary (IBTS), which is facing a funding crisis brought on by the global economic crisis.
The European Baptist Federation-owned seminary in Prague has seen its income drop by 50 percent for the current academic year.
Its newly-established strategy group has now written to all unions within the EBF, asking for comments on a number of options.
These include selling all or part of the seminary’s JenerÃ¡lka site, shutting down part of the site until the situation improves or identifying a partner institution to share the site.
The ‘severe financial challenges’ have arisen because of several factors, the seminary said in a statement.
Key supporters in Europe and the USA have ‘cut back dramatically in donation support’ as they wrestle with the global economic downturn.
In addition the IBTS endowment itself has lost ‘a significant part of its value’ in the past 18 months, while the Czech crown has remained very high against the dollar, euro and pound to further aggravate the situation.
The IBTS board of trustees subsequently established the special strategy group to ‘explore a viable way ahead’.
The Revd Tony Peck, EBF general secretary said, ‘IBTS is at the very heart of our EBF family, and has played a significant role in forming many of our current union leaders.
‘This is a moment of both great challenge and, potentially, great opportunity.
‘We need God’s wisdom, and the active support of the EBF member unions which together ‘own’ the seminary, so that we might find a good way forward into the future.’
The Revd Dr Keith G Jones, IBTS rector since 1998, said, ‘IBTS has been an amazingly successful institution for European Baptists over 60 years and part of the reason for that has been our willingness to adapt and change to new circumstances — we hope the EBF unions will grasp the opportunity to set us on a positive course for the next decade.’
The unions are being asked to respond to the options during May and June, and the EBF council meeting on July 24 in Amsterdam will discuss the way forward.
The options are:
— to shut down some part of the Prague site and concentrate all activities on a smaller proportion of the buildings until the situation changes;
— to sell part of the JenerÃ¡lka site; or
— to sell the whole site and relocate.
Unions are being also asked to comment on whether IBTS should:
— identify a partner institution and either share the JenerÃ¡lka site, or move IBTS to their site;
— move IBTS either alone or with a partner institution, to a different type of site, centred on a library, with teaching rooms, offices and minimal accommodation; or
— have the library and offices as one site, and centre the faculty members in a variety of sites around Europe.
The board has identified the key activities of IBTS as: offering Masters, postgraduate and doctoral studies in Contextual Mission and Applied theology; Baptist and Anabaptist Studies; providing a European centre for Baptist research and identity and, in particular, as the empowering catalyst for the Consortium of European Baptist Theological Seminaries (CEBTS).
Chair of the board of trustees, British Baptist pastor, the Revd Ruth Gouldbourne commented, ‘It is in these activities that our identity and gifts lie, and it is with these that we intend to continue our life.’
Dr Jones added that while JenerÃ¡lka is a ‘magnificent, attractive’ site, the ‘mission of baptistic churches does not rely on buildings, but people and the calling of God’.
‘Our work can be done just as effectively from a smaller suite of premises,’ he told The Baptist Times.
The situation coincides with the 60th anniversary of the seminary, which was originally formed in Switzerland and moved to Prague in 1997.
IBTS has helped to provide Baptist leaders in many European countries.
Since its move to Prague it has seen six people gain their doctor of Philosophy degree, 92 gained one of the Master of Theology or Magister degrees, 144 students graduate through the Certificate of Theology (CAT) programme and 13 through the Intensive English for Theology Programme.
The students over this period have come from 44 countries.
The seminary has been celebrating its Diamond Jubilee with reunions, a graduation, a birthday party and a service of thanksgiving with guests including the president of the EBF, the Revd Toma Magda.
Paul Hobson is news editor for The Baptist Times, where this story first appeared.