November 25, 2020

Eden Seminary: The grad school next door

Eden Theological Seminary, a graduate school that specializes in religious and pastoral studies, has been Webster University's neighbor for decades. The institutions regularly collaborate as partners. PHOTO BY JACKIE SHUTT/ The Journal

Sitting across the street in Webster University’s front yard is Eden Seminary, a graduate school  and partner of the university, virtually unknown and overlooked by many Webster students.

“We’re on the other side of the tracks,” joked Webster religious studies professor Alexander van der Haven as he leaned back in his office chair, looking around at his cramped but quaint office in Schultz Hall at Eden Theological Seminary.

The rest of Webster’s religious studies department is housed within the walls of Eden, too, and they share van der Haven’s sentiments.

Eden has collaborated closely with the university for years, whether through leasing office space to house Webster’s religious studies department,  allowing the university to utilize Eden’s athletic fields, or executing real estate transfers (Webster bought the former Luhr Library in 2009 — it is now a vacant building waiting to be used. Webster’s Emerson Library holds a combined book collection from both institutions).

Aside from collaboration between schools, Webster students may not be aware of what Eden offers, or the inner-workings of a seminary with an extensive history and a unique mission.

“We’re the only seminary in the area with diversity and a progressive stance,” said Carol Shanks, Eden’s director of admissions.

Since its inception in 1850 in Marthasville, Mo., Eden Theological Seminary has promoted social justice and practiced as an “open and affirming” institution (non-discriminatory of sexual preference).

In fact, one aspect Shanks looks for when considering potential students is open-mindedness.

“One thing I ask, ‘Is the person able to be open to others’ opinions?’” Shanks said.

Since its move to Webster Groves in 1923, students from more than 20 different denominations have attended Eden. A tri-weekly service, known as Chapel, is held on campus every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. The service is different each time, as it changes with the varying denominations within the seminary. Community members are invited to attend services.

An average of 200 graduate students attend Eden each academic year, and Richard Walters, Eden’s executive vice president, has concerns of enrollment in the future.

“The pool from which we can draw is stable to shrinking,” Walters said. “It’s hard to build enrollment unless some seminaries of our type would close. It would cut competition.”

As a seminary graduate school, Eden specializes in teaching students looking to achieve specific masters degrees, including Master of Divinity (preparation for ordained ministry and religious leadership responsibilities), Master of Arts and Pastoral Studies (leadership in specialized ministry) and Master of Theological Studies (preparation for Ph.D. work in Christian tradition, fields of theology).

Class topics range anywhere from Biblical Studies to Evangelism to Spirituality and Music, and anyone, no matter their beliefs, can attend.

“We’re sort of the private liberal arts college for advanced religious studies,” Walters said.

Surprisingly, Shanks said only a small amount of Webster graduates attend Eden for grad school, though several undergrads visit the campus regularly for use of the campus’s athletic facilities or for select religious studies courses (taught by Webster professors).

Van der Haven said sometimes, though, there is the exception.

“Last year, two Webster (religious studies) students wanted to do an M.A .in the major, so they enrolled in Eden because Webster doesn’t have that M.A.,” he said.

The campus itself is spacious, with old brick and stone buildings angled around the Wiese Quadrangle, a large clearing with many paths circling the quad and intersecting at a fountain in the center.

“I recommend the fountain for dates,” van der Haven said with a smile.

Many of the buildings on Eden’s campus house a myriad of organizations, including the United Church of Christ (of which Eden belongs), Church World Service, the Institute for Peace and Justice (non-profit organization advocating alternatives to violence and injustice) and Churches Uniting in Christ (Christian focusing on issues of racial reconciliation).

In the seminary commons, homemade, hot lunches are prepared several days a week and are available to the public and Webster students alike.

“Everyone always bitches about Marletto’s,” van der Haven said. “Come have homemade lunch at Eden.”

No matter what’s for lunch, what service is being held in Chapel, or what future collaborative plans both institutions are considering, Eden is a learning institution with means to bring about what Vice President Walters calls “transformation.”

“It’s about the experience. It’s about transforming for you, personally,” he said. “Eden promotes going out and becoming an agent for transformation in the community. Bring about a better world. Make things happen. Make things change.”

Class topics range anywhere from Biblical Studies to Evangelism to Spirituality and Music, and anyone can attend, no matter their beliefs.

“We’re sort of the private liberal arts college for advanced religious studies,” Walters said.

Surprisingly, Shanks said only a small amount of Webster graduates attend Eden for grad school, though several undergrads visit the campus regularly for use of the campus’s athletic facilities or for select religious studies courses (taught by Webster professors).

Van der Haven said sometimes, though, there is the exception.

“Last year, two Webster (religious studies) students wanted to do an M.A. in the major, so they enrolled in Eden because Webster doesn’t have that M.A.,” he said.

The campus itself is spacious, with old brick and stone buildings angled around the Wiese Quadrangle, a large clearing with many paths circling the quad and intersecting at a fountain in the center.

“I recommend the fountain for dates,” van der Haven said with a smile.

Many of the buildings on Eden’s campus house a myriad of organizations, including the United Church of Christ (to which Eden belongs), Church World Service, the Institute for Peace and Justice (a non-profit organization advocating alternatives to violence and injustice) and Churches Uniting in Christ (Christian focusing on issues of racial reconciliation).

In the seminary commons, hot homemade lunches are prepared several days a week and are available to the public and Webster students alike.

“Everyone always bitches about Marletto’s,” van der Haven said. “Come have homemade lunch at Eden.”

No matter what is for lunch, what service is being held in Chapel or what future collaborative plans both institutions are considering, Eden is a learning institution with means to bring about what Vice President Walters calls “transformation.”

“It’s about the experience. It’s about transforming for you, personally,” he said. “Eden promotes going out and becoming an agent for transformation in the community. Bring about a better world. Make things happen. Make things change.”

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