History & Mission

The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are faced with three intractable and seemingly unrelated problems:

  1. The double bind of ordained parochial leadership: We have an overabundance of well-trained, capable priests.  We have too many parishes in need of priests.  We need to somehow connect the dots.
  2. The diminishment of theological discourse in parish life: In many dioceses, you can be a priest or you can be a scholar… but you cannot aspire to be both.
  3. The overall decline of North American theological education: We force potential theological educators to make an ill-fated choice between parish and academy, one which helps neither the aspirant nor the Church that sent them away.

But what if we didn’t force the choice? What if we created space within our structures for the parochial pursuit of theological scholarship? What if we encouraged and nurtured the vocation of scholar-priests? We think several things might happen:

  1. Smaller, out-of-the-way, and under-resourced parishes will become attractive to those who would normally feel the need to stay near university centers: Such places could offer both the time and space to pursue theological scholarship, while also fostering a connection to the people on the ground for whom such scholarly edification is ultimately intended.
  2. Theology for the Church will be done in the Church: It would help bridge the gap between purportedly disconnected worlds, reminding the Church why scholarship matters and reminding scholars why the Church matters.
  3. We will stop forcing choices between scholarship and ministry: It would mean a generation of pastor-theologians who do what they love and love what they do.

SPI was founded in 2012 when a small group met in Monteagle, TN. The meeting was called by The Revd Jason Ingalls, a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee, The Revd Rachel Kessler, a priest of the Diocese of Toronto, and Dr Jacob Sherman, Associate Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies. It was agreed in Tennessee that SPI would be an initiative aimed at the broad center of TEC and ACC, one that attempted to bring together partisans of different sorts in a project that would strengthen our common life for the future.

The Scholar-Priest Initiative holds two things dear. First, every parish deserves good leadership. Second, theology done for the parish can once again be done in the parish. Our churches often divorce theology and the parish and both suffer as a result. In response, SPI supports, mentors, and helps fund centered, open, and effective scholar-priests and works with bishops and other leaders to connect scholar-priests with parishes that need stable and effective leadership.

We will do this in four phases:

  • Phase One: The Society of Scholar-Priests, a society for anyone who feels called to this integral vocation.
  • Phase Two: The Parish Fellowship, a grant program which will connect parishes that cannot afford full-time ministry with centered, open, and effective scholar-priests.
  • Phase Three: The Advanced Degree Fellowship, a grant program which will enable those called to scholar-priesthood to pursue academic masters or doctoral programs.
  • Phase Four: Advocacy. Based on the experience of SSP and our fellowships, SPI will address the systemic problems that create vast inequalities in parish life across our Churches.

Our Core Values:

Introducing our core values

  1. Rooted in Scripture and Tradition
  2. Post-Partisan (“The Beer Principle”)
  3. Oriented to Wise Action

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