Ecclesiastical Autoimmune Syndrome – Part 3

By Ken Howard

Today’s post is the third of a multipart series on Ecclesiastical Autoimmune Syndrome
Click here for last week’s post

E.A.S. in Seminary

In this series of blog posts, we are reviewing the signs and symptoms of Ecclesiastical Autoimmune Syndrome so that we can learn to spot it before it becomes terminal. After Commissions on Ministry, the next opportunity for E.A.S. to set in is in seminary.


Near the end of my seminary experience, as I sat in front of the Commission on Ministry for my final interview before approval for ordination to the transitional diaconate, my bishop (God bless him) asked me if I could share a metaphor that would honestly capture my seminary experience. My response was that “It felt like a cross between kindergarten and boot camp. They assume you enter without relevant opinions about ordained ministry, and if they find out that you do, the quickly and thoroughly disabuse you of them.”

A personal example: Entering seminary with a degree in adult education and 14 years experience as an adult educator, I was discouraged to sit through class after class taught with 18th century educational methodology. Worse, I was faced with the requirement to take Christian Education 101. My sanity was saved when my New Testament (and Greek) professor offered to get me out of CE101 if I would help her incorporate proven adult education methodology into her “Introduction to the New Testament” class as an independent study project. (She would be retiring the same year I would be graduating, so we figured we both had nothing to lose). The class was highly successful, she said the students that went through the redesigned class left understanding the letters of Apostle Paul like never before (as opposed to forgetting 90% of what they heard in the old lecture model).

But the short-term response of the faculty and students was classically symptomatic of Ecclesiastical Autoimmunity Syndrome. The students hated the idea of peer-to-peer and group learning. They saw it as threatening their control over their grades. “What if I don’t get my ‘A’?” was a common complaint. After learning I was advising the NT professor, one student told me in a joking/not joking tone, “You know there’s a special place in hell for people like you, right?” Meanwhile, many of the other professors seemed to view what we were doing as an implicit judgement of their instructional approaches and a threat to their classroom authority.  When I graduated, the faculty decided that my “pass/fail” grade must be counted against my GPA, which meant I narrowly missed “cum laude” honors (not that I was in it for the grades, but still…). Upon her retirement, the NT professor placed the curriculum in the seminary library as a instructional model, but all copies disappeared within a year.

Next week: How E.A.S. functions in post-seminary ministry & ecclesiastical governance