Michael Way doesn't describe himself this way, but for those who know him, he is an outward and visible sign of Bexley Hall's quest to equip seminarians "for Christian ministry in a pluralistic world." His ecumenical education at Bexley prepared him particularly well for the Episcopal church he serves in New Albany, Ohio, which has a large proportion of non-Episcopalians and shares close relationships — and a driveway — with a neighboring synagogue.
As far as All Saints is concerned, the environment at Bexley trained me well to be in a .... I hesitate to say nontraditional environment, but it is that," Way said. "It is a young, growing church that now has a Sunday attendance of 150 to 160. At least half the people came from other faith traditions or no faith traditions."
"It's a wonderful environment," Way said of Bexley. "I think it is essential for forward-thinking Christians to have a sense of the ecumenical community and to be engaged in working with other people's faiths. The “Call to Common Mission” agreed to between the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Episcopal Church is played out everyday right here in this seminary environment."
"The liturgical planning part of my seminary training was especially helpful and productive," Way said. "I was exposed to many different styles and traditions. For one of the services, my planning group drew upon our experiences from a recent seminary trip to Africa, led by our Church History professor who happened to be an ordained priest in the Anglican Church in Kenya, so we planned the services using the Kenyan prayer book and included the music and dancing that we had witnessed in the African churches we had visited. Our liturgical planning took us many places and we ran the gamut from that type of service to something quite Anglo Catholic with incense flying all over the place. It wasn't haphazard. It took place as appropriate. And we worked closely with the faculty."
Understanding the practices of other denominations led Way to a deeper understanding of his own denomination.
"What was wonderful about it is was not just that we got to know each other and the nuances of our respective theological bents," he said, "by becoming more familiar with other liturgical traditions. People may feel that my Anglican identity would be diluted, but it was the opposite. I became more aware of my own tradition because I had substantial experiences in other traditions."
The Bumpy Road to Seminary
Way's arrival at Bexley was a long time coming. His first career was in the hospitality business in New York City, where he worked for almost 20 years, primarily in special events planning. But he had felt called to the priesthood for a long time, and in 2004, he decided to give it a shot.
"I had decided to begin the discernment process to become a priest," Way said, "and I thought it made sense for me to move back to England and do it there, since a few years earlier when I lived in London, I had begun to discern a call to the priesthood in the Church of England. So, I quit my job and prepared to move abroad, but on a visit home to visit my parents in Ohio, I realized that something was wrong; they just didn’t seem able to manage their lives very well. I was worried."
Way did move abroad for about three months and then came back to visit his parents (who are now deceased). He found that their situation had continued to deteriorate.
"I decided to move back to Ohio and be with them for a little while and get them in good shape and then move on," Way said. " My mother had Alzheimer's, although it had not been diagnosed yet. I realized I needed to stay with them and serve as their primary care giver in order for them to be able to stay together in their own home. I found myself regretting that now that I had finally pulled myself out of my career and was on the brink of answering a call that I had felt for a very long time, I was suddenly in a situation that would probably require a postponement of those plans.
At the time, Way was unaware of Bexley's growing program in Columbus. Bexley Hall began awarding degrees in conjunction with Trinity Lutheran Seminary in 2003. In 2005, the Columbus campus became Bexley Hall’s institutional headquarters, and since 2008, Bexley Hall has had one unified M.Div. program at Trinity.
"Someone mentioned to me that there was a Lutheran seminary in Columbus — this is going back to 2004." Way said. "I knew vaguely that Bexley Hall had a presence in Rochester, New York, but I wasn't aware of its presence in Columbus. I found out about it on the Trinity Lutheran website. As I went through the postulancy process, I had a long talk with Bishop Price (the Rt. Rev. Kenneth Price Jr., suffragan bishop of the Diocese of Southern Ohio), who was on the board of trustees at Bexley, and he encouraged me to apply there."
It was a decision Way never regretted.
"It was for geographic reasons that I chose Bexley; I had specific needs and was limited to where I felt I could go at that time," Way said. "I probably would have preferred to go to England or General Seminary in New York City. But after a year of experiencing the seminary and the ecumenical relationships that were a distinctive feature of Bexley Hall’s partnership with Trinity Lutheran Seminary, I said that if I had known what a vital contribution this partnership would make to my formation, I would have chosen to go to Bexley Hall in the first place."
At All Saints Episcopal Church in New Albany, Way currently is serving as priest-in-charge while the rector takes a long-awaited sabbatical.
A quick note on All Saints: The church sits on a 16-acre campus that it shares with Temple Beth Shalom, a Reformed synagogue. The church began in 1997 at the request of the Bishop of Southern Ohio and met for a year and a half at the synagogue before moving to the New Albany High School, while plans were made and funds were raised for its first building. The first service in their own building was held just prior to Christmas, 2005.
Looking Back, Looking Ahead
It's been a great journey," Way said. "At times I catch myself regretting that I let so much of my adult life go by before I became part of this process, but if I had done it any earlier.... I think I really needed those life experiences. I realize that I came at the right time. And Bexley Hall is a fantastic place for all students, but particularly for second career students, commuter students and older students. And I can't say enough about the relationships we have with Trinity Lutheran. I really value having been a part of the Trinity experience as well.
"The great advantage of a Bexley education was to benefit from the more intimate nature of a small seminary while at the same time enjoying the vast resources of a large seminary. With the Bexley Hall/Trinity Lutheran partnership, you have the best of both worlds."
When Way talks about Bexley Hall, it is not all nostalgia.
"It's not all just looking back," he said. "There are exciting developments on the horizon, especially with regard to the new relationship between Bexley Hall and Seabury Western Seminary, which will offer Bexley alums many opportunities for continuing education, and I'm very excited about that."