During his junior year at Susquehanna University, Russ Crouthamel piled into a minivan with three other students and visited four Lutheran seminaries, driving from central Pennsylvania to Minnesota and back during his spring break.
Crouthamel had no way of knowing that an Episcopal seminary named Bexley Hall would play a crucial role in his decision to go to Trinity Lutheran.
He describes it this way: "It was a long, long road trip. By luck of the scheduling, we pulled into Trinity Lutheran Seminary on Thursday afternoon. So one of my first experiences of Trinity was the Bexley Hall Common Meal, which is prepared and served by Bexley Hall students and faculty every Thursday night for everyone at both Trinity and Bexley.
To be able to see the whole community coming together for that meal—students, families, faculty—for fellowship and the chance to be together outside the classroom and outside the seminary setting, it was wonderful. It was a major factor in my decision to go to Trinity over the other seminaries.
"One of the things I most dearly love about the partnership between Trinity and Bexley Hall is the Common Meal at Bexley House."
As alumni know, there is a lot that is special about Bexley Hall and its distinctive educational partnership with Trinity. The two seminaries joined together in 1999, when Bexley opened what was then a satellite in a house on Trinity’s campus on the eastern edge of Columbus. Bexley's 15-plus seminarians are fully integrated into the daily life of Trinity's 100-plus students, and Episcopalians and Lutherans learn of each other's liturgies, doctrines and traditions.
The result is rich academic and spiritual life that broadens theological perspectives while strengthening each seminarian's own denominational identity.
Recent interviews with four seminarians—three Episcopalians, one Lutheran—captured the seminary's unique characteristics. Although it is the smallest of the 11 Episcopal seminaries in the United States, Bexley offers a compelling alternative to larger institutions, thanks to its outstanding professors, rigorous courses, diverse ecumenical opportunities and a great living environment and social life.
Students pointed out the many times Bexley and Trinity seminarians get together for meals or drinks or theological discussions that last until all hours of the night, and their joint efforts on the Trinity flag football team. They talked about the convenience of being right cross the street from Capital University, which allows seminarians the use of its facilities, including the library, gym, indoor track and weight room.
Nikki Seger, a second-career seminarian sponsored by the Diocese of Michigan, described the seminary's location in Bexley, a suburb of Columbus, as feeling "like a little village within a city. I can walk to the movie theater across the street. There are tons of boutiques. I walk to the grocery store and the bank," said Seger, who just completed her first year of seminary. "There's a running path on a creek that's right by campus, and since I'm a fly fisherman, I'm always drawn to water. I've been very pleasantly surprised by campus life."
For Seger, who is now a second-year student, the intimacy of Bexley is one of its primary attractions.
"I don't think you could overemphasize the fact that we all know each other by name," she said. "It is the perfect size because
ofrelationships. It's a lovely experience. I almost didn't come to Bexley because I thought it might be too small, and I was a little bit hesitant about our relationship with Trinity Lutheran, thinking I might lose my Episcopal identity.
"To my joy, Bexley Hall could stand on its own as a great, great seminary, but the relationship with Trinity Lutheran makes it that much better."
Bexley's partnership with Trinity Lutheran preceded the inauguration of Called to Common Mission, which established full communion between the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. For some seminarians, that partnership was a deciding factor in their choice of seminaries. For others, appreciation for the relationship grew with experience.
"I think one of the things that I've come to appreciate the most about the relationship between Trinity Lutheran and Bexley Hall is that the other seven Lutheran seminaries don’t have the same depth of ecumenical diversity,” Crouthamel said. "People from other traditions may attend, but there is not that same partnership arrangement. Being able to have a group of Episcopalians worshiping and studying alongside of us, taking part in the liturgy, has been really enriching and given me the opportunity to see the ways that people other than Lutherans do community, do worship and do theology. It has enriched my own spirituality and theology."
Before coming to Bexley, Beth Frank took several courses at Wesley Theological Seminary, a Methodist seminary in Washington, DC, where she saw the benefit of an ecumenical education.
"I learned the pluses of being in a seminary where you get to really understand at least one other perspective, and here it is the Lutherans," said Frank, a senior who went through her discernment process in the Diocese of Washington, where she spent 17 years as an attorney and litigator with the federal government and five years with Special Olympics in Virginia.
"That is one of the things that sets Bexley Hall apart. Being with another faith tradition is a very enriching environment."
Frank said Bexley's size has been a surprising plus.
"Bexley Hall's smallness means there is no place to hide, and that is a really positive thing," she said, "because in whatever ministry we end up doing, there is no place to hide; you have to let your light shine and not just retreat into the shadows."
Bexley Hall has been a perfect fit for Shaun LaDuc, a member of the class of 2012, from Waterford, Michigan.
"When I was considering seminary, I was working as a carpenter," LaDuc said. "We remodel Kroger stores, and we were remodeling one in a little county seat about an hour from Columbus, so I thought, oh, maybe Bexley Hall. We visited Columbus, and I fell in love with the town of Columbus.
"I pretty much fell in love with Bexley. It was an ideal place to be. I couldn't imagine myself anywhere else. I went to a small university in Michigan, a private Christian school, so the small size attracted me."
LaDuc said there's always plenty to do and people to do it with.
"In most cases, no matter where you are, you have to make community," said LaDuc. "I live in a dorm, so there are people around and there's always something going on, whether evening prayer, or drinks and dinner somewhere, or a bonfire in the fire pit. "
Seger said that from her efficiency apartment she looks down on the fire pit, where every Friday night people sit talking and socializing around a bonfire that starts around 8 o'clock and goes until the early hours of the morning.
While she loves the socializing and the camaraderie of Bexley Hall, for her, the worship services are what help her stay centered.
Worship opportunities abound at Bexley, where services are planned by students and offered to the whole community. Morning Prayer is offered prior to classes every weekday except Thursday, when Eucharist is celebrated. The primary service each day is the 10 a. m. chapel gathering, which alternates between the Lutheran and Anglican traditions, and includes a Wednesday Eucharist. Each night there is Evening Prayer, which also alternates between traditions. There's also an Evensong on Thursdays and a Eucharist in the Anglican tradition on Tuesday evenings.
"To me personally, the most important thing is the worship opportunities for the community, and when I say community I am referring to Bexley Hall and Trinity Lutheran together," Seger said. "It is just lovely. Each day I have two to four worship services to go to, and all are different and refreshing. We divvy up between worshiping in the Anglican and Lutheran traditions, and I knew nothing about the Lutheran tradition."
And then there's the fellowship of Bexley Hall's Thursday night common meal.
"It's an outreach that Bexley Hall puts on for the whole community," Frank explained. "This year we've had between 40 and 50 people attend. Bexley Hall funds it, and the students and faculty put it on. There's evensong at 5 o'clock and then the meal is at 5:30 or so. Then we do Compline from quarter to 7 to 7. It's an important time of fellowship, and as pointed out by Trinity Lutheran students, there's no other open time that is totally casual. It's really a Bexley Hall ministry."
Although Bexley Hall seminarians are greatly outnumbered, "their impact on the seminary is huge," Crouthamel said. "There is not really any sense of 'ours' and 'theirs’. "Every time I say 'they' it seems really weird. I don't see Bexley Hall as a separate group. We are one. It's just that when we graduate, we'll have different signatures on our degrees. We share classes; we share professors. I don't think any of the classes I've taken, except one, didn't have a Bexley Hall student in it.
"For the most part, for the overwhelming majority at the seminary, there is no distinction between Trinity Lutheran and Bexley Hall students. It is a very united group."
It is a group united in their mission of preparing for Christian ministry in a pluralistic world.