Below is a letter I am sending to the president of Columbia Theological Seminary, Dr. Steve Hayner, and members of the “cabinet”:
I know you have been receiving countless communications about your recent announcement regarding Columbia’s housing policy. One of these letters is from my friend, Michael Kirby.
I write now, with his permission, to tell you a part of the story that he did not.
Michael and I were friends long before seminary. We met in Houston, Texas, both former Southern Baptists who attended the same church, St. Philip Presbyterian. Michael was an elder; I was a deacon and later a staff member. We were in Sunday School class together. We sang in the choir together. We went on young-adult retreats together (back when we were young adults). And, nurtured in the loving care of that amazing church community, we felt God calling us to ministry—not exactly together, but in parallel.
We were interested in some of the same seminaries, and happened to attend the same CTS Inquirer’s Weekend in November 1999. We didn’t talk much that weekend, giving each other space to discern, but I found myself wondering whether he was as lit up with excitement as I was over what Columbia had to offer. He was.
I still remember the tentative conversation with Michael the day the scholarship announcements went out, and the explosion of joy when we found out that we had both received identical scholarships. Over the years at Columbia, it’s fair to say that we competed, but in the best possible way: We drove one another to do our absolute best. We supported and encouraged one another and studied together. We gave each other tips for navigating our home presbytery’s Committee on Preparation for Ministry. We each found our own niches and leadership opportunities while drawing closer to one another. We remain close to this day. I celebrate his ministry in Chicago and across the larger church, particularly as a voice for justice and for the compassion of God that knows no bounds.
I’ll be honest. In my early stages of discernment, when I pictured myself in seminary, I imagined striking out on my own, not with someone from my hometown. But I cannot imagine my call story without Michael Kirby.
Our stories diverge in one important way. Michael, a gay man, arrived at Columbia unpartnered, whereas I came with a husband. And therein lies the cruel twist: despite our similarities in background, despite our mutual commitment to academic rigor and excellence in ministry, and despite our shared love for the church, had Michael been the one to arrive with a husband instead of me, he would have been barred from campus housing.
That, in short, is a travesty.
I do not envy you the many constituencies and interests you must consider in stewarding Columbia Seminary, an institution we all love and revere. But as you listen to the myriad voices on this issue, don’t forget the future Michael Kirbys out there:
folks who are just now feeling the Holy Spirit tug at them,
folks who feel most alive when they are serving the church,
folks for whom a seminary education may be out of reach financially if they are forced to live off campus…
And folks who will not consider Columbia Theological Seminary so long as they and their families are excluded from a vital part of campus life.
What profoundly gifted servants of God will you never have the opportunity to nurture and grow with as a result of this policy?
Thank you for listening.
Peace of Christ,
The Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana