Farewell to Chicago Theological Seminary

I always loved the buildings of the Chicago Theological Seminary, just a few blocks from the home where I grew up. I found the beautiful Hilton Chapel first – a very small space, but exquisitely peaceful with its stained glass windows. Long before I understood Christianity, when I was still searching, I spent time there simply pondering.

CTS also gave me my first real job in the summer after my freshman year at college. I worked in the library as a shelf-reader: we checked every book from the card catalog against the books actually on the shelves, finding quite a few that were out of order and others that were missing. This experience solidified, for me, the link between faith and deep scholarship; it overcame any lingering doubts of the separation of faith from reason.

The University of Chicago purchased these buildings in 2008, agreeing to build a new building for the Chicago Theological Seminary on 60th Street. I have to wonder what made them accept the offer. CTS gave up a location at the heart of the campus, close to the Divinity School of UC and to Lutheran and Presbyterian seminaries. Their new building is modern and environmentally friendly – but so different. The very walls in these cloister walks contain stones from Oxford, Plymouth Rock, an inscription from an ancient Greek church – the pedigree of faith permeated the walls.

Milton Friedman’s free-market capitalism takes over

The University is installing the controversial Milton Friedman Institute into the space. Friedman’s radical free-market views raised the hackles of many economists when he served on the faculty at the University, and the decision to accept a large donation to promote his views sparked another round of controversy. I have to wonder at the choice of this building for that Institution; Friedman’s thought could hardly be more opposed to the theology of the United Church of Christ, the body that founded the seminary.

I was glad to get a chance to walk the halls one more time. It was heartbreaking to see the Hilton Chapel with its exquisite windows removed, and to anticipate the renovation that will cover or remove the links with the past.

The United Church of Christ is itself different, theologically and liturgically, from the ethos of the founders of the Seminary. The gothic architecture of medieval Europe perhaps clashes with the spirituality and worship now more common in that denomination. I wish it would have been possible for it to remain with an institution that would have valued the spiritual heritage and treasures of the building.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

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One comment

  1. I always hate to see spiritual things–even buildings–give way to the secular. It’s happening in so many other areas of our society that this instance you write about is even more a tragedy. I’m glad you got see it one last time.

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