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Coburn Suggests Church Institute Of Social Study

Charging that "the present way of preparing men for the ministry serves only to perpetuate the thinking of a divided church." John B. Coburn, dean of the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge, called for the establishment of a broad-based center for postgraduate religious training.

His speech marked the start of a two-day celebration at the 150th anniversary of the Harvard Divinity School.

As part of a general plan of reform, Coburn also proposed that divinity students in the Boston area be required to take up to a third of their courses at other seminaries.

The postgraduate center -- tentatively titled the Institute for Church and Society--would coordinate the study of particular practical problems. After a clergyman had worked in his church for a decade, Coburn explained, he would return to the Institute to spend one or two semesters in a close examination of a single issue, such as civil rights, drugs, abortion, or war. For his work, he would draw upon the resources of corporations, volunteer groups, and universities as well as theological schools.

The Institute's program, Coburn said, would fill a major gap in a minister's training. Present divinity education, he said, only widens the separation between clergymen and their congregations and tends to make it "a sterile enterprise unrelated to the needs of society."

Before a student's ordination, the exchange program at other theological schools would also widen his experience, Coburn said. At present, four seminaries in the Boston area -- Harvard, Andover Newton, Boston University, and the Episcopal Theological School -- allow cross-registration for courses, he added, but only a small minority of their students take advantage of the system.

Making exchange courses a requirement and extending cross-registration to all other theological schools in the Boston area. Coburn said, would produce a combination of the best features of both denominational and interdenominational seminaries. While a student would be in close contact with others of his faith, he would also gain an exposure to a variety of other traditions.

Coburn observed that "parochial and institutional loyalties" would present the largest obstacle to putting these plans into operation, but emphasized that Boston, with its complex of universities and technical centers, would be the ideal nucleus for such an experiment.

The Divinity School anniversary celebration continues today. Johannes C. Hoekendijk, professor of Missions at Union Theological Seminary, will speak on "Christendom in an Expanding and Shrinking World," at 4:30 p.m. this afternoon in Memorial Church.

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