The Ecumenical Theological Seminary was established in 1980 (as the Ecumenical Theological Center) to respond to the need for theological education in the Detroit metropolitan area. It is committed to the city of Detroit as a unique laboratory for ministerial education. ETS has been recognized by its colleagues in theological education as uniquely equipped to prepare individuals to meet the challenges of ministry in urban centers. ETS continues its mission into the 21st century to bring together members of Detroit 's faith communities in an ecumenical learning environment.
The roots of Ecumenical Theological Seminary go back to 1957 when Dr. Reuel Howe, concerned with providing continuing education for ministerial professionals, founded the Institute for Advanced Pastoral Studies. IAPS was the first ecumenical facility in the nation founded specifically for continuing education for the clergy - a place where persons from different traditions could learn from each other and grow in their own faith. Seminars assisted ministers in focusing on their personal experience and exploring how they actually lived their own theology.
In 1973, Dr. John Biersdorf succeeded Reuel Howe. Biersdorf came to Detroit with a rich background of experience at the National Council of Churches which assisted him in establishing a new focus that emphasized the experience of a life of prayer as the basis and foundation for ministry. Essential to the new expression of mission was the integration of social action with a life of prayer in ministry. In 1980, IAPS merged with the Ecumenical Theological Center. This new organization was founded as an association of schools and other kindred institutions to develop and enhance the educational resources for ministry regionally, and to foster ecumenical cooperation, and service.
The next 15 years brought the achievement of many academic milestones for the institution. The State of Michigan formally chartered the Doctor of Ministry program. The Cooperative Master of Divinity program was born through the affiliation with Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois in 1988. In 1992, Dr. David Swink succeeded Dr. Biersdorf and initiated programs that solidified the infrastructure of the Center, including the funding of the John E. Biersdorf Library and establishment of the ETS Endowment Fund which is held by the Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan.
The Urban Ministry Diploma Program began in 1994 as the result of the project of an ETS doctoral student, Rev. Kenneth Harris, who served as its director for six years, and is currently the director again. Originally called the Diploma in Christian Ministry (DCM), the program was intended for clergy and lay persons who desired a seminary-type educational experience that would ordinarily be out of their reach. The program has evolved over the years, and its new name, the Urban Ministry Diploma Program, better reflects the focus of the program. Also in 1994, the official name of the organization was changed to the Ecumenical Theological Seminary in order to better reflect the changing role the institution was assuming in the leadership of theological education.
Dr. V. Bruce Rigdon became president in 1997 and led ETS to become an Associate Member Institution of the Association of Theological Schools, the first step toward full academic accreditation. In 2002, the Presbytery of Detroit voted to give to ETS the building, land and endowments of the First Presbyterian Church, which had been its leased home for 10 years. In 2003, ETS applied for, and received, a Sustaining Pastoral Excellence grant from the Lilly Endowment. The proposed program was directed at those seasoned in the work of ministry, and was aimed at giving them the tools to sustain the work in which they were engaged. That program commenced in fall 2004 and was completed in July, 2010, having nurtured four groups of ministers each through a three-year cycle. The program was so successful that each of the groups has decided to keep in contact, some groups meeting twice yearly, to continue the support and sharing of insights that was so valuable to them. In 2009, the Seminary was encouraged by The Endowment to write a new grant incorporating “best practices” from the previous program into the Masters level programs.
In July, 2006, Dr. Marsha Foster Boyd became president of ETS, having served on the ATS staff for seven years. During her years at the Seminary she has strengthened the Board membership, launched the Everyone Eats Program (a meal program for hungry and homeless people in the neighborhood) an
d established the Institute for Urban Initiatives (IUI), a 501(c))(3) organization to help secure funding for future projects and program development (cf. Standard 2, p. 8). She has provided strong leadership for the continuation of current academic programs, for the addition of the Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry and the Muslim Chaplaincy Programs and for moving the Seminary from years of deficit spending to balancing its budget.
For over fifty years this organization has been providing high quality theological education in the metro Detroit area.
Rev. Dr. Marsha Foster Boyd