Many traditions. One Spirit.

Our History

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.  
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 he
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) and 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. Dr. Boyd retired in July 2013, and now holds the President Emeritus status. 

The seminary continued to evolve in the summer of 2014
when the seminary welcomed Dr. Stephen Butler Murray as
President. Previously he had served as the chaplain of
Endicott College, Skidmore College, and Suffolk University. 
He also served as pastor for American Baptist, Lutheran,
Presbyterian, and United Church of Christ congregations in
Massachusetts and New York.  He was attracted to ETS
because of its uniqueness in the academic world and looks
forward to the future ETS has in the renewal of  Detroit.

The Rev. Dr. Kenneth E. Harris is a passionate servant-leader.
His introduction to pastoral ministry began when he 
as the student pastor at Pilgrim Baptist Church (Port Huron, MI).
From there he was elected Senior Pastor of the Twelfth Street
Baptist Church (Detroit). He currently serves as pastor of Detroit
Bible Tabernacle (formerly Detroit Baptist Temple) where he 
been servant-leader for more than thirty-five years. Detroit Bible
Tabernacle began as a home Bible study, clear evidence of  
Dr. Harris’s love for education.   Dr. Harris values education. He is a committed lifelong learner. He holds a Bachelor of Religious Education from William Tyndale College, Master of Arts (Honors) from Ashland Theological Seminary, Doctor of Ministry from Ecumenical Theological Seminary and a Master of Theology from Western Theological Seminary.

Dr. Harris’s love for family is unparalleled.  He has been married to the former Ruthie May White for the past forty-eight years. Dr. Harris enjoys playing golf and spending time in the kitchen creating meals for his family.