The idea of a School of Theology on the Diocesan campus in Garden City was realized in February 1955 when the School registered its first 46 students. In the words of Bishop DeWolfe, the new school was "to provide systematic and adequate instruction in theological subjects for men preparing for Holy Orders unable to attend Seminary and to provide sound instruction on an adult level for interested lay people of the Diocese." Classes met on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and on Saturdays, a model that continued well into the 21st century. Bequests in honor of her husband from Mrs. George Mercer, Jr. in 1956 and upon her death in 1965 enabled the construction and naming of the George Mercer, Jr. Memorial School of Theology.
For the first two decades of its life, the School's focus was on preparation of priests to serve the growing diocese. As the Church's understanding of ministry broadened to include more active roles for lay people in worship, teaching, administration and pastoral care, the Mercer School expanded its offerings to accommodate these new needs. Through the 1970s, 80s and 90s, as the number of individuals seeking presbyteral ordination decreased, the School's offerings diversified, providing shorter courses in theological topics, academic preparation for those called to the vocational diaconate, and other programs to support a wide variety of ministries.
A little over ten years ago, the School closed for a semester, pausing to reflect on its purpose and mission to a changing Church. Since reopening in 2007, the School has served as a combination of education center, event host, meeting venue, and umbrella for a variety of programs. Within this constellation of activities, the School for Ministry was formed to continue the tradition of academic formation of ordinands, with a core focus on preparing those for ministry as deacons.
For Academic Year 2018-19, the School for Ministry is offering the first year of a full three-year academic program to support postulants for the vocational diaconate. Over the three years, courses will be offered in the core academic disciplines -- holy scripture, theology, church history, and liturgics – as well as training specifically designed to develop skills to help the new deacons engage in the Church's work in the world. Effective this academic year will be the opening of many of our courses to laity interesting in diving deeper into the rich tradition of the Episcopal Church.