Thomas McKenzie
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Thomas McKenzie's Blog.

Paul Zahl and the Quiet Guns

For reflections on why I wrote this, check out this post.

I very much like the Very Reverend Dr. Paul F. M. Zahl. He is funny, warm, and brilliant. He was Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral down in Birmingham for a while. Then, about three years ago, he became the Dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry (TESM). I got my M.Div. from TESM. So, putting my boy Paul at my old seminary seemed pretty cool to me.

Now, I don't agree with everything Paul writes. In fact, I would say I disagree with a lot of his stuff. But I do read his books, and I do like him.

A couple of weeks ago, an announcement went out that Paul was stepping down as Dean of TESM. They said that he is off to pursue other opportunities. The posts that went out said that he told the Board at a retreat, and that they immediately made it public. It looks like he gave them two months notice or so.

I have been around TESM stuff for a long time. By that school's standards, this was quite abrupt. All the other deans I was aware of made their intentions known months, if not a full year, in advance. And then at their final graduation there was a big celebration for their ministries.

According to someone who was there, no announcement was made at this most recent graduation. Many people who were there didn't even know Dr. Zahl was leaving, given that the word about the resignation had just gone out via the internet a couple of days before.

Do I think there is some great conspiracy against Paul Zahl? Do I think TESM is some wicked place, or that there is some scandal that must be uncovered? No, probably not. I don't know anything. And that's my point. No one knows anything. When a dean abruptly departs from a seminary, some of the grads would like to know what's up.

I am on a e-mail list for grads of TESM. After the resignation and graduation, one of us put out an emotional message. He was really asking the hard questions. No one responded for two days. Nothing was said. So, on the second day, I put out a post. I wanted to know why no one was talking. I also, frankly, wanted to start a fight. There used to be a lot of action on that e-mail list, but now its pretty much an Episcopal priest job openings report. BORING!

I am copying the relevant part of my post below, followed by the posts that responded the following day. Why do this? I am not trying to rake any muck, there may be none to rake. I am more interested in the way institutions do, or do not, communicate. I am also interested in how some of us feel the need to talk , and how others want to just assume everything is fine.

I am not claiming I am right, or mature, or good. Perhaps I should just shut up. Its really none of my business. I hope that everything is just fine, and I am not worried about Paul. He is awesome, and will find something great to do. But I don't fully understand why no one is talking about this at all.

So, here is the relevant part of what I said:

Is anyone going to respond to J--? Is anyone going to say anything about Zahl's abrupt departure?

So, is this little community not saying anything because we don't have anything to say? Perhaps "if you can't say anything nice . . .etc.?" Or perhaps we all think . . . no one better open their mouths lest they be called disloyal? And/or has there just been so much drama and conflict that we are tired of it all and want to leave it alone?

I find it fascinating that the dean of the only evangelical seminary in the Episcopal church can abruptly resign, and no blogger I am aware of does any digging, no current or recent student sends up a signal.

If this had been Bill Frey or John Rodgers (two past deans), I would have raised holy hell. Perhaps current and recent students just aren't as connected to their seminary as we were.

Thomas McKenzie, Stirring the pot since 1993

That last part was me trying to shame some of the new kids into fighting back.

I received two "go get 'em tiger" e-mails directly to me. Here are the posts that were sent back today. I'll give you more later.


Tom, what's there to say at this point? Why speculate, which seems to be the main thing people do on blogs these days? Is it possible that his gifts and interests are in different areas than the skill set necessary to be a dean/president?


Thomas et al.,
Could the lack of TESMNET traffic be due to wisdom rather than reacting on impulse to a situation about which we are not fully informed? Maybe Trinity Alumni are busy ministering and don't have the time BLOG 24/7? I don't know why Dean Zahl resigned. I don't know if it was 'abrupt' as you wrote, or whether it was something the Zahl's had been praying about for a long time. Speaking for myself, I would rather refrain from taking as fact something that "...I heard and have no first hand information." Nor do I sense a burning desire to know the reasons for Paul Zahl's motives. Am I disappointed, yes! But I also trust Trinity's leadership and discretion. I also know that God has great things in store for TESM. He, that is God, is in charge.

In other words Thomas don't stir the pot when not necessary... The muck needlessly pulled up from the dregs may not serve as a good foundation on which to build God's Kingdom.


I'm in the dark because I've just re-discovered this list after many years away from it. Looks like I came back at a good time as I too would like to get the skinny on Zahl's departure. More pressing for me, however, is whether the next Dean/President will be a member of TEC or another variety of Anglican. Any thoughts about that?


Paul's resignation is a painful time for the school. There are a variety of reasons for this pain, none worth going into for the above stated reason. I think it is best to say that Paul and Mary came to Trinity with the best of intentions, contributed their gifts to the school which were received by many, and discovered that it was not a good fit for them nor was it a good fit for the school.

Of course, rumors are flying--they always do, don't they?

Trinity will survive and flourish. Paul and Mary will survive and flourish. The students, staff and faculty will survive and flourish. Might it not be the best course of action to hold all in our prayers?

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