Daily Gazette Interview with Rev. Abby Norton-Levering

Theological Center planning dormant period By Bill Buell, Gazette ReporterThe Capital Region Theological Center, a resource for area clergy and non-clergy since 2001, will be entering a period of “organizational dormancy,” its website announced Thursday.In a press release, CRTC’s David Preisinger, president of the board of directors, said the move “was not a closure, but a time of revisioning and recalibration in a rapidly changing religious landscape.”The group was created 15 years ago to provide continuing education programs and leadership development for clergy and non-clergy in congregations throughout the Capital Region and most of upstate New York. It had announced in September that it was cancelling its scheduled fundraiser in October at the Glen Sanders Mansion while it re-evaluated its future.Abby Norton-Levering, a Reformed Church of America minister and a long-time board member of CRTC, hopes the organization can regroup and once again become a viable part of the Capital Region’s spiritual community.“We have to fi nd a way as an organization that helps us develop a more effective response to the changes facing churches today,” said Norton-Levering. “That is our current reality. But I am optimistic; some of us are excited about what could possibly emerge in the future. At the same time we grieve for our staff. We’ve had some really gifted, talented people who really made a commitment to this organization. But like I said, we are hopeful.”The CRTC was a joint venture of four different denominations: the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., the United Church of Christ and the Reformed Church of America. Mary Lou Hammer was hired as the fi rst full-time director of the CRTC in 2003, and was succeeded in 2008 by Martha Reisner, who along with five other employees will work through the end of December.The Lilly Endowment helped the CRTC get started with a $400,000 gift in 2002, and in 2011 the group gave the CRTC an additional $1 million grant. However, with so many on-line alternatives available to the public, enrollment for CRTC classes began to decrease.“That was a part of it,” Norton-Levering said of declining enrollment,” but funding was always a challenge. We got two large grants from the Lilly Foundation which really helped us do some pretty creative experimentation with our courses. Some were very effective and some weren’t.”Fred Daniels, who runs Daniels Media and Communications, was a frequent instructor for CRTC courses and said the group will be missed if it doesn’t return in some form.“It’s a sad occasion, but the world is changing so it’s hard for them to compete with all the other different ways people can get this content now,” said Daniels. “There are all kinds of online alternatives, distance learning of all sorts of types, so it’s very sad they feel as though they have to go on this hiatus. It has become quite a challenge.”According to its website, the mission of the CRTC was: “Equip with tools for developing and expressing faith; Connect people and resources, creating community; and Inspire a commitment to renewed discipleship and spiritual growth.”Norton-Levering is hopeful that local churches working together will help the CRTC once again take its place in the religious community.“We have really benefi tted from a long history of ecumenical relationships,” said Norton-Levering. “We have cooperated on a variety of projects and that relationship between the local churches and denominations is not going away. There still is a need for CRTC and we hope we can still be doing something next year.”Reach Gazette reporterBill Buell at 395-3190 or bbuell@dailygazette.com.See this article in the e-Edition Here