The history of Cummins Memorial Theological Seminary is very long, rich and continuously evolving. It was founded and formed in 1876 by the Rev. Peter Fayssoux Stevens. The purpose of the school was to train and educate freemen who were former slaves and sons of former slaves for the ministry of the Reformed Episcopal Church in the South. Through the succession of many leaders, the school became formally charted as a seminary in 1939 and changed its name to the Cummins Memorial Theological Seminary.
For over 50 years, the basic purpose of the seminary had never changed. This narrowed focus proved to be a partly responsible for the decline in students at the seminary. The world was rapidly changing and the seminary remained unchanged in its primary focus and student reach. Drastic reduction in student enrollment led to the suspension of classes between the years of 1966 and 1979. However, with changing times and new leadership, 1980 marked a new area for Cummins Memorial Theological Seminary. It was moved to its current location and began the slow and tedious process of trying to reinvent itself.
The new era for the seminary ushered in an attempt to update the school’s purpose. “Raising the Bar of Excellence in Ministry” became the working purpose/mission statement for the seminary. While it proved to be a necessary attempt to become relevant, the vague statement provided little specificity to help guide the strategic plans of Cummins. The purpose/mission statement has been the banner of the institution from 1980 until 2015. Coincidentally, those years also mark varied attempts at trying to bring life to the seminary which often failed. Outside of a very narrow need and response from the immediate Reformed Episcopal Church, the seminary has been unable to gain significant relevance in its surrounding geography.
As the seminary prepares for the prospect of accreditation, the Board of Trustees recognized the need to rebrand and provide clear mission, vision and values to guide the process. To that end, in March of 2015, members of the board, faculty and student community met for an all-day retreat to re-envision a new pathway forward to reestablish this great institution.