Last night's graduation exercises for the 6-year-old interfaith experiment in theological education was a classic example of the old bromide the operation was a success but the patient died.
Interfaith Metropolitan Theological Education, Inc. - Inter/met for short - has an enviable success record of turning out competent Protestant. Catholic and Jewish clergy men and women.
But the eight graduates at last night's exercises at Washington Hebrew Congregation were the last for the foreseeable future because Inter/met has run out of funds.
"Since December we've knocked on every door that was knockable," said the Rev. Dr. John Fletcher, the Episcopal clergyman who has shepherded Inter/met since its inception.
Inter/met's idea of on-the-job training for seminarians will be kept alive, although in a deep freeze, by a skeleton corporation of three persons.
Fletcher will spend half-time at the Alban Institute, in addition to his work on bioethics at the National Institutes of Health. His responsbilities at the Alban Institute will include "trying to keep to find a new home for them," he said.
Of Inter/met's 14 graduates since its beginning, all but two are ordained and employed in the congregational ministry - a creditable record in these days of ministerial surplus and one which Fletcher is "damm proud of."
"I just have a lot of regrets that we couldn't lick the money problem," he added in an interview.
Under the Inter/met plan of theological training, neophyte clergymen and women spend up to 40 hours a week in one of the 45 Washington area congregations related to Inter/met, plus an additional dozen hours in seminars or classes analyzing their experiences.
Protestant students are ordained, according to the standards of their particular denomination. Jewish students spend two years in the Inter/met experience and a final year in a Reform or Conservative theological school.
Inter/met has trained several Catholic seminarians "from religious orders or women. We could never recruit a diocesan seminarian," Fletcher observed. One os this year's graduates - Clare Guzzon - is Catholic.
Because she is a woman, she is barred from ordination to the priesthood. She has accepted a position in an interdenominational think-tank concerned with religion and politics.
The remainder of this year's class will be ordained into the ministries of the United Church of Christ. Presbyterian, Episcopalian and Disciples of Christ denominations.
Fletcher blames Inter/met's termination primarily on money problems. "An independent evaluation of the program said it was an overwhelming educational success," he said, but the sponsors were unable to build an adequate local financial base.
Funding came primarly "from foundations and Episcopalians," both individuals and the local Episcopal diocese. Fletcher reported, with some "modest" contributions from local Jewish, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian and black Baptist units.
"We were growing in diversified support but we built the local base too slowly," he said.
When it became apparent that Inter/met could not continue to stand on its feet financially around - in vain - for other educational institutions in which it could be lodged.
Georgetown University has expressed "some interest" in the proposal now before it, Fletcher said, to continue some elements of the Inter/met idea within the Jesuit structure. Fletcher is waiting for a final response.
In the meantime, he continued, "I would put the situation: 'The first chapter had been writen." I like to think of it in terms of a little time capsule where we've put the ideas for a while."