By Candice Hill Buchbinder, ELCA News
In simultaneous meetings held on their respective campuses January 12-13, the boards of Gettysburg and Philadelphia Lutheran seminaries adopted identical resolutions calling for “the creation of a new school of theology and leadership formation.”
Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg and Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia are two of eight seminaries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
Both boards’ resolutions stated their actions were taken “in the conviction that God and the church are calling us into a new venture of theological education, with a mission of preparing faithful Christian leaders for the church and the world.” The boards’ unanimous actions authorized the two schools’ presidents and other officers to take all necessary steps required prior to their April 2016 board meetings that would launch the process of creating a unified Lutheran seminary.
“Changes in both society and the church call for new experiments in theological education,” said the Rev. Jonathan P. Strandjord, ELCA program director for seminaries. “The move by Gettysburg and Philadelphia towards forming a new school opens the door to a wide range of very promising experiments.”
Founded in 1826, Gettysburg seminary is the oldest Lutheran seminary in the Americas. Widely renowned for its role in the great Civil War battle at Gettysburg, the school on Seminary Ridge opened an award-winning Seminary Ridge Museum in 2013. Since its founding in 1864, Philadelphia likewise has played a pivotal role in American and Lutheran history. Beginning more than 40 years ago, Philadelphia’s outreach to ecumenical partners, particularly historic African American churches, has created one of the most diverse learning environments that exists in 21st century theological education.
“From the moment we both felt the Spirit leading in this bold new direction,” said Presidents David Lose and Michael Cooper-White (of Philadelphia and Gettysburg respectively), “it became clear that our proposal would not envision simply blending together two fine traditions and excellent institutions. Rather, we believe God is calling us to do a new thing. Mergers are created out of past realities; our vision is to embrace what God is beckoning from the future.”
“The heart of this plan,” the two presidents continued, “is the opportunity to engage the larger church in a conversation about what the church needs from a seminary today and then build that kind of seminary, not simply try to adapt existing institutions to a world very different from the one in which they were initially launched. We believe a new seminary will be among the leading institutions of theological education and leadership formation.”
The proposal developed by the two presidents was in response to prior actions by each board, taken within the larger context of a comprehensive review of theological education by the ELCA. Each board had asked that key leaders conduct explorations of options that will ensure the highest caliber of leadership preparation for future ministers and other church leaders.
As envisioned, the new Lutheran seminary will be “one school on two campuses with multiple points of access.” Efforts already well under way at both schools to offer coordinated “distributed learning” opportunities (with courses available online as well as in short-term intensive formats) bode well for other areas of expanded collaboration that can occur even before the new school is launched. The search for and selection of administrative leaders and faculty for the new school will be conducted by a founding board of directors, which will be constituted in accord with parameters established by the ELCA’s governing documents.
The resolution adopted by both seminary boards authorizes their officers to engage experts in matters related to finance, legal and property issues, and academic accreditation. The presidents and board members were committed to conducting widespread conversations with constituent groups, their sponsoring church body, and the other six ELCA seminaries. The resolution specifically refers to these key stakeholders and the importance of “gaining their wisdom as this exploratory process unfolds.” The boards and administrative leaders also issued strong reassurances to current students at both schools that they will be able to complete their studies under current curricular requirements. Many students and recent graduates already have experienced enhanced offerings as the two schools have expanded faculty sharing and offered reciprocal registration and library privileges in recent years.
“We will all pray fervently for God’s guidance as we move into a time of exciting change,” concluded Lose and Cooper-White. “Sensing this truly is God’s and our church’s call for us at this moment, we are confident the pathway forward will be revealed as we move along in our journey of faith.”