by Sue Ann Rybak
— The first of a two-part series
The Lutheran Theological Seminary of Philadelphia (LTSP), one of eight seminaries affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, will mark its 150th anniversary this year.
Bishop Claire Burkat, of the Southeastern Pennsylvania synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) said in some ways the seminary’s mission, which is “to educate and form public leaders who are committed to developing and nurturing individual believers and communities of faith for engagement in the world” has not changed in 150 years.
“We are still teaching, equipping and preparing Church leaders to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in worship, word and action,” Burkat said. “That being said, the 21st century landscape has dramatically changed the time-honored way seminaries of every denomination have prepared professional leaders for work and service in the church and the world.”
While LTSP continues to maintain its Lutheran, confessional and Philadelphia traditions, it no longer just focuses on educating Lutherans. Burkat said students from 28 different denominations from around the world enroll at the seminary so they can work in churches, agencies and other ministry institutions to “accomplish God’s purpose to heal a broken world.”
The Rev. Dr. Philip D.W. Krey, president of LTSP, said the school has always tried to be “appropriate to its Philadelphia context.” He said it was founded in part as a response to the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, which many Lutherans perceived as trying to change the confessional Lutheran orthodoxy.
The seminary was founded in 1864 by the Ministerium of Pennsylvania, the oldest Lutheran synod in America. The original facility opened on March 13, 1865, at 216 Franklin St. in Center City Philadelphia.
In 1889, the school decided to move to Mt. Airy because, according to Krey, the city had become a place where “young men were tempted by all kinds of taverns and loose women.”
The Mt. Airy site was the former estate of Colonial Chief Justice William Allen (founder of Allentown, Pa.), who had a summer residence called Mt. Airy along Germantown Avenue near where the Hagan Administration Building is situated today. The oldest building on the campus, the Refectory, dates back to 1792.
The 14-acre campus has a long and rich history as well. The first shots from the Battle of Germantown were fired by British soldiers on the seminary’s campus as Continental troops advanced down Germantown Avenue.
In 1807, the Rev. Francis X. Brosius, a Jesuit priest, founded Mt. Airy Seminary to teach children the French language. Later in 1846, James Gowen, of the Reading Railroad family, built a residence featuring impressive verandas after tearing down the old Allen estate, which had fallen into neglect.
According to LTSP’s Web site, the 1792 building was eventually purchased by the Lutheran Theological Seminary in 1910 to use as its Refectory. In 1826, the building housed the American Classical and Military Lyceum, a training school for military officers, which educated several Civil War generals. The site later became the Mt. Airy Agricultural Institute, which taught the practical operations of farming and the branches of husbandry.
Krey said the school built a dormitory, which was designed to hold 80 seminarians in 1888 on what is currently the Brossman Learning Center. According to the LTSP Web site it “was by far the most impressive seminary structure to date.”
Krey said the seminary’s new home was dedicated on Oct. 4, 1889, on the 25th anniversary of the school and the 112th anniversary of the historic battle of Germantown on its premises. He added that several properties bordering the campus on Boyer Street were made into faculty residences.
The Gowen estate, which is now the Hagan Administration Building, was renovated to add classrooms and a chapel. Later, a barn on the campus was renovated to include a chapel, assembly hall, reading rooms and a gym.
In 1903, the Rev. William Ashmead Schaeffer, missionary superintendent of the Ministerium of Pennsylvania, donated a chapel, which is now known as the Schaeffer-Ashmead Chapel, with the agreement that the Lutheran Church of the Ascension congregation could use several buildings and facilities for free on Sundays.
It is impossible to talk about the seminary without mentioning the Krauth Memorial Library, which houses 200,000 volumes and contains “one of the finest scholarly collections of any Lutheran institution in America,” according to its director, the Rev. Dr. Karl Krueger.
In addition to its vast collection of books, the library also features a rare book room, a collection of Reformation era coins and medallions, and a room dedicated to periodicals.
The library is part of the Eastern Cluster of Lutheran Seminaries, which also includes the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg and the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. Students are able to borrow materials from any of the three cluster libraries.
Krueger said that when it was constructed in 1908, the Krauth library was a “wonder of the world.”
“The library was illuminated with gas lights during nighttime hours,” Krueger said. “During the day, skylights filtered natural daylight into space. The library was outfitted with glass floors so that even on a cloudy day a visitor could see the titles sufficiently through natural light on the lower level to retrieve a desired book. The floor encased in iron, made the structure virtually fireproof.”
In 1979, the seminary established the Urban Theological Institute (UTI), which is dedicated to providing theological education with a focus on ministry in the African American church.
“The vision for the UTI originated with the Revs. Randolph L. Jones and Andrew H. Willis, who dreamed of a program with full academic integrity that would provide a theological degree through classes in the evenings and on Saturdays,” Krey said.
Every year the UTI hosts a “Preaching with Power” series in March. Now in its 32nd year, the five-day program features five sermons and one lecture by six distinguished African American preachers and theologians along with a black sacred music concert.
Krey said students from more than 40 denominational backgrounds have studied at the seminary. He said LTS offers students multicultural and urban concentrations to meet today’s evolving ministry needs. To meet those needs, the seminary began several renewal initiatives that included renovating the Schaeffer-Ashmead Chapel in 2004 to accommodate diverse worship styles.
In 2005, the seminary opened the Brossman Learning Center, a state-of-the-art educational center, featuring high-tech classrooms, seminar and study rooms, a great hall and common rooms. Krey said the center was built not only to serve the needs of the seminary, but to be a gathering place for community events.
Citing the words of the Apostle Paul from Galatians 5, Krey said that the “‘freedom in Christ that sets us free'” encourages LTS to maintain a spirit of neighborliness in the Mt. Airy community and in church life overall. He added that LTS has continued to live “ELCA’s ecumenical vision for every tradition with which we are in a relationship.
“We are throughly confident in our Lutheran tradition and also fully ecumenical,” Krey said. “There is no contradiction in that. It is the way the world is going.”