by Sue Ann Rybak
For more than 150 years, the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP), 7301 Germantown Ave. in Mt. Airy, has sought “to educate and form public leaders who are committed to developing and nurturing individual believers and communities of faith for engagement in the world.” It has been a cornerstone of the community.
On Aug. 24, the seminary announced that it would join with the Lutheran Theological Seminary of Gettysburg (LTSG) to create one consolidated school, the United Lutheran Seminary.
In a press release, Bishop James Dunlop, of Harrisburg, who chairs the transition team appointed by the boards of the two schools said the combined seminaries’ name “sums up our vision of the future into which we believe God is calling us.”
“With nearly 350 years of combined history, it’s time we joined together,” he said. “By mid-2017, we will be one school on two campuses. In a time when so many forces in our world seek to divide, our coming together is a powerful witness to our Lord Jesus’ fervent prayer for his followers, ‘that they may all be one.’”
David Lose, president of LTSP, said the decision to consolidate the two schools comes at a time when “seminaries across the spectrum of theological education are struggling to be financially viable” even as there is “a shortage of trained clergy for parishes that need and can afford them.”
He said that by combining resources, the two schools hope not only to address the church’s need for more trained clergy leaders, but to do so in a way, that is “more accessible and affordable for students.”
As a result of the decision to join the two schools, Merri Brown, a spokeswoman for LTSP, said both institutions are now “making full-tuition scholarships available to all new, full-time, ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) rostered leader candidates studying in residence.
She added that the two schools have also increased financial aid for students from other denominations, who are “enrolled at least half-time in a first theological degree program by matching dollar-for-dollar all support made to students from sponsoring congregations and church bodies up to the amount of full tuition.”
In a statement announcing this decision, Michael Cooper-White, president of LTSG, and Lose said, “Students don’t simply pay for or earn their degrees. They receive them as a gift of the church they will be serving.”
In a press release, the Rev. John Richter, chair of LTSP’s board, said, “Our goal all along has been to create a new venture in theological education that enabled us to better prepare leaders responsive to the challenges of the day in a way that is more affordable for students and more sustainable to the larger Church.”
Lose said the original transition plan was to close both schools and create one new venture. He said, however, that the plan was revised after the Pennsylvania Department of Education suggested that one of the two schools’ corporate entities continue in order to preserve licensure and accreditation.
He said that after considering several factors including which seminary had the oldest charter, the transition team decided that the Lutheran Seminary of Gettysburg would remain open and change its name to the United Lutheran Seminary after adopting new bylaws and establishing a new board representing both schools. LTSP would then transfer its assets to the new school.
According to the transition team, LTSG will create a new board of directors constituted by the synods of both supporting regions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and additional members appointed by the ELCA’s Church Council.
They added that in September, under the leadership of the Rev. Charles Miller of New York, a graduate of Gettysburg Seminary, the search for the first president of the unified school will begin. Prior to his retirement, Miller was the ELCA’s executive for administration, responsible for overseeing daily operations of the church’s national and international work.
While Lose admitted that some people may feel a sense of loss for the school’s name, he believes that in the end “people will feel very confident about the new school, which should be a lot more viable and stronger than LTSP has been in recent years.”
“Not all disruptive change ends up being transformative, but truly transformative change is always to some degree disruptive,” he added.
For more information about the new joint venture go to newschooloftheology.info.