Gettysburg and Philadelphia Boards Vote to Continue Path Toward Unified Seminary

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Two Pennsylvania Lutheran seminaries resolved to stay on a path that would lead to one theological seminary on two campuses after governing boards acted during their April meetings.

The decisions came following their own declarations to form one school at their respective January 2016 meetings and a period of due diligence by joint work groups in February and March. Each board unanimously favored “the conviction that faithfulness to our mission of theological education and leadership formation, for the sake of the world and Christ’s Church, can best be served thereby in the future” by forming one seminary from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (LTSG) and The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP). The decisions committed the two schools to continue in a process to create one seminary in the two historic locations. The Boards acted on the judgment that since their respective January meetings, the working groups and legal and educational consultants have not uncovered any issues that would prohibit the Gettysburg and Philadelphia seminaries from moving forward on a path to form one school.

Over several years, the two schools have been increasing collaboration among faculty and staff in ways that revealed a stronger pull to combine their strengths. “While economic and enrollment pressures have been part of the picture,” said Kristin Johnston Largen, Dean of LTSG,  “there is a growing pull to create a learning environment across the two campuses that is stronger than either school could maintain on its own.” While both schools have enjoyed superior reputations for faculty pedagogy and creative curricula, Gettysburg brings, historic ties to American religious and social history, and a leading role in teaching and practicing environmental stewardship in the same way that Philadelphia brings urban experiences, additional diversity of a leading metropolitan city, and an enriched ecumenical mix to a united school.

The specific structural decisions and exact shape of the reconfigured seminary remain yet to be determined as the two schools continue to explore the most viable pathway to create one seminary on two campuses. The Board, acting two weeks apart, also expressed “gratitude to all members of both schools’ governance bodies, faculties, staffs and students who are contributing their expertise and wisdom through the work groups, Steering Committee and in other ways .” Reports from a ten-member Steering Committee that guided the initial exploratory process point to an overwhelmingly positive response within the broad constituencies of both schools. Expressing unanimous support for the new venture were all 15 bishops of the synods in the northeast that support the two schools.

After reviewing reports from the Steering Committee established in January and the eight work groups that engaged in due diligence in their respective assigned areas, the boards consulted with educational counsel and met with both seminary presidents ̶ LTSP President David Lose and LTSG President Michael Cooper-White ̶ in special sessions during their respective meetings.

Dr. James Lakso, who chairs the LTSG board, met with the Gettysburg Seminary community gathering following the board sessions said that “we are ready to move  forward, even as we don’t know all the details yet.” In keeping with the proposed timetable, the boards also agreed to a process creating a “Transition Team” to make key decisions in the process before a formal board is in place for the new venture. This Transition Team will be selected by the two schools later this year and oversee the continued project to create the conjoined school. Lakso and LTSP board chair John Richter also announced intentions for the boards to hold joint meetings later in the year.

The movement to create one seminary from the two stems from  multiple studies of theological education in the two schools’ affiliate church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), citing the need for the theological schools to become more sustainable, affordable, and creatively accessible to more students as leadership needs for the Lutheran and other church bodies grows in the next decade.

In conversations with faculty, staff and students, LTSG President Cooper-White and Dean Largen  addressed questions about curriculum and learning continuity in the transition, and invited community input in ways to support faculty, staff and students in the upcoming months. When asked what excites him about the proposed new venture, the president pointed to the opportunity to reshape curricula to be even more relevant to current leadership needs, expanded opportunities for more persons to attend seminary with more generous scholarships, and a more diverse community spanning the two unique and historic campuses. Similarly, LTSP President David Lose, at an all-community meeting following the LTSP Board meeting, stressed that the decisions the Boards were taking would position the unified school not only for greater financial strength but also for growth. “As a result of this new venture, we have committed to making tuition-free education available to all students. This is something neither school could do alone.”

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Founded over 150 years ago, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, centered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, seeks 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 offers degree and advanced-degree programs, and certificate programs, as well as Lifelong Learning offerings, and is launching its new and flexible Distributed Learning Master of Divinity pathway the fall of 2016. Contact us online at Ltsp.edu, call 215.248.7302, or email admissions@Ltsp.edu for more information.

Founded in 1826, the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, the oldest of the eight seminaries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, preparing women and men to be outreach oriented public theologians and mission leaders. As a graduate and professional theological school, it provides degree and non-degree programs, continuing studies, and specialized educational opportunities for informed lay persons, ordained ministers and other rostered leaders, and high school youth. More information is available at the Seminary’s web site: www.LTSG.edu , by email at info@LTSG.edu, or by calling 717.338-3000.

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Text of Resolutions

In the conviction that faithfulness to our mission of theological education and leadership formation, for the sake of the world and Christ’s Church, can best be served thereby in the future, the board of the (Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg/The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia) commits to continue in the process leading toward a form of unification with (The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia/Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg). The Board looks forward to taking all additional necessary steps as the most viable pathway is determined by legal counsel and our officers, in consultation with the Pennsylvania Department of Education, our accreditors, and ELCA churchwide “sponsors.”

The Board also expresses gratitude to all members of both schools’ governance bodies, faculties, staffs and students who are contributing their expertise and wisdom through the work groups, Steering Committee and in other ways.

We request that the president and board chair work with their Philadelphia counterparts to recommend to the board members of a Transition Team and a proposal stipulating its duties, responsibilities and  accountabilities.