At the exact midpoint of the 500th anniversary year of Martin Luther’s initiation of the 16th Century Reformation, two American theological seminaries with deep roots in Pennsylvania, will become one school. At the stroke of midnight, July 1, 2017 Gettysburg Seminary and The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia will form United Lutheran Seminary on two campuses in Gettysburg and Philadelphia.
Founded in 1826, Gettysburg Seminary is the oldest continuing Lutheran theological school in the Americas. The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia got its start in 1864. Together the schools have graduated more than 10,000 church leaders who have served in religious and public contexts.
“The United Lutheran Seminary is a new venture founded on rich traditions,” said Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, speaking for the 3.8-million member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). “It brings together urban and rural, Lutheran and ecumenical ministries,” she added.
United Lutheran Seminary opens with 325 students and 21 faculty members, with another 50 staff members working across the two campuses. The decision to unite came from a determination by both schools’ boards in January 2016 to create a stronger single theological seminary, one that could offer premier programs on both campuses, sustain a larger faculty than either alone, and offer enhanced learning formats in distributed, online and hybrid class settings. The campuses are located at 7301 Germantown Avenue, in Northwest Philadelphia and 61 Seminary Ridge in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
As the united school comes into being, it will also receive its first leader, the Rev. Dr. Theresa F. Latini, who will assume the office of United Lutheran Seminary President as of July 1st. As the leader of the new theological school, Latini said the “strength of United Lutheran Seminary comes from its trust in God’s grace and its call to join Jesus’ ministry of healing, justice, and reconciliation.” She added “Our wide array of educational programs as well as our communal practices of worship and care will prepare students for faithful and innovative ministry in the twenty-first century.”
With the new school comes a newly-designed, integrative curriculum. Kristin Johnston Largen and Kiran Sebastian, co-deans of the Seminary, emphasize that faculty will offer interdisciplinary perspectives in classrooms in ways that enrich the pedagogy for seminarians.
Student debt for graduate seminarians remains an issue in today’s religious communities. United Lutheran Seminary offers unprecedented financial aid for its students, with full tuition scholarships for eligible full time ELCA students and generous matching of grants to students from other traditions up to full tuition levels.
United Lutheran Seminary begins its life fully accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and the Association of Theological Schools. The Department of Education of the Commonwealth of PA has issued approval of the consolidation of the two schools. All current students have pathways to complete their degrees in the normal timetable according to the school’s deans.
Both schools bring particular, distinctive gifts to the united school, with Philadelphia offering a specialized and broadly ecumenical Urban Theological Institute, and a large commuting population in the metropolitan area and Gettysburg contributing strong community life of residential learning and a commitment to green practices. The Gettysburg campus also features the award-winning Seminary Ridge Museum interpreting the national tensions of slavery and freedom in the historic seminary building that served as the largest fixed field hospital on the battlefield.
Even though President Latini will begin mid-summer, her inauguration is planned for November 2, 2017 in Lancaster, PA. She will live on both Gettysburg and Philadelphia campuses, and serve as Professor of Pastoral Theology as well. July 1st also marks the retirement of Gettysburg Seminary President Michael Cooper-White after 17 years at the helm, and President David Lose of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, begins a new call to serve as senior pastor of Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, MN.
“May God bless students, faculty and staff as they set out on this journey together,” said Presiding Bishop Eaton, and “Godspeed!” to this new school.