The Board of Trustees met on January 30-31, focusing on governance, communications, and stewardship of our many assets. Together we are grounded in God’s promises as we prepare public Christian leaders to participate in Christ’s ongoing ministry of justice and reconciliation in the world.
From the Office of
President & Professor of Practical Theology
United Lutheran Seminary
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United Lutheran Seminary has record enrollment numbers. This past fall, 78 new, incoming students enrolled. Thirty-four more new students have enrolled this spring. This is significantly higher than the combined incoming classes of our predecessor institutions. For instance, enrollment of new students for the spring semester at Gettysburg Seminary was usually under 5 and at LTSP was 10-15 students.
As these emerging public leaders join us, we are proactively helping to reduce the problem of student debt.
New student borrowing numbers remain at a low of 22%, a significant improvement over the averages of the past three years, when they ranged from 69% to 86%. New financial aid initiatives—full-tuition scholarships for ELCA students, matching grants for all other students, and housing stipends for Fund for Leaders scholars—plus new pathways to complete the M.Div., including distance learning and the co-op program, have all contributed to this dramatic change in how our students are paying for seminary.
Our brand-new curriculum aims to help students develop six core capacities needed to lead communities of faith in the twenty-first century:
Nurture communities grounded in and witnessing to the Word of God
Equip communities to participate in God’s ongoing work in the world
Foster communities of Christian care
Oversee the organizational life of communities
Lead transformative change grounded in the gospel
Under the leadership of Dean Sebastian and Educational Technologist Alex Reid (and following three listening sessions with students), the faculty will be reviewing the curriculum this semester so that we can continue teaching toward the formation of these leadership capacities. We will be reintroducing a distinctive focus on public theology and ministerial specializations.
Professors are teaching across our two campuses, utilizing new technologies, and inviting students into transformative classroom activities. They’re doing it together and with others from around the world. Take, for example, the class “Environment, Faith, and Praxis,” taught by Professor Gil Waldkoenig. Class participants in Philadelphia and Gettysburg are gaining access to ELCA Environmental Advocacy from Washington, DC, and Environmental Public Witness from the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in Geneva, Switzerland. Joining Prof. Waldkoenig is Ruth Ivory-Moore, J.D., the ELCA Program Director for Environment & Energy, based in the ELCA Advocacy Office in Washington DC; the Rev. Chad Rimmer, Ph.D., from Geneva, Switzerland, where he is the Lutheran World Federation Study Secretary for Lutheran Theology and Practice in the Department of Theology and Public Witness; and renowned biblical studies scholar, Ellen Davis, Ph.D.
United Lutheran Seminary partners with others to enhance our quality of education and to demonstrate the interconnectedness of ministry. At its January meeting, the Board of Trustees approved an update to our St. John’s Summit Visiting Professorship, an endowed partnership with the St. John’s Lutheran Church (NJ). Next year we will hire a nationally-respected Lutheran scholar to teach courses and offer lifelong learning events at ULS.
We are in the final stages of three searches: Vice President of Academic Affairs and Academic Dean; Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies; and, Director of Contextual Formation. New colleagues hired in these positions will join us on July 1, 2018.
Additionally, the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) sent their official report indicating that “ULS has in place the required authorizations and documentation to deliver theological education as a school in good standing.” This came as a result of their focused site visit in September, a required visit following the consolidation of our predecessor schools.
United Lutheran Seminary offers unique opportunities for students to be formed for ministry in urban and rural/small town contexts. In our synchronous classes, students in Gettysburg and students in Philadelphia join each other for conversation about public leadership in their distinct ministry contexts. Our Town and Country Church Institute and Urban Theological Institute offer special lectures, Appalachian immersion, the annual Preaching with Power event, and certificates and concentrations in Black Church Studies.
I have appointed a diversity task force, which will assess and identify strategies to improve our institutional commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion with a focus on growth in cultural competency. Cultural competency can be understood as a commitment and active engagement in a lifelong process in which racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of bias are unlearned individually and institutionally. Growth in cultural competency helps us witness more faithfully to Christ’s ministry of justice and reconciliation. Chaired by the ULS President, the task force consists of students, staff, and faculty: Kyle Boyer, Rachel Johnson, Marlita Lee, Martin Zimmann, Karyn Wiseman, Jayakiran Sebastian, and Wayne Croft.
In the coming months, we will continue the work of consolidation: developing a mission statement with representative input from students, staff, faculty, and board members; launching a strategic planning process; and continuing to hire needed personnel. Communications and institutional branding, under the leadership of Chief Communications Officer Barry Hill, will play a pivotal role in this work with input from a recently appointed communications task force of three ULS board members.
Three broad growth trajectories are before us: (1) nurturing diverse, culturally competent Christian leaders and communities; (2) developing new pathways for theological education (e.g., continuing education, M.A. programs, and distance learning programs); (3) cultivating partnerships within and across institutions. We are moving forward with each of these by launching a ULS diversity task force, entering into conversations with synods and foundations to explore means of reaching new students, and exploring ways to resource public Christian leaders – students, alumni, and other church leaders – for ministry in the 21st century. As we do all this, we place our gaze on the One who, as the author of Ephesians reminds us, “is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20).
President & Professor of Practical Theology
United Lutheran Seminary