By Mr. Matthew Townsend
The Rev. Dr. David Lose, President of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia (LTSP), addressed the hope and concern surrounding recent moves to merge LTSP with the Lutheran Theological Seminary of Gettysburg (LTSG) during a speech at the Upstate New York Synod Assembly.
His talk began with a brief video about the transformative and disruptive change involved in merging the seminaries, which existed as one 150 years ago.
“We’re trying to address the confluence of two challenges that are really bordering on crisis in our church,” Lose said, referencing the growing list of pastoral vacancies in the ELCA and the unsustainable financial deficits at Evangelical Lutheran seminaries.
As part of an exhaustive study, “the ELCA has named that, just now, we have 600 open vacancies across our church,” he said. “Four years from now, at the end of this decade, we will be 1,000 pastors short.” Meanwhile, the current model of theological education is simply unsustainable, according to Lose, with ELCA seminaries collectively racking up $70 million in deficits in the last decade.
“The time we’ve never needed seminaries more, seminaries are struggling more than ever.”
Lose said he hopes the merger, as planned, will help the ELCA train leaders that are more responsive to the 21st century. “We need to recognize that the culture no longer has a vested interest in supporting congregational life,” he said — while the church elsewhere may experience hostility and persecution, the ELCA struggles with an American culture that is “indifferent to the Christian faith.” Thus, seminaries should train people to serve in missional outposts in the world we live in today, the president explained.
Among Lose’s hopes are that these changes will be more sustainable; the plan projects balanced budgets in five years. “This is the first time Philadelphia Seminary has had a balanced budget in 16 years,” he said. Lose also expressed hope that the plan will make seminary education “more affordable and accessible,” with cooperative programs, distributed learning, and substantial increases in student support. LTSP is now able to offer full-time candidates full tuition scholarships because support for students has increased as the number of candidates has decreased, he said.
“We’re also partnering with congregations and church bodies to support part-time students,” he said, matching all gifts up to 100%. The aim of this support is to “make it possible for them to serve where the church needs them most.”
In April, the LTSP and LTSG boards voted unanimously to move the merger process forward. To that end, Lose asked for the prayers of the people and the congregations of the Synod.
“Hold us in prayer; this is a hopeful time, in a lot of ways this is an exciting time, but this is also an intensely disruptive time,” he said. While the merger presents several opportunities, it will result in fewer people teaching in the seminaries.
Lose said tearfully, “As you know from your own experiences, that’s a very difficult situation. If there’s one thing that keeps me up [at night], it’s that.
“I would ask for your prayers for our people who are doing good work and care about the church and are going through a difficult, if also hopeful, time.”
Lose also asked for questions to be sent directly to him or to the Rev. Michael Cooper-White of LTSG, and that congregations consider putting the seminaries in their budgets “to ensure we can continue educating leaders for the church.”
He concluded by saying this is an exciting, hopeful, and challenging time. “The future is in the hands of our God,” Lose said. “As long as that is true, we have nothing to fear.”