Top Ten Stories of the Decade 2000-2010 for Gettysburg Seminary

From the Gettysburg PO for January 1, 2011
By President Michael L. Cooper-White

Technically, the first decade of the 21st century ended in 2009 and we’ve already been in “the 10’s” for a year.  But since we didn’t do it a year ago, as 2010 was drawing to a close Pr. John Spangler and I invited the Seminary’s historians to offer their lists of the Top 10 stories of the past decade.  Once again, there was a high degree of correlation as those who study and teach church history narrowed their focus from the global to the small slice of history that happens here on this hill.  As with the annual “Top Ten” list, the P.O. writer made the final selection and is solely responsible for the ways the following stories are cast.

1. Student body younger, more diverse:  At the outset of the 00’s LTSG’s student population was mostly constituted by so-called “second career” enrollees.  While still a dynamic cadre, those in mid-life are now balanced by the under-30 contingent.  Among the more “national” of seminaries in current enrollment patterns, 2010-11 enrollees come from 40 of the ELCA’s 65 synods; over 10% of our students are from other Christian traditions, and a similar percentage are persons of color.  The increasing youthfulness of student bodies at seminaries across the board may be a major contributor to the growth of the annual Luther Bowl football tournament hosted on our campus: in recent years, 8 teams from as far away as Chicago have converged annually on the Gettysburg gridiron.

2. Faculty and administrative generational change: Described as a “young faculty” ten years ago, LTSG’s current collegium of scholars has matured more fully as a recognized corps of excellent teachers and scholars.  The publishing activity of the faculty has expanded significantly in recent years as books, journal articles and more popular works in print have emanated from the LTSG word processors.  At the same time, a previous generation of widely acclaimed scholar/teachers has been lost to the Church and academy.  Prominent among the latter is the late Dr. Herman Stuempfle, president, dean and professor emeritus, in whose honor a newly-endowed chair of “Proclamation of the Word” was established and conferred on the Seminary’s current homiletician, Dr. Susan Hedahl.  Additional faculty chairs have been funded and conferred during the decade to Drs. Richard Carlson, Mark Oldenburg and Gilson Waldkoenig.  The entire senior administrative team has also turned over during the decade. 

3. Some things old endure . . . As the decade ended, milestone anniversaries were celebrated for a number of enduring LTSG programs and partnerships.  Both The Seminary Explores weekly radio broadcast and The Luther Colloquium, which annually brings the finest in Luther scholarship to campus, marked their 40-year milestones, as did the Washington Theological Consortium, of which the Seminary was a founding member.  The wildly popular Music Gettysburg! (annual series of a dozen or more free concerts featuring high-caliber performers) celebrates its 30th anniversary.  Another “old-timer” came back home to Gettysburg a few years back when DIALOG journal returned to LTSG faculty editorship by systematic theologian Dr. Kristin Johnston Largen. 

4. And new things emerge . . .  A certificate in theological studies (preparation for rostered ministry in a different vein from the traditional degrees), and  concentrations in Youth & Young Adult Ministry, Town & Country Ministry, and Public Theology have all been added to supplement the traditional degrees and core curriculum.  Reflecting the growing strength of the Eastern Cluster of Lutheran Seminaries, LTSG has partnered with our sister schools of Philadelphia and Southern to launch Intersections Institute (another certificate designed particularly for leaders in social ministry), Project Connect (vocational discernment and seminary  recruitment endeavor), and Theological Education with Youth (programs for junior- and senior-high school budding theologians).

5.  Some old-timers get face-lifts and campus grows greener: Among several factors cited broadly as contributing to transforming Gettysburg into a school fit for the 21st century was the total renovation and expansion of our central campus facility, Valentine Hall.  Reopened in the spring of 2001, the century-old building’s energy-saving features foreshadowed subsequent “campus greening” efforts in all quadrants of Seminary Ridge.  In other major real estate-related ventures, the Seminary gave permission for the local YMCA to expand facilities on our campus, thereby offering enhanced health and wellness opportunities to all community members; constructed a new 4-unit student apartment building on Hay Street, and completely renovated Krauth House following a devastating fire at mid-decade. Grants totaling $4.5 million from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have us poised on the brink of rehabilitating Old Dorm or Schmucker Hall in order to create a world-class interpretive center featuring Civil War, Seminary and anti-slavery history.

6. Seminary embraces virtues of the virtual . . . From an antiquated telephone system to high-speed internet connection everywhere on campus; from penciled ledger entries to sophisticated accounting software; from chalkboards to webcasting from the classroom and online courses—every dimension of Seminary life has been transformed by emergent “virtual” technologies of the 2000’s.  Supplementing the core residential enrollment are thousands of “students” from around the world who tap into LTSG-provided resources for their ongoing formation and Christian education.

7. And LTSG forges a more prominent public face:  Following the adoption in 2000 of a new vision statement, which sets forth LTSG’s mission as “bearing witness at the crossroads of history and hope,” the Seminary has developed a more prominent public presence.  Locally, LTSG took the lead among institutions in opposing proposals to bring casino gambling to Gettysburg.  LTSG faculty and staff currently serve in key churchwide and national leadership positions, with Dean Robin Steinke’s prominence in ELCA, Lutheran World Federation and Association of Theological Schools leadership positions a prime example.

8. New vocabulary captures current context and contemplates the future:  Previous generations of seminary stewards would scratch their heads upon hearing phrases such as “outcomes assessment” and “primary reserve ratios.”  As accreditors and governmental regulatory agencies exercise heightened scrutiny into the quality of higher education and fiscal responsibility, seminaries have joined colleges and universities in giving much more attention to evaluation and planning.  Faculty members have revamped curricular offerings to be more attuned to the ways students learn in century twenty-one.  The Board of Directors spends much of its time pondering long-range trends and how we must make changes amidst a fast-paced environment.  Currently a “Seminary Futures” task force is seeking a path forward, which undoubtedly will require even more fund-raising by Seminary staff and volunteers as direct church support continues to wane year by year.

9. Fiscal discipline positions LTSG to weather the Great Recession:  In an era when many similar schools allowed themselves to draw down reserves inflated during the “bull markets” of the 1990’s, LTSG’s board and administration adopted a fiscally conservative stance and insisted on “balanced budgets” with modest endowment withdrawals.  That approach served us well as an economic “bust” replaced boom times, although even further “belt-tightening” has been necessary the past two years. Creative approaches to governance and administrative restructuring have sought to foster a heightened culture of “teamwork” that enables a smaller workforce to serve the expanded “menu” offered by LTSG to a growing international constituency. 

10. Faithfulness fostered:  Noted previously (in #7 above), the Seminary’s vision statement cites as the intended outcome of our labors “preparing our students for faithful discipleship.”  While “faithfulness,” like “spirituality” and other terms sprinkled throughout our documents, is difficult to measure, and ultimately awaits God’s assessment, any school’s effectiveness is best measured by the quality of work and witness on the part of its alumni.  In a thousand parishes and other places of ministry, both in this country and around the world, Gettysburg Seminary degree graduates and lifelong learning students bear bold witness to the gospel.   More than any other development, trend or event of the first decade of the first century of the third millennium, THE story of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg is told by the collective stories of all those who have sojourned for a season here, and then gone out to serve the gospel, the Church and the world!

Posted: 1/1/2011 2:00:00 AM by John Spangler | with 0 comments

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