Gettysburg Seminary's Top Ten List for 2016
December 15, 2016
By President Michael Cooper-White
As we have done annually for at least a dozen years, once again for 2016 Seminary Communications head John Spangler and I compiled separately a list of what we regard as the Top Ten stories of the year. And as has been the case year after year, our initial list overlapped by at least 80%. This final compilation is mine, and it is particularly poignant that this will be the last of the Gettysburg Seminary calendar year-end summaries. Unlike in prior years, when we have indicated the list appears in no particular priority, item number 1 this year probably ranks near the top in any list of events in the entire 190-year history of the Seminary.
1. United Lutheran Seminary! The histories of both Gettysburg and Philadelphia seminaries recount that serious contemplation of “merger” goes back 100 years, to the founding of the United Lutheran Church. On more than a half-dozen occasions the schools arrived on the brink of full consolidation, only to back away and refortify their separate existence. Beginning in January 2016, both boards determined that this time around things could be different, and that coming together hopefully will best serve the church’s need for theological education and leadership formation in the 21st century. As of this writing, we remain on schedule for the official opening of United Lutheran Seminary on July 1, 2017, when the “new school” will have a new board and president working with faculty and staff drawn largely from the existing schools’ rich talent bank. In the exploratory process, Gettysburg’s Student Association and Alumni Council, as well as several supporting synods, expressed their support by means of official resolutions.
2. Full Scholarships Signal Reprioritizing: For more than a decade there has been growing concern about the financial burdens incurred by seminarians in this era when “church support” has continued to decline. By offering students financial coaching, keeping tuition increases as minimal as possible and other measures, we’ve made some modest headway in reducing the level of indebtedness carried into ministry by our graduates. But in a bold and dramatic move, along with announcing the consolidation noted in #1, last spring both Pennsylvania seminaries announced full tuition scholarships for all full-time ELCA students. Rather than the typical “left over” approach whereby student aid comes after all other costs are met, the budget for United Lutheran Seminary gives priority to what we’ve called a “Students First” approach to planning.
3. New Curriculum Directions: As President David Lose of Philadelphia and I began to envision a new configuration, we wanted to avoid the language of “merger” and signal that United Lutheran will truly be a new school for all practical purposes. Nowhere will this be more evident than in an emerging curriculum that departs from a “competencies” and outcome-based approach. Rather than simply passing courses, students will be expected to demonstrate having mastered a high level of competence in all areas identified as integral to various forms of ministry. Highly integrative, virtually every course will include professors from more than one discipline working collegially to bring to bear insights from their areas of expertise.
4. Blending Continuity and New Emphases: Balancing all the talk of a “new venture” is a reminder of the richness of our two schools’ distinctive and complementary heritages. Living on into United Lutheran will be the Town and Country Church Institute and Urban Theological Institute, as well as beloved traditional annual events like Advent Vespers and Music Gettysburg! concerts. Also to be sustained are recent new initiatives that better equip students to integrate faith and science, ministry with those in prison, and ecological “greening” endeavors to enhance environmental stewardship.
5. Public Witness and Service Recognized: While serving our students and resourcing the church remain at the center of the Seminary’s mission, public witness and community outreach have been growing in recent years. This past year, the Seminary Ridge Museum again gained accolades, being recognized as one of the three best small museums in Pennsylvania. The summer Brewfest drew nearly 2000 visitors to campus and was honored as a “Pick of the County” by vote of local residents. Similarly, the Seminary played a prominent role in the dedication of General Lee’s Headquarters, the latest major development by the Civil War Trust. Finally, a local Interfaith Gun Violence Awareness group has turned to the Seminary chapel as venue for periodic vigils praying for an end to such violence.
6. Seminary Media Offerings Also Honored: Over the years our Communications Office has received a number of awards from the national Religion Communicators organization. This year, the Seminary was noted for the “Third Day” blog (www.ltsg.edu/third-day) authored by several staff members, as well as a new publication by our Seminary Ridge Press: Gettysburg: The Quest for Meaning (essays on how we remember the Battle and understand its consequences).
7. Faculty Scholarship and Partnering: In addition to their classroom teaching, speaking in multiple church settings and other arenas, faculty members fulfill responsibilities as scholars with increasing national and international recognition. This past year, several faculty members have been asked to teach courses in other institutions, including Lancaster and Pittsburgh Seminaries. In recognition of his expertise in rural ministry, ethnographic studies and multiple point ministries, Dr. Gil Waldkoenig has accepted a half-time position as ELCA Director of Evangelical Mission for the West Virginia/Western Maryland Synod, beginning in early 2017.
8. Building Modifications Enhance Accessibility: While they do not gain newspaper headlines, some modest infrastructure projects go a long way in expanding hospitality. Such was the case in 2016 with the installation of new lighting and a permanent wheelchair ramp coupled with an electronic door in the chapel, and similar handicap-accessibility upgrades at Wolfe House, the campus facility which is temporary home to the Adams Country Historical Society.
9. Garden Grows Greener: Thanks to the efforts of students and staff, coordinated by Seminary alumnus, Pr. Sam Chamelin, the community garden’s production rose to new levels this past summer. The Seminary’s Green Task Force continues in search of additional ways to reduce energy consumption and expand our role in modeling sustainable practices.
10. Search Launched for ULS President: When I accepted the call to serve as Gettysburg Seminary’s 12th president, I could not have imagined being its last! But with the forthcoming birth of United Lutheran Seminary, that is to be the case. Following announcement of my retirement, anticipated to become effective June 30, 2017, and a similar declaration by Philadelphia’s President David Lose that he would not be open for consideration as ULS’ first president, a search committee has been appointed. I have every confidence they will be led to the one who will help guide the new seminary into a bright future as a premier institution of learning and leadership preparation for the whole church!