Summary: Proposal for New School of Theology
SUMMARY PROPOSAL FOR A NEW SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY & LEADERSHIP FORMATION
CONTEXT AND CALL: THE VISION FOR A NEW SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND LEADERSHIP FORMATION
We confess that God has chosen, called, equipped, and sent the Church to care for the world in the name of Christ, and we believe we are called to educate public leaders to lead faith communities in doing this work. Yet given the seismic changes in the culture around us, we must reconsider and re-imagine the ways by which we train our students lest we prepare leaders for a world and church that no longer exists. In particular, we must recognize that Christian leadership in a post-Christian world can no longer expect primarily to inspire those encouraged to come to church by the larger culture. Rather, Church leaders must form in their people a Christian imagination, not only teaching them the content of the biblical story, but equipping them to live the Christian life in a complex world. Public faith leaders, from this point of view, are more like coaches, teachers, conductors, and guides than they are virtuoso performers. Competence in this kind of “formative leadership” is marked not by assessing how well the leader performs the central acts of faith – interpreting and sharing the Christian faith, offering spiritual care, etc. – but rather how well the community he or she leads engages in these activities over the course of the leader’s tenure.
This new vision of congregations and leaders requires a new vision for theological education that places a high value on reading a changing context and experimenting to discover how central elements of our tradition can be adapted to best communicate the gospel in a changed and changing world. Such education must also embody the kind of formative leadership we hope to see in our graduates. This means that students are valued for the variety of life and congregational experience they bring and are invited to be both leaders and learners from the outset of an educational program that is contextually immersive, academically rigorous, and delivered by a variety of residential and distributed means. We propose to create just that kind of school in order to offer outstanding preparation for ministry in a way that is affordable to our students and sustainable for the Church.
A Common and Complementary Giftedness: Envisioning a New Future
1. Together, our two historic schools have an opportunity to create a new, vibrant, and sustainable Lutheran system of leadership formation for Christian theological education, lifelong learning, ecumenical and interfaith collaboration, and public leadership development for the church and world.
2. We have the same Spirit-guided mission: The preparation/formation/education of leaders for church and society. In recent years, both schools have experimented with new curricular approaches and “delivery methods,” providing us with an extraordinary menu of options which, if combined, will constitute one of the strongest offerings in theological education currently available.
3. Each school has a rich legacy and deep commitment on the part of students, faculty, alumni, and our supporting constituencies. Together we comprise the synods and congregations in both metropolitan and rural corridors that constitute the most populous area of the country. Given fiscal realities and enrollment trends, however, we have both experienced diminished capacity over the past decade. If this trend is not interrupted, both will soon have difficulty sustaining the caliber of faculty, library, campus, and other key factors essential to excellence. By combining resources, we will create and sustain one of the nation’s finest seminaries and divinity schools.
4. A bold new initiative invites and can lead the entire community of theological education in re-thinking a missional approach to the formation of leaders, so desperately needed in our current context. From curriculum to calendar to contextual education to competency-based evaluation and beyond, we can lead the way in responding to the frequently heard outcry that “the old ways aren’t working anymore!”
The Proposal: A New School on Two Campuses with Multiple Points of Access
A series of meetings involving board officers of Gettysburg and Philadelphia and culminating in the summer of 2014 lifted up the vision of “Two Seminaries with One Faculty and One Administration.” While of merit in many regards—particularly its relatively low destabilizing impact—that vision did not go far enough to achieve the truly transformative approach to theological education now called for by the larger church as reflected in recommendations of the ELCA Theological Education Advisory Council’s report and the Conference of Bishops’ actions. The creation of a new school of theology and leadership can draw both existing and new supporters into an exciting, forward-looking process of imagining “what can be, with God’s help.”
Enacting the vision set forth will occur within the nexus of existing and complex commitments and contexts. Both campuses are encumbered by mortgages, leases and covenants with fiscal, ecclesial, and community partners. Rather than being viewed as liabilities, the sites we steward have the potential to serve as significant assets for the new school by providing venues to host its students, alumni, guests; by generating revenue when used as resources for and by the wider community; and by providing a locus for training leaders and offering public witness in two of the most historic venues in the nation. Whether or not the two existing campuses can be sustained for the long-term future will remain to be determined; but for its initial 3-5 year period at least, the new school should enjoy the benefits of retaining portions of both sites. If levels of support to each school stay reasonably stable, the new school should have sufficient revenue to field an excellent faculty and offer robust financial aid.
Implementation Steps and Timeline
1. At January 2016 meetings, boards adopt resolutions of intent to create a new unified enterprise, and commit financial resources to conduct the feasibility analyses required for final decisions at subsequent board meetings. The boards also review communication strategies (in recognition that the actions taken will gain rapid widespread dissemination). Particular attention will be given to immediate communication efforts to assure current and prospective students that their progress toward degrees will proceed uninterrupted during a time of transition.
2. January – March 2016: Task forces are organized to secure legal and other professional counsel to explore options for maintaining foundations and manage real estate, determine necessary steps in incorporating new school, prepare preliminary budget projections, etc. Focus groups of key constituents (bishops & synodical leaders, students, faculty & staff, alumni, major donors) are convened to interpret the vision, gain feedback and counsel, and cement ongoing supportive partnerships.
3. April 2016 board meetings: Resolutions are adopted empowering officers to take all necessary steps required to organize the new school, and a transition team is appointed.
4. 2016-17 academic year: Major transitional tasks are accomplished, including incorporation of new school, election of governing board, appointment of administration, faculty and staff, and approval of new curricula as well as academic and administrative policies for new school. At appropriate moments, desired real estate transfers occur and the status of the former schools’ corporate entities is determined (recognizing continuity may be required for initial accreditation purposes).
5. Summer 2017: New school becomes operational.
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