Celebrating 150 years - Academic Year 2013-14 focus

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Celebrating 150 years
Academic Year 2013-14 focus: Our Founding, the Battlefield, and the Renewal of the Church

By The Rev. Louise N. Johnson, Vice President for Mission Advancement

The Lutheran Bookstore, 9th Street, PhiladelphiaThe denomination with which we are affiliated, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), was founded in a time of great strife and change as the Western world was birthed into the renaissance. And our own seminary was born 150 years ago in the wake of one of the nation’s bloodiest battles, fought on the ground of our sister seminary, the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (LTSG). The faculty split. Those who desired a more liberal interpretation of the Augsburg confession remained on the battlefield. And the conservators of confessional identity set out for Philadelphia, where a new/old life would take root, growing into fifteen Mt. Airy acres and a 150-year tradition of forming leaders for the church and world.

Confessional identity and context have come together in Mt. Airy in interesting ways, in ways that only God could author. Long before it was popular for seminaries and divinity schools to be racially diverse, LTSP said yes to the Urban Theological Institute, a program that began by training black pastors in the city of Philadelphia. Long before it was popular for seminaries and divinity schools to be inclusive of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) candidates, LTSP was welcoming students, forming support groups, cultivating internship sites and making a way for LGBT seminary students whom the Holy Spirit had called. And long before it was popular for seminaries and divinity schools to be ecumenically diverse, LTSP said yes to ecumenical diversity. We have the chance to live our full communion agreements with Methodists, Episcopalians, and the Reformed tradition — bringing the best of the Lutheran tradition to the table and learning from sisters and brothers of other traditions.

God has been faithful to us for 150 years. The Holy Spirit has led us to broaden our tribe by race and gender, by sexual orientation and economic class, by denomination and nationality. By the grace of God we have learned a thing or two from our history about how to disagree. Instead of walking away from those with whom we disagree as we once did, we gather them. We gather them from our city and from our denomination and from our world. We gather them as faculty and students, as alumni, staff, and supporters. We gather together in the classroom and in the chapel. In the thick of diversity and disagreement, we lean into the unity we have been given in Christ. And this has been and continues to be a gift to those who train here to serve the church and the world. 

Those who train at LTSP develop deep capacity for understanding and a well-equipped toolbox for responding to those who are very different from themselves. They come nose to nose with all their religious, racial, and economic prejudices. They have had all their presuppositions challenged. They are better prepared to deal with someone who thinks, believes, and acts very differently from them. Which, when your mission is to reach out to a world that has little connection to the church that has been, turns out to be pretty handy and a tremendously compelling argument for engaging in and supporting an LTSP education for the next 150 years.

We are proud of our tradition, grateful to those who have gone before us, thankful to God for 150 years of faithfulness. We look forward to the next 150 with expectation, knowing that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide us as we seek to serve the gospel.

(The above photo is of the  Lutheran bookstore, located in 1864 on 9th Street in center city Philadelphia. The bookstore was the first home of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. The building no longer stands, and the location is now part of The Gallery at Market East.)

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