From the President – Metanoia
Metanoia. It is one of the key terms of Lent. We often translate it as repentance, changing one’s behavior in response to spiritual conversion. But it might also be translated as a turning around, a significant change in one’s attitude and perspective that leads to a different way of doing things.
In recent years, many seminaries have been going through an unanticipated and largely unwanted season of metanoia. Struggling with financial viability, they have had to change their mind about building projects and scholarships. Hurt by declining enrollment, they have had to change their perspective about the future. Often, however, these changes are reactive, made almost entirely in response to decline, rather than proactive, pointing toward a positive and sustainable future.
The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia has not been exempt from these struggles. After a decade of deficit budgets and declining enrollment, and having spent through all of our reserves, we have felt seriously challenged in recent years to fulfill our mission to educate public leaders for a public church in a way that is financially viable. But that is changing. We are seeking a metanoia not simply in terms of the amount of money we have available or the consequent budgets we produce, but in how we educate and form leaders for Christ’s Church.
This metanoia has been deeply informed by conversations I have been having with supporters and constituents across the region. I have heard many of you name your own struggles to offer a vibrant and relevant witness to the Gospel in a culture that seems increasingly disinterested in our message. I have listened as you have talked about your own financial challenges. And I have heard your request to change the way we imagine educating leaders for a changed and changing church and to enter into deeper relationships with you as we seek a way forward together.
We are hard at work shaping your reflections, concerns, and counsel and into a strategic plan that will guide us into a new direction, a turning around toward a new path that is faithful, effective, and efficient. For this reason, we are, even as I write, focusing all of our student services on vocational formation, planning more robust life-long learning opportunities, recalibrating some of our degree offerings to meet the needs of a changing church, exploring partnerships that will both extend our ministry reach and make better use of our campus, experimenting with more contextual forms of education that will increase student congregational experience while reducing student debt, and restructuring our entire administration in order to accomplish these things. And the list goes on.
Nor will this pace of experimentation and change lessen. Metanoia, changing directions, takes equal measures of courage and creativity. And it takes support. So many of you have contributed your prayers, counsel, and financial gifts to assist us in making these changes and we are grateful for your support. I am also thankful for the recent gift of more than $7.2 million from the Helen Palmer Estate. We could do many things with this gift. What we will do, however, is to use it to turn ourselves around and re-imagine and re-energize our call to form capable and creative public leaders. This gift gives us a second-chance, the opportunity to live into a future that is sustainable, faithful, and relevant to the church and world.
Having said that, I’ll also say that, by itself, even this gift will not be enough. We will need the support, prayers, and gifts of many to find a way forward. As we go forth, we hope to share with you what we are learning. We will hide neither our struggles nor our discoveries as we strive to turn ourselves around, and we hope you will be as open with us about what is difficult and what is enriching in your context. We are the church together, and I am confident that if we continue working together we will discover God’s preferred future not simply for ourselves or our congregations, but also for this church and world God loves so much.
There is no doubt that this is a challenging time to be the church. But it is also an exciting time, for never has this world needed the message of hope and grace that the Gospel extends more. So as we pursue the metanoia that Lent invites, let us do so in the hope and confidence of the resurrection Easter promises.
Yours in Christ,