From the President: The First Day of School
I’ve always loved the first day of school. The excitement of seeing old friends and meeting new ones. The mystery of entering into a new classroom and having a new teacher. The sheer “newness” of back-to-school clothes, fresh textbooks, and crisp, clean pieces of paper just waiting to be written on. I think that’s what I loved best about the first day of school — it represented a new year filled with unlimited possibilities.
That same excitement and sense of possibility has animated the campus of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia this past week. Our opening worship services and convocation were enriched by more than 60 new students from around the country and globe, two visiting faculty members (including an international scholar from India), and several new staff.
As we gathered for that first worship service as a new community and opened a new academic year, it struck me that each new student, faculty, and staff member brings with him or her a host of dreams about what this new year will be like. Dreams about new friends and colleagues, dreams about new learning and discovery, dreams about new roles and responsibilities. And amid all those various hopes and dreams, I sensed the emergence of a shared dream, a dream about what God is planning for our church.
That’s what seminary is about. It is, quite literally, a “seed-bed” (seminarium) — a place where hopes and dreams about God’s ongoing activity to love, bless, and save the world are planted in the hearts of women and men called to lead God’s church. For 150 years, the Philadelphia Seminary has nurtured those dreams in the more than 5,000 graduates who have walked this campus, studied in its classrooms, and gone on to positions of leadership in congregations, synods, seminaries, social service agencies, church-related and public schools, and countless other venues where God is at work.
The dream of each generation is on one level shared: that we would be faithful to the Gospel handed down to us. On another level, however, the dream of each generation of leaders is shaped profoundly by the unique challenges and opportunities they face. At this particular time in our history, it’s perhaps easier for many of us to name some of the challenges faced: Church membership and attendance is declining across the board, giving to congregations is down, enrollment at seminary has been fragile. But as I looked at the commitment, talent, and diversity of our incoming students, faculty, and staff, I was reminded again and forcefully of the opportunity in front of us: to raise a generation of Christians for whom faith is both deeply personal and profoundly public. The emerging generation will not keep going to church just because their parents did. But they will come and give of their time, talent, and financial strength to congregations they see engaging in the world and that help them not just profess their faith on Sunday but live their faith every day of the week.
And this is the dream emerging at LTSP: to help the church become more vibrant and dynamic in its witness to Christ and commitment to care for the world God loves so much by training public leaders for a public church. It’s an exciting dream, and I’d invite any and all of you to learn more about it by reading our electronic and print resources, by keeping track of events and resources on our website, by visiting our classes on campus or online, and by coming to meet and talk with us in Philadelphia.
Yes, the first day of school has always been one of my favorites, though this year it had a somewhat different feel in our household. After sending our kids off to school (one as a freshman in her first year at a new high school) with the requisite back-to-school pictures, I got in my car to head to my new school as well. Well, not quite a new school. Twenty-five years ago I came to this campus as a new student, and now, a quarter of a century later, I was returning to my alma mater as its president. I brought some of the same hopes and dreams that anyone brings to a new venture, but this time I also brought the palpable conviction that I was not dreaming alone, but rather joining a whole community of dreamers and visionaries, a group of people called by God to dream of a new day for the church. It’s an exciting dream, an exciting day, and I hope you will feel welcome to share in it.
– David Lose