“Ready, Set, Launch”
They don’t often televise rocket launches anymore. I suppose they are too commonplace. But I am just old enough to remember the last couple of launches of the Apollo space program that sent astronauts to the moon and the excitement generated as the voice from Mission Control counted down, “10, 9, 8, 7… 3, 2, 1, Ignition, Blast off!”
I have felt a similar sense of excitement lately as we close in on the “launch date” of United Lutheran Seminary (ULS): July 1, 2017. The Board of Trustees — a superb collection of representatives from Regions 7 and 8 — has now met twice, and it is exciting to see them set the course for a bright future. Faculty appointments are complete, yielding a diverse and capable cadre of scholar-practitioner-teachers, and we are close to assembling a final, and very fine, slate of staff members. We have produced a balanced budget that prioritizes student aid in order to meet the church’s great need for leaders. And we have laid the groundwork to support our partnerships with the Urban Theological Institute and the Town and Country Church Institute (an LTSG initiative) well into the future.
Every launch needs a leader. And so, at its meeting held in late Aril, the ULS Board elected a remarkably capable president, The Rev. Dr. Theresa Latini, to lead this exciting venture. Having known Dr. Latini for a number of years, I say with confidence that there is not another person in theological education in whom I have more confidence to pilot United Lutheran to a strong start. (See this article in Portions on Dr. Latini’s first meeting with the LTSP community on April 20.)
So what’s left to do?
Three very important things that, indeed, are absolutely crucial if ULS is to not simply launch but flourish.
First, pray. Nothing of worth has ever been accomplished in the church absent the prayers of God’s people. Pray for the faculty, staff, board, and administration to whom this school is entrusted, granting wisdom and courage to chart a new course in theological education. Pray for those leaders God is already preparing to lead the church in new directions. And pray for those congregations who will receive these leaders to be open to a spirit of creativity and growth.
Second, seek, encourage, and send. If we are to meet the huge need for leaders present in the church, it’s going to take all of us committing to develop a “culture of call.” That will involve looking for persons with gifts for ministry, inviting them into leadership roles in your congregation, encouraging them to consider seminary — perhaps even taking them yourself to tour a seminary to get the feel of what it would be like — and supporting them throughout their studies. We can do this, but we need to make it a priority.
Third, give. This next point is very simple. Knowing that student debt is one of the great inhibitors for people who feel called to serve, we are making full-tuition scholarships possible for everyone either through outright full-grants or matching aid. And it’s working: enrollment was up significantly last year and is on track to grow even more this year. But we will be able to continue this only if every single congregation in our region commits to supporting our effort. We all have a vested interest in United Lutheran thriving so that it can train and send leaders, which is why we have been promoting a cooperative approach to theological education where each congregation is a “shareholder,” contributing to the funding of theological education and receiving back again exceptional leaders. Also of note, there is a 2:1 match for all gifts made to LTSP by June 30 for student aid up to $100,000.
In this spirit, please allow two very direct requests to make sure ULS gets off to a strong start: 1) Make a $1,000 gift to celebrate the remarkable union of LTSP and LTSG to form United Lutheran. 2) Commit to making a part of your annual budget a gift of at least $1,000 annually. To break that down, that’s essentially setting aside $20 from each offering plate in order to ensure the highest caliber of training to tomorrow’s leaders. Again, this is very simple. If we want leaders for our church, we all have a part to play.
Many of us heard the story of Thomas recently. Certainly, one way to interpret and preach that passage is to recognize the room, even the importance, of our doubts. Indeed, if we’re not surprised by the resurrection, it probably means we weren’t paying attention! While I’ve certainly preached this passage that way in years past, this year it occurred to me that another way to read this passage is to recognize that the Risen Christ will not be deterred from entering into our lives. Locked doors, doubting hearts, an indifferent or even hostile culture — none of these are insurmountable obstacles for Christ … or for those who follow him.
We are launching United Lutheran Seminary in order to train women and men who can 1) give witness to the power of the resurrection and Christ’s determination to enter our lives and 2) to equip their people to do the same. The world has never needed this witness more, and I look forward to the successful launch and exciting future of ULS that is made possible with and through your vibrant and committed partnership. Thank you for your support. Thank you for your ministry. Thank you for your witness.
In the name of the Risen Christ,