When I got home for lunch after chapel today, a lovely Christmas card was waiting for me, with a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke: “And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.”
It seemed particularly appropriate, given what had just happened a few hours earlier. At the end of our board meeting, the board voted unanimously to “declare its intent to join with the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia in forming a new school of theology and leadership formation.” It was huge, and while I am very excited and thrilled about the whole thing, I’m still in the midst of processing what it means, and what it might look like in the end.
But let me back up: if you are in theological education, or even engaged in the life of the Lutheran Church, you know we are in a real transitional moment. It is clear change is needed: not only are fewer people coming to church, but fewer people also are coming to seminary–even as we need more and more pastors to fill congregational vacancies. Yet, the seminaries still are operating out of a model that was formed generations ago, when all the candidates for ministry were single men coming directly out of college. Do I even need to say that is no longer the case for most of our students?
In the fall, the ELCA bishops declared this a “kairos” moment–that is, a moment in time when something new really seems possible, and the Holy Spirit seems to be dramatically and wondrously at work–stirring things up with power and persuasion. The presidents of our two seminaries, Michael Cooper-White & David Lose–who work so well together, and have such complementary gifts–came together quickly and starting dreaming about what a new future for theological education might look like. Soon they came to the realization that we could be so much stronger and better together; and that together, we might really be able to do something genuinely new.
Today, our boards responded positively and with great courage, I think, daring to step out into the unknown, and make the decision not to merge, but to create: this new school will not simply be 50% Philly and 50% Gettysburg, but rather a new tree springing from the deep roots of both histories. We have a hundred questions yet to be answered, and a hundred more we haven’t even thought of yet, but we are resolute–even if a little frightened! [I speak for myself, anyway]. But, let me say it again: overall, I am very, very excited, and thrilled to be a part of this wonderful community that has done something that I hope will be a catalyst for the Church as a whole: for other seminaries, for congregations, for synods–for all of us to begin working together and thinking together in new ways. It is a privilege to be a part of such a historical moment, and movement.
“Behold, I am doing a new thing, says the Lord.” So proclaims the prophet Isaiah, anyway; and perhaps it is true that only God can create a truly new thing: humans are bound to traditions, patterns, and comfortable ways of thinking, and it is very, very hard to break out of those conventions. [And, to be sure, tradition is not a bad thing: even in doing something new, we want to honor where we have been, and those who have come before us.] Yet, we who are created imago Dei have been imbued with God’s creative power, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, so surely, newness is not entirely out of our grasp. The least we can do is try. So it begins.