Gettysburg Seminary President Michael Cooper-White issued the “Top Ten Stories” summarizing the most important news making events in 2013 for the 187 year old graduate and professional school.
“At the end of each calendar year,” said Cooper-White, “Seminary communicator, Pr. John Spangler and I independently compile lists of what we consider the “top 10 LTSG stories” of the year, and then compare notes." He continued, "With at least 80% agreement, we have had many memorable moments in the last year, with 2013 posing remarkable anniversaries for Gettysburg. In the end, the final selection is my personal 'top 10' list." They are published below (not in order of relative importance):
1. Grand Opening of Seminary Ridge Museum (SRM): As the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg began on July 1st, the Seminary Ridge Museum was offered as a gift to the nation and the world in a ceremony involving the ELCA Presiding Bishop, Governor of Pennsylvania and one of its U.S. Senators as well as a host of local and seminary officials. In the fall, the SRM gained “world class” status, winning second place among new global venues from the British Travel Writers’ Guild. The Seminary’s historic edifice also received LEED certification as a “green” building for its geothermal systems and other environmental-friendly features.
2. Historic Pathway and Journey Through Hallowed Ground: In tandem with establishing the new Museum, the Seminary was lead partner in developing a mile-long self-guided walking tour of the famous ridgeline that was among the most significant sites in the Civil War. In related activities, trees were planted on campus as part of the national Journey Through Hallowed Ground (JTHG) effort to plant a tree for every American soldier killed during the 4-year Civil War. One of the Seminary’s remaining “witness trees” was also tagged by JTHG in a special ceremony last spring.
3. Seminary Faculty “Goes Global” to Higher Degree: Long known for its “openness to the world,” the Seminary’s global impact has risen to new heights in several ways through the work of faculty members. Recent faculty publications—from Nelson Strobert’s biography of Daniel Alexander Payne to Brooks Schramm’s and Kirsi Stjerna’s courageous exploration of Luther’s stance regarding the Jewish people to Kristin Largen’s path-breaking work of systematic theology, Finding God Among our Neighbors. The latter two scholars gained broader international attention as Largen addressed thousands at the invitation of the government of Turkey, and Stjerna received prestigious recognition from Finnish universities. As the Seminary “went more global” on campus, we welcomed as 2013 Minister-in-Residence Pr. Vilma Rodriguez from the Lutheran Church in El Salvador.
4. Faculty Also “Going Virtual” in New Ways: While a number of courses have been offered online the past several years, in 2013 Dr. Mark Vitalis Hoffman offered the first-ever Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to be fielded by any seminary professor. While formation in community (i.e. “residential education”) remains the mainstay at Gettysburg, in recognition that some future students’ geographical restrictions could preclude enrollment, the Seminary gained approval by its accrediting agency to offer more courses online as that may become prudent.
5. Dean Co-Leads ELCA Process to Discern Future of Theological Education: As is true across the board in higher education, the “times they are a changin’” rapidly in the world of theological education and formation. With diminished synodical and churchwide financial support, and lower enrollments over the past several years, all eight seminaries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are increasingly challenged. All these factors led to the creation of a Theological Education Advisory Council (TEAC) to assist seminary and church leaders in planning for a sustainable future of robust theological education. Widely recognized for her leadership in US and international circles, including the Council of the Lutheran World Federation, the Seminary’s Dean Robin Steinke was tapped to co-chair the TEAC process. Our dean also addressed the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh, providing an overview of the current state of theological education and pointing to emerging future patterns.
6. Innovative “Competencies” Approach Gains Lilly Endowment Grant: Also led by Dean Robin Steinke during the year was a process pointing toward an approach to seminary education that will enable some future students to reduce time spent in preparing for ministerial service. A group of persons with vast experience in various arenas convened to develop a “profile” of the gifts and skills needed by ordained ministers. The profile will enable the Seminary’s faculty to work with students in charting their pathway to gain the necessary competencies through a combination of coursework and field education experiences. This innovative approach was the “lynchpin” for the Seminary’s portion of an Eastern Cluster proposal that garnered a $750,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment.
7. Seminary Bid Final Farewells to Professors Emeriti Gritsch, Hedahl: While it is impossible to measure the extent of a seminary professor’s teaching and scholarship, beyond dispute is that two of Gettysburg’s “giants” concluded their earthly journeys during 2013. Both widely acclaimed in churchly and academic circles, Drs. Eric Gritsch and Susan Hedahl mentored thousands of students over the years. Each were among the most prolific authors in Luther and Reformation Studies (Gritsch) and Preaching (Hedahl).
8. Spring and Fall “Academies” Add to the Seminary’s “Offer”: In an attempt to make our rich “menu” of theological education more widely available, the faculty launched the first annual “academies,” week-long mid-semester intensive courses and public lectures available at modest cost to congregation members and prospective students as well as enrolled seminarians. In conjunction with the Fall Academy and annual Luther Colloquy, the regular “Preaching Perspectives” hosted by the Seminary’s Lifelong Learning Director, Dr. Michelle Carlson, experienced a record attendance of over 100 preachers.
9. Collaborations Benefit All Partners: While Gettysburg Seminary is among the many schools described as “free-standing” (in contrast to university-related divinity schools), we never stand alone. With decades of experience in the Washington Consortium, Eastern Cluster and other formal partnerships, we were able to move briskly into expanded collaborative ventures, sharing faculty with Philadelphia Seminary, inviting an impressive lineup of preaching professors from other schools, and making available unused student housing to Gettysburg College.
10. Seminarians, Alumni Always Top Stories! While seldom garnering headlines, student-led initiatives inspired all of us as the Student Association hosted the 2013 Luther Bowl, organized multiple outreach and service projects, and engaged in ministry through their contextual learning sites around the country. Similarly, stories filter back to campus about the tremendous impact of Gettysburg alumni serving in parishes, chaplaincies, ministries of teaching and vibrant lay leadership throughout the world. Singling out just one example, as the year drew to a close two of our current students skillfully and compassionately lead a Lineboro, Maryland “union church” recovering from a tragic fire that destroyed its beloved historic building.