Mark Ramseth of Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio speaks to the Conference of Bishops.

All eight seminary presidents are here. A lot has changed since the 1995 Study of Theological Education. Rising debt loads. The rise of distributed education.

Luther is at the forefront of distributed learning. Michael Cooper White says Gettysburg is experimenting. Rollie Martinson is doing research in DL in other disciplines such as medical school and law school. There is not agreement on DL, but mutual respect and a willingness to adapt.

Bishop Jon Anderson describes the situation as a “quadruple option” play they used to run in football. The quarterback didn’t really know where the ball was going until the play began. Those, however, who spend their energy trying to recreate the past are lost. We can only go forward. Bishop Wayne Miller says we’re going to be in “experimentation-reflection-adaptation mode” for some time.

President Bliese says DL has allowed us to deliver theological education deeply into context. The medical community is finding this very beneficial.

Stan Olson: “By what criteria would we suggest closing a seminary?” Income, debt, enrollment, geography, sellability?

Phyllis Anderson says seminaries are like a fine pocket watch. It has to have the same number of parts as Big Ben, but in microcosm. Seminaries are small. PLTS has 200 students. Luther has 800. If you add the enrollment of all eight seminaries, it’s still less than the enrollment at California Lutheran University.

There are 250 theological schools in the U.S. 180 are freestanding. At least half of those 180 have been in deficits in the last few years. We are watching the experience of Southern Seminary moving into Lenoir-Rhyne with interest.

LSTC and Valparaiso University have been in dialog. VU provides more theology students to our eight seminaries than any other Lutheran university. Starting January 1 VU will have a faculty member officing at LSTC. Shared courses will begin in September 2012.

The conversation helped me understand the challenges and opportunities of theological education in this rapidly changing context.

Michael Rinehart, bishop
Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
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