The eight U.S. seminaries belonging to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are under stress and should work together to identify future leaders of the denomination, participants at a recent advisory conference said.
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, weighed in on the matter at the meeting of the ELCA Conference of Bishops which took place from February 28 to March 5 in Itasca, Ill. The conference is comprised of 65 synod bishops, the presiding bishop and secretary.
Rev. Hanson said that while the overall goal of the denomination is to form the kind of leaders needed to "serve the gospel and God's mission in the future, behind that is also how the church will identify leaders and form them."
The Rev. Jessica R. Crist, bishop of the ELCA Montana Synod and chair of the conference explained that there are changing circumstances facing each of the church's eight seminaries. Several seminaries are in leadership transition and all are reconsidering their curriculum and standards, she said.
She noted cooperation already taking place among current leaders.
"For the first time, bishops serving on the boards of all the ELCA seminaries met together to share information on the strengths and challenges facing the seminaries today," she said. "The bishops also heard a proposal that will be considered by the Church Council to form a task force to find ways to move forward cooperatively, so that we can continue to produce leaders for the church of the future."
The Rev. Jon V. Anderson, bishop of the ELCA Southwestern Minnesota Synod, said 20 synod bishops serving on ELCA seminary boards met on March 1 to discuss the state of seminaries.
He mentioned the following five primary observations:
- seminaries are under stress
- the seminary accreditation process has changed
- there is a need to interpret to the ELCA's nearly 10,000 congregations what is happening in seminaries and in the process of leadership formation
- the current seminary students are an amazing gift-the group is touched by the young leaders God is calling
- there are partnerships and alliances forming, particularly among some ELCA colleges and universities and seminaries.
The bishops agreed that further discussion on the future of the denomination's theological education would depend on collaboration with stakeholders and that the focus should be on entire system instead of individual seminaries.