Bombshell: Synod, Inc. to close seminaries?

Okay, so we’ve been getting some reports coming out of last week’s Ohio District Convention that are interesting, to say the least.

President Kieschnick couldn’t attend so he sent Dr. Dean Nadasdy, 4th VP, in his place. During the Q&A session, someone asked if he could clear up the rumors about the selling of various synodical assets. In his response, he said that he thought the Synod should sell both seminaries and go to a divinity school model at the various Concordias. With the stunned silence of the assembly, he went on to say that seminaries are too expensive and that the Synod needs to reduce duplication.

Although he made sure to state that the firesale was his opinion, obviously Nadasdy wouldn’t be publicly making such comments if they weren’t realistically on the table and in discussion at the Purple Palace.

It looks like we’ve come a long way from an understanding of synod existing in large part for the purpose of funding seminaries.

There is much more to this story but I’ll keep reporting in the days to come as it gets somewhat complicated. I’ve spoken with multiple sources who were at the Ohio convention and one delegate (Rev. Paul Schleuter) wrote up his report of the convention — which includes some additional information on the Nadasdy presentation — at the awesomely named Straight Schleuter blog.


Bombshell: Synod, Inc. to close seminaries? — 42 Comments

  1. This is absolutely NOT a rumor. Read the latest REPORTER and note carefully that the Synod’s Board of Directors has appointed a task force to start working on this issue of addressing seminaries.

    Yes, they are seriously considering closing one or both.


    Well, of course, because Concordia Seminary is in DEEP financial hurt, deep, deep.

    Close it? No way.
    Solution? Close Fort Wayne, move everything to STL.

    Or…better yet…close them both down.

    Motive? What a great way to finally be rid of theological faculties that fill students heads with things like “Lutheranism” as opposed to the latest brainstorm from the International Center.

  2. Eye on the IC –

    You nailed it. Bet they propose to close Ft. Wayne and be done with all this pesky Lutheranism bother. Maybe they can close CPH too because why do we need a warehouse full of things like the Lutheran Confessions? After all, who wants to read that nonsense when we should be reading Rick Warren or Brian McLaren or Rob Bell…

  3. I don’t think the Synod can sell the Fort Wayne campus. If that seminary closes, the property goes back to… someone. Point being, I don’t think CTSFW is an asset the Synod can legally liquidate.

    Concordia Seminary on the other hand…

  4. Let’s close the Synodical Headquarters instead, and sell the property. Move the Historical Museum back to its original building at the St. Louis Sem. Put the offices of Synod at one of the Seminaries – Lets say Isolation dorm at St. Louis, or build a small inexpensive building on campus (no need for a chapel since a sem can provide it, no need for conference rooms sin the sems have classrooms and conference areas). Disband the CTCR and give that aspect of synod back to the seminary faculties. How much could this raise/save?

  5. Can someone help me understand exactly what the synod’s role is IRT the seminaries?
    I think I read in the Reporter that LCMS was only giving the seminaries something like $800,000 total.
    That has to be a small fraction of their total budget.

    What is the control synod holds?

  6. Before we get TOO far off the track here, I know that the BOD minutes states that they are debating closing or consolodating Concordia Ann Arbor. There is a very vague paragraph in the minutes talking about the seminaries themselves (quoted below). Is this perhaps a miscommunication? Was he talking about the possible closing of “one of the concordias” and not closing an actual seminary?

    From page 144 of the May BOD Minutes:

    (Note: Read a report starting on page 140 talking about the Ann Arbor Concordia)

    Later in the meeting the board returned to its discussion of seminary concerns and possible steps to be taken. After the stated objectives of the next Board for Pastoral Education meeting were noted, the following resolution was introduced and adopted by the board:

    Resolved, That in the interest of reduction of cost, achievement of savings, and improvement of quality, the Board of Directors request that the Board for Pastoral Education make a comprehensive study of the facilities, personnel, and efficiencies of present seminary education and provide a final report to the Board of Directors at the earliest possible date.

  7. So, . . . Synod, Inc. is going to sell the Seminaries? Why? Because thay are a drain on Synod, Inc. finances? Nope! Synod, Inc. funds the seminaries for about 2% of their annual budget – so that can’t be it. To protect the jobs of the Synodcrats at the IC? Well, you do the math. Since the Sems are worth millions and since our missionaries generally fund themselves, since most of Synod, Inc’s educational institutions largely fund themselves where would the money be used? You do the math.

  8. Maybe we are seeing the beginnings of the dismantling of the LCMS so that a Lutheran synod will replace it.

  9. Rev. Fehrmann,

    You are missing the point. The closing of the seminaries in no more about saving money than canceling Issues, etc. was about saving money. Saving money is merely the smokescreen for what Jerry & Co. Inc. really want to accomplish, that is to make sure every pastor in the LCMS is as brilliant a theologian as is Dr. K.

  10. I don’t think FW can be sold per se; the land reverts to the Kramer heirs. At least, that’s what I was told.

    I have also heard that there are restrictions on the STL campus as well.

  11. Why not have undergraduate institutions at St Louis and Ft Wayne?

    Frankly, I have no problem with the divinity school idea. It simply depends on who is teaching at the divinity school.

    I predict we will see a restructuring of the Concordias that will make them independent institutions in the next 10 years. (*I have no inside information, it’s just what I think will happen.)

  12. I think this is probably being blown a bit out of proportion. The synod is not going to sell the seminaries or whatever. Too much you-know-what would hit the fan. But I do think that Matt is right, the Concordia University System needs to be restructured and they will probably become independent. Frankly, what we should do (and I heard this from someone else, but how it was escapes me) is shut down all but two Concordias. Make one into the liberal arts school and the other into a pre-sem / church workers’ school. This could be combined with axing all Concordias and moving undergrads to St. Louis and Fort Wayne to create a divinity school model.


  13. I’ve seen this information being spread across the blogosphere; I’m still not convinced that this is not simply a miscommunication.

    Perhaps VP Nadasdy heard from the BOD that they were considering closing one of the Concordias, and he mentioned it in a way at the District Convention that it sounded like closing one of the Seminaries.

    It will look us all look bad if this is simply a mis-communication.

    One person says “Concordia”, another heard “Concordia Seminary”, and a rumor is flying across the web.

    I see nothing in the minutes that states they are considering closing a seminary. PLEASE re-read my comment # 7, then put the best construction on what is reported.

    Norm Fisher

  14. In response to #7

    While I appreciate the caution and best-construction effort of your note, VP Nadasdy was not talking about Concordia Ann Arbor in his comments at the Ohio District Convention. His remarks had to do with our seminaries.

    Further, the suggestion regarding the sale of Concordia Ann Arbor in the May 2009 BOD minutes was from a March 19 memo submitted by the Synod treasurer, Thomas Kuchta. The relevant paragraphs are on pages 140-141 of the BOD minutes (which can be accessed through the link in #7 above). The memo begins on page 136.

    Please note that the minutes do NOT state that the BOD is debating closing Concordia, Ann Arbor.

    This memo seems analogous to VP Nadasdy’s opining concerning closing the seminaries and in their place opening divinity schools at our universities to provide for pastoral education. Both are explicitly personal opinions. The BOD has not acknowledged formally pursuing either idea at this time. (I phrase it this way because I’m no better informed than anyone else concerning what happens in BOD executive sessions.)

    I understand that Dr. Ahlersmeyer, president of Concordia, Ann Arbor, made just that point concerning Kuchta’s memo in addressing district conventions concerning the university. The memo is a personal opinion of Kuchta, not a direction the BOD is pursuing. According to Ahlersmeyer’s report a feasibility study concerning some sort of consolidation between Concordia Wisconsin and Concordia Ann Arbor is being conducted. The two University Boards of Regents and the Synod BOD would all need to approve by a 2/3 majority for this to occur.

    The paragraphs cited in #7 are explicitly concerning the seminaries. The resolution is responsive to a “discussion of seminary concerns.” Nadasdy, not a member of the BOD, did not make any reference to this resolution in his remarks.

  15. Bethany (#13): I don’t really see this. I see a major problem, leading to the development of the SMP programs and efforts to make it easier to put men through “””seminary”””, is the fact that people have to pysically go to one of the seminaries. It’s a lot easier if we spread them out around the country so there can be one close to people interested in the ministry. If all pre-sem kids had to go to one specific location that would put up a roadblock to entering the ministry in the traditional method.

    (sorry, am I showing my age? “kids”?)

  16. We’ve been heading in this direction since Wichita and “SMP” (or whatever they are calling the sacramentalized (lay)man’s program this week) is just another step.

    IMO, we’ll have ordained men, trained by Fuller, in the “business office” and laymen in the chancel.
    If a majority of congregation buy into, or get dragooned into, TCN, we won’t be talking about a Lutheran church in any way, shape or form.
    Welcome to the new Misery!

  17. That’s “congregations” (plural) 2000 plus as many “missions” w/o a shred of Lutheranism in them.

    [Pr. Weedon, tell these gentlemen where you got the program which allows previewing and proofing?] Thanks in advance!

  18. How about cutting all synodical officials salaries to nothing more than the median salary level of the pastor/teacher/deaconess et al, in the district in which they are employed. So the DP in a district would make no more than the average salary of a pastor in his district. The Education exec, if there is one, would make nothing more than the average teacher in their district. I second the call to move the International Center to the seminary, sell the property etc.

    From a strictly human/business standpoint, the synod is going about opening up new areas of work in a completely backwards way. Their attempts to cut education of those who they want to send into areas of work with little or no foothold is the exact opposite of what a good, wise businessman would do. They know that in order to open up a territory for sales, one must have a seasoned, well-prepared, person to do the work. But we *business* amateurs, we churchmen, who think we understand how to be efficient, productive, get results, would absolutely fail in any serious business. And the trouble with this is a business model, even a GOOD ONE is not the way to be a CHURCHMAN!

    God help us!

  19. Why is it suddenly so much more difficult for men to go to seminary in one of two locations than it was a century ago when travel was a real problem!?

    They want the job, but they don’t want to exert themselves to do the education? (Or the DP’s want to control the education they get?) It’s been a very long time since wannabe lawyers trained for the bar by reading a lawyer’s bookshelf and acting as his go-fer for payment.
    We wouldn’t want a half trained surgeon who learned by watching a GP experiment in his spare time. [Believe me. My parents got killed by just such talent attempting “minor” procedures.]

    Why do we want to entrust the care of our souls (and others) to someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about!?

    Lord, have mercy!

  20. Quoting from Molly above, “Although [Nadasdy] made sure to state that the firesale was his opinion, obviously Nadasdy wouldn’t be publicly making such comments if they weren’t realistically on the table and in discussion at the Purple Palace.”

    I disagree with the conclusion that Nadasdy wouldn’t be “publicly making such comments if they weren’t realistically on the table and in discussion at the Purple Palace.” Given his position and the reaction it provoked, he probably “shouldn’t be publicly making such comments” and likely regrets having made them. Nevertheless, having said that it was his own personal opinion, what might seem an obvious conclusion is far less so.

    For decades possible changes at our two seminaries have been rumored including consolidation on one campus. A few years ago I heard the idea of selling them both and building one new seminary in another location. These ideas are often tossed around while relaxing with a Lutheran beverage in the evenings after a long day of attending conventions, conferences, or symposia.

    My best-construction estimate of what happened is that VP Nadasdy simply spoke more freely than the occasion warranted. In his opinion the divinity school pattern is worth considering. Well and good, we all have opinions. But his was not intended as a formal proposal, much less an indication that such an idea is being seriously considered. It was just his opinion, which by now he probably wishes he had kept to himself.

  21. Whether they are truly considering closing one, or both seminaries I do not know. I do know the synod is not able, by law, to liquidate the Fort Wayne Campus. The Kramer family wisely put a clause in that would make the property revert back to their ownership if the synod no longer uses it. I really don’t see them selling the St. Louis campus either. Seeing as how the Synod provides essential zero financial support to the Seminary’s any reason for selling would have nothing to do with a “financial drain”. Honestly though, I believe both seminaries signed their death certificates when they endorsed SMP. They caved and were not willing to make a confessional stand for what is right and true. It was a sad day when the evil of the SMP program passed, it was even worse that our seminaries had no confessional backbone to oppose it.

  22. The closing of either Seminary seems patently riduculous on its face, what with all the pastors we’re going to need for these 2000 new congregations. As far as the Divinity School idea is concerned, post #12 “had no problem” as it all depended on who was teaching. Exactly. That’s the problem. Who is teaching? Now that IS scarey.

    I have a better idea. Why not simply close both the seminaries, and use the resulting enormous dollars to start a few two-year LCMS Bible Colleges around the country? Oops, I forgot–we don’t like the name LCMS. Let’s just call them Community Bible Colleges. Oh,oh, that word “Bible” might be a barrier. Just Community Religion Colleges… That’s pretty inoffensive.

  23. And another thing. Helen (#20), you’re over-reacting. This isn’t a life or death situation. It’s just about going to church and stuff, where you learn about real life situations, and build your self-esteem. I don’t know what’s the big deal. I mean, our synod-sponsored programs, Transforming Churches and Natural Church Development tell us that doctrine isn’t what it’s about. Those programs are about RE-VITALIZATION! Get with it–get revitalized. We need
    cosmic pray-ers,
    passionate spirituality,
    need-oriented evangelism….
    If our synod is sponsoring these programs, they must be good, so why not simply junk that dry-as-dust doctrine stuff. We do need competent well trained doctors and lawyers, but as for my own personal religion, just give me a good dymanic leader-speaker anytime. And please, drop that “Lutheran” stuff!

  24. As she so often does, Mollie has issued a much needed warning – hopefully, it will be heeded far beyond the reasership of this site. Thank you!
    I agree with Rev. Sorenson when he writes:

    “Honestly though, I believe both seminaries signed their death certificates when they endorsed SMP. They caved and were not willing to make a confessional stand for what is right and true. It was a sad day when the evil of the SMP program passed, it was even worse that our seminaries had no confessional backbone to oppose it.”

    Though many professors may have privately opposed the program, only one spoke out against it. But that one voice was drowned by the amazing salesmanship of Dr. Larry Rast and Dr. Andy Bartelt at the 2007 Convention. Perhaps the SMP will be called the “Rast-Bartelt Docreine of the Ministry” by future historians.

  25. Nadasty’s church is mother to The Alley, so why do we need any pastors that are trained what Lutheran believe anyway?

  26. @Johannes…I believe there are very capable professors at the Concordia. I’m not bragging but I could easily teach church history. In fact, I already do at the undergraduate level. Many of my students go on to seminary. Additionally, I know we could call very capable ordained men with Ph.D. to teach theology courses. In fact we have some already. We would need more to have divinity school. Most Concordias probably already have a Greek and Hebrew.

    However, I do not advocate closing either seminary and I don’t think it will happen. Frankly, it would be a shame since the St Louis Sem has existed longer than the Synod. Ft Wayne currently has a library expansion project.

  27. Re: Divinity Schools, Matt Phillips, it may be fine that you can teach at the undergraduate level, and there may be some very fine professors at the Concordia. However, in time, I fear that some not-so-fine professors could be brought in, and it would not take long before the Divinity Schools were nothing but ersatz schools. We already fought one battle with teachers who led many astray in the 60’s & 70’s. Why open the door to more of the same. History should tell us that Nadasdy’s idea is simply a bad one.

  28. As a delegate to the Ohio District convention, I can attest to the fact that Dr. Nadasdy did indeed say this about the seminaries. To be fair, he did state that this was “his opinion only.” However, I doubt he would publicly say anything like this if it wasn’t being discussed in some fashion at the IC.
    His suggestion was to have “divinity schools” attached to our Concordia colleges.
    I can’t believe that this is seriously under consideration, but my gut says it’s so. Why else would the BOD appoint a committee to study the seminaries?

  29. Johannes,

    If “divinity school” would be code language for 10 undergrad courses leading to ordination then I’d be against it. However, if we had divinity schools that awarded MDivs, MAs with instruction in the proper languages I’d be in full support.

    There’s no guarantee that we keep “good” professors at the seminary, so the argument doesn’t stand. This issue is who would be teaching at either school and what would they be teaching. Frankly, I’m not sure the Concordias would want to add divinity schools, because of the cost.

    I am very qualified to teach undergraduate and graduate courses in church history and historical theology, particularly the medieval and early modern eras.

  30. RE: #19
    Something like this was proposed at this past SDD convention. It was rejected in committee, and trounced on the floor. Sorry, as long as the pastors and laymen of the synod confuse left and right hand kingdoms, it’ll only get worse.

  31. Ft. Wayne seminary: one of the reasons the Springfield seminary was moved back to Ft. Wayne was because should the synod ever decide they no longer desire that campus, the property DOES revert back to the family of the men who originally gave the property for Concordia Senior College. If I heard this once, I heard it a 100 times while at Springfield. Course, things may have changed since 1976.

  32. Someone brought to my attention a paper written by Leonard Sweet called “Not Your Father’s Seminary.”

    Hasn’t St. Louis been listening to this guy for some time now? It makes you wonder if Sweet is required reading for Synodicrats.

    As far as getting an MDiv from a concordia university, the academic caliber of that is one thing. The pastoral formation aspect is another. I was not prepared to be a pastor in Christ’s church when I graduated from Seward. And a few more courses would not have helped that. College is College. Seminary is not college. It’s boot camp.

    That’s my two cents at least.

  33. @Rev. Josh Sullivan,

    Let me be clear. My vision of a divinity school is not adding a few courses. It would be a rigorous, graduate academic program. Obviously, MDiv training would include more than just the courses. As I stated above, if divinity school is code language for 10 more undergrad courses, then I am against the idea.

  34. @Matt,

    Understood. And I agree. I think there also has to be some spacial difference as well though. The “college experience” which is alive and well at our Concordias, is not condusive to pastoral formation, i.e. parties, college drama, etc. Now that I’ve said that, seminary is not exactly real life either. But overall I agree. The concordias would need real scools of divinity, similar to having a school of medicine, business, etc. I appreciate your response, its making me think about the situation a little deeper.

  35. Perhaps the first thing we should do is to increase our efforts to support both of our Seminaries and their students financially?

    And the second is to point out what an utter mess we would have (as if we didn’t have a mess already) if we went to the Divinity School model. This would not produce pastors who were more pliant and in line with the Synod’s policies, but to fragment and create even more divergent and conflicting groups and ideologies within our Synod. I recall Dr. Barry mentioning at a convocation years ago that the he was discussing some of the troubles he was having with the Bishop of the ELCA, to which the ELCA president replied “what do you say I trade my nine seminaries for your two?” Barry laughed and politely told the Bishop ‘no thanks.’

  36. Isn’t title to the Concordia Theological Seminary property in Fort Wayne contingent upon it remaining a Lutheran Seminary? Doesn’t it revert to the original owners/doners or their trust otherwise?

  37. I was at the Ohio convention. Pr. Lance O Donnel asked the question and actually prodded Nadasdy to say that closing Ft. Wayne was off the table.

    To this prodding, the speaker mentioned that in his opinion both sems ought be closed. I couldn’t tell if he didn’t mean it almost as a joke. Yet he then added the business of using the Concordia campuses (with the sems as Divinity Schools attached). So at a minimum he had considered the matter previously.

    Somewhere in my grey matter I recall that such a move requires a synodical convention’s vote. This, as I remember, was what happened with St. John’s, Winfield.

    By the way, Pr. O’ Donnel was fantastic in gently making the point that legitimate public knowledge of the financial demise of St. Louis, and of the synod, is greatly lacking in detail.

    Jim Strawn

  38. It is quite likely that Dean Nadasdy was aware of (and referring to) the article by Paul Sauer (a St. Louis grad – MDiv and STM) in Lutheran Forum (June 2009), which deals with the LCMS seminaries and floats the sale of SL and consolidating seminary operations at FW as one scenario. Keep in mind that both seminaries now have very minimal direct synodical subsidy and depend on tuition, direct gifts, and endowments for current operations. That, under these conditions, both seminaries so faithfully maintain their focus on supplying pastors for the LCMS is a mark of their commitment to their primary mission.

    Both gifts and endowments have been hit hard by the recession. SL has more infrastructure upgrading needs than FW because the campus is some 30 years older. Others point out that living costs are lower in FW, while centrality of location and urban amenities, including several other institutions of higher education, favor SL. Talk of seminary consolidation has been around for a long time, but many still remember that having two seminaries was an important factor in 1974. Money (or the lack of it) tends to awaken discussions and ideas that otherwise lie dormant. One hopes and prays that money will not be the primary determining factor in deciding the future of LCMS seminary education.

  39. I’m a 2007 seminary grad, and while I will always remain a “pastor under formation” for the rest of my time in the ministry, I went to sem as a not-too-wet-behind-the-years second career man after 20 years in another career. I also have a great deal of real-world experience in strategic planning and consulting with organizations on increasing efficiencies and effectiveness (for which I got paid a fair sum more than anyone in the Purple Palace who’s considering all these brilliant strategic decisions being bandied about). So, I still have a somewhat contemporary perspective from both sides of the communion rail.

    Despite my respect for many of the advocates of the SMP program and the erstwhile DELTO system, in my opinion there is no effective substitute for the formation that can ONLY happen in the culture of theological immersion found in a real, on-campus seminary program. A bunch of guys studying remotely around the country and serving in their home congregations, no matter how motivated, no matter how highly-connected our cyberworld, and no matter how conscientious the local mentor-pastor, is just not the same as a seminary in what can be offered to and received by the student/pastoral candidate.

    Also, what does it say about a person’s fitness for the demands of the ministry (particularly placing one’s self in the service of Christ’s Church) if he is not willing to leave the comfort and familiarity of his hometown environment and his current job to get the best possible academic and theological preparation, and then to serve wherever the Church would see fit to call him? That’s putting one’s hand to the plow and not just looking back, but more like attempting to plow with one foot still on the back porch! Maybe I should decide where around the country I’d prefer to “do ministry” and then re-apply to the SMP program? No, I love my parish and its people, and I can’t be “re-ordained,” anyway.

    Still, it’s bothersome that rather than adequately supporting effective seminary programs so men wouldn’t hesitate to attend for fear of financial ruin and thus violation of their vocations of husband and father, we continue to pour money into things like Ablaze and its parasitic spawn. We don’t need more churches, transformed churches, or natural churches–we already have lots of available seating around the synod last I checked, and we can add more services or re-distribute parishes if need be (that’d be one Romanist idea that might actually be useful, now that I think about it…). What we really need is more well-trained, full-fledged pastors proclaiming Law and Gospel and properly administering the sacraments, so that the laity are motivated to share the Good News with others, start new missions, etc., not because they get credit for it on some hokey scoreboard, but because they are full of joy at the salvation in Christ that has come even to sinners such as us. But that requires greater trust in the efficacy of the Word, rather than in the attraction of man-made programs.

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