Letter from Rev. Dr. Chad Rimmer on Move of LTSS to Hickory

A letter from the Rev. Dr. Chad Rimmer to LTSS alumni about the move of the seminar to the Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory.

Group of LTSS students walking together on campus after class

Friends in Christ, grace and peace be yours in the name of Christ.

The next stage in Southern’s long history of pilgrimage is beginning.

After prayerful, careful discernment of the headwinds we face across the broader landscape of theological education, the Lenoir-Rhyne University board of trustees has made the decision to move Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary to the university’s main campus in Hickory in January. The move will become official when the LR board takes final action at its March meeting.

As we have come to this decision, university President Dr. Fred Whitt, board chair Madeleine Dassow, and I have held many thoughtful discussions with one another and with other leaders and stakeholders, including the Region 9 bishops and key ELCA churchwide staff. We agree the reasons for this decision are clear: The budget deficits that we face are insurmountable considering current enrollment and broad national trends in theological vocations. By moving the seminary, we will save about $2.1 million per year in operating costs and eliminate significant deferred maintenance costs on the seminary campus, which is far larger than our current program requires. While many have faithfully and valiantly guided our seminary through difficult years, including the psycho-social and financial pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, the time has come to realize that without bold action, the mission of the seminary is simply not sustainable.

With this move, we can sustain the next chapter of our beloved seminary as a living laboratory for public ministry, where students will have opportunities to build their capacity for ministry with a vibrant formation and community life, interdisciplinary opportunities in Spanish language; business; counseling; environmental and health sciences; and other disciplines that provide context and grounding for pastors called to ministry in today’s church. It will be possible to create new pipelines that encourage theological studies and vocations for the next generation of pastors and theologians. It will be possible to have more creative and robust lifelong learning opportunities for lay and clergy leaders, and a richer campus experience for our students. At the same time, our library will move with us to Hickory, ensuring that our students continue to have access to the best resources available for us to strengthen our call to engage in transformative theological education and formation.

There are both sorrow and hope in this news. The seminary we love will change, and we will bid farewell to some of the places where we have learned, worshipped, and been formed. My great-grandfather was part of the class entering in 1911 when Southern first opened in Columbia. Generations of faithful leaders have been formed, educated or served here, entrusting this tradition of theological education to our current generation of students, faculty and staff. But our mission — to prepare leaders for the Church’s public ministry — will remain unchanged. Embedded on a campus with a long and rich history of Lutheran higher education, we will be more able to fulfill the seminary’s strategic plan that guides the way in which we nurture, educate and form leaders for public ministry in today’s world.

We have shared the news of our move to Hickory with the LTSS Advisory Council and Alumni Board. We have received their support, questions, and ideas. In the coming weeks, we will want to hear from you about the ways we can memorialize the seminary’s history in Columbia. We will mark our pilgrimage with liturgies of thanksgiving for this sacred ground and the places that have been sanctified with our study, worship, fellowship, and service. Through these liturgies, we will bring pieces of our chapel and other artifacts, to honor both the grief and possibility of this moment. I will be in touch soon to share more information, updates and let you know how you can participate. In the meantime, you can find answers to frequently asked questions on our website.

As we journey from Columbia to Hickory, we will undoubtedly face challenges. Even as we attend to the practical aspects of our move, I am committed to helping all of us at Southern keep our eyes on the larger trends we are facing — trends in higher education, trends across mainline churches, and trends in Lutheran vocations — so we can face them with creativity, innovative teaching and learning, vibrant formation and dynamic partnerships.

Along the way, I will encourage you to keep your eyes on 2030.  This year will be the 200th anniversary of the seminary’s founding in Pomaria, South Carolina. 2030 will also be the 500th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession. Making this move will ensure that we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the seminary in a way that looks to the next 200 years. And we will be embodying the genius of the Lutheran tradition that emerged from the nexus between the church, the academy and the public space. Semper reformanda. This move can position LTSS to be a flagship of the next stage in this faithful tradition.  

I look forward to celebrating those anniversaries by welcoming new classes of students who are formed for ministry in the world. Our move to Hickory will make that goal, and many others, possible.

Peace be yours,

The Rev. Dr. Chad Rimmer
Rector and Dean
Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary

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