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Moravian Theological Seminary Partners with Lancaster Theological Seminary

By Rev. Dr. Heather Vacek 

Vice President/Dean and Associate Professor of Church History

On July 10, 2021, a Special Synod of the Northern Province of the Moravian Church voted to approve the partnership between Moravian University and Theological Seminary and Lancaster Theological Seminary. The July Synod vote was preceded by six months of in-depth conversation about mission, curricula, faculty, governance, organizational structures, constituents, endowments, and financials that was undertaken by an exploratory committee consisting of faculty, board members, and administrators from each school. That due diligence made clear the mission and financial benefits of partnering. The partnership is legally termed a “consolidation” and is in the very early stages. Full consolidation will take shape over four or five years and is carefully sequenced to secure proper approvals from accrediting bodies and regulatory agencies. At least through the 2021–22 academic year, the schools will operate as separate legal entities with distinct curricula but with shared leadership and increasingly coordinated operations. We anticipate that both seminaries will continue to exist as separately named schools.

Moravian and Lancaster Theological Seminaries (founded in 1807 and 1825, respectively) have long, faithful histories of providing educational and formational opportunities to equip clergy and congregations. The combination of the seminaries pairs Lancaster’s mission “to educate and nurture leaders to join in God’s redemptive and liberating work so that all creation may flourish” with Moravian’s mission to “equip persons with the knowledge, skills, and being to engage in vocations in ministry, chaplaincy, counseling, spiritual direction, and other settings.” Rooted in these commitments for centuries, both schools have served students from their denominations and a great variety of other traditions. Moravian Theological Seminary’s (MTS) welcoming of Lancaster Theological Seminary (LTS) into the shared work of theological education at Moravian University fits with historical commitments of the Moravian Church. The Moravian Ground of the Unity affirms that Christian unity is enhanced through receiving the gifts and graces of other faith traditions. In our work together, the seminaries strive to serve as a model of deepened relationships with internal and external constituents as we prepare and support pastoral and congregational lay and ordained ministers for service in our geographic region, in our home denominations, and more broadly.

Lark Building, Lancaster Theological Seminary 

Partnership with just any seminary would not make sense for either institution. Partnership between MTS and LTS, however, puts the schools in a formal relationship with a group of people (faculty, staff, students, alumni, church, and denominational leaders) who care about preparing students to serve God in the same sorts of ways. The two institutions have compatible missions and approaches to theological education, enabling the schools to partner to serve a range of constituents well, including those training for ministry in the Moravian Church and the United Church of Christ. We share commitments to ecumenism and justice. We also differ in beneficial ways and hope to find strength in our diversity. Though compatible, our theological traditions and trajectories vary. We share some degree program offerings, but the rhythm of our academic lives varies, as do the details of course offerings. MTS holds mostly weekday classes; LTS’s offerings are currently concentrated on weekends. MTS’s student body is significantly more part-time. LTS offers a Doctor of Ministry degree; MTS does not. Our campuses are a 90-minute drive apart. MTS is the lone theological school of the Moravian Church in North America; LTS is one of six UCC seminaries. Our home denominations have different relationships with their seminaries. In this consolidation, we see difference as an opportunity to learn and grow instead of an impediment to cooperation and service.

By combining with MTS, LTS will be able to take advantage of shared seminary and university resources in areas such as marketing, enrollment, advancement, finance, human resources, facilities, and information technology. In addition, to the extent that the Lancaster campus provides opportunities for the expansion of Moravian University program offerings at the graduate and undergraduate levels, the combination holds possibilities for strengthening the university system in which the seminaries reside.

Theological education at its best involves being in conversation—conversation with the past (through scripture and history) and the present (via congregations, leaders, faculty, and fellow students). Through conversation and cooperative work, faculty, staff, and students from MTS and LTS will deepen their own identities in individual traditions by building relationships with one another and their broader constituencies. We hope these relationships will model for students postures of cooperation and collaboration that will benefit them as they serve congregations, agencies, and individuals following graduation.

We covet your prayers in this time of transition. Even good change takes work and presents challenges for those involved. Pray for faculty, students, staff, and leadership as the seminaries partner and as we get to know one another. Stay tuned for updates about this exciting partnership.

Watch our recent virtual talk about this topic: Mutual Enrichment: Moravian & Lancaster Theological Seminaries