Thursday, February 02, 2012

A History of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia Campus

I'm deep in the midst of writing my J-term paper on the what "narrative" has been written about the LTSP campus over the years, and I figured folks would appreciate a preview of the first couple paragraphs.  If you have any questions (or construct criticism), please let me know!

          A few months ago while planning for an upcoming green certification program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, one member of the committee suggested it would be helpful to study how our campus identity has changed over the years and how it is currently perceived.  In following up on that request with professors and in the seminary library, I was astounded at the amount of information available.  Beside a nearly countless array of original sources, a number of histories had been published since the seminary’s founding, the most significant being Theodore Tappert’s History of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, 1864 – 1964.  While many of these sources provided valuable information about the names of professors and staff, the acquisition and destruction of various buildings and the character of the student body, they all stopped short of answering my committee member’s question.  I had to dig past such information to tell the story of how our campus community viewed its land, understood its urban setting and its relation to the surrounding neighborhood.  In doing so I hoped to discover how LTSP constructed a campus narrative over its nearly one hundred and fifty year history, the current state of that narrative and how that narrative has impacted the faith of our community.
It quickly became apparent that exploring the evolution of LTSP’s campus narrative would not simply be a historical enterprise, but would necessarily incorporate elements of psychology, sociology and theology as well.  With that fact in mind, my research took a variety of forms.  In order to develop a background for my study of original sources, I first read a number of books on Christian theologies of land, place and the city.  I carefully tilled the Tappert book and other similar works for background historical information.  Using Tappert’s bibliography as a starting point, I next examined minutes from Ministerium of Pennsylvania meetings, LTSP Board of Trustee meetings, transcripts of historical addresses and the like.  I am greatly indebted to the seminary archives staff members who helped me locate a number of early seminary publications and photographic slides (and often the near-ancient equipment to view those slides).  The staff of the Germantown Historical Society also proved helpful in providing old property maps and an outside perspective of the seminary through clippings of newspaper articles.  Finally, I sought to allow the diverse voices of the LTSP community to carry into my work through interviewing a number of staff, faculty, students, alumni and other key individuals.
After engaging in such research I propose that through many changes a “narrative of place” has indeed been constructed by the women and men who have lived, studied, worked and worshiped at here.  I have come to understand that this story has a complex plot which is centered around a single question: how can LTSP best serve the church, Christ’s body on earth, out of this place?  The seminary has generally answered this question somewhere between viewing campus predominately through a monastic tradition of separation and a more missional model of engagement with the outside world.[1]  With notable exceptions, our campus has been on a pilgrimage across that spectrum, slowly shifting away from some of the weaknesses of the monastic model while striving to retain the sacred character of its space and community.


[1] As the current Seminary President Rev. Dr. Philip Krey aptly reminded me, at it’s the best the monastic model can indeed be missional, as such institutions engage in a wide variety of ministries on behalf of their surrounding neighborhood and the church.  “Missional” in this paper however designates a disposition toward interacting with and recognizing the sacred in the wider world whenever possible.

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