In what many are calling an historic decision, the Board of Trustees of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary has approved a new strategic plan that has as its core the provision of full scholarships for all students in the school’s master’s degree programs.
“As a result of this bold decision, Louisville Seminary is poised to make not only a difference in the future of this school and in theological education, but also a difference for the future of the church,” said Pamela G. Kidd, Chair of the Board of Trustees, following the trustees’ unanimous and enthusiastic vote.
Identified as the Seminary’s “Covenant for the Future,” the new strategic plan is built upon the Seminary’s commitment to theological education that is informed by Presbyterian and Reformed traditions and is aligned with its core mission of educating men and women to participate in the redemptive ministry of Jesus Christ in an increasingly pluralistic world.
“The ends of theological education are not on the Seminary campus,” said Seminary President Michael Jinkins. “The ends, the ultimate purpose and meaning of everything we teach, are out there in the world. That is where Louisville Seminary’s vision is cast. Our strategic plan seeks to address the needs of the church today and the unknown needs of tomorrow, and to respond to those needs with adventurous leadership.”
The strategic vision consists of five major components, to be executed in phases over ten years. Its centerpiece, “The Covenant Scholarship Plan,” will maximize enrollment at 130 students (inclusive of all master’s degree programs) in order to provide a full-tuition scholarship for every student by Fall 2015 and, in addition, a stipend to cover living expenses for every student by Fall 2021. Louisville Seminary’s master’s degrees include Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy, and Master of Arts (Religion).
“Capping the size of entering classes will make full funding of each student an achievable goal within a relatively short time frame,” said Patrick Cecil, Vice President and CFO at Louisville Seminary, in a report that identifies current average full-time enrollment at 150. The timeline for the plan is three to five years, with a corresponding comprehensive fundraising campaign to be carried out over ten years.
“The Covenant Scholarship Plan will enable us to maintain high academic standards, while also favoring candidates with demonstrated gifts and graces for ministerial service,” said Seminary Dean-Elect Susan R. Garrett, who served as Vice Chair of the Strategic Planning Committee. “Emphasis will be on achieving the highest quality, rather than quantity, of entering students and of classes as a whole. At the same time, we will seek to admit classes that reflect the racial, ethnic, national, and theological diversity in which our graduates will serve.”
In covenantal exchange for their financial aid, students will be required to engage in service throughout their time at the Seminary. Service will take various forms, such as field education or practicum placement in a church, community service agency, or non-profit organization in Louisville, or on campus as Chapel Coordinator, President of the student body, or in some other role.
“Eliminating the need for field site stipends will expand the variety of settings in which students can receive practical formation. This will be a blessing not only to the students but also to congregations, agencies, and other areas of service that, to date, have not been able to engage a seminarian in their work,” added Garrett.
“The philosophy behind this requirement for reciprocal service is the biblical directive that ’from everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required,’” (Luke 12:48) she said.
“Liberated from additional educational debt, our graduates will be enabled to serve wherever God calls them,” said Jinkins, who led the Strategic Planning Committee. “They will be free to take greater risks as new pastors, to try new and innovative forms of ministry, to plant new churches, and to work in church revitalization. We believe that such ministries represent the future for the Presbyterian Church, and this new plan takes a bold step in meeting the needs of the larger church as well.”
The other strategic initiatives include:
- Underwriting and institutionalizing the Doors to Dialogue (D2D) program, which prepares graduates for Christian pastoral leadership in intra-Christian, interfaith, and multi-cultural contexts;
- Underwriting and expanding the Black Church Studies program, which is addressing the critical needs of African American church communities, while also offering exceptional opportunities for students to expand their awareness and sophistication in ministering to people in a variety of cultural and religious settings;
- Creating an endowed fund to support expansion and maintenance of the Seminary’s Information Technology (IT) services that will augment the school’s instructional capacity and support resourcing of the church; and
- Renovating student housing as an asset for attracting outstanding students to the Seminary’s residential program.
“Together, these five initiatives form a cohesive whole, informing and transforming the Seminary’s larger mission,” Garrett explained.
Jinkins pointed out that Louisville Seminary will actively continue to recruit Presbyterian and other students “with real potential for leadership.”
“The wider world is in need of servant-leaders who strive to understand those with whom they disagree and to work across the lines that so often divide us,” said Jinkins. “We will build classes that are living laboratories reflecting the rich variety of the world, offering theological, racial-ethnic, gender, national, and other sorts of difference so that the Presbyterian and other Christian leaders of the next generation are the best prepared in history to serve in God’s richly varied world.”
Trustee Dan Ellinor, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, remarked how proud he is “to represent a seminary with this kind of vision for addressing critical needs in the church and in society and for finding a practical solution to the ever-growing educational debt.”
Other trustees called the plan “counter-cultural,” “energizing,” a “game-changer for theological education.”
Conrad Sharps, a trustee and Louisville Seminary alum from Birmingham, Alabama, said the plan is “more than a game-changer; it is Spirit-led, in that it provides freedom – from debt, from having to turn down leading-edge ministries, from having to wait to follow God’s call to seminary. That kind of spiritual element has no price tag,” he said.
“At its deepest level, this plan is our response to God’s covenant with us,” added Jinkins. “In return, we are responsible for listening to and responding to the needs of God’s people; for pledging our full commitment to individuals who are called by God to serve; for preparing leaders who are equipped to help revitalize faith communities; and for multiplying the investments of individuals, churches, and organizations – past, present, and future – who seek to transform the world through exceptional pastoral leaders.”
A summary of Louisville Seminary’s “Covenant for the Future” is available on the Strategic Plan webpage.