2017 State of The Seminary

Address of President Carol E. Lytch to Alumni/ae and 2017 Graduates
Alumni/ae Banquet May 19, 2017 at Lancaster Theological Seminary

Picture a mighty river.  I think of the Ohio River in Pittsburgh where I used to live.  Pittsburgh sits at the junction of two rivers--the Allegheny and the Monongahela--and they form a third river, the Ohio River that eventually flows into the Mississippi, which eventually flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Pittsburgh locals affectionately nickname the three rivers:  the O, the Mo, and the Al.

Class of 2017, you are one of the tributaries that is now merging with the mighty river of Lancaster Theological Seminary graduates.  Together with other classes of Lancaster Theological Seminary graduates you will flow as a forceful river, resourcing the church with leadership and practical wisdom, prophetic voice, and calls to discipleship.
Classes of Lancaster Theological Seminary ending in 7s and 2s, you have returned to Lancaster Theological Seminary and have stepped back into the headwater of this mighty river of Lancaster Theological Seminary alumni and alumnae.  

I’m reminded of something the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said:

“No person ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river.”

It is true; as you step back in the river and come on campus you may feel that the Seminary is not the same river.

•    The students look different.  They are both younger and older than you may remember them. They are more diverse in race, ethnicity, gender and church tradition.  And this is intentional because our faculty believes that a pluralistic community is more excellent and exciting as we are in conversation together in this place working out our Christian theologies and faith commitments.
•    The curriculum is different.  And I will say more about that in a minute.
•    The faculty is different.  When you think of the faculty you may think of the beloved professors in the black and white photos on the second floor of the Lark Building.  Now we have an equally excellent faculty of men and women who are just as loved and respected as scholars and teachers as your professors. 
•    Naming all these differences, maybe there is one thing is the same: how the campus looks. Is this a good thing?  Do we want to be frozen in the 1950s?  No, of course not.  I’ll give you a sneak preview that we do have some big plans for refreshing this campus.  We plan to replace the 1950s apartment buildings with a new apartment building built on the footprint of Bowman Hall, and restore the beauty of Lark and the historic campus. Stay tuned for more on that in the coming months.

Our graduating seniors know one of the important things that has shaped their experience—the curriculum—has already changed even before they step out.  For the benefit of alumni/ae, I’ll inform you that this class of 2017 is the last MDiv class at Lancaster Theological Seminary whose degree has 94 credits and offers the flexibility to step in and out of the MDiv degree program and the option to stretch it out beyond the normal three or four years.

The new MDiv curriculum that we began implementing two years ago is different.  It’s not better—but it’s different.  It responds to the voice of the church who told us that seminary education had to be more accessible and more affordable.  We added the weekend track in the MDiv as an option.  We reduced the number of credits to 75.  We fashioned a tighter, and more sequenced curriculum. There are electives, but fewer of them.  In all, we believe we are hearing what the church is asking us to do by preserving the value of educated clergy that has always distinguished our tradition while also making seminary education more accessible and affordable to people who must keep their jobs, graduate more quickly, and have less debt.  We believe these future graduates of Lancaster Theological Seminary will be as well-educated and spiritually formed in faith as you are.

We have a new collaboration with Elizabethtown College to help people who haven’t completed a bachelor’s degree to do so on our campus in the evening.  The courses that are offered are ones that are excellent undergraduate courses leading to an MDiv.

And there are two other things will start this year to make the seminary more accessible to all who want this education.

First, we will be developing a pre-seminary program for those who have undergraduate degrees but in areas that don’t necessarily prepare them for seminary, like chemical engineering or marketing. We will offer a program to help these people to prepare to be successful in the academically rigorous program we offer.

Second, we have an “Innovation Grant” to explore a relationship with the Pennsylvania Academy for Ministry.  This used to be called Lay Ministry in the 21st Century led by our alumnus Steve Hummel.  Again, by exploring a way we can work together with this non-degree program, we hope to pave the way for a greater number of people who feel called to prepare for ministry.

Another new collaboration we already put in place this past year is with St. Mary’s University and Seminary in Baltimore to offer the third year of their two-year Master’s program.  People can take their two years in Baltimore and do their third year with us and graduate with a Lancaster Seminary MDiv.

So the curriculum is new, the collaborations with Elizabethtown and St. Mary’s are new. And the pre-seminary program and the exploration with the Pennsylvania Academy for Ministry will be new.  

But with all of “the new,” one of the non-negotiables that remains is the cross-cultural immersion requirement in the MDiv. That is still there in the new MDiv curriculum. That is a hallmark of the Lancaster Theological Seminary education. Students still are required as part of the MDiv go away as a cohort for at least two weeks to experience being the stranger, being marginalized and discomforted in an unfamiliar culture. God often meets us when we are the stranger and alien. God teaches us in powerful ways through this experience about hospitality. 


So the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said,

"No person ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river."  

But there’s a little extra part that can be added on the end of that quote: “No person ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river” and he or she is not the same person. 


Alumni and alumnae, you are different too as you step back into the headwater of this river.  You come back to this place having experienced ministry over decades of service.  I can’t speak for each of you, but I can say for myself that in the thirty-seven years since I graduated from seminary and was ordained, the river has taken me over rocks and rapids, and also to still waters of refreshment, and also through places where it felt like this river was reduced to just a small trickle in dry land.  In a few moments you will hear from two of our graduates of whom we are justly proud who exemplify ministries of Lancaster Theological Seminary graduates.

The joy of this reunion is telling the stories of how we are different, the experiences we have shared, the shaping of our lives by the grace and mercy of God as we have lived lives of servant leadership in Christ’s name.

I happened to be reading Psalm 46 this week and I noticed the image of the river in this Psalm.

We will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.  There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. (vv. 2-4) 

This river is a life-giving stream that replaces the chaotic waters that threaten us.  While there is actually no river flowing through the actual city of Jerusalem, the river is a symbol of God’s gift of life.  

In Ezekiel 47, there is vision of this river again, one that flows from the altar in the temple in Jerusalem out into the city streets and from there out to a stagnant sea where the river refreshes the sea so that it swarms with life and waters the withering trees along the shore so they grow leaves and bear fruit again. 

And in Revelation 22 the vision of the river appears again. The river of the water of life--bright as crystal--flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb into the middle of the street in city of Zion. On either side of the river are the trees of life, bearing the leaves for the healing of the nations.

The river is a sign of sustenance, an assurance of God’s power and provision amidst war and the worst imaginable trouble.

Alumni and alumnae, graduating seniors, you are the river.  You are the ones God sends out to assure the world that God’s sovereignty is in place. God’s steadfast love will prevail.  You proclaim the Gospel of the reign of God that will displace the chaos and warping of our civilization that we feel so keenly at this time. God will bring healing to the nations.
I grew up in a small town in New Jersey, in “the burbs.”  I never dreamed that I could live in a county where their might be a cross-burning by the KKK.

As you may know, this evil, abominable event is rumored to be scheduled for our beautiful Lancaster County tomorrow.  There is a cross burning planned for tomorrow night in the southern part of the county, in Quarryville.  I urge you after the graduation ceremony to join others on the steps of the county courthouse in Lancaster at 3:00 in peaceful solidarity with the NAACP to stand for a whole and just multiracial community.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we shall not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam; though the mountains tremble with its tumult.  

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.  God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.  (Psalm 46)