School in motion: A letter from President Nieman
After a two-year hiatus, our journey resumed. From the chapel we went outside, turned north on University to 54th Place, walked one block east, then south on Woodlawn and due east again to the doors of St. Thomas the Apostle. Commencement returned to our Hyde Park home with a parade both festive and absurd. Those from all walks walked with us, traffic stopped for the antique regalia and outlandish hats, and folks gawked at this strange spectacle. With less-than-martial precision, we willingly entered, of all things, a church building on a lazy Sunday afternoon, with supportive crowds waiting.
Our first in-person graduation since 2019 was packed with details that seem typical until you look closer. From ritualized decrees (thereunto appertaining?), to diplomas offered as rare treasure, from robust cheers and swirling streamers befitting a stadium, to familiar students now transformed and ready, all these mark the journey of commencement. And the parade with which it begins compresses a multiyear formative process into a walking parable. To learn is to be on the move, staying ever in motion. Our graduates are surely still who they’ve always been, but now we see them ready for the road ahead.
You’ve likely heard by now. We are moving. After three years of board review, two years of strategic planning, and one year of negotiations, a sale of our main facility will close later this year. We will cede ownership of our home for fifty-six years, leasing back part of it through mid-2023, then relocating to other fitting space in Hyde Park. Despite the penchant of some to foster the worst possible story, this is actually good news and a helpful change. Like many other nonprofits, we know our building is not our mission, and so concluded we can bear our mission better and more sustainably by other means.
Even so, this change will be difficult. The places where we live are freighted with feelings, memories, and significance, so moving brings a sense of loss. Aside from this, such change generates anxiety, fear of the unknown, and exhaustion over the thousand details needed to relocate well. We surely need your prayers and support more than ever. We also need to trust that we can do this, since we’ve done it before. Every one of LSTC’s six predecessor schools and all other ELCA seminaries have relocated in the past, often several times. Adaptation is part of our institutional heritage. Standing still is not.
Sale and relocation do not signal failure. Instead, they represent an opportunity with benefits we are otherwise unable to realize while holding onto a facility that has always been too large for us. Focused on our mission, we will better form contextually attuned leaders through deep partnerships with other local institutions and neighbors. Relocating is thus part of our planful recommitment to the school’s founding vision. And such a strong local commitment will still call for the wider reach that new technologies and pedagogies now afford. We will develop fresh approaches to theological education within a truly global horizon.
In the next year, we will rapidly learn to be a new kind of seminary. The pandemic already led us to rethink where we work, how we connect, and what we teach as better stewards of our resources. Such insights are preparing us to form students who can engage nimbly the demands of ministry and adapt flexibly to opportunities yet unknown. True to our heritage as a learning community, we are still on the move, committed to and curious about God’s future for us and our whole church. We are surely still the seminary we have always been, but now see ourselves ready – ready for the road ahead.
Original article published in the Summer 2022 Epistle Magazine; written by President James Neiman