Egg-reader and master photographer Mark Christianson offers some thoughtful reflections on the ELCA's budgetary priorities, and especially on how much (or little) it apportions for seminary support. This well worth a read, and some sober reflection.
He also suggests closing and/or merging several of the ELCA's eight seminaries. The idea is hardly new; we've heard variations of it for years. The reason it has not taken place already is that each of the seminaries has its own constituency, militant in support of its particular history and minutely-nuanced variation on the common mission of all seminaries. Fair enough.
But let's be frank. Eventually, seminary closure is going to happen on its own, most likely through catastrophic failure. Worse yet, it will happen slowly, as individual institutions wither away. Some readers may recall the cautionary tale of the Hartwick Seminary, which helped to divide and embitter the New York Ministerium for several generations.
The real question, then, is whether the eventual closure of some seminaries will be directed deliberately, or left to chance. This is, not incidentally, the question that faces many other church institutions, not least individual congregations.
At least in the case of seminaries, an argument can be made either way.
There is obvious logic to a denomination-wide master plan, such -- for example -- as one which would leave the ELCA with seminaries distributed geographically -- one east, one west, one north-central, one south-central. (Since there is nothing fitting that last description, such a strategy actually involves the expansion of an existing extension program in Texas to the rank of a seminary.)
On the other hand, the invisible hand of the market is a powerful tool for discernment. If it proves that there are not enough students and benefactors to support a new seminary in Dallas (or an old one in fill-in-the-blank), then perhaps it is best to accept that such a seminary does not really need to exist. To the counter-argument that this leaves the ELCA lopsided, and unprepared for mission in a certain geographical region, one can only respond that Americans are wildly mobile, and that other graduate students routinely travel across the country to study.
We're not really sure what to do here, and nobody is asking us anyway. But the merger of Southern Seminary with Lenoir-Rhyne and the situation which resulted from McCormick's threatened withdrawal from LSTC both press the point.