“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2.22)
This week I am at Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center in Carefree, Arizona, for a meeting of the ELCA seminary leaders. Trinity friends, alumni, and supporters are well aware of the changes and challenges that our seminary has been facing in recent years. It’s helpful for us to remember that such changes and challenges are not unique to Trinity. As I begin my work as Dean of Trinity Lutheran Seminary at Capital University, I look forward to thoughtful conversation with the leaders of our sister institutions.
When the ELCA came into being in 1988, it had eight independent seminaries. Today there are seven ELCA seminaries. Three, including Trinity, have been incorporated into ELCA universities. Another, United Lutheran Seminary, is the result of the merger of two formerly independent seminaries. Three other seminaries remain freestanding. But institutional structures tell only one part of the story. The heart of theological education is not about the number of seminaries or the number of church leaders needed and trained. Rather, the heart of theological education is forming wise and faithful leaders to witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ in word and action.
I am currently reading the book, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory, by Tod Bolsinger. The author uses the Lewis and Clark expedition as a metaphor for leadership. Lewis and Clark set out as river explorers, expecting familiar terrain along their route. When they reached the Rocky Mountains, the knowledge and skills they had been using up to that point in their journey were no longer adequate for the task. Their goal remained the same, but they had to improvise and adapt to new and unanticipated circumstances.
I trust you see the parallels. Trinity Lutheran Seminary and its predecessor institutions have been forming leaders for Christ's church at work in the world for almost 200 years, but the terrain in 2018 looks very different from the terrain of 1830 or 1988 or even 2001. Carrying out our mission faithfully requires adaptive change on our part. Forming effective leaders requires instilling in our students the ability to read and respond to the landscape as it changes. As we journey together into uncharted territory, we will need to craft fresh wineskins to carry the sweet and abundant wine of the Gospel.
The Rev. Kathryn A. Kleinhans, Ph.D.