Friday, September 06, 2013

Lutheran Seminary receives $100,000 grant to underwrite new cooperative education initiative

Thrivent Financial for Lutherans Foundation funding aims to make theological education "more sustainable" for students, congregations, and the church. The initiative begins in 2014.

The Thrivent Financial for Lutherans Foundation has awarded a $100,000 grant to The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP) to underwrite a new theological education model entitled the Cooperative Master of Divinity.

"We are delighted to assist LTSP through this grant," said Richard Kleven, vice president of the Thrivent Financial for Lutherans Foundation. "We trust that this support will strengthen the initiative to those it serves."

The grant is part of the foundation's Lutheran Grant Program. This program is designed to assist Lutheran organizations and those they serve in achieving economic security and sustainability. In 2012, the program distributed more than $2 million in grants.

Eligible grant applicants include Lutheran congregations, regional divisions of the three largest church bodies, small church bodies, high schools, colleges, universities, seminaries, camps, campus ministries, social ministry organizations, and other independent Lutheran organizations or institutions.

The cooperative (co-op) model at LTSP will build on the strengths of other successful co-op models of higher education, such as those at Drexel and Northeastern Universities and the St. Paul School of Theology. Co-op students will complete their study and field education/internship concurrently over a period of three years rather than the traditional four years, eliminating a full year of living costs and expediting their entry into full time ministry. Congregational co-op sites, which would include both small congregations, perhaps unable to afford a pastor, and larger congregations that need additional staff, will benefit from three consecutive years of  pastoral leadership. In each case the emphasis will be on learning about, experiencing, and finally, leading a wide range of ministries. The initiative will also feature a strong spiritual formation component essential to preparing effective pastors who face intense social, financial and cultural challenges. A highly skilled pastor will serve as program coordinator for the initiative, supervising students, facilitating their relationships with their congregations, leading formation sessions, and serving as a guide and mentor throughout the program. The coordinator will also play a key role in recruiting congregations and students for the initiative and organizing an initial two-week course designed to orient and prepare students for entering into the parish. Reduced time to complete the program and a congregational stipend (covering tuition and fees) will be key to reducing students' financial obligations and debt load. The program, which begins in 2014, will admit six to eight students the first year, eight to 10 additional students in the second year, growing in subsequent years to 12-15 additional students.

In addition to reducing the financial burden for students, the co-op program is a financially sustainable model for the seminary. Currently, most full-time MDiv students receive an average of 40 percent of their tuition in grants from the seminary. Since tuition and fees for each co-op student are paid by the congregation, the seminary receives full tuition from each student. The money that would have gone to these students will be freed up to support additional students. The seminary also expects to attract a new crop of students, who are drawn to the strength of the co-op model and the shortened length of the program.

"Having adopted and implemented a new, flexible, affordable, and relevant curriculum, we hope that this new model will make theological education financially sustainable for both students and the wider church," said LTSP Dean J. Jayakiran Sebastian. "We thank the Thrivent Financial Foundation for upholding the vision of a sustainable model of theological education by underwriting this innovative venture, and we're excited about the possibilities that this initiative will open up."

The seminary, celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2014, has over 350 enrollees in its variety of degree programs. During 2013, 79 students in 10 various programs began their studies. Most study to become church leaders such as pastors, youth directors, education directors, musicians, or advocates and administrators in social service agencies. While many seminarians are Lutherans, students from some 30 denominations have studied at the seminary in recent years.

Thrivent Financial for Lutherans is a not-for-profit, Fortune 500 financial services membership organization helping approximately 2.5 million members achieve financial security through a broad range of financial products and services and at the same time give back to their communities. The Thrivent Financial for Lutherans Foundation is a private foundation funded by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. As a 501©(3) organization, the foundation is operated exclusively for charitable, religious, scientific, literary and educational purposes and makes grants and gifts to 501©(3) organizations.

Interested in being a Co-op Congregation? Call the Rev. Louise Johnson at 215.248.7313 or email

Interested in being a co-op student? Call the seminary admissions office at 215.248.7302 or email

Refer a student! Call the seminary admissions office at 215.248.7302 or email

Thrivent Financial for Lutherans

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