Video message from Rev. Dr. Chad Rimmer on LTSS move to Hickory

Video Transcript

Friends, grace and peace be yours in the name of Christ.

Since 1830 the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary has been fulfilling its mission to teach, form and nurture leaders for public ministry. My great-grandfather, WG Cobb, was in the entering class when Beam Hall first opened in Columbia in 1911. This is his diploma on my wall, signed by Dr. Voigt in 1914. And since LTSS moved to Columbia, a member of each generation of my family has been here, from my great-grandfather, to my grandfather, my uncle and now me as rector and dean. Across those 113 years, many of you and your families have also lovingly tended the mission of our beloved seminary.

During these two centuries, from our beginnings in Pomaria to Lexington, to Newberry, to Walhalla, to Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, Mt. Pleasant, and finally Columbia, South Carolina, we have faced financial challenges, wars, and epidemics that have threatened our capacity to continue this Lutheran and ecumenical tradition of theological education and formation. But we have always found a way to persist and to discern and follow what it means to best steward this gift and call that has been entrusted to us.

And now, the next stage in Southern’s long history of pilgrimage is beginning.

Today, seminaries of nearly every denomination are contending with strong headwinds across the landscape of theological education. In response, and after prayerful, careful discernment, the board of trustees of Lenoir-Rhyne University has made the decision to move LTSS to the university’s main campus in Hickory in January 2025. The move will become official when the board takes action at its March meeting.

The reasons for this decision are clear. The global pressures on theological and higher education in general mean that universities, graduate schools and seminaries have to be nimble and agile these days. There have been 105 major closings, mergers, acquisitions or consolidations among public and private higher ed institutions since 2016 alone. ELCA seminaries have also needed to take some significant action in recent years. The budget deficits that we face at LTSS are insurmountable considering broad national trends in theological vocations. And by moving the seminary, we will save about $2.1 million per year in operating costs and eliminate significant deferred maintenance costs on the Columbia campus, which is far larger than our current program requires. While many have faithfully and valiantly guided our seminary through difficult years, including the psycho-social and financial pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, the time has come to realize that without bold action, the mission of the seminary is not sustainable.

But with this move, we can sustain the next chapter of our beloved seminary as a living laboratory for public ministry, where students will have opportunities to build their capacity for ministry with a vibrant formation and community life, and interdisciplinary opportunities. When the seminary moves to Lenoir-Rhyne’s Hickory campus, students preparing for ministry will have more access to courses in fields related to ministry, including Spanish language; business; counseling; environmental and health sciences, and will also be able to take advantage of campus amenities for recreation, arts and culture. We will create new pipelines for undergraduate students and the next generation of pastors and theologians, and expand our lifelong learning opportunities for lay and clergy leaders. At the same time, the Lineberger Library will move with us to Hickory, ensuring that our students continue to have access to the best resources available for us to strengthen our call to engage in transformative theological education and formation.

There is both sorrow and hope in this news. We will bid farewell to some of the places where generations of faithful leaders have learned, worshipped and been formed. But our mission — to prepare leaders for the Church’s public ministry — will remain unchanged. Embedded on a campus with a long and rich history of Lutheran higher education, we will be more able to fulfill the seminary’s strategic plan that guides the way in which we nurture, educate and form leaders for public ministry in today’s world.

We first shared the news of our move to Hickory with the faculty, staff and students, ELCA Bishops, LTSS Advisory Council and Alumni Board, and we are crafting a transition process that is as participatory as possible. In the coming weeks, we will have opportunities to hear from you about the ways we can memorialize LTSS’ history in Columbia. We will mark our pilgrimage with liturgies of thanksgiving for this sacred ground and the places that have been sanctified with our study, worship, fellowship and service. Through these liturgies, we will bring pieces of our chapel and other artifacts from around campus, to honor both the grief and promise of this moment. We will offer town hall zooms in the coming weeks, and of course, host space at Alumni Day in April.

Friends, this is not a closure, nor is it a reorganization. It is a pilgrimage. Like generations before us, we will be able to sing our song in a new place. I honor the love, grief and desire that so many across the country have for LTSS. I pray that in these days your love for this seminary will inspire you to come together to demonstrate the hope that is in us, and be part of this bold move to sustain LTSS so future generations can experience the same.

As we journey from Columbia to Hickory, we will undoubtedly face challenges along the way. Even as we attend to the practical and logistical aspects of our move, I am committed to helping all of us keep our eyes on the larger trends we are facing — trends in higher education, trends across mainline churches and trends in ministerial vocations — so we can face them with creativity, innovative teaching and learning, vibrant formation and dynamic partnerships.

Along the way, I will encourage you to keep your eyes on 2030. This year will be the 200th anniversary of Southern’s founding. 2030 will also be the 500th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession. Making this move will ensure that we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the seminary in a way that looks to the next 200 years. And we will be embodying the genius of the Lutheran tradition that emerged from the nexus between the church, the academy and the public space. Semper reformanda. This move can position LTSS to be a flagship of the next stage in this faithful tradition.

I look forward to celebrating those anniversaries by welcoming new classes of students who are formed for ministry in the world. Our move to Hickory will make that goal, and many others, possible.

Peace Friends.

News & Events

Chad Rimmer

Update on the Lenoir-Rhyne University Board of Trustees action approving the LTSS move to the Hickory campus and the format of Alumni Day.

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Seminary students writing at table in classroom

The LR Board of Trustees voted on March 22 to approve the move off LTSS from Columbia, S.C., to the campus in Hickory, N.C. The vote was unanimous.

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