History

Two storied institutions. One united heritage.

United Lutheran Seminary brings together two storied institutions of Lutheran Theological study with 346 years of combined heritage.

The thread of learning and training pastoral leaders goes back to Henry Melchior Muhlenburg, who founded the organized Lutheran presence in North America when he began the Pennsylvania Ministerium of the Lutheran Church in Philadelphia in 1748.

Muhlenberg had arrived in the colony of Pennsylvania in 1742, heeding the call to help form a new church in the colonies from a group of Lutherans in Pennsylvania who had been selecting lay preachers to lead them. Muhlenberg set up a synodical polity along German lines, and soon priests that he and his colleagues ordained were spreading through the colonies, bringing formal Lutheran training and organization to German immigrant communities throughout the colonies.

The Pennsylvania Ministerium was a member of the first country-wide synod of the Lutheran Church, the Evangelical Lutheran General Synod of the United States of North America, which was formed in 1820 and had among its first charges the establishment of a seminary. Samuel Simon Schmucker, a Lutheran priest and member of the synod began preparing students at his parsonage in New Market, VA, and eventually played a key role in the founding of the Gettysburg Theological Seminary in 1826. Schmucker was the first professor of this new seminary and taught eight students in the first class.

As time and scholarship progressed, many in the General Synod came to see the Gettysburg seminary as too innovative and accommodating of American culture rather than hewing to a strict Lutheran Confessional theology. In 1864, the Pennsylvania ministerium withdrew from the General Synod, and founded the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia in a building on Franklin Square in downtown Philadelphia. In 1867, the Pennsylvania Ministerium helped form the General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America, a body committed to retaining the conservative German roots of the Lutheran Faith. The seminary moved to its Mount Airy campus in 1889.

The two institutions maintained separate identities, with the Gettysburg institution accommodating new trends in Lutheran education, for more than 100 years after the Philadelphia Seminary was founded. The Gettysburg seminary was the first to establish programs in Christian education (1926), sociology and psychology (1942), and stewardship (1989). Gettysburg also was a leader in bringing the church to modern conceptions of justice for marginalized groups, admitting the first person of African descent to a Lutheran seminary, Daniel Alexander Payne, in 1835, granting tenure to the first woman professor at a Lutheran seminary, Bertha Paulssen in 1945, and granting a degree to Elizabeth Platz, the first woman to be ordained by an American Lutheran body in 1965. Rev. Platz was ordained in 1970.

The two institutions were reunited in a single synod with the creation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America from three predecessor synods in 1988.

The different environments of the seminaries’ locations are reflected in the institutions which they fostered on their campuses. The Urban Theological Institute in Philadelphia is committed to fostering knowledge in urban ministry, focusing on African-American theology, preaching and church history, while the Town and Country Church Institute is at Gettysburg.

The two institutions merged in 2017, exactly 500 years after the Protestant Reformation, to form United Lutheran Seminary.