October 6, 2020
Report from the Chair of the Board of Trustees to the
United Lutheran Seminary Community for September 2020
Welcome to our new President, Rev. Dr. R. Guy Erwin
It was with great pleasure and a sense of excitement and anticipation for the future that the Board of Trustees of ULS welcomed Rev. Dr. R. Guy Erwin as the seminary’s president. There are moments when we are keenly aware of the work of the Holy Spirit, and this was certainly one of them. I know that our seminary community waited a long time for this moment, but the work done by the ULS Board of Trustees, our interim presidents with their staffs, and the Search Committee enabled us to call a very fine candidate who has acclaimed academic credentials, and broad experience across the Church as well as a national voice. It has been along time in coming, but the seminary is at a place of new beginnings and we are eagerly looking forward to opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.
Our recent board meeting was certainly different than anything we have done in the past. In order to meet safely during the COVID-19 virus pandemic, the executive committee met on the Philadelphia campus (observing distancing precautions), and the rest of the board joined the meeting by Zoom conference. It was another learning experience for all of us, and protocols are being developed to make future meetings easier and more participatory. At President Erwin’s suggestion, our meetings are also becoming more accessible to the entire ULS community, which will allow for greater transparency.
The Board of Trustees is grateful to the entire ULS administration for the outstanding work done to move all of the classes online during the COVID-19 emergency, and fully supports the decision to continue holding all classes online for the Spring 2021 semester. We all remain hopeful for signs of improvement by then.
With the ongoing work of the Resource Development and Financial Management Committee of the board (RDFM) and our CFO, Buff Carlson, the Seminary’s financial condition is stable. Undoubtedly, COVID-19 will bring new challenges, but the work of merging the finances of the former institutions is complete, we have gained a fuller picture of our endowment funds, our debt has been consolidated on better terms with the Mission Investment Fund of the ELCA, and new efficiencies have been found in many areas. It is by no means a normal year, and it will take us at least one more year to have a completely clear picture of what “normal” will mean going forward.
Under the umbrella of RDFM, ULS continues to explore and develop plans for the real estate holdings on both campuses. The real estate planning team recently received a report from the East Mount Airy Neighborhood Association indicating the type of campus development the community will support on the Philadelphia Campus. Moving forward, I want to emphasize that the RDFM committee and the Board of Trustees will be seeking input from all interested constituencies, and please be aware that having adequate student housing for the future is a priority. Evaluation of all the real estate on the Gettysburg campus also continues with the same priorities: advancing the Seminary’s mission, reaping long-range financial benefit, and living in harmony with the communities around us.
As we are coming out of a long stretch of time where most of the board’s energy was focused on financial issues, we are now able to give more attention to the development of the seminary’s strategic plan, governance and infrastructure challenges, and academic development. There are still areas in which the seminary is understaffed, but I believe that in the coming months and years resources to fully fund the operations of the seminary will become available.
One of the most important things to come out of our September meeting was populating the board’s diversity committee with a member from each board standing committee. This will ensure that the whole board is involved in the work of diversity. The board committed itself to continuing the diversity and anti-racism training that it began last year. It is our hope that with the entire community—including the Board of Trustees—undergoing continual training, we can develop a common language and strategy as we strive for equity within the seminary, and across the Church.
Since the founding of United Lutheran Seminary just three years ago, the entire ULS community has been challenged by a series of unprecedented events. By the grace of God, we are discovering again what it means to “rise to newness of life through the waters of baptism.” The Board of Trustees is grateful for your prayers and support, and we ask that you continue to lift up our students, staff, faculty and administration as they work together raising up leaders for the body of Christ.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Dr. Peter Boehringer, Chair
Board of Trustees
United Lutheran Seminary