In the second week of December 2018—a month when the average high temperature in Alberta is in the 20s—NALS President Amy Schifrin and I converged on beautiful Edmonton, Alberta, in order to meet with President James Gimbel and the faculty of Concordia Lutheran Seminary (CLS). Our discussions had to do with a potential arrangement between CLS and the NALS, designed to make it a little less complicated for Canadian NALC pastoral candidates to get quality, residentially based, rigorously and ecumenically Lutheran training for Christ-centered work and ministry.
Discussions between the North American Lutheran Church, the NALS, and CLS date back to 2012. Pastors Phil Gagnon, Karl Johnsen, and Glenn Johnson of the NALC’s Canada Commission worked with CLS leadership to produce an early draft agreement. While this early draft did not reach final form at that time, in the spring of 2018 the NALS Board of Regents resolved to renew attempts to identify the equivalent of an extension center for the NALS in Canada. It was a natural decision to pick up the thread again with CLS.
At our December 2018 meeting, we toured CLS’ excellent facilities and spent time with President Gimbel and faculty members Dr. Stephen Chambers, Dr. Jennifer Frim, and Dr. John Hellwege. The meeting in Edmonton led to further email consultation, drafting, and editing in the first part of 2019, and finally an “MDiv Articulation Agreement Between Concordia Lutheran Seminary and the North American Lutheran Seminary,” signed in October 2019.
CLS, while independently governed, has a close relationship with the Lutheran Church – Canada (LCC), the analogue in Canada of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod in the United States. Working together with Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario, CLS offers LCC students and others a rounded, formative theological education in the confessional Lutheran tradition. For the MDiv, this includes courses in biblical exegesis, systematic theology, historical theology, and “theology in praxis” (worship, preaching, Christian education, and other topics). We are excited that CLS has officially agreed to invite NALC candidates to join them in this venture.
Our Canadian congregations have long provided significant theological and pastoral leadership to the NALC. Part of this leadership has involved recruiting and supporting seminary students being educated for ministry in the church. For such students, especially those with families, relocating across an international border to spend several years at our seminary in Ambridge, Pennsylvania can involve considerable logistical and financial challenges. Online courses can, of course, make a significant difference, and this has always been an important component of the NALS’ work. But there can really be no substitute for a residential seminary education, with personal faculty-student interactions and corporate spiritual and liturgical formation.
Under the terms of the new agreement, NALC candidates—women and men—may stay in Canada by enrolling as students at CLS, taking the full curriculum of academic coursework offered by CLS toward the MDiv degree, with a small number of recommended classes through the NALS. Candidacy and internship arrangements for these students will be supervised by the NALC’s Candidacy Committee, in conversation with CLS faculty. The result will be candidates with an MDiv and spiritual formation from an excellent, accredited Lutheran seminary, who will also have had to deal with less of the upheaval and complications associated with moving to a different country.
We are delighted and grateful, not only that this new opportunity has opened up for NALC pastors and church workers to be trained in a grounded, hospitable environment, but also that it puts us into a real partnership with fellow North American Lutherans as we bear witness in our time to the gospel of Jesus Christ.