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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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A tale of two seminarians

The economy of theological education, then and now

Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series on the economy of theological education today.

Do you know what seminary will cost your congregation’s next pastor? Or the next member of your congregation or synod whom God calls to ordained ministry? Is your current pastor still making seminary debt payments?

These are questions for the entire church, say ELCA leaders who are working to turn how the church funds seminary education from a cause for concern into a cause for hope. Because in the last 40 years, costs borne by seminarians have escalated, burdening students with increasing debt.

Two seminarians, nearly 40 years apart, help illustrate the issue: Jason Adams, a student at Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, and his internship supervisor, Mark Pries, a pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Iowa City, Iowa.

Adams, 35, is set to earn his master of divinity degree in May 2014. Pries, 63, earned his degree in 1975. Both have attended Wartburg while supporting young families. Both received generous scholarships. Yet they — and their generations of seminarians — have faced different economic realities.

When Pries graduated he owed Wartburg $500. When Adams graduates, he estimates he’ll owe about $60,000 in seminary debt.

The ELCA’s “threshold of concern” for educational debt for the class of 2014 is $33,500, said Jonathan Strandjord, ELCA program director for seminaries and director for Stewards of Abundance.


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