Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Luther Seminary president reflects on his leadership after one year

Richard Bliese became president of Luther Seminary last summer

After Dr. David Tiede stepped down from the presidency of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, Dr. Richard Bliese took the reins. It’s been nearly a year since Bliese sat down in Tiede’s chair. Metro Lutheran asked him how it feels to be in charge at the ELCA’s largest pastoral training school.

Bliese’s reply came without hesitation: “It’s been lots of fun. Luther is a dynamic place, filled with great people with whom to work — and to be around.”

Asked whether there have been surprises, the new president gave a surprising answer. “I’ve enjoyed the fund-raising more than I’d expected. You hear incredible stories about people’s faith lives, why they’re giving to the seminary.” He mentioned a woman in Seattle, Washington. “She’s had us on her prayer list for ten years. She sends regular small checks. She reads the letters we send her and prays for our faculty and staff.”

Other stories, Bliese said, come from listening sessions the seminary is conducting.

He added, “Another surprise is the discovery that congregations really appreciate being listened to.” One thing congregational members have told Bliese is that the seminary doesn’t prepare pastors well enough to do effective stewardship work in parishes. He said, “We’ve learned that students need help making links between stewardship and faith.”

In addition, Bliese said, listening has told him that “we need to help pastors know how to interact with business people, without just condemning capitalism pro-phetically.” There are a lot of business people in our pews,” he observed.

What’s the seminary’s greatest challenge at present?
“Keeping our focus. Our commitments are on target, but how do we stay focused on apostolic mission? That’s key for us.”
Bliese said getting sidetracked is a real risk. “We need to be disciplined enough to say no to invitations (and money) that would distract us.”

The new president said his school now enrolls 51% male students and 49% female. “That feels very healthy,” he suggested.

With seven other ELCA seminaries, how does Luther, the “big kid on the block,” keep from overshadowing the other schools? “The relationship among all eight seminaries is really quite collegial,” he said, “but there’s also friendly competitiveness.” We’re helping each other with recruitment to some degree.

Said Bliese, “The ELCA functions as a system with its seminaries. Several de-nominations tried clustering their theological schools. The ELCA is the only denomination that has actually pulled that off.”

He added, “We don’t have too many seminaries, but they can’t all be doing exactly the same thing. Some specialization is developing on each campus.”

What should Metro Lu-theran readers know about Luther Seminary just now? “Appreciation. We really value their support.”