LTSS to Move to Hickory

Bishop Tim Smith shares news of the recent Lenoir-Rhyne University announcement.

March 9, 2024 |

Pictured: Christ Chapel windows on the current campus of LTSS, Columbia SC.

Most beloved NC Synod Siblings,

The deep and abiding grace of God in Christ be with you all! By now many of you are aware of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (LTSS) of Lenoir-Rhyne University’s announcement that it is planning to move from Columbia, South Carolina, to the main campus of Lenoir-Rhyne University (LRU) in Hickory, North Carolina in January of 2025. The final approval of the move is expected from the university’s trustees later this month.

This is hard news for some of us, perhaps especially those who were formed on the campus in Columbia and have precious memories of those spaces and places. My grandfather walked from Concord, NC to Columbia, SC to begin his seminary studies there 100 years ago, and our son graduated from LTSS after his theological studies in some of those same hallowed halls. While we can and will provide you with facts, figures, rationales, and perhaps even justifications, you know how grief works. Even when we can name something new as the right or necessary thing, woe to the one who does not name and attend to grief. My recent sabbatical underscored that truth, as I realized I was grieving many things, some large, and some small, which I had not taken time to process. So yes, grief, on many levels, even as I affirm to you that, as a longtime member of both the LTSS Advisory Council and the LRU Board of Trustees, I fully support this move.

The seminary has a long history of pilgrimage, and the move will give the seminary the chance to have a sustained new life in Hickory. Why is this happening? The reasons for the move are compelling, and all six Region 9 bishops, while sad, fully support it. By moving the seminary to the Hickory campus, Lenoir-Rhyne will save about $2.1 million per year in operating costs and eliminate millions in deferred maintenance costs on the Columbia campus. That campus is far larger than the seminary’s current program requires, especially since, like other mainline seminaries, LTSS now enrolls many hybrid and commuter students. In fact, as a point of reference, currently, LTSS has only six total residential students.

Lenoir-Rhyne University leaders are assuring us that this is not downsizing or a change in the seminary’s curriculum or strategic plan. In fact, by saving in operating costs, the seminary hopes to be able to expand its program in the years to come. I am also glad to report that all current full-time teaching and library faculty as well as full-time LTSS staff will be offered employment at the seminary in Hickory and will receive some assistance with relocation.

The library’s collection will move to Hickory along with the seminary, and the seminary’s Advisory Council and Alumni Board will help create thoughtful ways to integrate artifacts from the Columbia campus, including the library and chapel, in Hickory. Lenoir-Rhyne is prepared to invest in dedicated space for the seminary in Hickory and wants to develop those plans in conversation with faculty, staff, students, and alumni.

I believe that LTSS in Hickory will offer important resources to the ELCA and to our synod. Embedding the seminary on a lively college campus will help it realize its goal of being a living laboratory for public ministry. In Hickory, seminary students will be able to build their capacity for ministry with classes in Spanish language and culture; business; counseling; environmental and health sciences; and other disciplines that provide context and grounding that our pastors urgently need. I look forward to visiting LTSS on a vibrant campus where leaders from our synod and beyond can participate in creative and robust lifelong learning opportunities. Were I looking for a seminary today, it would be important for me on a practical level to know that I could sing in a choir, play intramural sports, and eat in the dining hall, among other things that are no longer practically possible on a regular basis on the Columbia campus.

The Rev. Dr. Chad Rimmer became LTSS’s dean and rector last spring. Discussions about how to assure the seminary’s sustainability were already underway when he arrived, and I have full confidence that he will lead the seminary well through this transition. In a letter to LTSS alumni on March 1, Dr. Rimmer framed the issue well, and I want to close by sharing some of his words with you:

Along the way, I will encourage you to keep your eyes on 2030. This year will be the 200th anniversary of the seminary’s founding in Pomaria, South Carolina. 2030 will also be the 500th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession. Making this move will ensure that we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the seminary in a way that looks to the next 200 years. And we will be embodying the genius of the Lutheran tradition that emerged from the nexus between the church, the academy, and the public space. Semper reformanda. This move can position LTSS to be a flagship of the next stage in this faithful tradition.

As LTSS’s move to Hickory unfolds, I hope you will join me in praying for the students, staff, faculty, and alumni who are most deeply affected by the changes now underway. At the same time, I invite you to share in the celebration that we can now look forward to 2030 and beyond knowing that the seminary we love so well will be around to form pastors and leaders for our congregations far into the future. More communications, including FAQs and documents about the move, can be found on the LRU website.

Thank you for your faithful leadership. Know that even as the church changes, God’s love for us endures forever.

Walking with you in grief and hope,

Bishop Timothy M. Smith



Bishop Tim Smith


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