Dear Pr. Peterson,
I respect your opinion because I have read many of your answers on here and have benefited immensely from them. About four years ago I converted to confessional Lutheranism (member of the LCMS) after being raised in evangelical/fundamentalist churches and then spending some time as an adult in the Episcopal Church. I was also able to persuade my wife through careful Bible study to join me in becoming an LCMS member and now she is very enthusiastic about it.
I am now considering becoming a pastor. I care deeply about preserving our Lutheran beliefs and teaching the doctrine contained in the Book of Concord because I believe truly that it is the most faithful exposition of Scripture.
So, that is where I am at now. Based upon what I have shared about myself do you feel comfortable advising me which of our two seminaries is best for someone like me? I see that you went to Ft. Wayne. I have heard, and come to notice through listening to Issues etc, that the Ft. Wayne seminary appears to be more committed to our historic liturgy and emphasis on the Confessions that does the St. Louis seminary. I have also heard it said, and observed from pastors in my district that those pastors who have graduated from St. Louis tend to be more open to church-growth principles, contemporary worship, and less likely to mention our confessions.
In my situation it would actually be preferable to live in St. Louis to go to seminary because of employment options for my wife and proximity to family. However, I am torn over this because I keep getting the impression that Ft. Wayne might be more supportive of my commitment to historic confessional Lutheranism.
I realize that on paper both seminaries are confessional. Are my concerns warranted? Or are the things I'm hearing simply uninformed gossip from some overly critical folks?
I know I will have to do more digging on this issues, and I've done a lot already and have come to some mixed conclusions. I wonder if you have heard this stated, or if you have any experience or thoughts on this issue?
Thanks for your question. I am thankful to hear of your discovery of and appreciation for Confessional Lutheranism.
While our two seminaries are both first-class institutions and among the best in the world, the differences you perceive are based upon some truth. Fort Wayne does have a reputation for being more traditional and liturgical, while the worship life at St. Louis would be less likely to be described as "high-church," and there may be a tendency to appreciate a greater diversity of practice there than at Fort Wayne, even though both seminaries are wholeheartedly committed to our Lutheran theology expressed in Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.
Even with its more permissive attitude, however, St. Louis would not be described as hostile to those with more traditional liturgical inclinations or who describe themselves as Confessional. In fact, some of the most visible leaders on the Confessional end of the Missional-Confessional spectrum perceived in our synod are graduates of the St. Louis seminary. Jonathan Fisk and Todd Wilken are the first to come to mind, but I know that there are several others.
The major differences between the institutions, in my opinion, are primarily among the students and the culture they perpetuate. The faculty, as far as I can tell, share a similar commitment to our historic doctrine and practice, with only a handful of outliers on one fringe of the bell-curve at one seminary and the other fringe at the other. The same goes for the students. While the outliers might lean more to one side of the bell curve at either seminary, most are firmly within reach of a faithful understanding of our doctrine and practice.
One difference you might want to study further, however, would be the cost of living at both seminaries. While your wife's employment prospects may be more favorable in St. Louis, the cost of living is significantly lower in Fort Wayne, which may compensate for any differences in the quality of employment she locates. While the location of family may be a desirable factor for you during seminary, keep in mind that upon completion, there is no guarantee as to the district of synod where you will be placed.
Field Education opportunities are also something to consider. I know that Fort Wayne has a higher concentration of local congregations that are comfortable for more liturgically-minded folks, while I have heard colleagues who attended St. Louis express that they were less comfortable with the worship practices in the congregations where they were assigned fieldwork.
In the end, based on your description of your preferences, I believe it is accurate to say you will feel more comfortable in Fort Wayne. At the same time, I do not see any reason that attending St. Louis would be an obstacle to your completing seminary or that you would be overly challenged by faculty for your commitments or find yourself in excessive conflict with your fellow students there.