Moravian College and Seminary and the Lancaster Theological Seminary are exploring merger options, the two institutions in Pennsylvania announced yesterday.

The discussions are nonbinding. They are focused on providing “an ecumenical theological education on multiple campuses,” according to information about the talks posted by Lancaster Theological Seminary. The talks include a commitment to retain the Lancaster Theological Seminary name.

Moravian College, located in Bethlehem, Pa., is a private institution founded in 1742 that counts itself as the country’s sixth-oldest college. Moravian Theological Seminary is a part of the college that traces its own founding back to 1807. The Moravian campus is about an 80-mile drive from Lancaster Theological Seminary, which was founded in 1825 and is one of six seminaries associated with the progressive United Church of Christ.

Moravian enrolled about 2,600 students in the fall of 2019, counting undergraduate and graduate students, according to federal data. Lancaster Theological Seminary enrolled 107, all at the graduate level. The seminary also offers classes providing continuing education credits for lay minsters, bivocational leaders and others.

Lancaster Theological Seminary made long-term financial sustainability a goal in a 2020 strategic plan, opening the possibility of a partnership with another institution. Then in February, the seminary suspended a presidential search amid discussions about a deal with Moravian. In materials explaining the talks, Lancaster Theological Seminary pointed to a long history at Moravian Theological Seminary of preparing students to serve in many denominations.

“This conversation is an opportunity to explore the possibility that our seminaries’ combined strengths can create an ecumenical divinity school that is even greater than the sum of its parts,” said the interim president of Lancaster Theological Seminary, the Reverend David Rowe, in a statement. “Progressive theological education should model for the church and the world the power of alliance and unity as stewards of a common mission to transform lives for the transformation of the world.”

Representatives from the two institutions will now examine financial, academic, enrollment and governance information. An exploratory committee is scheduled to provide information to trustees from both institutions within 45 days. The sides expect due diligence and additional discussions to last at least through the summer.

“These discussions are very preliminary, and we’ve just begun to identify where and how the joining of Moravian and the Lancaster Theological Seminary could benefit the students, faculty and communities we both serve,” said Bryon Grigsby, president of Moravian College, in a statement. “The reputation of the Lancaster Theological Seminary speaks for itself in terms of the quality of the faculty, the leadership, alumni, and the programs they provide to their students. I’m excited at the possibility, but there’s still much work to be done and many conversations that need to take place.”

The merger talks aren’t the only change under way at Moravian — the college also plans to become Moravian University this summer.

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