Brief History of Lancaster Theological Seminary
Lancaster Theological Seminary of the United Church of Christ began as the Seminary of the Reformed Church in the United States, often called German Reformed to differentiate it from the Dutch Reformed or Reformed Church in America. The seminary was formed in response to the need for more formalized and uniform training in the United States for ministerial students of the German Reformed tradition.
Lancaster Seminary did not begin at Lancaster, but at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It opened its doors at Dickinson College in 1825, with one professor, five students, and approximately 200 books in its theological library.
A few years later, the seminary moved from the rather sophisticated English culture of Carlisle to the more German atmosphere of York. There the school held its own for about eight years but faculty and students missed the association with a classical college like Dickinson that provided the pre-seminary preparation of its ministerial students. Also, the York location placed the seminary far away from its Reformed constituents in western Maryland, Virginia's Shenandoah area, and especially the German settlements of North Carolina.
Seminary trustees began preparations for still another move in 1835, this time to Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, a location aimed at solving one of its problems. The other need was met by the chartering of a liberal arts institution connected with the seminary called Marshall College. Most of the professors fulfilled responsibilities in both schools.
During the years at Mercersburg, a young man, born and raised just outside of town, named James Buchanan, was attracted by the Mercersburg school and was especially captivated by the preaching and teaching of the seminary theology professor, John Williamson Nevin.
When Buchanan's law practice and political career settled him in Wheatland, near the town of Lancaster, he found there another small school called Franklin College. It had been there since 1787, named for one of its financial benefactors.
Buchanan set about creating Franklin and Marshall College. Its first buildings were opened in 1853, just before Mr. Buchanan was elected president of the United States. He served as the first chair of the board, with Dr. John Nevin as president of the college.
The Seminary was strongly encouraged to come to Lancaster. However, by one vote, the seminary trustees elected to stay at Mercersburg. Nearly twenty years passed before the decision was reversed and finally in 1871, the seminary moved to Lancaster. The campus at Mercersburg went on to become an academy, as it is today.
The seminary classes were housed in F&M's Old Main for twenty years before the present campus was begun with the erection of the Lark Building, opened in 1893.
The school has continued to expand its campus and program, filling the city block across College Avenue from Franklin and Marshall.
From these small beginnings at Carlisle, the seminary has grown to a student body of 134 enrolled in three graduate degree programs with a faculty of 9 full-time professors, a library of nearly 150,000 volumes and assets of about $12,000,000. The seminary provides a multitude of special educational programs that attract 3,000 clergy, lay leaders, and youth each year.
The roots of the Reformed tradition and now the United Church of Christ have always encouraged broadly diverse ecumenical and interfaith relationships. Lancaster Seminary reflects this in a student body that includes more than twenty protestant denominations, including United Methodist, Presbyterian USA, African Methodist Episcopal, Mennonite, Pentecostal, and Unitarian Universalist.