How to start a seminary – 2

When I started taking courses at CTS in the fall of 1996, I got into “playing” with the seminary curriculum. It became somewhat of a hobby for me. I was fascinated that I could take any classes at the pace I wanted, unlike at a Soviet University, where there was a fixed order. That was the freedom Timothy Quill allowed me, and so I was limited only by the Registrar not allowing me to take more than 19 credit hours per quarter (6 regular courses and a New Testament Greek readings class). I collected CTS academic catalogues from different years, and I tried to obtain similar catalogues from the other Lutheran seminaries to compare them with Fort Wayne, observe the differences, and imagine what the perfect curriculum would look like. At that time (fall – early winter of the 1996-1997 academic year) I was not aware of any plans to start a seminary in Novosibirsk. 

That came shortly after the Symposia, sometime in February of 1997. My pastor at the time, Rev. Vsevolod Lytkin, was the one who recommended me for the position of rector (“rector” is the standard Russian designation for what would be equivalent to the title of President in the American setting) of the seminary to be established later in that year. Now it is difficult for me to believe that I was appointed as rector shortly after I turned 23. Dr Weinrich and others had legitimate concerns about my maturity – was it a hippy-like bracelet that I wore on my arm that worried them?

The dedication of the first seminary building took place in July of 1997. Dr Dean Wenthe, President of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN, led the ceremony. This fact does mark our seminary as a daughter seminary of CTS. 

I’m inclined to think that it was really good that the seminary was started when my colleagues and I were so young. Young people have a lot of energy, which was absolutely required at the initial stage of the project. Also, young people are not afraid to make mistakes and aren’t cautious or conservative, but rather courageous and at times even reckless. When you do groundbreaking work and need to move quickly, this is a good thing. My elder son, Tikhon, was born on September 19, and the first class started on October 1. I remember sleeping an average of 4 hours per night in that first year of the seminary, something I would probably not be able to do at the current stage of my life. 

In the early days of the Seminary I was doing a number of things at the same time, combining what would become several positions in the future. One of those things was building the Seminary’s library. For me it was obvious that any higher educational institution, a seminary being no exception, cannot move on without having a solid number of textbooks for the students, along with some wider collection of materials for academic work.

I recruited my pastor, Vsevolod, to go on a grand shopping tour through the bookstores of Moscow and St Petersburg. I believe it was in August of 1997, shortly before we started classes. At that time Rev John Mehl, then a missionary in Moscow, provided his driver to take us by car from place to place. It was a good time! 

I remember that when we boarded a train at Leningradsky railway station, our bags were so heavy because of books that the seasoned porters had a very hard time getting them onto a train. And in St Petersburg still more books were added to our arsenal, making its weight more than 800 lbs. I don’t even know how we managed finally to bring them all to Novosibirsk! 

Later on I requested that guest professors bring boxes of books to us whenever they came. I feel really sorry for this now, but at the time I didn’t care about their feelings, but only about having more books in Novosibirsk. I hope their joint sacrifice was not superfluous. During the past 3-4 years, with the seminary in survival mode, we have hardly grown in our library holdings, but that’s another story. 

Recruitment also took some significant time and was great fun. There were many untraveled roads, new locations from where students wanted to come. And when they did come, it was so rewarding to witness their progress in understanding God’s Word. 

There were also some challenges coming from different sides in those early years. Some strange people wanted to dictate their way of how things were to be done. Some other strange people wanted to get in and take advantage of us. As time goes by, I remember mostly good things and continue to be filled with gratitude for the people who provided the resources to establish our seminary. I think that to our credit was the fact that we followed a straight path, our objectives were clear and noble, and we really wanted to build a good seminary more than anything else. 

So, how to start a seminary? We assume that there is a project of sorts, something that may serve as a basis for the seminary. We also take Ps 127:1 as self-explanatory. Otherwise, two things are really needed: (1) a strong desire to build a seminary, (2) a theological understanding of what a seminary is and what it is for. 

At any point in time there must be movement forward, as much as this is possible. The pace may be very slow, but there still must be this sense of moving ahead. Our seminary continues to move forward even now, in the midst of its current fiscal crisis. I’m surprised when I look at some seminaries that have been in existence for as many as 50 years just to find out that they are still near the point of where they started. I don’t want to be judgmental concerning any other contexts about which I may have a very vague idea, but I would find this completely unacceptable within our own context.