Our Transformational Journey
The Evangelical Congregational (EC) Church traces its roots to the conversion of Jacob Albright, a Pennsylvania German farmer, in a Methodist class meeting His conviction was to bring the Christian faith to his neighbors at a time when the Methodist Church did not allow worship services to be conducted in the German language. His converts took the name Evangelische Gemeinschaft (Evangelical Association) in 1816, and the church prospered until the 1890s, when a large minority of the Association re-organized as the United Evangelical (UE) Church in 1894.
Faculty and students from the Association’s Schuylkill Seminary moved to the former campus of Palatinate College in Myerstown in 1894 and established Albright College. Subsequently the college relocated to Reading, PA in 1928 after the Evangelical Association and the United Evangelical Church merged in 1922 to form the Evangelical Church which subsequently merged into The United Methodist Church). At the same time, the East Pennsylvania Conference and other congregations of the United Evangelical Church that had abstained from the merger reorganized as the Evangelical Congregational Church and bought the campus of the college that they had so long supported as the site for a publishing house, retirement home, and educational institution.
The 1970s brought new faculty, administrators, and programs and an enlarged vision symbolized in a change of name from Evangelical Congregational School of Theology to Evangelical School of Theology in 1974. The 1980s brought realization of the goal of accreditation by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (1984) and the Association of Theological Schools (1987). Responding to an increase in married students with families, the seminary supplemented the dorm rooms in Old Main with twelve campus townhouses on Albright Court in 1985. In 1996 the School earned approval by the University Senate of the United Methodist Church for the education of pastors in that denomination, already well-represented in its student body.
Throughout the Great Depression and World War II, EC denominational leaders kept alive the vision of an evangelical Wesleyan Arminian theological seminary. In 1953 Evangelical Congregational School of Theology opened on the Myerstown campus with two full-time and three part-time professors and twelve students. The seminary received approval from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1957 to grant the Bachelor of Divinity degree (changed to Master of Divinity in 1970) and in 1979 the Master of Arts in Religion degree.
In its early years Dean Kenneth Maurer served as dean. In 1967 the school had grown enough to inaugurate its first President, Harold H. Scanlin, a former EC Bishop. Those who have served as President are: H. H. Scanlin (1967-76), Leon O. Hynson (1977-82), Ray A. Seilhamer (1982-93), Kirby N. Keller (1993-2004), Dennis P. Hollinger (2004-08), Michael W. Sigman (2008-2011), and Anthony Blair (2011-present). The following have served as Academic Dean: Kenneth R. Maurer (1953-71), Creighton Christman (1971-80), Duane Beals (1980-87), Kirby N. Keller (1987-98), Rodney H. Shearer (1998-2002), Kenneth H. Miller (2002-05), John V. Tornfelt (2005-present). In the late 1960s Old Main underwent renovation and Rostad Library was built.
A new century saw another dream realized with the introduction of the Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy degree (2002) supported by full-time faculty and a counseling center. A second off-campus counseling center was established in Lititz, PA in 2005. At the same time, Old Main was brought into the new century with “smarter” classrooms and renamed Christ Hall and the Faculty worked to add flexibility to the curriculum.
The seminary continued to offer courses at off-site locations like Allentown, Lancaster, and Hershey, PA and at Messiah College in Grantham, PA and experimented with distance learning. Concern for training of persons beyond the traditional degree programs resulted in the introduction of Graduate Certificates in various areas of ministry (2006) and formation of the Center for Leadership Impact (2009). In 2007 the school was renamed became Evangelical Theological Seminary, and in 2011, shortened the name to simply Evangelical Seminary. Over the course of the last half-century Evangelical Seminary has served Christ and His church in preparing men and women for Christian vocations. Now with a student body of nearly 200 from over twenty denominations and independent churches, Evangelical strives to “develop servant leaders for effective ministry in a broken and complex world” with John Wesley’s concern for “rigorous minds, passionate hearts, and Christ-centered actions.” With alumni in many countries and diverse forms of ministry, Evangelical Seminary continues to expand its vision of service.