STM-Gothenburg Program Celebrates First Graduates

The STM graduates, from left to right: Rev. Romans Kurpnieks, Rev. Hannu Mikkonen, and Rev. Janne Koskela
Left to right: Rev. Romans Kurpnieks, Rev. Hannu Mikkonen, and Rev. Janne Koskela. Photo courtesy Rev. Konstantin Subbotin.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (CTSFW)—The first three graduates of the Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne (CTSFW), Master of Sacred Theology (STM) Extension Program in Gothenburg, Sweden, received their degrees last Sunday, February 24. Two pastors from Finland and another from Latvia were the first to complete all the program requirements, with several more students expected to finish over the next year. The program began in 2014 as a joint effort of CTSFW and the Lutheran School of Theology in Gothenburg (LSTG).

The STM extension was organized at the request of LSTG to meet an urgent need in the Nordic and Baltic regions for advanced theological training on a confessional Lutheran foundation. The former state churches in the Nordic region have succumbed to liberal theology, reaping empty pews with average attendance below two percent and a steadily dropping rate of infants baptized. In the Baltic region, the program serves the Lutheran churches recovering from the devastation wreaked during decades of Soviet occupation.

Unexpectedly, the program has also brought in many Eastern European students, from as far as Russia, Ukraine, and Romania. The LCMS Office of International Mission has found the program crucial to their efforts in support of confessional Lutheran churches in this region, as have sister churches such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia. As a result, while the STM program originally hoped to attract seven or eight students, it now has about 24 from nine different countries.

The Gothenburg site makes it possible for these ministers to pursue advanced study while continuing to serve their home congregations. Formerly, students would have had to spend five academic quarters in Fort Wayne, 4,000 miles away from their parishes and their families. Designed around an intensive format of three, one-week sessions per year in Gothenburg, LSTG faculty teach one of the three courses and CTSFW faculty the other two; professors from CTSFW have included the Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki, STM Program Director in both Fort Wayne and Gothenburg, the Rev. Drs. Lawrence R. Rast Jr., Charles A. Gieschen, and Roland F. Ziegler (who is teaching a course on justification this week), and the Rev. Professor John T. Pless.

Dr. Ziegler (left) and Dr. Masaki (right, taking a picture of the graduates) watch ceremony. Photo courtesy Rev. Konstantin Subbotin.

Several LCMS congregations and individuals fund the STM-Gothenburg program through the “Bo Giertz Fund,” named after the late bishop of Gothenburg best known in America for his novel, The Hammer of God. The fund covers operating costs as well as tuition and fees for students from the Nordic and Baltic regions, with several Nordic foundations assisting with travel expenses. The LCMS Office of International Mission supports the Eastern European students and a local congregation, Immanuel Lutheran Church of the Mission Province of Sweden, provides lodging. The pastor of this congregation, the Rev. Jakob Appell, and the president, the Rev. Dr. Daniel Johansson, both earned their STM degrees at CTSFW, as have several other leaders of the confessional movement in the Nordic lands.

To learn more about the STM-Gothenburg site and program, go to www.ctsfw.edu/stm-gothenburg. For information about donating to the Bo Giertz Fund, contact CTSFW’s Advancement Office at Advancement@ctsfw.edu or by calling (877) 287-4338.