Seminary looks forward after 100

When the first educational institution opened its doors at what is now the main campus of Wilfrid Laurier University in 1911, that school was the Evangelical Lutheran Seminary of Canada, in its first year training four students toward becoming pastors. Today, a public university, the campus holds nearly 15,000 students.

“Right here is essentially the birthplace of two universities,” said David Pfrimmer, current dean of the seminary, making note of the University of Waterloo’s creation in the 1950s as a non-denominational alternative school begun by WLU staff.

At today’s WLU, Pfrimmer said that there is still a deep affiliation between the seminary and the larger university. Since 1973 the seminary has been a federated college of Wilfrid Laurier University, the provincial post-secondary institution that has provided the basis for expanding its general course offerings.

Some graduate students take courses at institutions and the seminary is actively involved in certain areas of Laurier including cooperation with the faculty of music and a lecture series that draws a number of students from the university.

Pfrimmer noted that the perception of the seminary among students and elsewhere on campus is less defined. “Here today people don’t naturally think the seminary is connected somehow.”

The seminary currently offers graduate level instruction in spiritual care and counselling, a discipline that examines the link between spirituality and emotional well-being, along with theological education.

The seminary’s assistant principal, Kristine Lund, said, “One of the challenges on the connection with the university is that we are currently a graduate school only.” She explained that the institution is examining undergraduate courses it could offer to be developed over the next few years.

“We’re looking at going back to our original roots where we did have undergraduate courses.”

Especially as the centennial celebrations are underway, Pfrimmer said it is important to examine how the seminary influenced the development of Laurier in terms of the university’s approach to certain things and the character it prides itself on. “In a sense if you think about a lot of what happens in the university even today, memories fade, but the DNA is still there,” he said.

“Why do we have such an emphasis on helping like with Shinerama for example, in music therapy, in social work?” he asked, adding that even Laurier programs like its business school take a different approach than other institutions. “There’s a very human quality about all of this, about serving others as an important function,” he said, pointing to the trajectory Laurier took from its roots in the seminary.

With such a focus on the direction Laurier is heading in for the future during the centennial celebration, Pfrimmer explained the seminary’s goals moving forward.

“I think what we’re thinking now is what is the next step to reappropriate a place here,” he said. “For a long time, and this was self-imposed, we thought of ourselves as a theological school that trains clergy. Now we’re thinking more about how we shape leaders for the future, Canada and the world.”

Lund agreed, emphasizing the hope for more collaboration between the seminary and university it founded in years to come.

“There is desire from both sides, from us and the university to keep looking for ways to look together,” she said. “Everybody benefits.”