First Woman President Elected at a Lutheran Seminary

The Rev. Phyllis B. Anderson, an ordained Lutheran pastor and longtime director of theological studies in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), was named the seventh president of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (PLTS), making her the first woman to head a U.S.-based Lutheran Seminary in history. Anderson, whose term begins on Feb. 1, 2004, was elected during the PLTS board of directors meeting at the seminary’s Berkeley, California campus, on Nov. 5.

"We are delighted to find a leader of Dr. Anderson's vision and experience for this important time in the life of both the seminary and the church at large," said the Rev. Steven L. McKinley, House of Prayer Lutheran Church, Richfield, Minn., chair of the seminary's board upon Anderson’s election.

”The PLTS commitment to ecumenism, to diversity, to the spiritual experience of people in the American West, and to the mission of ELCA seminaries and congregations across the country will be truly enhanced by her leadership," McKinley said.

Meanwhile, Anderson said she is grateful for the opportunity to lead the seminary.

"I am excited about the opportunity to lead this excellent seminary as it shapes Lutheran leaders for our time and place, marked by rapid change, diversity, secularity, spiritual longing, and great human need," Anderson said. "I pray God will continue to bless this institution with outstanding faculty, staff and students, with good friends and partners, and with all that we need to fulfill our part in God's mission," she said.

"Anderson's experience in strategic planning, fund raising and administration, coupled with her collaborative approach to all decisions, make her the ideal leader for PLTS," said Dr. Gary Andeen, executive director, Oregon Independent Colleges Association, Portland, chair of the presidential search committee. "Our committee's work was deeply graced by the Holy Spirit bringing to PLTS just the right person to engage the challenges and opportunities ahead.”

Derek Nelson, a member of the search committee and a doctoral student at PLTS, agreed that Anderson is the perfect candidate for the role.

"I'm thrilled PLTS will have a president whose very unique personal and professional skills so seamlessly meet the particular needs of the seminary community at this time," said Nelson.

Anderson succeeds the Rev. Timothy F. Lull, who died on May 20, 2003, following surgery. The Rev. Ted F. Peters has been serving as the seminary’s interim president.

Anderson, 61, attended Concordia Teachers’ College, and graduated from the California State University in Sacramento. She also holds a bachelor’s degree from the Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. Anderson earned her doctorate from the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis.

Anderson began her ministry as a pastor of three congregations in an Iowa parish in 1978. In 1985, she began the director of pastoral studies at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

According to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) news service, “Anderson was the first director for theological studies in the Division for Ministry” when the “ELCA was formed in 1988 from the merger of three Lutheran church bodies.”

“In that role she oversaw a six-year study of theological education, which developed a comprehensive plan for a theological education network in the new church,” the ELCA said.

She also became the first director of the Institute for Ecumenical and Theological Studies in Seattle in 1998.

Anderson is married to the Rev. Herbert E. Anderson, an ELCA pastor and visiting professor. They are the parents of two adult children.

Also last week, the Central Baptist Theological Seminary elected Molly Marshall as its 10th president, making her the first female President to lead a Baptist-affiliated seminary accredited by the Association of Theological Schools.

Currently, there are three Presbyterian Church (USA) seminaries headed by women: McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago (the Rev. Cynthia Campbell), Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA (the Rev. Laura Mendenhall), and Auburn Theological Seminary in New York (Barbara Wheeler).