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President Ramseth Prepares for His Next Call: Retirement

President Mark Ramseth often talks about the first week of his first academic year at Trinity. On September 11, 2001, the second day of classes that fall, the course of American history—-and in many ways the seminary’s history--changed.

President Ramseth remembers vividly the events of 9/11. Members of the Trinity and Bexley Hall community gathered at noon in Schenk Chapel to pray and to talk. Some students shared their concerns for the safety of loved ones who lived in New York and Washington.

ramseth 01President Ramseth recalls how someone asked if they should lock the doors. “I said ‘no,’ our mission has always been to look outward not lock us in.”

The president says the events of that day ultimately defined “the ethos of his tenure” at Trinity. “It marked the start of significant cultural and economic change, and a significant change in theological education. The world and environment into which we send leaders were in tumult,” he says.

Subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the mortgage crisis, and the economic downturn ultimately impacted enrollment and giving to the seminary.  

“The downslide of the economy and the effect that had on the seminary’s endowment and financial well-being has been extremely challenging. On top of that, the changes occurring in theological education overall and how that has affected enrollment across the board at seminaries has been a constant concern that Mark has worked hard to address,” said Melissa Peper Firestone, chair of the Trinity Lutheran Seminary Board of Directors.

President Ramseth faced all of these challenges and more with “a quiet courage,” said Jim Childs, senior research professor at Trinity. While serving as Dean of Academic Affairs in the 1990s, Dr. Childs met with then Bishop Ramseth of the ELCA Montana Synod at the annual meetings for the regional placement of seminary graduates.

“We had good conversations and I always enjoyed seeing him. Years later when I learned that he had been called to be Trinity’s president I was delighted,” said Dr. Childs.

As President Ramseth contemplates retirement on January 31, 2013, he says he hopes he provided students and others with a sense of the reality of the church.

“I always tried to bring people back to what it means to be the church,” he says.

He did so with his office door wide open. Those in the seminary community know he prefers an open door and candid conversation to closed-door meetings and endless debate. And he is far more comfortable in blue jeans and a sweater than a suit and tie.

Since his early days on campus, the president has started each morning with a walk to the seminary from his Bexley home, and ended his day with a second walk through the neighborhood or a nearby park with his spouse Carol.

“We are both walkers. It is our place of refreshment and allows us to catch up on each other’s day,” he said.

Carol Hustad Ramseth, a former high school English teacher and reading specialist, entered Trinity’s Master of Divinity program in 2002. She graduated and was ordained in 2007, and has served three congregations in Ohio, most recently in Southern Ohio.

The Ramseths plan to retire in Montana, where President Ramseth served as bishop of the Montana Synod for 10 years prior to his call to Trinity. They will reside in the city of Bozeman to be near family, including their two granddaughters.

“Our daughters have wanted us to move closer for some time, and now is the time,” he said.

Prior to his election as bishop in 1991, President Ramseth, a native of California, served congregations in Montana, California, Washington, and Idaho.

Today, theological education remains at the forefront of his ideals. He thoroughly believes and frequently recites Trinity’s mission statement: Trinity Lutheran Seminary forms leaders for Christ’s church at work in the world.

“Mark brought a vision for missional leadership to Trinity from his previous experience as pastor and bishop,” said Dr. Donald Huber, former Academic Dean who served alongside President Ramseth for nine years.

Throughout his tenure, President Ramseth dedicated much time to the ecumenical delivery of theological education, giving particular attention to Trinity’s partnerships with Bexley Hall Episcopal Seminary, located on the Trinity campus, and the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, located in Delaware. He also served as an officer and member of the Commission for Accreditation of the Association of Theological Schools, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the Association’s Board of Directors. In addition, he served as executive director of the Covenant Cluster of the ELCA and president of the Theological Consortium of Greater Columbus, which includes the Methodist Theological School in Ohio and the Pontifical College Josephinum.

Throughout his time at Trinity he has participated in the accreditation visits for ATS. In retirement, he hopes to continue his service to theological education.

“My conviction is that for theological education to have a future, it must be delivered ecumenically,” he said. This conviction has been lived out in his support for Trinity’s continued relationships with Bexley Hall and MTSO. More recently, he supported the hiring of a recruiter for vocation, Pastor Teddy Ceasar, who can appeal to young people outside the Lutheran tradition.

“Despite the challenges, Mark has repeatedly told me over the years how much he has loved his job at Trinity,” said Firestone. “He has found great joy in working on this campus and has played a vital role in promoting it to the surrounding community, our future students, our donors, alumni and beyond. His leadership came at a time of many transitions in Trinity’s history and he has truly served this institution well.”