One Hundred Years of Ministry in the West

A Brief History of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary

If a mustard seed is small, this little seminary’s chances of survival were smaller.

Four teachers gathered in a Sunday School room at St. James Lutheran Church to convene their first class of the Pacific Seminary. Dr. J. Allen Leas and small group of faithful visionaries believed the church in the West needed leaders to provide “native ministry.” So rather than import pastors from elsewhere, they founded a seminary in Portland, Oregon, to equip and prepare their own. The date: October 8, 1910.

The little seminary grew, and before too long, there were discussions about moving to a more metropolitan setting. Four years later, the Pacific Seminary moved to “a ten-acre tract on the beautiful spot overlooking Lake Washington” in Seattle. Here, under the bold and tireless leadership of its president, Dr. J. C. Kunzmann, the little seminary thrived. The property value reached six figures, and the endowment fund grew to even more. These were the best of times for Pacific Seminary.

Looming in the future, however, was the Great Depression. By 1931, all the assets and the promise of this blossoming venture were consumed by economic collapse. The faculty resigned. The school closed. Pacific Seminary was dead. But when the property was sold and all the debts paid, what funds remained were invested in a trust, believing that one day the dream for theological education in the West might be fulfilled.

And so it was. Sixteen years later, the funds in trust were withdrawn to purchase a site for a new seminary in the hills of Berkeley, California. Dr. James Prince Beasom, President of the United Lutheran Church in America’s California Synod, inspired the founding of this new seminary to meet the need for leaders for the growing church in the West. Two adjoining estates overlooking the San Francisco Bay were purchased. A faculty was assembled, and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary was reborn in September, 1952. A hundred years later, PLTS still shines as the lone seminary in the West, preparing leaders for the church in the West and the world.