A ‘strange providence:’ Milligan College and Emmanuel Christian Seminary become one

Former Emmanuel President Robert Wetzel. Photos by Sarah Colson

Former Emmanuel President Robert Wetzel. Photos by Sarah Colson

By Sarah Colson

Last Wednesday, Milligan College and Emmanuel Christian Seminary officially became one, a concept that was part of the seminary’s first president, Dean E. Walker’s, original plan in the 1950s.

“Dr. Walker saw a need for a graduate seminary among the Christian churches in which biblically faithful ministers would prepare for service to the church and the world,” said Milligan’s president, Dr. Bill Greer, at a ceremony celebrating the official merger on Wednesday morning on Emmanuel’s campus.

When Emmanuel opened its doors in 1965, Walker was the president of both Emmanuel and Milligan. At that time, seminary students met in classes on Milligan’s 200-acre campus. After a few years, the school moved across the highway to a space of 40 acres. Still, the seminary operated with autonomy. It wasn’t until the school fell on “significant financial issues” in 2012 that the then-president, Michael L. Sweeney, looked to Milligan and their shared history for a solution.

“The trustees of Emmanuel had come to the conclusion that despite the number of successes over the years, it was no longer economically feasible to go it alone,” Greer said.

At midnight July 1, Emmanuel became a part of Milligan’s School of Bible and Ministry. As a part of Milligan’s new academic structure, the school is one of five, along with the schools of Science and Allied Health, Arts and Humanities, Social Science and Education and The William B. Greene Jr. School of Business and Technology.

The Southern Association of College and Schools Commission on Colleges not only approved the merger, but also reclassified Milligan as a Level 5 Institution, allowing Milligan to also award degrees at the doctoral level.

Milligan President Bill Greer speaks at the Milligan-Emmanuel at the merger announcement.

Milligan President Bill Greer speaks at the Milligan-Emmanuel at the merger announcement.

Dr. Rollin Ramsaran will continue as the academic dean of Emmanuel. Dan Lawson, executive director of development, will also take on the role of associate director of seminary development and Lauren Gullet has been named admissions director for Emmanuel.

“As everyone knows, change is hard,” Greer said. “But together we brought Emmanuel to a new level of financial stability and focus on mission and we’ve developed a strategic plan for the entirety of Milligan College that will ensure our long-term success.”

Greer said this plan includes the continuation of Emmanuel’s current programs, as well as the “utilization of unused space on the Emmanuel campus for important new academic initiatives” at Milligan. Those academic initiatives are part of the previously announced mechanical and electrical engineering programs which will launch in fall 2016 and a master’s in physician assistant to start the following fall semester. The lower level of the seminary’s main building will hold laboratory classrooms for engineering students. Construction of those laboratories starts this week.

While Greer said undergraduate students should not notice a huge difference around campus other than the addition of engineering students next fall, seminary students will benefit from the merging of not only the schools’ finances, but of faculty and staff.

Zachary Maclellan is a second-year seminary student and Milligan alumnus working toward his Master of Divinity. He heard of the merge during his time at Milligan and is looking forward to the potential transfer of some of his credits at Milligan and, primarily, the chance to be taught once again by his favorite Milligan professors, this time at the graduate level. He described the merge as an “exciting time.”

“I’m mostly excited about the professors merging,” he said. “So I’ll be able to be taught again by Dr. (Lee) Blackburn, Dr. (Curtis) Booher, Dr. (Craig) Farmer and Dr. (Phil) Kenneson – those who were very influential to me at Milligan. So the joining of the two different staffs is going to be really, really cool.”

Dr. Robert Wetzel, fourth president of Emmanuel and now chancellor of the seminary, offered a prayer of dedication at the ceremony and described the merger as a “strange providence.”

Wetzel said of Emmanuel’s time as an independent school, “I think there was a certain providence in allowing Emmanuel to become, at that time, a free-standing seminary because what this meant was that the faculty, the administrators, and the trustees of Emmanuel could give their full-time to developing what became a first-class seminary.”

Wetzel claimed that Emmanuel becoming a part of Milligan was always part of Walker’s plan, a plan which originated from his time as professor of church history at Butler School of Religion.

“We drove up here today on Walker Drive, named of course for the first president of Emmanuel, Dean Walker,” Wetzel said. “I imagine that Dean Walker is smiling down from Heaven, saying, ‘Well, this is what I had in mind all the time.’ And therefore, I think it is momentous that we can look now to the future to see both schools together to the glory of the Kingdom.”


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