Merging two schools is no easy task, but Lloyd Svendsbye deftly guided the process in which Luther Theological and Northwestern Lutheran Theological seminaries became one.
Under his leadership the neighboring seminaries on Como Avenue in St. Paul merged in 1980 to become what is now known as Luther Seminary.
Several years later Svendsbye was involved in an even bigger merger. He served on the commission that oversaw the creation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a merger of the Lutheran Church in America, the American Lutheran Church and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches.
Svendsbye died March 2 after suffering a stroke at Colony, a senior living facility in Eden Prairie where he had lived the past three years. He was 83.
Svendsbye was president of the combined seminary until 1987. During his tenure the school opened the Lay School of Theology, the theological journal Word & World debuted, and the first female professor was called to a tenure-track position.
“He was a consummate strategist, a tenaciously hard worker,” said Roland Martinson, a professor emeritus of Children, Youth and Family Ministry whom Svendsbye hired as dean of students.
His studied religion and church history at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn.
“One of the reasons he loved church history is that it gave one not only a license but a mandate to look at everything, the ideas and their context,” Martinson said.
A North Dakota native, Svendsbye graduated from Luther Seminary in 1954 and was ordained the following year. He was an assistant pastor at Our Saviours Lutheran Church on Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis for two years before returning to his alma mater in 1957 to teach. He served as chair of Concordia’s Religion department from 1962 to 1966.
Svendsbye, who also earned a doctorate in theology from Union Theological Seminary, left the classroom to work as editor in chief at Augsburg Fortress Publishers from 1966 to 1971. But academia called, and he spent three years as academic dean at St. Olaf College from 1971 to 1974 before heading to a pre-merger Luther.
He eased in the merger over a four-year period in which the two seminaries operated independently but offered the same curriculum.
He finished his career as president of Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., from 1987 to 1992.
Svendsbye was deeply invested in his students and followed them long after they left seminary, Martinson said.
“He was always an educator. He loved the interaction with students and faculty,” said his nephew Glen Nelson. “He liked to argue about religion and politics in a give-and-take conversation. He had an innate ability to bring young people into his life and make them feel comfortable.”
Svendsbye was proud of his Norwegian heritage, his nephew said. He was actively involved in Mindekirken, a Norwegian Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.
He served on many boards in the Lutheran Church, and also was on staff for the Lutheran World Federation Minneapolis conference in 1957.
“That showed his desire to serve the church broadly, and the church recognizing his capacity to do so,” said Martinson, who will give the eulogy at 11 a.m. Friday at Normandale Lutheran Church, 6100 Normandale Road, Edina.
Svendsbye is survived by sisters Adeline Elverud, of Rugby, N.D., and Jean Brusven, of Dayton, Ohio, and a brother, Edward Svendsbye, of Pueblo West, Colo. He is preceded in death by his wife, Anne.
Visitation will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Washburn-McReavy Funeral Chapel, 5000 W. 50th St., Edina, and one hour before services at the church.
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