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Geothermal Comes to the Battlefield

By Delaney Schlake (M. Div Middler, Trinity Lutheran Seminary)

150 years ago, the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (LTSG) figured prominently into the story of the Civil War. Pickett’s charge was inaugurated on Seminary Ridge, and the cupola of the seminary building itself served as a lookout point for both the North and South at different junctures throughout the battle. Gettysburg has seen its fair share of historical moments, becoming woven into the fiber of American identity, culminating in the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in November. (Read more about LTSG History here: http://www.ltsg.edu/about-ltsg/seminary-history.)

Now, in 2013, it seems that the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg is making history again--this time, through a literally groundbreaking installation of geothermal technology on their historic campus.

When asked about the process by which the possibility of geothermal energy was approached, the Rev. John Spangler (Executive assistant to the president for communication and planning at LTSG) says that it became clear that the seminary needed to think about some sustainable solutions to the recurring maintenance problems with the 100+ year old steam heating system. Instead of continuing to fix the ancient boilers as they repeatedly broke, Rev. Spangler and a group of ecologically and economically minded dreamers came up with the idea of implementing geothermal energy at Gettysburg.

The geological landscape of Gettysburg, PA is very rich in shale, making it viable ground for geothermal wells to be dug and the seminary to begin heating some of its buildings with geothermal energy. (Learn more about how geothermal works here: http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/renewable-energy/how-geothermal-energy-works.html.)

 The first two buildings to use geothermal heat pumps for the HVAC systems include the Seminary’s historic chapel as well as Schmucker Hall, which has since become a Seminary Ridge history museum, named for seminary founder and important German-American Lutheran theologian, Samuel Schmucker.

The seminary began this process of converting to geothermal with feasibility studies spanning from 2007-2008, embarking on the installation of geothermal heating in the chapel during 2011. The work in the chapel took approximately four months, followed by a year of rehabilitation and geothermal work in Schmucker.

When asked how the seminary was able to fund such an expansive overhaul of century-old technology, Spangler shared that the seminary had recently engaged in a capital campaign, raising one million dollars for the chapel renovation project. Through state and federal grants, donations, and tax credits, LTSG was able to update both the chapel and Schmucker Hall for just shy of twenty million dollars.

Spangler is optimistic about this formidable investment Gettysburg has made in geothermal energy, asserting that the money saved on energy costs will surprisingly quickly re-coup the money spent on installation. On the heels of this innovation and success, LTSG hopes to expand their use of geothermal energy across more of their 52 acre and 25 building campus.

It is clear that Gettysburg is faithfully responding to the questions around what it means to engage in a Spirit-led, Gospel-rooted love of creation through their work in geothermal energy. Spangler was sure to mention that this movement of the Holy Spirit is not only taking place at Gettysburg, but Wartburg Seminary (Dubuque, IA) as well. Wartburg has also faithfully engaged in the process of implementing geothermal energy as a sustainable, responsible method of heating their buildings.

Gettysburg is deeply entrenched in the conversation around eco-justice and eco-spirituality, as evidenced by more than just their implementation of geothermal energy. The Seminary has engaged in a number of projects based in identifying and reducing their carbon footprint, as well as the myriad methods of academic engagement offered, including courses like Ecology and Religion and EcoTheology in Northern Appalachia, both taught by the Rev. Dr. Gilson Waldkoenig.

The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg is also involved in conversations around ecology and faith through Blessed Earth Seminary Stewardship Alliance, GreenFaith: Interfaith Partners for the Environment, and Lutherans Restoring Creation.

Because of their efforts to find sustainable, innovative ways to update their campus and respond to the ecological crisis, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg is a visible manifestation of all that God is doing in reconciling the world and gathering all of creation ever closer to Godself.



Aerial view of LSTG campus 
(Chapel at center, with Schmucker Hall immediately to the right)






The Rev. John Spangler
Executive assistant to the president 
for communication and planning at LTSG






EcoTheology in Northern Appalachia class
taught by the Rev. Dr. Gilson Waldkoenig (fourth from left).


More information on Gettysburg Seminary's geothermal energy and energy efficiency projects: