Luther House, Yale’s Lutheran campus ministry, has announced that it will sell its 27 High St. location, which has served as the organization’s namesake, home and gathering place for over 40 years.
Following a Feb. 14 meeting between the student board and other student members regarding the possible sale, the house’s Directing Committee distributed a March 3 email to its student and donor communities explaining the final decision. Considerations included the cost of upkeep, the house’s needed repairs and reduction in funding from the national ministry. The house has not yet been placed on the market, nor has it been officially appraised. When it does sell, the money will go toward expanding the ministry, and campus events hosted by Luther House will continue uninterrupted, current Luther House Director pastor Kari Henkelmann Keyl said. The sale may even provide further opportunities for campus engagement, Keyl added.
“Luther House has always been a student ministry and not a building — the building has been one part of the ministry,” Keyl said. “Not having a building to maintain means we can be more present on campus, that I’ll have more time to be bringing students together to be asking the kinds of deep questions you can’t always ask in the classroom. So I’m really excited about the possibilities that are opening up.”
Though the board has long considered selling the house due to high maintenance costs, recent upkeep has detracted from Keyl’s time for ministry work on campus, pushing the Directing Committee to make a final decision, said Bradley Abromaitis GRD ’19, a Luther House board member. The March 3 email estimated that necessary structural repairs would cost up to $80,000 and said that a recent change in local tax policy requiring the house’s student residents to pay up to $8,200 a year also compelled the board to sell. Housing at the nine-bedroom Luther House is available to students through Dwight Hall.
In the past, funding for Luther House has come from the National Lutheran Campus Ministry, which historically has had a strong network of campus-based organizations, according to Jonathan Laven DIV ’17, a ministry intern. Recently, however, funds have been reduced due to changes in the mainline Protestant church, Abromaitis said. Laven referred to recent Pew Research Center studies that show a national decrease in church attendance, adding that the house’s sale is part of an overall trend in concerns about the financial feasibility of maintaining church property nationally. Fewer people filling the pews, Abromaitis said, means that donations go down, causing financial trouble across the board. Laven added that this does not necessarily indicate a lack of interest in religion and campus ministries, but that it does limit the resources allotted to campus organizations. And part of this trend can be attributed to the secularization of society, Abromaitis said.
“We are living in a more secular body, so things are changing in the dynamic of the student body,” Abromaitis said. “There are probably less students admitted to Yale in general that are religious on the one hand explicitly, and [on the other] who are Lutheran. We are looking at ways in which to appeal our ministry to a broader religious audience. We describe ourselves as a place for seekers, questioners and doubters.”
As structural changes affect the church at a national level, Luther House will use the sale of the building to redefine its role in the Yale community, Abromaitis said, including looking for ways to engage in a dialogue with the University’s other Christian denominations and religious groups while also extending conversations to agnostic and atheistic communities. Student members of Luther House are discussing new places to meet, and traditions such as the Taizé evening prayer in Dwight Chapel will continue independent of the house. Keyl said that she hopes the ministry may continue to use the space for once-a-week gatherings even after the sale.
Laven described student reaction to the decision as “mixed,” and Keyl added that there has been “sadness” over leaving the house and its community garden, which has provided organic produce not only to those living at the house, but to the nearby restaurant Rubamba and the food pantry at Christian Community Action. However, Laven said that many students believe having the Lutheran ministry’s presence expanded through campus rather than being landed several blocks away can help spread resources and scope.
“I am excited by the kinds of possibilities that the sale opens up,” said David Clauson DRA ’16, a congregant at Luther House. “Part of the reason for the sale of the house is to free up resources used to grow and expand the ministry across campus. I think that the idea is exciting, to have a set of resources that were being used on the maintenance of the house and the space that can now be deployed in other areas … You will see new things pop up in new spaces, and new connections being made between Luther House, the campus Lutherans and other campus organizations.”
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was formed in 1988.