Rooted in Our Tradition + Open to Yours

Kerns Religious Life Center at Capital University


Capital was founded as the Theological Seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Ohio in 1830 by German immigrants to train Lutheran pastors to lead their churches. Within twenty years, this same faith tradition established the undergraduate institution in 1850 and named it Capital University.


Like many church-affiliated institutions, our relationship to the church has evolved. Today, we are an independent school that chooses to remain affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and as one of the 27 member schools of the Network of ELCA Colleges and Universities (NECU). Along with these schools, we “share a common calling that is deeply rooted in the Lutheran intellectual tradition and boldly open to insights from other religious and secular traditions.” This comes from a document called Rooted and Open.

Prepared by representatives of each NECU school, that sums our shared mission this way: “Called and empowered to serve the neighbor so that all may flourish.” You can read this document in full. At Capital, we are rooted in our tradition and we are open to yours. In fact, we’re thrilled that you bring a tradition that’s unique to you! Capital focuses on spiritual wellness for all its members, not just Lutherans, and not just people who practice a particular religion or believe in a particular deity.

Leading a Third Way

What does this mean? We are a Lutheran school but that doesn’t mean we expect you to be Lutheran or will force you to embrace everything about our tradition. Some schools force students and employees to sign a faith statement or attend chapel. That’s not us. Others don’t care whether religious opportunities are present in community life. That’s not us either. We walk a third way where we emphasize spirituality as an opportunity instead of an obligation. Our resources for spiritual wellness will always be available for you but we will not force them on you. Instead, we create community that welcomes the different traditions our members bring with them into conversation with the principles that guide us as an institution of Lutheran Higher Education.

Spiritual Principles

Through a process of collaborative exploration, we lifted up six key components of this spiritual wellness that emerge from the Lutheran tradition and resonate with other religions, spiritualities, and worldviews. These Six Spiritual Principles are: Truth, Vocation, Innovation, Inclusion, Service, and Grace. We’re currently inviting feedback from community members about these principles. We welcome you to share your thoughts!

Truth points to both our mission for education and the spiritual pursuit of meaning. Lutheranism was born in a university setting, through the process of challenging authority. At our best, Lutheran higher education institutions like Capital welcome new perspectives that help us to better understand one another and better comprehend sacred wisdom. Such a pursuit of truth, in both theory and in practice, is possible because of free inquiry.

Vocation is a concept that highlights the value of the work that we do and differentiates our work from our identities. In short, you are not the work that you do. Your identity is who you are, while your vocation is how you put that identity to work.The Rev. Dr. Kathryn Kleinhans, first Dean of Trinity Lutheran Seminary at Capital University, once wrote that the normal world in which we live our daily lives “is a suitable realm for divine service—not by serving God directly (since God does not need human works) but insofar as one serves the God-given neighbor.” In other words, we offer authentic contributions through the vocations we develop because, in our vocations, we connect our identities with the identities of those around us. Vocation empowers our work to foster genuine relationships among people, which is true of all people across all religions and worldviews.

Innovation is not limited to theology in the Lutheran tradition. Lutherans started some of the first schools for women in Europe. Lutheran immigrants to North America developed social safety nets like insurance and hospital systems, as well as schools and care networks for people with disabilities and children without parents. Knowing what it was like to be immigrants themselves, Lutherans developed Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which to this day helps new migrants find a home in the United States. Such innovation is a way we embrace hope not just for survival, but by providing resources and opportunities that can help all people to thrive.

Inclusion has been a core principle in the Lutheran movement, which leads to a frequent practice challenging boundaries that prevent inclusion. Rev. Jehu Jones, inspired by this principle and convicted by his vocation, pursued and achieved ordination as the first Black Lutheran pastor in the U.S. in 1832. The same spirit inspired Rev. Elizabeth Platz, who became the first female Lutheran pastor in North America in 1970. First United Lutheran Church ordained Rev. Jeff Johnson, an openly gay man, in 1990, and twenty years later the denomination affirmed the ordination of LGBTQ+ candidates. Even when difficult, the Lutheran penchant toward inclusion inspires us to challenge boundaries.

Service to neighbors is built into our DNA, with a robust community engagement program that connects us with local, national, and global partners. Our drive to service is grounded not only in the value of ethical stewardship, but in the Lutheran tradition of service, summed by Gustaf Wingren this way: “God doesn’t need your good work but your neighbor does.” Service is something we all participate in because we see the needs of our neighbors and seek to meet them. This includes class internships in nearly every department and engagement scholarships like the Bonner Leader Program.

Grace reflects the Lutheran commitment that God’s grace is the foundation for abundant life and that each member benefits when we live grace-filled lives with one another. Committed to being an open community means seeking to live grace-filled lives with one another. Even as we are certain to make mistakes in our life together, we can also grow from those missteps in a culture built on the mutuality of forgiveness and repair of the damage done.

These are the principles of the tradition in which we are rooted. Grounded in these dispositions, we are open to the traditions you bring with you and look forward to how we can enrich one another during your journey at Capital.

Some of our partners include: