School of Religion Reorganization Enhances La Sierra University’s Service to Church’s Ministerial Preparation

H.M.S. Richards Sr.
H.M.S. Richards Sr.

March 27, 2012

By Larry Becker

La Sierra University’s School of Religion is taking bold action to increase its service to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and to the world. “Enhancing the Vision,” a new plan of organization and student financial support, was voted by the University’s Board of Trustees on February 9. Implementation is planned to begin this summer.

Officially renamed the H.M.S. Richards Divinity School, the School offers the only Seventh-day Adventist Master of Divinity (MDiv) program in the western United States along with other professional and academic theology and religious studies programs.

The Divinity School will offer four graduate programs of study in addition to maintaining a strong commitment to supporting undergraduate religion education. Professional graduate programs are:

  • the current Master of Divinity, pursued by those wishing to enter the ministry,
  • and the redesigned Graduate Certificate in Ministry, designed for laity.

Academic graduate programs will consist of:

  • the current focused Master of Arts in Religion and
  • a new comprehensive Master of Theological Studies degree.

The current Master of Pastoral Studies and Master of Ministry degrees will be phased out.

A significant increase in scholarship funding for Divinity School programs will make the financial investment for those pursuing graduate programs in religion at La Sierra much more affordable. The net tuition is being brought closer to the rate charged by other graduate religion programs in the U.S. Scholarships will increase as the student progresses through his or her professional graduate program.  For a student in the Master of Divinity program—the basic professional degree for pastoral ministry—the new scholarship incentives will reduce the tuition of a student’s program by about 60%.

“Our Master of Divinity program, launched in 2002, will continue to serve the needs of pastors currently serving in the Pacific Union who have not been able to attend the Seminary at Andrews” says John Webster, Dean of the Divinity School. “Ministerial students and pastors returning for graduate studies at La Sierra do not regularly receive denominational financial support, so the university is demonstrating its commitment to pastoral training and religious education by investing in its affordability.”

The new plan has been created in close consultation with local conference and union leaders, says La Sierra University President Randal Wisbey. “This new approach paves the way for La Sierra University to provide more affordable, more widely recognized, and more professional and practical graduate training for ministry and for advanced study. ”

For the past six years, the Divinity School has been moving through the steps required to obtain accreditation by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), the premiere accrediting organization for graduate theology and religious studies programs in the U.S. and Canada. The final self-study report was submitted last December, and the ATS Board of Commissioners met in February and set an October date for the first peer review site-visit, which will be the final step to full accreditation. In the Adventist educational system in the North American Division, only the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University is currently ATS-accredited.

“ATS accreditation will enhance our ability to collaborate with other programs, such as those at Andrews University, Loma Linda University, and other ATS-accredited schools in Southern California,” says Dean Webster. “It will also make it easier for the school to obtain grants and scholarship funds, and for graduates to transfer into the most competitive doctoral programs across North America and abroad.”

The choice of the term ‘Divinity School’ for the school’s name more accurately communicates the School’s identity and role. Divinity schools are Protestant theological institutions directly related to a University. This contrasts with the term “Seminary,” which typically refers to independent theological institutions, and “Schools of Religion,” which often teach religious subjects without a direct religious or denominational affiliation.

Students in the Divinity School programs will benefit from studying with a stellar faculty composed of outstanding religion scholars and collaborating faculty with extensive pastoral and church administrative experience. “The H.M.S. Richards Divinity School is committed to a strong interface between the classroom and the church, equipping our students to serve the church and its institutions with a solid Biblical foundation, an informed Adventist vision, and a passion for Christ and ministry,” says Dean Webster.

La Sierra University will be celebrating this reorganization with a series of events during the next year. The first celebratory event will be the H.M.S. Richards Jr. Lecture, featuring current Voice of Prophecy speaker-director Fred Kinsey. The lecture will take place April 21 during 2012 Homecoming Weekend.

For information on how you can enroll in the H.M.S. Richards Divinity School at La Sierra University, please call 951.785.2041 or 800.874.5587. Visit us online at, and email us at


PR Contact: Larry Becker

Executive Director of University Relations

La Sierra University

Riverside, California

951.785.2460 (voice)

  • Last update on  March 27, 2012