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H.M.S. Richards Divinity School Receives 10-Year Re-Accreditation

La Sierra Hall at night

La Sierra Hall, an iconic building constructed in 1923, is home to the H.M.S. Richards Divinity School at La Sierra University. Photo by Natan Vigna

In February, La Sierra University’s H.M.S. Richards Divinity School received notification that it had been awarded a reaffirmation of its accreditation through March 31, 2028.

The Commission on Accrediting of The Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada, or ATS, in a board vote extended by 10 years the school’s accreditation, which was first voted in February 2013. The action re-approves the Master of Divinity and the Master of Theological Studies degrees, and adds under the accreditation umbrella the Master of Arts: Religion as well as a Master of Arts: Near Eastern Archaeology, previously a concentration in the Master of Arts: Religion.

The school also received approval to offer the full Master of Theological Studies degree through a satellite program at the offices of the Central California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Clovis, Calif. The cohort program was launched in Central California in June 2016 with a class of 25 pastors, Bible teachers, and chaplains. Currently 23 students are enrolled.

“The Divinity School congratulates its faculty, staff, students, administrators, alumni and everybody else who contributed in numerous ways to the improvement and success of this institution,” said Dean Friedbert Ninow, Ph.D. “The ATS accreditation reaffirmation letter highlights as ‘distinctive strengths’ the Divinity School’s ‘clarity and consensus regarding institutional identity and purpose as a significant voice within the Adventist tradition,’ and its ‘compelling image of and commitment to racial, ethnic and theological diversity.’ This 10-year accreditation is a significant step forward in the development of the Divinity School and an inducement to improve those areas that require further development.”

Sandra Roberts, president of the Southeastern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists headquartered adjacent to La Sierra’s campus expressed gratitude for the conference’s ministry partnership with La Sierra’s Divinity School. “The Divinity School educates many of our future pastors and we jointly mentor them in preparation for service to our churches and communities,” said Roberts. “They are a rich resource for theological expertise, continuing education and visioning for the future of our churches in this territory. They have worked diligently to become an accredited Divinity School and we are all benefiting from the excellence they have achieved.”

The Divinity School, previously La Sierra’s School of Religion, officially reorganized in February 2012 and was renamed after Seventh-day Adventist pioneering radio evangelist H.M.S. Richards, Sr. whose son, H.M.S Richards, Jr., graduated from La Sierra and was awarded the university’s first alumnus of the year award in 1990. Four graduate programs were approved by the initial ATS accreditation granted the school in 2013 including the only Master of Divinity (MDiv) offered in the western United States within the Seventh-day Adventist school system, and the new Master of Theological Studies degree. Two former masters programs were phased out.

The Divinity School and its programs are accredited by ATS and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. The only other ATS-accredited theological school within the Adventist school system located within the division is the Theological Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. (The Inter-American Adventist Theological Seminary in Puerto Rico, in the Inter-American Division, is also fully accredited.)

The Association of Theological Schools is a membership organization of more than 270 graduate schools that conduct post-baccalaureate professional and academic degree programs to educate persons for the practice of ministry and for teaching and research in the theological disciplines.

Darla Martin Tucker is director of public relations for La Sierra University in Riverside, California.