Saturday, December 23, 2006

Top 10 Seminary Stories for 2006

From the Gettysburg PO
by President Michael L. Cooper-White (

As occurs in many newsrooms, toward the end of every year our Seminary’s chief communication professional, Pr. John Spangler, and I confer on what we consider the LTSG Top Ten stories of the year. In so doing, we are well aware that the most important things are often neither “newsworthy” nor able to be captured in a headline or succinct summary. The ongoing teaching and learning, mentoring and modeling of ministry happen on a daily basis in countless unseen encounters both on campus and distant, through quiet conversations in classroom, chapel or coffee shop. With these disclaimers, I nevertheless offer the following list, recognizing that others will generate your own.

1. Luther Institute Comes Home to Seminary Sponsorship: Over a quarter century ago, the Washington-based Luther Institute (tLI) was founded by several partners, including the Seminary’s Lutheran House of Studies. In mid-2006, tLI’s board sought a new strategic partnership, and the Seminary brought it under our umbrella as an added vehicle for a fortified presence in the nation’s capital.

2. Joint Venture Launches Voices of History Campaign: Another long-standing partnership—with the Adams County Historical Society (ACHS)—moved to a new level as together we launched an ambitious effort to rehabilitate the Seminary’s “Old Dorm” building and convert it into a world-class Civil War and religious history museum. Fund-raising toward an ultimate $22 million goal was initiated.

3. Faculty and Spring Convocation Propel Seminary More into Public Square: Leadership by adjunct faculty member Dr. Warren Eshbach captured national media attention over the so-called “intelligent design” controversy. The president published an op ed piece in the state capital’s leading newspaper, quoting faculty colleagues on the importance of religious leaders “going public” on critical societal issues. And the 2006 Spring Convocation brought to campus noted scholars and Lutheran federal district court Judge John Jones who rendered a key decision related to the intelligent design conflict in an area school district.

4. Most Historic Seminary Featured on ELCA Yearbook Cover: In recognition of our 180th anniversary and the Seminary’s unique role in American civic and religious history, the Secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America featured a picture of LTSG on the cover of the church’s annual yearbook, its most frequently consulted directory of congregations and rostered leaders.

5. Largen and Stevens Join Faculty; Olsen Leads Admissions Office: Retirements, administrative restructuring and acceptance of new positions by several Seminary staff members over the summer months was followed in short order by the arrival of a number of new colleagues. In the faculty arena, Dr. Kristin Johnston Largen began teaching in the field of systematic theology, and Dr. Marty Stevens became both registrar and instructor in Biblical Studies. Coming from a Virginia pastorate to head the Admissions Office was Pastor Mark Olsen, an LTSG alumnus.

6. Alumnus Pledges Potentially Largest-Ever Gift: In response to a call for major gifts to grow the endowment, Pastor Vic Myers of Ohio, a 1969 graduate of the Seminary, through careful financial planning and an inspirational act of generous stewardship, made commitments that ultimately could bring the Seminary as much as $3 million in support of faculty, scholarships and creative lectureships.

7. Restructuring and Budget Reduction Cause Controversy: Faced with a $400,000+ deficit as the Seminary budget was being developed, the president declared a hiring freeze, followed by an administrative restructuring that eliminated several staff positions. Affirmed in some circles as painful but prudent stewardship measures and positive administrative streamlining, the decisions were troubling to others on campus and in broader arenas.

8. Students Lead in Wellness Emphasis and Ecumenical LutherBowl Extravaganza: A campus-wide emphasis on nutrition, exercise and other dimensions of wellness was led by the Student Association in collaboration with the campus pastor. The SA worked hard in hosting seven other schools for the annual touch football tournament, with Trinity Lutheran of Columbus taking home the trophy.

9. Red Books Replace Green as Primary Worship Resource: As have many congregations, the Seminary recently dedicated the new red (some call it cranberry-colored) Evangelical Lutheran Worship book. Among the ELW’s delights are eight hymns authored by president emeritus Herman Stuempfle, as well as one by campus resident, Pastor Beth Bergeson Folkemer.

10. Endowment Foundation and Crossroads Campaign Primed: Major fund-raising efforts usually are not newsworthy until big success stories can be published. But the formation of a separate corporate entity for endowment oversight, to be stewarded by its own Board of Trustees, holds promise in an era when most seminaries find themselves resource-challenged. Throughout the year, preparations were ongoing for an expanded current funds and endowment appeal that begins in earnest as the year of 2007 dawns.

While challenging in many ways, 2006 was on balance another good year for the Seminary. As its final days are crossed off the calendar, we entrust it with both praise and penitence into God’s history-holding hands.

Transition Means More than Change

From the Gettysburg Seminary President's Office
by President Michael Cooper-White
Earlier this month, I had the privilege of facilitating a two-day retreat on the theme of “transition” for the 9 bishops in Region 3 of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and their assistants. In that part of the upper Midwest (Minnesota and the two Dakotas), a number of the synods have “term limits” beyond which a bishop may not continue serving. So at least three of the bishops will conclude their service in the next year or so, thereby guaranteeing that they, their staff colleagues and the synods served will be in a time of transition.
Being invited to enter into conversations involving discernment of next call, how to “end well” effective long-term episcopal ministries, and personal “letting go” and grieving the loss of close collegial partnerships indeed felt like being invited into the holy of holies in these folks’ lives. In preparation for this challenging assignment, I reread some familiar resources and researched a few new pieces as well on the theme of “transition.” Perhaps the foremost expert transition consultants in the corporate world today are a husband-wife team, William Bridges and Susan Mitchell Bridges. The Wall Street Journal lists Mr. Bridges as one of the top ten executive development presenters in the U.S. In a very helpful article, “Leading Transition: A New Model for Change,” the Bridges make a distinction between change and transition. Change, they suggest, is external—a new policy, a merged corporation, or in our world, a new congregation or the state of being newly ordained, commissioned or consecrated perhaps.
For some of the synodical servants I addressed out in Minnesota and the Dakotas, a forthcoming change will be the morning they wake up and are no longer a bishop or assistant.By contrast to change, an external matter, say the Bridges, “transition is the state that change puts people into.” It involves psychological and spiritual reorientation. Ordination—the change from being Ms. or Mr. to being “the Rev.”—happens in an instant when a bishop lays hands on head. But the transition into being a pastor is probably a lifelong journey after the moment of ordination.
According to the Bridges’ article, transitions normally progress through three distinct phases. First, there must be a time of saying goodbye to what has been. They repeat the old adage that to steal second base, you must finally take your feet off first and run! Following the goodbyes, which are often prolonged and painful as well as rewarding and satisfying, there may be a long time of moving through a “neutral zone.” This is a time of confusion, of wandering in the wilderness, discerning new directions. Finally, one moves forward into the new phase of life or work. A period of grieving is concluded or diminished. You arrive safely at second base, now beginning to focus on advancing toward third or home plate.
Six plus years into my current calling, I have learned that a seminary community is constantly in transition. While some of us are more or less permanent (faculty and staff), we too are aware that here we have no abiding place, and that even the most senior among us have served for only a brief period in the long-term sweep of institutional history. Those of you who are students are in a constant state of transition—from one semester to the next, preparing for or recovering from (!) CPE, internship, diaconal project or first call. Along the way, candidacy committees, faculty advisers and others are frequently monitoring progress and checking in on both changes and transitions going on in your lives.
The constant changes involved in a seminary sojourn, be it for a brief one-year student stint or for several decades as faculty or staff member, can grow wearying. When they do, it may be helpful to ponder the Emmaus road story that served as the centerpiece for our two-day transition workshop out in Region 3. Along the journey, an unknown Stranger saunters up and joins us on the journey. So often, we do not recognize Who it is in the moment. Later, looking back on a season of external change and internal transition, recognition dawns: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he walked among us along the way?” (Luke 24:13-35)