Monday, February 16, 2009

Response to Reed's "The Difference"

An alumnus, Jim Brandis, writes:

Kathleen, I appreciated your comments in the Alma Mater News. I was a bit surprised that you recalled one Dr. Ridenhour’s bold expressions. I graduated a few years before you but I was part of the same era. I am a ’75 graduate. As for an incident, I remember visiting with Dr. Bengt Hoffman. I was already in the parish and was in a difficult situation at the time. I visited with Dr. Hoffman, looking for some wise, fatherly guidance and support. We were in his office. It was in the summer. At the close of the visit, Dr. Hoffman offered prayer. There was something about his prayer that was unlike other experiences I have had.

Through his simple words and his humble presence I felt as if Dr. Hoffman had just invited the Holy One to be with us. There was a sense in which Dr.Hoffman, like Moses, was speaking with God face to face. Dr. Hoffman ended the prayer as simply as he began it, but something unusual happened in that brief moment. A few years ago, I filled out a student recommendation form. One of the questions on the form was, “Is this person intellectually curious?” I thought to myself, “This is a wonderful question.” This is a rare quality to be found in individuals, even among those who commit themselves to the academic rigors of seminary. So many, it seems, stop learning as soon as they graduate from seminary.

I think the seminary experience is designed to create an atmosphere for the discipline of study of a wide variety of topics related to ministry, but also to invite people into the process of being perpetual students whose curiosity never ends. How our American culture today has squelched the love of learning and the intellectual disciplines. After completing the M.Div. degree I went on to complete an S.T.M. at LTSG, completed clinical training and became board certified as a chaplain. I also appreciate the seminary’s integration of spiritual formation into the curriculum. That is so important for the task and process of ministry. That is what Dr. Bengt Hoffman embodied in his teaching and in his personal life. I must say that after 30+ years of ministry, I find myself saying, “Now I understand what my professors were trying to teach me!”

Gratefully yours, Pastor Jim Brandis

The Difference An Hour Makes

Reprinted from ALMA MATER NEWS
by Kathleen Reed ('80)

The Difference An Hour Makes It was the first month of my first semester 32 years ago. I can still hear the tremolo in a classmate’s voice as he said to the professor, "Dr. Ridenhour, I have to admit that I have some days when I am not sure that I believe in the Resurrection." To which Dr. Ridenhour responded: "You’ve had days? I’ve had weeks! I’ve had months! I’ve had years!"
I don’t recall how the classmate took that comeback, but for me its implicit permission to risk raising fundamental questions in matters of faith without fear of being silenced or condemned was a revelation.

To this day, whenever I enter a room as a teacher, I strive to extend to others the same hospitality of authentic inquiry that Dr. Ridenhour extended in that hour to all of us. My list of the memorable seminary hours which continue to shape my ministry is pretty long. I won’t bore you. Instead, I invite you to start making your own list. Whether you graduated recently or 60 years ago, it is possible to see how the number of lives touched by one such hour grows exponentially, according to a kind of "loaves and fishes" math.

As these memories occur to you, consider sharing them! Send me a note, an e-mail, or pick up the phone, and we will print them here for appreciation and thanksgiving.

Kathleen Reed, Director of Advancement:


by President Michael L. Cooper-White

Little cellophane-wrapped boxes of valentines in the late 1950’s came in standard lots. Each contained 20 or so small roughly 3-inch square cards printed with an endearing message on one side, leaving room on the other for one to sign before inserting in the envelope and addressing to a classmate. In our grade school classrooms, “mailboxes” created by covering common shoeboxes with colorful paper awaited the delivery of valentines from all the classmates. Each box of valentines also included a couple of special cards. One was for the teacher, which required no deliberation, unless one was on the outs with her (few men taught elementary school in those days in our parts) and contemplated tossing the teacher’s greeting in the trash. But the other was an oversized card quadruple in size to all the rest. Therein lay the delicate decision. Upon whom should I bestow the special valentine? And will s/he reciprocate or leave me embarrassed by bestowing hers/his on someone else? Ah, the anguish of childhood infatuations or lack thereof . . .

Well, it’s the annual season of multiple “match-making” processes that I’ve discovered spreads an unusual level of anxiety here on campus and around the church. First-year students await their selection for Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) summer assignments in hospitals, nursing homes and other settings. Our “middlers” or second-year theologs are about to plunge into the internship matching workshop. This brings to campus several dozen pastors and lay leaders from congregations that will serve to mentor future pastors during a crucial portion of their ministerial formation. And our ELCA seniors, of course, now await assignment to regions, synods and ultimately call by a congregation, while our ecumenical students likewise may be wondering where they will serve post-graduation.

By and large, the church and our seminary seem to do fairly well in these important match-making processes. When I served as the ELCA’s director of synodical relations, the churchwide unit then responsible for the first call assignments, a survey revealed 90% of the newly rostered leaders had landed in a setting of their preference, albeit seldom the “ideal call” (there really are none!). Likewise, the vast majority of internships proceed rather seamlessly to mutually satisfying conclusions. While an intense growth-producing CPE is seldom without some measure of challenge, again most students return to campus in the fall saying something like, “If I had it to over again, I’d choose the same place.”

There are, of course, both modest and glaring exceptions. Sometimes a candidate, bishop, call committee or others involved in churchly match-making processes “read” one another wrong, and favorable first impressions give way to the reality that this is not a match made in heaven. If important information is withheld in a process of mutual discernment, disillusionment can set in quickly after a ministry or learning covenant is actually set in motion. And for some there’s the inevitable disappointment of “unrequited love” akin to that experienced back in grade school when the beneficiary of a scholar’s big valentine failed to reciprocate. A half-dozen classmates may desire the same internship. Congregations perceived as “plum calls” (I’ve discovered there really are none of those either—every place has its challenges and problems) are sought by dozens of rostered leaders whose annual reports to their bishops indicate “open to a new call.” In a bishop’s election or other “selective/competitive” process, many well-qualified candidates make themselves available, and only one finally can be chosen.

How one responds amidst all this flurry of ecclesiastical and academic match-making may depend on the operative theology of call or vocation. If you believe that there are perfect matches made in heaven, then the failure to land a place of preference may cause a theological and even existential crisis. Personally, I’ve always thought God has bigger things to deal with most days than my personal preferences or search for a perfect parking place; in most big lots there are a lot of them! Likewise, given a measure of openness and flexibility, in a church with more than 10,000 congregations, a host are places of good and vibrant ministry where one’s gifts may fully flourish and a good time may be had by most on most days. If disappointment comes, one must also allow that in very human selection processes, human errors are made with some regularity. If you feel you would have been a “better match” than the one ultimately chosen for that perceived “perfect” internship or call, you’re probably right. But rather than wallow in bitterness or languish in regret, move on and embrace the place and people who did recognize your gifts and are eager to embrace you. A few decades down the road, you’ll probably not even recall the names of most places and people who caught your fancy in a moment of infatuation. You will remember those who gave you the big valentine and invited, “be among us.”