Monday, June 20, 2011

Trips Not Taken and God's Way with Time

·         From the Gettysburg P.O.
A volcano in Chile changed the seminary president's schedule for the last 9 days; read about the trip not taken in his latest from the Gettysburg PO
by Michael Cooper-White, President

As I suspect is the case for most of us, there have been times in my life when a long-anticipated trip could not be made as planned.  During my years in California, a thrice-postponed trip to Israel finally evaporated altogether when the tour company that held my fairly substantial deposit went out of business.  Shorter trips have been cancelled or postponed as a result of illness, family circumstances or weather.  Most recently, a nine-day sojourn in Argentina, where I have been doing some consulting with the United Lutheran Church over the past several years, became impossible as a result of the ash cloud that closed Buenos Aires International and many other major southern hemisphere airports for several days following a major volcanic eruption in Chile. 

To be sure, there was a measure of disappointment when it finally became clear that the window had closed for me to deliver a keynote address and conduct several leadership development workshops.  Hours of preparation came to naught, though perhaps I can use some of my “material” for future events (not many invitations come to speak and facilitate group work in Spanish!)  While my hosts down south insist they want to schedule a future time for me to again be in their midst, calendar challenges being what they are suggest that’s not likely to occur any time soon. 

It felt strange returning to Gettysburg from Dulles airport, with eight days totally unscheduled suddenly on the horizon.  While I knew plenty of catch-up work awaited me, I did not want the gift of unscheduled time to just be filled with business as usual.   I quickly scheduled a couple of visits with Seminary supporters who have become wise mentors and confidantes; and what a gift it was to spend some leisurely hours in their presence!  Remaining stateside in mid-June also allowed me to be present when the news broke that Pennsylvania’s new governor finally released the $4million grant committed by his predecessor, the cornerstone funding for our Schmucker Hall rehabilitation project that has been in the planning stages since I became president eleven years ago.  Being on the turf also provided me the opportunity to make an unplanned drop-in visit at the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod assembly, thereby making connections with a number of the synod’s leaders and many of our Seminary alumni.  Finally, the gift of time at home resulting from the South America trip cancellation provided some extra family time and the chance to catch up on some long-deferred personal projects as well.

Despite Jesus’ assurance that the very hairs of our head are numbered (Matthew 10:30) I have trouble with the kind of theology that points to a God who micromanages the universe.  Some who subscribe to this brand of divine providence believe that everything is a direct result of God’s direction or intervention.  My problem with those who say it was God’s doing when a loved one missed a flight on an airliner that crashed is the implication that it was therefore somehow God’s will that all those who made the trip perished.  When the Cypress freeway structure in the San Francisco Bay area collapsed after the Loma Prieta earthquake, just 20 minutes or so before I would have been on its lower deck, I did not attribute my fortunate timing to divine planning.   While I am not of the opinion that God micromanages the timing of events good or bad, and to whom they happen, I do nevertheless believe that all time, events, and all people are held in God’s loving embrace.  I think that’s what St. Paul was saying when he declared in Romans 8 that “neither life nor death, nor things present nor things to come . . . nor anything in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   St. Paul, of course, experienced his own travel interruptions, including at least one shipwreck and several times when his departures were delayed due to being held in prison as a result of his faithfulness.  To the oft-heard suggestion that, “it’s the journey, not the destination, which matters,” there may be a rejoinder, “sometimes neither journey nor destination are possible; remaining faithful just where you are may be the most important thing.”

As always, I am eager for some “reader feedback,” hoping to hear from a few of you out there in cyberspace about your own trips, both taken and untaken.  What did you learn when your travel plans went awry?  If you’re on the road or rails or especially the airways this summer—for work, vacation or time with those close and dear to you—stay away from ash clouds, tornadoes, thunderstorms and other perils.  And always and everywhere that your travels may take you, ¡Vaya con Dios!



Monday, April 04, 2011

Some Folks I Admire

From the Gettysburg PO by
The Rev. Michael Cooper-White, D.D., President


As I walk along in life’s journey, I am often in awe and admiration for all sorts of fellow travelers.  I take this occasion to simply share a starter list, which does not even begin to convey my deep admiration for a longer roster that would go on page after page.  I admire:


·         The many who are unemployed and seeking work, and who bear their plight with such grace and determination.

·         Parents of small children, especially little ones with special needs and challenging circumstances.

·         Long-distance drivers, air crews, military personnel and all whose occupations require them to be away from home for long stretches of time.

·         Teachers who exercise their professions in all sorts of classrooms, especially ones who work in impoverished areas with few resources and under enormous stresses.

·         Highly skilled workers upon whose precision and accuracy (when things simply must be done right the first time) others’ lives depend—surgeons, air traffic controllers, 911 operators, nuclear plant operators—to  name just a few.

·         Those who do the “dirty work” in every society—trash collectors, pest control workers, those who clear roadways after horrible accidents, and clean-up crews who work the night shift.

·         Scholars who pore over obscure texts in search of truths long ignored, and those who do cutting-edge research and then head backstage, leaving their successors to get the credit.

·         Government workers, especially ones in the welfare and child protection services, who exercise their callings for decades with dedication and a servant’s posture.

·         All my colleagues in this Seminary community—and by “colleagues” I mean everyone—students, staff, faculty, trustees, alumni and all who lend a hand in our great adventure of learning and formation!


As is the case every year in these weeks leading up to commencement, I invite each of the graduating seniors to share the names of two or three persons who have been most influential and supportive  of them during their time as seminarians.  Then I send those supporters a letter, thanking them on behalf of the Seminary and a grateful church about to be richly blessed by another of our graduates.  It’s one small measure of expressing our profound admiration for a few of our FrOGS—“friends of Gettysburg seminarians.”


As you look around from your life station, whom do you admire?  Have you made the effort, taken the time to let them know?  If you have a bit more time after you do so, I’d love to see the list of your own “most-admired.”




Wednesday, March 23, 2011




CONTACT: John Spangler 717-338-3010




The Rev. Dr. Cain Hope Felder will offer lecture and commentary as the 2011 Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg April 13, 2011 at 11:45 am.


Making the announcement for the seminary was the Rev. Dr. Nelson T. Strobert, Professor of Religious Education and Director of Multicultural Ministries. The annual lecture program is free and open to the public.


Felder is Professor of New Testament Language and Literature and Editor of The Journal of Religious Thought at the Howard University School of Divinity in Washington, DC.  He currently serves as Chair of the M.Div. program at the School of Divinity, where he has been a faulty member since 1981. Dr. Felder, an ordained Methodist minister once affiliated with the United Methodist Church, now serves as the Resident Biblical Scholar for the District an Elder in the Second Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church where he has been appointed by Bishop Adam Jefferson Richardson as.


Dr. Felder holds a Ph.D. and a Master of Philosophy degree in Biblical Languages and Literature from Columbia University in New York; a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York; a Diploma of Theology from Oxford University, Mansfield College in England; a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Greek & Latin from Howard University in Washington, DC; and a Diploma from the Boston Latin School.


A prolific writer, his publications include the newly published commentary True to Our Native Land (Augsburg Fortress, May, 2007), the first African American commentary on the New Testament;  Troubling Biblical Waters: Race, Class, and Family (Orbis Books, 1989) – 16th printing; Stony the Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation (Fortress Press, 1991) – 10th printing, and many more publications.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hanging On to Old Sermons

Hanging On to Old Sermons
From the Gettysburg PO by President Michael L. Cooper-White
March 17, 2011

Flipping through a file of old Lenten sermons the other day, I came upon my “farewell sermon” preached at Angelica Lutheran Church in Los Angeles in mid-Lent 1981.  It’s hard to believe that three decades have passed since I preached that message entitled, “Clean and Blind or Dirty and Whole?” on the Gospel for Lent III.  I can still recall the mixed emotions of the occasion: excitement as I embraced a new call, which I anticipated would be a brief hiatus away from parish ministry (I haven’t gotten back yet); and deep sadness at saying goodbye to this community of God’s faithful that I had served and come to love.


Running across that memory-sparker manuscript (I’ve always found it works best for me to write out a sermon, and then try to deliver it without too much dependence on the text) made me glad I’m in the clergy camp of the sermon-filers-and-hoarders.  Others—like those who have toted file boxes each time I’ve moved my office and household—might wish I were in the other camp of sermon-shredders (or now the growing cadre of recyclers).  I have always respected, and been a bit in awe, of colleagues who periodically jettison all their already-preached sermons, in part lest they be tempted to avoid the hard work of encountering pericopes anew and just reach for something “in the barrel.”  While I won’t profess that I’ve never drawn some material from old sermons, the constantly changing contexts in which I have preached for three decades as a synodical and churchwide staffer, and now seminary president, always seem to force me to start afresh on an old familiar set of texts. 


I suppose as much as anything, my drawers full of sermons from across the years constitute a kind of pastoral journal, with some personal memorable moments recorded therein as well.  Sermons preached on the occasions of my son’s baptisms remind of those special celebrations.  Funeral homilies recall the Godly saints over whom I was privileged to pronounce a final benediction.  Sermons preached in the aftermath of great tragedies—congregational or societal—bring back to life the pathos of the moment-in-time when they were delivered.  There are the sermons from my internship in Chile and homilies given in El Salvador during the war years.  And ones preached after the great Oakland fire and on the Sunday after 9-11.  Another retells the courage of a California congregation on the Sunday they confronted the sudden death of their pastor whose bicycle hit the rear of a truck when its driver suddenly slammed on the brakes.  Still other sermons remind me of the challenge as a bishop’s assistant in revealing to a trusting congregation that their pastor was guilty of sexual misconduct or had suffered a nervous breakdown.  There’s the sermon of a brash young pastor in San Francisco who preached to all the church’s bishops and admonished them to pay more attention to God’s beloved who are gay or lesbian (that one “got some legs” beyond the sanctuary and generated some pretty sharp letters!)


After her freshman year in college, daughter Macrina volunteered for several weeks in the Seminary library.  Her assignment was to catalogue the sermons of one of our distinguished alumni, The Rev. Robert Koons, who in his 90’s now still proclaims God’s word with his every breath and smile.  Expecting a boring task of archiving old yellowed manuscripts in manila folders, Macrina would come home some evenings talking excitedly about the content of Bob’s sermons.  “He was preaching about civil rights,” she was impressed to discover.  “He raised questions about how Christians should regard the war in Viet Nam,” she noted after cataloguing some of Pr. Koons’ sermons from the early 1970’s.  Bob’s sermons constituted a kind of written “oral history” of how a pastor engaged the Word and struggled to let it live among God’s people in times turbulent and triumphant over the course of a half-century or so.


Here at the Seminary we have the privilege of making at least some small contribution to the preachers of tomorrow, who from their first year are also today’s proclaimers as they anxiously approach a pulpit on their maiden homiletical voyages.  We also have an amazing talent pool of preachers among the Seminary’s faculty and staff, seasoned craftswomen and men who model what this chapel attender regards as some mighty fine preaching.  That the voices we hear in the Church of the Abiding Presence are equally divided between the higher and lower registers signals an exponentially enriched preaching cadre from the days when the preachers’ voices were all male.


As far as I recall, no seminarian has ever asked me about whether or not to hang on to sermon manuscripts, outlines or worksheets once a preaching moment has passed and the homily has been delivered.   But I’ll offer my unsolicited advice nevertheless: Yes, keep them!  Bother to move the files with you when you may go from one call to a new one (it’s a lot easier these days when you can just keep them on your computer or a flashdrive).  On your bad days, go in search of some old sermons that remind you of your happiest times in ministry.  When your ego gets inflated, go back and reread some that bombed, just to be reminded that a good preacher is like a fine pianist who can never rest on her/his laurels but must open up the keyboard day after day and practice, practice, practice what you preach!


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Peter the Repeater and Other Public Theologians

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

March 1


Several events in recent days have caused me to ponder anew a phrase that readily rolls off our tongues in this place that we say sends forth into Church and society public theologians and mission leaders. 


Among those heroic public figures I have been privileged to meet in person was the Rev. Peter Gomes, whose unexpected death at age 68 brought back fond memories of when he came to campus a few years back for a special lecture.  In both his public presentations and private lunch conversation with a few of us, Gomes was gracious and engaging.  As an African American, he seemed particularly interested in the Lincoln legacy at Gettysburg and our description of how the Seminary’s founder Samuel Simon Schmucker was among the small band of prominent Civil War era religious leaders who accepted the call to speak out against slavery.  


One cannot be Minister of the Memorial Church at Harvard for four decades and avoid a certain public prominence.  But Peter Gomes’ influence was not limited to Harvard or broader lecture circuits and campus ministry circles.  As the years went by, he came to be counselor and confidante to prominent public figures in this country and around the world.  Often provocative and always prophetic, his sermons and books circulated in ever-widening circles.  As a Black man who contended lifelong with racism, and particularly after he “came out” as a gay man, Gomes faced frequent criticism and verbal threats against his person.  Rather than cower in the face of opposition, he became emboldened in preaching the gospel’s constant call for a greater measure of God’s justice.  


Another named Peter—Bishop Rogness of the ELCA’s St. Paul Area Synod—recently published an op-ed piece in the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, in which he based a call for public civility on Christian principles.  Amidst all the publicity surrounding Wisconsin’s struggles over unions, bargaining and budget balancing, the state’s ELCA bishops issued a joint call to the governor and state legislators, urging that they pay particular attention to people who may be vulnerable if certain state programs are eliminated or reduced.  In still other recognition of the value offered by the “mainline denominations” in public debates over what makes a good society, both ELCA and Episcopal presiding bishops are among religious leaders recently named by President Obama to a White House advisory council.


In a recent round of visits in several congregations that host Gettysburg Seminary interns, I have been reminded that one need not be a bishop or prominent Ivy League university preacher to serve as a public theologian.  This year’s interns in Washington, D.C., Lincoln, Nebraska and Hartford, Connecticut, for example, have front-row seats as St. Paul’s, First Lutheran and Emmanuel offer their public witness in the nation’s and two state capitals.  Even in the most remote rural communities, there will be opportunities to publicly offer pastoral perspectives and issue calls to civil discourse, concern for the poor, and respect for the dignity of all persons.  Local newspapers often are eager to publish a pastor’s op ed piece on local vexing issues.


In his book, “The Good Life” (Harper 2002), a treasured Christmas gift from valued colleagues, Peter Gomes shares the painful story of his first major failure.  After he failed to pass the second grade, he was taunted on the school playground as “Peter the Repeater.”  As a high school senior, his application to Bowdoin College in Maine was rejected, a fact for which he thanked the prestigious institution decades later when Bowdoin awarded him an honorary doctorate!  As he now moves on into the Church Triumphant, I thank God for the life, generous pastoral spirit and bold public witness of Peter the Repeater.  May we all have at least a small measure of the courage with which over and over and over again he kept on repeating the Good News that makes for a good life and better world!   




Tuesday, March 01, 2011

FW: Choral Vespers Sunday March 6


CONTACT: John Spangler 717-338-3010



Festival Choral Vespers for Transfiguration Sunday Featured in Next Music, Gettysburg! Seasonal Offering


Description: schola-detail.jpgGETTYSBURG, PA—Music Gettysburg! presents Festival Choral Vespers for Transfiguration this Sunday evening, March 6, at 7:30 P.M. in the chapel of the Gettysburg Seminary.  This one hour pre-Lenten Sunday sung prayer service opens with a candlelit evening prayer, led by the Schola Cantorum of Gettysburg, and includes a setting of the Magnificat, psalms and motets.  The choral concert is free and open to the public.


The choral vespers will include festive music for the Sunday of the Transfiguration, the last Sunday before Lent begins, and includes the Magnificat by Leonhard Lechner (1553-1606), Heinrich Sch├╝tz (1585-1672) motet “Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt” (John 3:16), his setting of the Lord’s Prayer, and an original arrangement of Stephen P. Folkemer’s “How Good Lord to Be Here.” The evening prayer service will include the singing of hymns for the Transfiguration for the whole assembly. 


Under the direction of Stephen Folkemer, Gettysburg Seminary’s Cantor and Professor of Church Music, the Schola Cantorum is a vocal ensemble of 30 singers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia which has in its more than 20 years of performance, presented some of the most beautiful sacred choral music of the 15th through the 20th Centuries. 


Be sure to join us in welcoming this late winter choral feast.  The Seminary Chapel is located at 147 Seminary Ridge in Gettysburg. For more information about this and other concerts in the Music, Gettysburg! schedule, please call 717-334-6286 ext 2197 or visit the web site at .




Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lenten Primer Posted by Gettysburg Seminary


CONTACT: John Spangler 717-338-3010





(Gettysburg, Penna.)  Gettysburg Seminary Video productions posted a video based introductory Lenten resource on this month entitled “Making the Most Out of Lent” suitable for use in personal spiritual enrichment and educational use for Christian study groups.


The 17 minute primer features the Rev. Dr. Mark Oldenburg, Dean of the Chapel and Steck Miller Professor of the Art of Worship outlining the basic and deepening spiritual practices for Christians in the Lenten time. The resource is available to individuals and congregations for group use. Oldenburg’s introduction to Advent became the seminary’s most watched video production last fall, according to Information Technology Director Donald Redman, acknowledging the clear and concise communication style of the Seminary’s leading worship scholar.


The video is posted on the seminary’s resources web page and directly to youtube at  or see



Sunday, January 16, 2011

Getting the Outsiders' Perspective

From the Gettysburg PO
by President Michael Cooper-White
Getting the Outsiders’ Perspective


Several items on my Amazon “wish list” were received as Christmas presents; but a most intriguing book came as a complete surprise.  “Future Savvy” by Adam Gordon (AMACOM Books, 2009) aims to help readers gain insights for planning by becoming more adept at what Jesus referred to as “reading the signs of the times.”  Chapter 3 of Gordon’s book confronts us with “bias traps,” that is, ways we often get into trouble because of what he calls “insider bias.”  Put simply, it means that failure to make necessary changes when they are called for results from false perceptions that things are alright as they’re going, and we can continue doing business as usual. 


To drive home the point, Gordon rehearses the history of innovation, citing an analyst named Bob Seidensticker who poined out that: “The digital watch didn’t come from established watch companies, the calculator didn’t’ come from slide rule or adding machine companies, video games didn’t come from board-game manufacturers, the ballpoint pen didn’t come from fountain pen manufacturers, and Google didn’t come from the Yellow Pages.” (p. 73)  As insiders in any profession or venture, we are just too close to things, and have our biases and vested interests that hold us back from imagining a future significantly different from the status quo.  We think that our current “products” are the best that can be offered, thereby failing to imagine innovative approaches or inventions that can truly change the world or at least the arena in which we serve. 


Hence, concludes Gordon, it is critical from time to time that we intentionally seek insights and perspectives from objective outsiders who can see things hidden in our insiders’ blind sides.  “Outsiders are more likely to be willing to see change and are therefore more likely to see it and forecast it.  Outsiders will also generally have more experience of forces and factors from other fields, or bring a comparative perspective as to how things have changed in other industries, and be willing to apply these analogies.”  


A predecessor pastor at the inner city parish I served during my first call is reported to have occasionally dressed in casual clothes when he would “hang out” for a few hours in a park across the street from Angelica church.  He’d mill about and ask the park visitors what impressions they had about that church across the street.  From these “outsiders” Lloyd Burke gained valuable insights about how Angelica and its ministry were viewed in the local community, and how the church might better meet the needs of its neighbors.  Similarly, when I was a synod staffer, my colleagues and I worked to develop a parish review process that included visits by members of other congregations in the synod; their job was to provide unvarnished feedback on how they were welcomed, the church’s signage, accessibility to visitors, and the like.  Wise were the parish leaders who availed themselves of such an “external audit” and non-defensively received and acted upon feedback offered by the visitors.


Here at the Seminary, we turn to both true outsiders and what I call “inside-outsiders” or maybe “outside-insiders” with some regularity.  Chief among the latter, of course, are members of our Board of Directors, Endowment Foundation trustees, President’s Cabinet and others involved in what we refer to as “shared governance.”  These gifted and committed partners in ministry bring their wisdom from many walks of life.  They know the Seminary well enough to offer knowledgeable feedback, yet because they do not work or study here on a daily basis, come with a degree of objectivity that can often see things we true insiders cannot.  As needed and as required by law or otherwise, we have regular visits by outsiders with particular expertise; chief among these are the auditors who come in annually to scrutinize our financial records, reporting procedures and legal compliance, to ensure we’re being good stewards of resources entrusted to us.


A unique group of outsiders will be on campus for three days or so next month when we host our once-a-decade visit by representatives of the two bodies that grant us formal academic accreditation.  Accredited status is critical to signal to prospective students and the broader public that we are a reputable educational institution that meets the highest standards for U.S. graduate schools.  Also hinging on accredited status is our ability to offer students federal monies granted for student loans.  Then, in March, we will host our annual “episcopal visit” by the eight bishops of the ELCA’s Region 8, another group of inside-outsiders whose needs for rostered leaders are met by us and our sister seminaries.  Generally affirming in their feedback, both bishops and peers from other academic institutions can also suggest areas where we can make improvements, and occasionally raise issues that require immediate attention lest we fall short of meeting our own goals and fulfilling our highest aspirations.


In any setting of ministry, with a bit of ingenuity, it is possible to solicit and receive some assessment and feedback from outsiders.  In my experience, congregations that are highly defensive or altogether resistant to such insight from outsiders are on the decline.  In theological jargon, they are what Luther and others described as “incurvatus in se,” that is, turned in upon themselves, thereby failing to meet our Lord’s mission mandate to “go out” and tell the Story to those beyond our immediate circle.


As always, I’m open for some feedback and insights from students, friends and Seminary supporters (and even or perhaps most especially those who feel they cannot currently support us!), both about the Seminary and about ways you have found to gain valuable perspectives from those you regard as outsiders.