Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Promoting Life Holistically

Final Reflection by President Michael Cooper-White
From El Salvador Travel Seminar of Gettysburg Seminary

President Cooper-White and Bishop Medardo Gomez
"To go through life and not encounter God is a tragedy.  Our goal is to promote holistic life in this world, and to prepare for the life to come." In those words spoken during our concluding session with him, Bishop Medardo Gomez of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church summed up his personal and his church's "theology of life."  In the land of The Savior, I believe we indeed encountered God and caught frequent glimpses of the abundant life that is possible even amidst the multiple ongoing challenges confronted daily by the vast majority of the Salvadoran people. 

The specifics of the current challenges faced in El Salvador formed the basis for our 90-minute session with four staff members at the imposing U.S. Embassy in San Salvador on Friday morning.  Our conversation was delayed due to the hyper-security measures triggered when front-gate guards puzzled over a granola bar discovered in a student's backpack!  An embassy communications officer acknowledged our frustration and shared that these days he often schedules private appointments outside the embassy grounds at a local Starbuck's so that visitors can avoid the security hassles.  While by no means on an equal par, the obstacles we encountered in the process of gaining access to the turf over which is flown the flag of the United States of America gave this U.S. citizen a glimpse into what it’s like for Salvadorans who aspire to our visit or reside in our land. 

The conversation with our embassy representatives was lively and covered a broad array of subjects.  The hot topic of the moment was the State Department’s issuance of a travel warning to U.S. citizens, indicating heightened concerns for personal safety.  Explaining the action, the staff indicated our government is not convinced the gang truce, which has resulted in a significantly reduced murder rate in recent months, will last.  This unexpected action angered the Salvadorans, of course, at the very time they are seeking to boost their economy through increased tourism.  As it is, more Americans come to Gettysburg on a typical summer day than visit El Salvador in an entire year.

As we lifted off from San Salvador’s Comalapa airport and headed northward on Saturday morning, I had a profound sense of gratitude—to our valiant hosts of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church, to our trip coordinator, Pr. Stephen Deal, the ELCA’s Global Mission staffer who truly embodies the mission stance of “accompaniment,” and to Prof. Erling and our students for being wonderful traveling companions and fellow pilgrims.  As I had first witnessed in two previous extended sojourns in El Salvador more than a quarter century ago during the fiercest period of the war, once again I left with no doubt that Salvadoran Christians are, in Bishop Gomez’s words, “building signs of the reign of God.”

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Amigos in El Salvador

Last post from the field from
Intrepid photographer/Seminary President Michael Cooper-White with host,
Pastor Vilma Rodriguez

And President Cooper-White with Bishop Medardo Gomez, sporting his new “mitre”
(That’s a Gettysburg Seminary version, by the way)  Amigos!

The Gettysburg Seminary community will welcome this traveling group home today, January 26th.  (not pictured here is Jennifer Crist)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Salvador, Where Martyrs Walk Still

Reflection by President Michael Cooper-White
from El Salvador Travel Seminar

On anyone's short list of theological giants of the past 50 years will appear the name of Jon Sobrino.  For an hour this afternoon, our group sat around a table with Sobrino at the Jesuit University of Central America here in El Salvador's capital city.  Upon arrival, the tranquil site on a lush gentle hillside gives no evidence of the horrific night in 1989 when Salvadoran soldiers brutally murdered six priests, their household cook and her young daughter.   But the museum to the martyrs, whose murders caused worldwide sorrow and outrage, is unrelenting in its truth-telling and call to renew one's commitment to work for peace and greater justice.  Therein reside some of the priest's personal effects, and display cases with blood-stained grass and stones from where they fell.  The same site exhibits similar artifacts preserved from the death-place of four U.S. nuns who had been raped and murdered years earlier by one of the infamous Salvadoran death squads.

In response to my question about how he felt upon hearing that his colleagues and friends had been gunned down in the bloody raid whose shots drew shouts of anguish around the globe, Sobrino spoke softly of his initial lack of surprise.  By the late 1980's, so many others who spoke for and worked on behalf of Salvador's poor and oppressed masses had been threatened, apprehended, tortured or murdered that no one was surprised when eight more were added to the growing list of those killed for simply living out their Christian convictions and vocations.  Fr. Sobrino went on to describe his anger, especially at the assassinations of the beloved Salvadoran women who worked and served alongside the Jesuit fathers.  In Thailand at the time as a visiting professor, Sobrino was asked by his students there how he was reacting.  After describing his sadness and sense of loss of those who constituted his primary "family," he went on to say, "but the good news is that I was privileged for a time to live with such good people."

One needs only a short time in his presence to recognize that beyond being a first rate theologian, Fr. Jon Sobrino is "good people" too.  He was eager to have each one of us offer more than a perfunctory self-introduction.  He carefully jotted down our questions and made sure to address each one (and all this by the native Spaniard in flawless English).  His affection for Bishop Medardo Gomez and Pastor Vilma Rodriguez was apparent.  His attitude toward the Vatican and current pope, who has tried to silence Sobrino's prophetic voice off and on for three decades, offers frank critique without a hint of arrogance or bitterness.  He was enthusiastically intrigued as I described our Seminary's efforts in creating an interpretive center that may become another "museum of conscience" wherein pilgrims will encounter the same call to peace and reconciliation as is offered at the UCA.

Now well into the stage of life where most workers are relieved to retire, Sobrino continues to teach, write and make himself available to groups like ours who simply want to glean some of his insights and inspiration.  In the course of our wide-ranging discussions about liberation theology, the role of the United States in the ongoing Latin American struggles, and other topics, Sobrino casually described his encounters and friendships with Archbishop Oscar Romero, UCA president Ignacio Ellacuria, Fr. Rutilio Grande and others.  Then, in a surprising shift from events past to his vision for the future, Sobrino concluded our time together this way:  "My goal now is to walk in history feeling that Romero, Rutilio, Ellacuria and the others are still around.  In my older years I am finding it more difficult to walk, but I can't stop walking.  And that, my Lutheran friends, that's grace!"

Thursday, January 24, 2013

From El Salvador #3: Contested Space in El Salvador

Reflection by President Michael Cooper-White
from Travel Seminar in El Salvador

The Continuing Struggle For Peace -- (see Romero)

Two decades after a peace accord officially ended El Salvador's 12-year civil war, in many ways peace still eludes this nation named in honor of the Prince of Peace.  Already mentioned in previous posts are the ongoing violent confrontations between warring gangs.  While there is widespread hope that a fragile  temporary truce between them may become permanent, police and military forces remain on high alert.  Our group of pilgrims experienced this first hand yesterday on the return from Cara Sucia when our van was stopped by national guard officers who demanded to review our driver's license and credentials.  While the street scene in San Salvador's downtown and more upscale neighborhoods seems as safe on the surface as in any major U.S. city, many areas remain off limits for Salvadorans and visitors concerned about personal safety.  We awaken each morning to the shrill whistles of a private security guard who periodically signals to his clients--neighborhood homeowners who band together to employ him--that he is on duty providing protection. 

Today's morning visit to San Salvador's imposing cathedral provided a stark reminder that streets and gangland turf are not the only arenas of contested space.  As I write this reflection twelve hours later, I still find it difficult to absorb the change since I last visited the final resting place of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero.  A quarter century ago, Romero's grave held prominent place in the cathedral's main transept.  In the fashion of medieval cathedrals, the common people would stop by for a brief visit en route to work, at lunchtime or whenever the spirit would move them to pray and draw strength in remembering their beloved slain spiritual giant.  Today one has to descend to the cathedral basement to visit Romero's tomb and view his portrait.  Upstairs in the main sanctuary is displayed a portrait of a prominent leader of Opus Dei, the Roman Catholic group regarded by El Salvador's poor as the extreme reactionary fringe.  A few years ago, the current Archbishop of San Salvador ordered removed from the cathedral's external walls the compelling folk art panels painted during the war years by artists of the world-famous La Palma community.  Clearly, the central see of El Salvador's predominant ecclesial community remains highly contested space.

Following our visit to the downtown cathedral, our group of pilgrims boarded our minibus for the ride to the cancer patient hospice where Romero lived for the duration of his ministry as Archbishop.  We were welcomed warmly by the sisters who steward the humble house where he took up residence after refusing to abide in the more luxurious official bishop's palace.  Then, following a brief reflection on a reading from the book of Hebrews, we sat for a prolonged period of silence in the hospital's chapel where Romero was gunned down while celebrating mass with some family friends. 

As I ponder all that I have experienced during three sojourns in this land of "The Savior," which now span the period of nearly 30 years, the overarching feelings are of humble gratitude and fervent hope.  For if, as we profess, the greatest glory comes only from the most contested space the world has known--the cross of the Savior for whom El Salvador is named--then we have been privileged to spend these few days on this turf surrounded  by those both living and departed who constitute what Hebrews calls the "great cloud of witnesses."  And as the polarization that underlies Salvador's continuing violence continues to cause so much suffering for so many, we must continue our fervent prayers that contested space here and everywhere may be ever-shrinking.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

In Cara Sucia ("Dirty Face")

 Reflection #2 from El Salvador
by President Cooper-White

"We are tired of seeing our local politicians ride in on a bicycle and go out in luxury cars." The Salvadoran Lutheran pastor who expressed his impassioned sentiment was conveying the frustration of many residents along the Paz River, where floods almost every year disrupt their lives and destroy their homes and crops. Multiple attempts to bring sufficient governmental money and technical engineering expertise that will keep the river within its banks have repeatedly fallen on deaf ears of those who can fix the problem.  In short, there is yet no lasting peace between struggling campesinos in the Cara Sucia communities and those elected to be their public servants.  But there is considerable hope as a result of work by a Lutheran-led organization called ADICOS, which has organized 30 local campesino communities into a powerful advocacy contingent. In explaining his pastoral stance to us, the "second career" minister who fought as a guerilla soldier during El Salvador's civil war (and who does make pastoral calls throughout his extensive rugged rural parish by bicycle!) declared, "We can't put God to the test by expecting the Divine One to provide for us while we remain sitting on our hands."

Never sitting on their hands, the valiant Christians of El Salvador have rolled up their sleeves and are carrying out works of mercy, justice- and peace-building in every corner of this Central American nation that has suffered so much for so long.  Salvadoran parish committee structures and job descriptions are quite different from those in most U.S. churches.  At the Lutheran Church in Cara Sucia (which means literally "dirty face") there are human rights promoters and psycho-social assistance teams.  Our study tour group was led by the latter in a fascinating workshop whereby they demonstrated how to help prepare communities for crises and recovery from natural disasters.  A still-small church by statistical measures, the Lutheran Church looms large in Salvadoran society, and in our visit with the Cara Sucia pastor we learned its secret.  "We work as a team.  I am never alone.  We trust the people." It's just that simple.

Not so simple are relations between the governments of tiny El Salvador and its mighty neighbor to the north.  As our group began a meeting Monday morning with Mr. Carlos Castaneda, the Vice Minister of Foreign Relations, I asked, "On this day when our nation inaugurates our president, what key message would you wish us to carry back home." Castaneda shot back immediately, "Your president Obama was reelected by Latino voters!" Castaneda went on to speak passionately of the need for immigration reform that will ease the burdens for some 2 million Salvadorans living in the United States.  He reflected on the suffering of so many families kept separated by unnecessarily restrictive U.S. inter-American travel and visa policies.  Our group will have immediate opportunity to engage in dialogue about this and other issues with our own governmental officials during a 90-minute session at the U.S. embassy on Friday.

As we traveled back from near the  Guatemalan border in our crowded mini-van, we were unable to tune in 92.5 on the vehicle's radio.  Had we been within range we could have listened to the broadcast from Radio Arpas of an interview I had been privileged to record earlier in the day.  The announcer/interviewer asked me to share the purpose for our visit and my impressions of the current situation in El Salvador.  In my far-less-than-perfect Spanish, I was able to testify to the courageous, holistic and inspirational work of the Lutheran Church in El Salvador.  Often when asked for advice by seminarians, I tell our students to be open to surprises--to really believe that tomorrow God will take us to places we cannot imagine today.  When I began my preparation for public ministry four decades ago, I certainly could not imagine my own voice being beamed out from some 20 transmitters throughout much of the countries of El Salvador and Guatemala. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Seminarian Preaches Sermon in Spanish while in El Salvador

Seminarian  Jennifer Crist, Lower Susquehanna Synod,
preaches her first sermon in Spanish, in El Salvador, Sunday.  
Crist is co-founder and president of "Tree 4 Hope" in Guatemala, a project for mission and service for young people in Guatemala, where she and her husband live four months each year
Photo by President Cooper-White

Pilgrims At Famous Civil War Site

From El Salvador – a Photograph from an important site

Fe y Esperanza community north of the capital once housed 1500 refugees during the civil war.  Today the site is a training center in organic farming and other "greening" initiatives.


From the Nation Named for the Savior

A Reflection from Travel Seminar to El Salvador
By President Michael Cooper-White
"I don't regard myself a hero.  There simply comes a time when you have to consider your calling and decide what you're going to do." In fact, our primary host for this 2013 study tour in El Salvador is a hero.  At the height of persecution for Lutheran and other church leaders during El Salvador's prolonged civil war two decades ago, word came that Pr. Vilma Rodriguez's and Bishop Medardo Gomez's names were atop the list of those slated for assassination by the infamous death squads.  With tears in her eyes, our sister Vilma described her <![if !vml]><![endif]>and her family's suffering during years of exile and being constantly on the run.
By the time Vilma shared her story on our second day in this small nation named for The Savior, we had already been welcomed by Bishop Gomez and his wife Abelina, herself a pastor in charge of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church's impressive youth and women's ministries. And we had been inspired by Dr. Angel Ibarra, who leads ecumenical environmental stewardship initiatives.  As repression of church leaders mushroomed in the mid-1980's, Ibarra spent 8 months imprisoned until he was finally released as a result of international pressure from the highest levels of U.S. and other governments.
Seminary students and their companion faculty members are rarely granted such privilege as being in the presence of contemporary heroes of the faith.  No less inspiring is the privileged opportunity of worshipping and conversing with the church's current and future heroic leaders.  On Saturday we were treated to a half-day workshop with leaders of the national Lutheran youth council.  In the current context of a fragile truce among the several gangs and drug warlords, wherein warfare may resume at any moment, major efforts are being launched by the youth to engage their peers in conflict-resolution and peace-building engagements.
As is the case everywhere for Christians, Sunday in Salvador is set apart for worship, fellowship and holy conversation.  Today's rich menu included all three in abundant measure, plus a Sunday supper of the most famous national food fare, traditional Salvadoran "pupusas.". Memorable for our entire group of pilgrims, this third Sunday of Epiphany is unlikely to ever be forgotten by Gettysburg seminarian Jennifer Crist, who preached her first-ever sermon in Spanish.  As she breathed sighs of relief and heard praise during lunch for a most commendable message on the wedding at Cana, Ms. Crist was surprised at the invitation for a repeat proclamation at the day's second service in a remote village called El Paisnal!
Thankfully, all group members are in good health, and a cohesive spirit is evident among us; this bodes well on the eve of beginning a very intense week of visits throughout the country.  At left, we are pictured with members of the Salvadorant youth leadership.  
Our first appointment Monday morning is with El Salvador's equivalent of the U.S. Undersecretary of State.  Few groups of visitors are granted access to such high-level government officials; the fact we will discuss critical current national issues like gang violence and church-state relationships with Sr. Carlos Castaneda is further witness to the powerful and prophetic profile of the small but dynamic and growing Salvadoran Lutheran Church

Friday, January 11, 2013

What's that? Worry about the Sunday Bulletin?

Religion Meets 21st Century Media
By John Spangler

When I offer communication primers, guest presentations in classes here or there, I often like to make the point that "Its not always high tech."  Among the several guests who were linked to the Religion and Media classroom this week was the Rev. Elise Brown, pastor of Advent Lutheran Church on the Upper West Side of New York City's Manhattan borough. She said that the look and feel of the Sunday morning bulletin reflects the self esteem of the congregation. This simple point resonated within the class, so much so that I would guess that it is one of those very true and yet very neglected aspects of regular parish activity.

Recent graduate John Wolf spotted the comment on facebook and responded with a brief video (http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151513168020561) demonstrating the ability of a congregation that projects information on the worship space's wall to avoid printing such a bulletin.

Nevertheless, my guess is that more than 90% of congregations are still printing something for distribution for its primary gathering times, and most of them include notes and calendar items that they wish to be useful after one returns home.

Bulletins that interpret and guide people through worship may be seen as "low tech," but are aesthetically important and signify things about a ministry beyond the worship order or the seven days ahead. And in fact, require some technological and design skills to make good use of the current tool box. Desktop publishing changed bulletin printing a long time ago, and for the good. In my first call, the volunteer printing bulletins and news letters "donated" lots of dress shirts to the dumpster because the mimeograph was spreading ink all over him in collateral printing.

I suspect strongly that the "Sunday bulletin" is still the most read publication in the life of the church. Care for the primary guide and announcement tool for congregational use will be around for at least a little while longer. And if it is a barometer of self esteem, a sign of confidence and purpose, and a subliminal source of identity and messaging, then it is time and energy well spent to make sure it is doing its work. Let the bulletin be as effective as all the other forms of preparation, communication and hospitality that your ministry's mission demands. More than we know, it may even reflect upon the credibility of the experience, if not the message itself. What would a visitor conclude about the self esteem level of your congregation?


Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Vocational Choices a Century Apart

Religion Meets 21st Century Media -- Day 3
by John Spangler

Last evening, the Religion Meets 21st Century Media class watched the film Network, which tells the unseemly story about the dramatic origins of Mark Zuckerman's Facebook. It is a work filled with poetic license taken by the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (West Wing fame). Zuckerman created the phenomenon known and identified among fellow students as the major platform for social media. But since it began as a student facebook for the purpose of enhancing "social life," it is filled with cringe inducing portrayals of undergraduate women, ivy league privilege, and for that matter, "dot com" culture.

An hour later, I was encountering media again, this time a PBS American Experience opener on The Abolitionists. In this 150th anniversary year of the great Battle that overtook the seminary grounds, I've been quite interested in aspects of the Civil War that intersected with the anti slavery advocacy and preaching of Gettysburg Seminary founder Samuel Simon Schmucker. Moreover, slavery and abolition represents another current among my present set of project priorities, culminating in the creation of the Seminary Ridge Museum (www.seminaryridgemuseum.org ) in the Seminary's historic, oldest building. This museum exhibit includes the 19th century dynamic of the way slavery was tearing the church's apart as it was the nation. The PBS program on the Abolitionists introduced William Lloyd Garrison as a 20 year old young man trying to find a purpose which would give his life's work meaning. Garrison chose Abolitionism, and specifically the publication of an Abolitionist newspaper.

Two young adults, about 20 years of age, finding a purpose that centered on communication platforms. One was driven by the cause of the injustice of slavery, the other by a complicated social revenge. One was threatened by society around him for his radical commitments to eliminated the economic and social structure of slavery. The other was the object of law suits by business partners and competitive fellow students. One was a "Gutenberger," the other a "digital native." 

Garrison stirred the pot in both northern and southern United States, and helped build momentum to end the institution of human enslavement left over from the nation's beginnings and often called its "original sin." Zuckerman created a system of communication that has become instrumental in the liberation movements in China and the Arab spring, as well as an identifiable place where young people spend a lot of digital time. In this class, students, including veteran pastors and seminarians pursuing ordination fill the room with observations, cases and examples in which the social media medium is a place where ministry can and does take place. I wonder what would have happened if William Garrison had the platform of facebook or if Mark Zuckerman had taken on the passion of the cause of ending slavery. That might also make a good movie.  

Ecotheology to be Taught Again this June (with or without the Bear)

CONTACT: John Spangler 717-338-3010 jspangler@ltsg.edu  www.Ltsg.edu/news

EcoTheology Course Offered in June, (with or without Bear)

The Rev. Dr. Gil Waldkoenig, having successfully recruited a bear to help teach an intensive traveling seminar on Eco Theology in the Northern Appalachian Landscape,  created a video describing the course at http://vimeo.com/56998261 . It is designed for seminarians and religious studies students, and will take place in this coming June.
Click on this link to see a 2.5 minute video introduction http://vimeo.com/56998261

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Assembling the People of God -- And New Media

A blog entry by John Spangler from the course "Religion Meets 21st Century Media"
From January 7-11, 2013, 17 learners, plus addtional experts from across the country are participating in an intensive course: Religion Meets 21st Century Media at Gettysburg Seminary

For a long time, I have defined the church’s first task and mission as that of gathering. Communication has been very much a part of that assembly, call to assemble, and the shape of the transcendent sense of what the dispersed, diverse church is that gathers as one, but in many
places. Guest presenter (via skype) Verity Jones of the New Media Project identified gathering as an important part of the gift and scope of new media. I agree, and believe that this is one of those cases in which new media is a ready tool to apply to helping the ministry of gathering. And I appreciate her pastoral sense of the tools of ministry, and her ability to move between old and new with grace and elegant style.

People are connecting through new media. Nothing really new there. They are being empowered to respond to large and pervasive societal and social questions. “Liberative” is a word she used where I might have said “liberating,” but the point is a strong one. As Christians, we ask the tough questions driven by the content of the gospel: are the words/stories/song liberating people from oppression, freeing people from that which binds them? Newer media in ministry seems to be helping the cause when it emerges naturally from the leadership of the congregation, seen and accepted as a natural extention of a coherent ministry.

The church still gathers, but the way in which it does so is part of what is changing. As a Lutheran, I hear the echo in the catechism’s explanation of the third article of the creed, in which Martin Luther reminds us that we 'cannot by our own understanding or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightended me...made me holy....' So we are called, contacted, invited to be in touch in new places and spaces often created by new media function.

Here is an example: The Seminary's Board Chair, a veteran pastor serving an interim ministry in a very large congregation, used facebook this week to explore an idea for his sermon.

"When we allow ourselves to see and hear in the midst of the noise in our heads and the busyness of our lives, maybe we will discover the Holy where the Holy always is: in the moments of silence that speak louder than thunder in our souls . . . in the right word spoken at the right time that touches the heart with healing; in joy of human laughter." (sermon thought for sunday)

One of several comments came in response: "I look forward to your sermon teasers. Glad they are back! Your words always make me think extra hard."

This exercise works on at least a couple of levels. A pastor gets the opportunity to prime the pump among those listening to his or her listeners, who begin to think about this word of God outside the 15 minutes of a sermon. And secondly, the preacher can listen to the way an idea lands in the lives of those people attached to a living community. Win win. Facebook created a space for ministry.


Blessed Earth Founder Presents at Gettysburg Sem Jan 15, 16

Gettysburg Seminary Hosts Blessed Earth Founder Matthew Sleeth Lecture on Environmental Hopes in Historic Places
Blessed Earth Founder to Lecture on Environmental Hopes, Inspired by Lincoln

Dr. Matthew Sleeth, MD, founder of the Blessed Earth, an organization that inspires and equips people of faith to become better stewards of the earth, will present “Seven Score and Ten Years Later: Was Lincoln right about our last best hope?” at Gettysburg Seminary on the evening of January 15th at 7pm.

Gettysburg Seminary is one of twelve founding members of the Seminary Stewardship Alliance, a project of Blessed Earth, that equips the future pastors of our 300,000 houses of worship to preach, teach, model, and hold each other accountable for good stewardship practices. For his Gettysburg talks, Dr. Sleeth took inspiration from Abraham Lincoln’s dictum, "As we keep or break the Sabbath day, we nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope by which man rises." Sleeth will address the ways in which creation care intersects with the historical contexts as well as the Seminary’s preservation project and Seminary Ridge Museum. The talk will take place in the Valentine Hall auditorium.
A former emergency room physician, Dr. Matthew Sleeth resigned from his position as chief of the medical staff and director of the ER to teach, preach, and write about faith and the environment. Since founding Blessed Earth, he has spoken at churches and schools throughout the country. Dr. Sleeth is a graduate of George Washington University School of Medicine and has two postdoctoral fellowships. He is the author of Serve God and Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action (Zondervan, 2007), the introduction to The Green Bible (HarperOne, 2008), and 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life (Tyndale, 2012).

Sleeth will also preach in the chapel service scheduled for January 16th at 11:55 am in the Church of the Abiding Presence, 147 Seminary Ridge.

Both events are free and open to the public. For information, call the Seminary’s information offices at 717-338-3010. For more information on Dr. Sleeth and the educational non profit Blessed Earth, visit www.blessedearth.org or contact Laura@blessedearth.org.

Professor Emeritus Eric Gritsch Dies

Eric W. Gritsch, Professor of Church History, Emeritus, Dies

The Rev. Dr. Eric W. Gritsch, who taught Reformation and Church History at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg from 1961 to 1994, died Saturday, December 29th at Bayview Hospital in Baltimore following a brief illness. He was 81 years of age.

A prolific author of historical and theological books and textbooks, Gritsch was born in 1931 in Neuhaus, Austria, later becoming a citizen of the United States in 1961. He studied at the Universities of Vienna, Zurich and Basel and completed both masters and doctoral degrees in theology at Yale University. His dissertation on the major reformers of the 16th century, was directed by Luther biographer and church historian Roland Bainton. Gritsch was ordained in 1962 by the United Lutheran Church in America, a predecessor Lutheran body of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Before his arrival in Gettysburg, he taught at Wellesley College (1959-1961).
Full release at: http://www.ltsg.edu/LTSG-News/December-2012/Eric-W--Gritsch,-Professor-of-Church-History,-Emer

Top Ten Stories for Gettysburg in 2012

Seminary President Cooper-White Issues Top Ten Stories of 2012
Top Ten Seminary Stories of 2012 at Gettysburg Seminary

Gettysburg Seminary President Michael Cooper-White issued the “Top Ten Stories” summarizing the most important news making events in the school’s 187th year.

“At the end of each calendar year,” said Cooper-White, “Seminary communications chief, Pr. John Spangler and I independently compile lists of what we consider the “top 10 LTSG stories” of the year, and then compare notes. Usually there’s an amazingly high degree of correlation between our lists; this year was no exception. In the end, the final selection is my personal “top 10” list, and here it is (not in order of relative importance):

[It should be noted that www.LivingLutheran.org named its profile "Called Through Love" of first year seminarian Joseph Graumann, one of its top 12 stories that would make one "proud to be a Lutheran." See http://www.livinglutheran.com/stories/the-power-of-community.html#.UM-PGXfzgm4. ]

1. Schmucker Hall Readied for Seminary Ridge Museum: For over a half century, Seminary leaders hoped to rehabilitate the Seminary’s venerable “Old Dorm.” In 2012, the dream was finally realized in partnership with the Adams County Historical Society, thereby readying the building for the installation of the Seminary Ridge Museum. Its Grand Opening mid-2013 is viewed as the capstone event of the 150th anniversary of the great Civil War battle.

2. Faculty Members Receive Accolades, Publish “Blockbusters”: Every member of the LTSG faculty is noteworthy. In 2012, two colleagues—Dean Robin Steinke and Dr. Kristin Johnston Largen—were recognized by Trinity Lutheran Seminary and the Graduate Theological Union respectively with distinguished alumna awards. Multiple books authored by faculty were published during the year, including a biography by soon-to-retire Dr. Nelson Strobert of Daniel Alexander Payne, one of the Seminary’s most illustrious students in the 19th century.

3. Scholars of Abundance Bold Leap of Faith: In recognition of the growing financial burden incurred by seminarians, the Seminary announced a new scholarship strategy whereby all students receive the final phase of their study tuition-free. While past generous donors’ endowed gifts will cover much of the cost, the administration announced the new approach counting on additional gifts from the Seminary’s many supporters.

4. Crossroads Campaign Most Successful Ever, Current Budget Challenges Continue: With an original goal of $12 million, the comprehensive Crossroads Campaign raised a total in excess of $23 million for endowment, campus improvements, student scholarships and general operations. Nevertheless, since many of the larger pledges are “deferred gifts” that will come to fruition as donors’ estates are settled years or decades down the road, the Seminary remains challenged to balance the annual budget. Cost-saving measures include deferral in filling positions held by retiring faculty members, and expanded sharing with partner schools, notably Luther Seminary and the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.

5. Religion and Media Concentration Launched: Unique among schools of theological education, in partnership with Odyssey Network and Luther Seminary, LTSG has launched a series of courses and resources that will enable enrolled students and others to seize opportunities for ministry utilizing the wide array of social media and other technological tools now available.

6. Campus “Greening” Recognized Nationally: LTSG was one of only a handful of seminaries invited to become a charter member of “Blessed Earth,” an emerging coalition dedicated to environmental stewardship grounded in the Christian faith. Campus greening efforts begun some years ago gathered momentum as Schmucker Hall’s rehabilitation included all-geothermal heating and cooling measures, and the initial phase of an environmental friendly walking pathway (featuring both Seminary and Civil War history interpretation) was completed.

7. Admissions Staff Leads Eastern Cluster in Sustaining Project Connect: For more than a half-dozen years, LTSG has joined with Philadelphia and Southern Seminaries in sponsoring Project Connect, a vocational discernment movement aimed at college-aged young persons. In recognition that the project’s impact includes enrollment in seminaries of over 300 of those involved in various aspects, the Lilly Endowment recently announced a third grant to sustain key elements. LTSG’s Admissions Office staff led the three-school team in developing the proposal that successfully landed an additional $375,000 for the next phase.

8. Seminary Leaders Join Global Conversation on Future of Theological Education: Several years ago, the Seminary’s board appointed a “Futures Task Force” to help chart a course amidst the rapidly changing landscape in higher education and leadership formation. In the face of enrollment decline, the faculty has generated exciting plans to expand the Seminary’s outreach by means of several new “access zones.” Dean Steinke was asked to represent the seminaries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at a Lutheran World Federation consultation in Germany on global future directions, and the president represented all eight ELCA schools at an all-Latin America similar session in Bogotá, Colombia.

9. Closer to Home, ELCA, WTC & ATS Landscape Changing: Within the larger global scene, some radical changes are occurring within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Washington Theological Consortium, and Association of Theological Schools in the U.S. and Canada. In 2012, our Eastern Cluster partner school, Southern Seminary, merged with Lenoir/Rhyne University; a similar move is afoot in California; and other sister seminaries are in various stages of assessing their long-term futures. A sister school in the WTC, the Washington Theological Union, has closed, and another partner is also merging with a Bible College. The ATS has changed it standards of accreditation to allow more flexibility in degree programs among member schools. As one ELCA bishop said recently, “There may be more change occurring in theological education than almost anywhere else in the Church.”

10. Students and Alumnae/i Changing the Church: Even more important than what may be happening on a seminary campus at any given time is the enduring impact in the Church and world made by its students and graduates. A pre-Christmas telephone call from one alumnus paid tribute to a current intern, whose ministry has reinvigorated a languishing small rural parish. Legion are the stories of how current students and LTSG graduates serving throughout the globe are truly changing the world. At the end of this and every year, that is, finally, what it’s all about!

Monday, January 07, 2013

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

Religion Meets 21st Century

John Spangler

Today, a second course in the new Religion and Media initiative with this Seminary, Luther Seminary and Odyssey Networks began, here at the beginning of the intensive and creative J-term.
It features new media specialist Mat Tombers and Senior VP Eric Shafer, and a sampling of the rich network of people they know and work with through Odyssey.

The course has 15 participants, or so, not counting the faculty team, and offers an interesting diversity of backgrounds and traditions. Less than half are Gettysburg Seminary students, and it is always interesting to engage in learing with colleagues from the Washington Theological Consortium. There is a great range of experience, too.

The first day of the course included the sociological demographics of the American religious scene, which posed great challenges for mainstream Christian groups. Scott Thumma's research revealed that congregations and ministries taking a creative risk tend to show some potential for growth, although it is unclear what this contemporary creativity looks like. That may become clearer as the week goes, but it is clear to me now that the use of social media and other creative resources only works if you have something important to say. So the take away is, I believe, be driven by substance, ideas and the content of the Gospel.

For me, this is a continuing education week in a robust media learning environment. #mediameetsreligion is the hash tag.