Arnold F. Keller, Jr., dies; pastor emeritus of Lutheran Church of the Reformation, Washington

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The Rev. Dr. Arnold KellerThe Rev. Dr. Arnold F. Keller, Jr., pastor emeritus of the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington, D.C, and a leader of many initiatives for justice in the nation’s capitol during a long career as a pastor there, died Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013. He was 88.

Pastor Keller served Reformation Church in the nation’s capital for a total of 33 years during two separate calls to the congregation. After his ordination in 1947, he was called as the congregation’s assistant pastor. Three years later he became Reformation’s associate pastor. In 1953 he began a 14-year pastorate at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Allentown, PA, returning to Washington as Reformation’s senior pastor in 1967, serving in that capacity for 26 years, retiring in 1993.

During his first call to Reformation, Keller met his wife-to-be, Margaret Schroeder, who was a parishioner. During the Allentown years, all four of the Kellers’ children were born.   He said he learned “the value of community” during his years as pastor of Allentown’s St. John’s Church, a downtown congregation. “We had people from just about every walk of life in that small urban setting and we tried to develop a ministry that reflected the needs of the community,” he said 

During Pastor Keller’s second call to service for Reformation, the congregation became known for its many community and global outreach ministries. These initiatives included a tutoring service for youth living in a nearby housing project, “Christmas in April” where young adults connected with Reformation annually have restored homes for local families, and a food pantry serving disadvantaged families in the church’s locale. 

Reformation was the headquarters for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during its historic 1968 March on Washington. During the same year the Capitol Hill Day School was founded at the congregation. In the mid-1970s, Keller founded the Public Affairs Sector Ministry, bringing together hundreds of federal government employees to discuss political/theological issues. An independent survey in 1981 persuaded Keller that  the congregation’s community was underserved in health care, and he supported the start of the Family Practice and Counseling Center in the community. Under his leadership in 1984, Capitol Hill Community Acievement Awards were initiated to recognize diverse kinds of community excellence.

In 1987 under the leadership of Pastor Keller, Reformation became an early “Reconciling in Christ” congregation within the then Lutheran Church in America, a predecessor body of the current Evangelical Lutheran Church in America denomination. Such congregations intentionally welcome LGBT persons to membership (lesbians, gays, bi-sexual and trans-gendered persons).

In recognition of Reformation Church’s leadership in community projects, annual grants of $10,000 have been awarded to community organizations in honor of Pastor Keller during the annual dinner of the Capitol Hill Community Foundation. In 2006, recognizing the role the church played in defining H Street as an arts destination in Washington, two $10,000 Arnold F. Keller, Jr. grants were awarded.

After retiring from Reformation, Keller served as Executive Director for the Greater Washington, D. C. Council of Churches for about four years, stepping down in April 1997.

Enthusiastic about education for pastors and others, he supervised four seminary student interns during his career.

Over the years Keller held many leadership posts including chairing the Maryland Synod’s Division for Mission, chairing the Board of Trustees of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, serving as a member of the Board of Trustees of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, chairing the Inter-Lutheran Commission for Mission and Ministry for the Metro DC Synod, and representing the Maryland Synod at a Washington, D.C. Inter-Faith Conference.

Pastor Keller was born May 27, 1924 in Utica, NY, the son of a Lutheran pastor whom he once described as “a stern German disciplinarian with high standards.” He recalls his Dad as an adept fly fisherman. During his teen years, Keller worked 12-hour days during the summer at a sawmill in the Adirondacks while attending the Mt. Herman Prep School in Massachusetts. He earned his B.A. from Hamilton College in 1945 and his Bachelor’s of Divinity from The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia in 1947. In 1964, Muhlenberg College conferred on Pastor Keller an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree 

Surviving in addition to his widow, Margaret, are four adult children, Margaret, Arnold, Jonathan and Anne.

Funeral services were conducted at Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 at Our Savior Lutheran Church, 1850 6th Avenue, Vero Beach, FL.