Celebrating 150 years and a future ‘that God has created and fashioned’
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Perhaps the spirit and richness of the seminary’s 150th Anniversary Gala Banquet Celebration and the milestone it symbolized was best addressed in the remarks of its 12th president, the Rev. Dr. David J. Lose, as the evening at the Ballroom at the Ben, 9th and Chestnut Streets, not far from The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia’s (LTSP) Center City birthplace, came to a close.
“We know it is a hard time to be the church,” he said. “It is a hard time to be a congregation, to be a synod, to be a seminary. We read the stats. We are aware of the decline, the tight budgets, the shortfalls, the disappointments. And there are certainly those who would encourage us to think this isn’t just a trend, but that this is a sunset on the vibrant ministry and witness of the seminary and the church in these lands.
“And I think we need to be realistic and say that perhaps all institutions, even congregations and seminaries, have a lifespan,” Lose continued. “We need to recognize that there may be a day when we decide that traditional residential theological education is too expensive, and we close our doors and look for other ways to form leaders. There may be a day, but that is not this day. On this day we give thanks for 150 years of fidelity, for 5,000 leaders graduated who have touched the lives literally of millions of people who seek to follow the way of Christ.
“And there may be a day when we lose hope that the larger church bodies we represent can move beyond being homogeneous to reflect the beautiful diversity that we have already begun to experience in our seminary community. And we may wonder what kind of future we have. There may be that day. But that is not this day. On this day we give thanks for the present realities of students and congregations and faith communities and supporters that are actively alive and witnessing to the faith in word and deed every single day.
“There may come a day where the Lutheran witness in this land as we know it. A witness, by the way, that simply cannot be faithful to its heritage unless it is deeply engaged in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue,” Lose said. “Because to be Lutheran is to be ecumenical, and it is one of the things I am most proud about LTSP. There may come a day when that witness diminishes or fades from this land. But, mark my words, that is not this day. On this day we give thanks for a God that has created and fashioned a future and even now waits and beckons us forward into it with good courage and strong hearts, not knowing where we go but only that God’s own Son is leading us.
“There may be a day, all kinds of days, but on this day we give thanks for work and calling and mission that, while hard, are also good and, more importantly, are God-given,” Lose concluded. “Thank you for taking up that call, that ministry, that mission. Thank you for your support, for your prayers, for all the things that you do that enable us to continue being faithful to our mission at LTSP and in the church in this land. Thank you, and even more, thank God for you. Amen.”
The moving and inspirational remarks were a highlight of a day in which tribute was paid in the afternoon to recently retired president Philip D.W. Krey. None other than Ben Franklin “himself” welcomed guests to the lovely confines of the old hotel’s ballroom, which featured scrumptious hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, and a tasty chicken dinner. Emcee Claire S. Burkat, ’78, nattily attired in a sequined blouse, beaded collar, and sometimes a tiara, charmed the audience with humor and the remark, “We must do this more often. Let’s not wait another 150 years!” She urged attendees to “take some time over the weekend” to peruse a commemorative colorful booklet of stories prepared for the occasion, calling the contents “but a twinkling” of the school’s remarkable history. And the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton was the keynoter for the event.
Eaton, elected last year as the fourth presiding bishop to lead the seminary’s parent denomination, acknowledged the seminary’s historic place with enthusiasm and celebrated the school’s role in ecumenical and multicultural diversity.
In her remarks she urged Lutherans and their seminaries to work to offer “an alternative face to Christianity” by rejecting the emphasis on the “radical autonomy of the individual” so much a focus of contemporary culture. Eaton also called on the faithful “to speak in a voice of humility and grace. There is no place (in the faith) for the kind of triumphalism that has permeated the culture.” In working for justice she asked the seminary audience to keep reminding themselves, “Whose justice is it? Wherever there is brokenness that is where the cross of Christ is, and when we work for God’s justice we remember it is Christ working through us. It is not for our own glory.” And she said the cross of Christ is a reminder of the tension that exists between the world as it is and how God “would have it be.”
Eaton urged the seminary and churches “to be bridge-builders with other denominations … healing the divides that originated in the 1100s and the sixteenth-century,” noting that “this seminary has been doing that” with a staff, faculty, and students representing Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal, United Methodist, and other traditions. She encouraged the seminary to teach its leaders to be “grounded to better engage” the challenges of culture and an “increasingly multi-religious society.” By preparing the leaders it trains that way, the seminary can help Lutherans in its ranks “move beyond the enclaves” that characterized early Lutheran immigration and “become more comfortable being at home with those of other religious faiths or with no religious tradition.”
She reminded her audience that Lutherans traditionally “have not been good about speaking their faith stories to others” and of the need to polish their personal story-telling skills. Eaton urged seminarians to be willing as part of their training to engage themselves more deeply in the spiritual practices of “prayer, scriptural reading, corporate worship, acts of mercy, and giving.” By employing such spiritual practices in the churches they serve before engaging in strategic planning they will become “tilled in the fertile soil of the Holy Spirit,” she said.
Eaton took note of the increasing number of immigrants landing on U.S. shores, urging her audience to remember “that most of us or our forebears came to these shores by boats and our immigrant journeys were not always pleasant ones. Our primary languages were not English. We need to understand what it means today to not be a part of the dominant culture.”
Referencing the seminary’s Urban Theological Institute and the gifts its students have brought to an increasingly diverse seminary, she urged seminaries and churches to be “open to such gifts. Graduate education is important to all. Those of us in the dominant culture need to find a way to get out of the way so that those who come to our shores find a place and positions of leadership in our church.”
Bishop Ernest Morris, senior pastor of the Mt. Airy Church of God in Christ, and a pioneering advocate for the seminary’s Urban Theological Institute, gave the opening prayer, in part giving thanks to God “for the many years of blessing on the school, its biblical learning and education” enabling its graduates “to reach the world with the Gospel …”
Everett Gillison, Mayor Michael Nutter’s Chief of Staff, brought greetings from the city and the Mayor. An LTSP seminarian before Nutter called Gillison to his current duties, Gillison praised the seminary for its role over more than a century in Philadelphia’s Mt. Airy section. “The school has been an anchor, an integral driving force in Mt. Airy and its renaissance. The city owes the seminary a debt of gratitude, and the Mayor thanks you.” He praised Krey “for your exceptional achievements as a community leader and advocate” over his 15-year presidential tenure and welcomed Lose by saying, “You will have no shoes to fill. You will make your own way…”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” remarked LTSP Board of Trustees Chair the Rev. Dr. Elise Brown in bringing greetings. “We are grateful for your support. We could not do what we do without each of you.” Brown is pastor of Advent Lutheran Church in New York City’s Manhattan. Over the years she has worked with at least 20 seminary interns.
“If you have ever planned a party or wedding, then you know we are filled with a profound sense of happiness. Actually, it’s more than happiness, it’s joy, the kind of Christian joy that comes from our hearts being filled to overflowing with gratitude,” Lose said in his welcome. He took special time to pay tribute to LTSP’s four living presidents — Krey and Robert G. Hughes, who were in attendance, and John Vannorsdall and Raymond Bost, who were not on hand. He announced that a Scholarship Leadership Fund initiated in Krey’s honor had reached milestone giving of $200,000.
Lose told the audience, as Krey and Hughes came forward, that a silver cross pendant with a Philadelphia cityscape on the crossbar passed onto him by Krey when Lose was appointed, is being replicated four times to be conferred upon each of the living former presidents. The cross was initially commissioned by Professor Katie Day as a gift for Krey signifying that president’s “heart for the city,” a commitment shared by the school.
Student Body President Justin Lingenfelter took note of the school’s rich heritage in brief remarks. “We’re proud of where we’ve been and where we are,” he said. “And we’re moving forward in faith, proud of where we will be.” As Lingenfelter spoke, a photo of him and his dad, alumnus Scott Lingenfelter, a pastor in New Tripoli, Pennsylvania, appeared on a screen behind the stage. The image depicts Justin as a 2-year-old with his Dad on campus, an image that for many years appeared on the cover of a recruitment brochure. “I had no idea that the family heritage in place then would be mine today,” he said.
Bringing greetings from all the ELCA seminary presidents, the Rev. Dr. Michael Cooper-White, president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, took note of the shared ministry involving LTSP and Gettysburg, including contextual education, Project Connect, Theological Education with Youth, and the DMin.
Cooper-White noted that with LTSP’s founding in 1864, involving the departure from Gettysburg of a German professor of theology to teach at LTSP, the relations were not so cordial as today and featured a Board of Directors statement that the professor’s departure “was in direct violation of the seminary’s constitution.” Cooper-White went on to read a statement of profound appreciation for LTSP as drafted during Gettysburg’s annual meeting only the day before the Gala. The statement in part expressed “appreciation and gratitude to our sisters and brothers to the east … for contributing greatly to the scholarship of the academy … and for its distinguished service … May (LTSP) prosper and continue as we journey together toward God’s future …”
Kathleen Afflerbach, Associate in Ministry who oversees non-credit education at LTSP, among other duties, gave the mealtime prayer. Before Lose’s concluding remarks, he paid tribute to the Gala’s planning committee, and presented a bouquet to Merri Bender Brown, LTSP’s Director of Communications and 150th Committee Chair. Committee members included the following seminary staff and supporters: Tom Henderson, Louise Johnson, Phil Krey, Dan Muroff, Audrey Moody, Karen Sease, Robert Smith, John Puotinen, Michael Krentz, Matthew O’Rear, and Yvonne Jones Lembo. Prayer to conclude the evening was offered by Dr. Addie Butler, past chair and member of the seminary Board of Trustees.
Immediately prior to the dinner, a Liturgy of Thanksgiving took place in Franklin Square several blocks from the Ballroom at the Ben, at a location where the seminary’s first building construction took place in 1873. The six-story structure no longer exists.
View slide shows of the Gala Celebration events (click any image in the slide show to view the gallery):