Distinguished Alumni Awards and President’s “State of the Seminary” report mark Spring Convocation banquet
Gratitude for service extended to the Rev. Louise Johnson and the Rev. Kathleen Ash-Flashner
During The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia’s (LTSP) Spring Convocation 2015’s annual banquet, the seminary presented Alumni Awards for Distinguished Service to the Rev. Marie Jerge, ’78, the Rev. Rick Summy, ’85, and the Rev. Roger Zepernick, ’68. Those in attendance also heard a “State of the Seminary” report from seminary president David J. Lose.
Summy has served as senior pastor of Atonement Lutheran Church in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, since December 2006. After graduating from LTSP in 1985, he served two congregations prior to becoming coordinator of Region 7 of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Then he became director of admissions for LTSP. He is the author of many articles and co-authored a successful $3 million grant request from the Lilly Endowment to underwrite on behalf of the Eastern Cluster of Lutheran Seminaries Project Connect: Calling Faithful Leaders for a Changing World. At Atonement, he and his spouse, Christine, initiated Common Ground, a ministry with the 12-step recovery community that is now a synodically authorized worship community. He has led a strategic planning initiative at the church, promoted an increase in adult education, and encouraged Atonement’s leadership in the Flower Boxes of Love project in Reading, Pennsylvania, to facilitate relationships between those living in the city and the suburbs.
“I am grateful and nervous to be standing here,” Summy said. “I am grateful for the parents who saw that I was baptized and who kept their promises to me.” He gave thanks to his spouse, Christine, a 2014 MAR degree recipient from LTSP, his children, friends, professors, and members of Atonement “who journeyed here to be with me tonight. When I look at the list of recipients for this award, I see [that in selecting me] your standards have plummeted precipitously.” He noted that no rostered minister can do an effective ministry alone. “It is a collegial process of networking and connecting…” At Atonement, he said, it had been so many people “pulling and tugging together while they try to reach out… No solo pastor can do this work alone…” He called for churches not to be “running scared” in the current age, “not to be clinging to old wineskins” while seeking new wineskins. While many churches are saying no to challenges before them, he noted that God is frequently found these days “in places where we have not even thought to look… God says yes to our churches. What are we afraid of?”
The Rev. Marie C. Jerge was called to become Bishop of the Upstate New York Synod on the 24th anniversary of her ordination, June 3, 2002. At the time. she was the sixth woman to be called as a synodical bishop. She completed her second term in 2014. Prior to that service, she served as an assistant to the synod bishop for her predecessor Lee Miller, deployed in Buffalo, New York. She was responsible for candidates for lay and ordained ministries within the synod from 1992 to 2002, and was churchwide staff for stewardship in the synod during those years. Marie Jerge served on the executive committee of the New York State Council of Churches from 2002 to 2014, and as president from 2011 to 2014. Following her ordination, she served St. Mark Lutheran Church in Mayville, New York, for 10 years, and was co-pastor with her husband, Jim, whom she met at seminary, at Zion Lutheran Church in Silver Creek, New York.
“I am privileged to be standing here with other distinguished alumni.” She quoted Rachel Raymond, who once said, “I am beginning to wonder if the secret to living well is not having all the answers but pursuing the answers in good company.” She gave thanks to her parents, the relationships she has had in Christ, “the professors who sent me out.” She called upon her listeners to pray on behalf of the ELCA’s Conference of Bishops. “All of them need your prayers. They are doing good work on your behalf,” she said. And she gave thanks for brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe and Zambia with which she had become close during her work with partner churches globally. She said in many ways “they feel as close to me as my brothers and sisters in Massachusetts. I am deeply grateful to all of you who have accompanied me along the way.”
The Rev. Roger Zepernick, a Northeast Ohio native, served as pastor of King’s Way Community Church in Philadelphia from 1969 to 1982, a congregation known for its involvement in community issues. He was executive director of Centro Pedro Claver in North Philadelphia, which conducted a variety of social and neighborhood development programs. The initiative served as a base for much of Philadelphia’s work around the struggle for removal of the U.S. military from the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, support for Puerto Rican political prisoners, and advocacy for the teaching of accurate Puerto Rican/Latino history.
Zepernick was honored in 1999 by the City of Philadelphia’s Commission on Human Relations with the “Human Rights Award for Community Service” in recognition of his “commitment in the struggle for justice and equality in the Franklinville section of the city” and for his working on “issues of racial discrimination, housing discrimination, farm workers rights, youth, neighborhood revitalization, and the release of Puerto Rican political prisoners.” Among other responsibilities, he chairs the board of the Esperanza Academy Charter School and is a board member of the Pennsylvania Prison Society.
He is the father of six children.
At the outset of his remarks, Zepernick gave thanks to the seminary and to the church “for the direction I found in my life… I have never been bored.”
He told a variety of stories that had marked his ministry years, including conducting six funerals in the early months of a call in North Philadelphia. The deceased were young people aged 11 to 21 who had all been involved in gang violence, he said. He noted that the young people, in being shaped by the criminal justice system, had come “to worship power and wealth. We allowed them to know trauma and violence and then we have thrown them away.” He told moving stories of prisoners incarcerated as youth for the rest of their lives. One, a young man with an IQ of 59, has earned a degree from Villanova since going to prison in 1986. Another man, who has been in jail for 22 years, made the mistake of watching children on a home’s first floor while others went upstairs to commit murder over a drug escapade. “These men are sentenced to die in prison unless something changes. We sentence kids to life without parole more than any other nation,” he lamented.
In his remarks, offered before the meal, President Lose told the gathering that in the past six months he attended 18 events in various parts of the region to listen to concerns and ideas about the school in order to get thoughts to inform the seminary’s strategic planning strategy. Some 250 people were involved, he said. (You can watch a recording of the remarks below.)
“In addition, 200 people offered their thoughts and reflections online,” he remarked. “The deep and helpful conversations we had showed me how much people care about the seminary.”
He outlined two concerns and two hopes he had heard most clearly in the reflections.
“First, people have a deep concern about the financial health of the school,” he said. “Our challenges are significant. We’ve had operating deficits for a number of years.” He explained that the efforts to support a new learning center and equip the school for today’s learners had eaten up most of LTSP’s reserves, and the focus now is to move LTSP into a position of sustainability “in the near future.”
He acknowledged the powerfully positive news provided by a $7.2 million gift from the estate of Helen Palmer. The gift is not only being devoted to replenishing the endowment of the school, but also is assisting in the completion of two commitments the school has — “a connector from The Brossman Learning Center to make the Krauth Memorial Library handicapped accessible and, as you have probably noticed, needed repairs to the Chapel Tower.” Lose said the move to sustainability is taking some time, and that a key piece of the sustainability formula has been to become “more cost-conscious. We have moved from an $11 million budget to a $7.5 million budget, and this year’s budget is an additional $400,000 to the good,” he said.
Another piece of the formula has been to develop the means to generate new revenue. He said the new “Co-op program and the Master of Arts in Public Leadership initiatives” have been moves in the right direction to generate revenue. The Co-op model enables students to study in the classroom half-time and be placed in a congregation half-time, completing their MDiv requirements in three rather than four years. Lose indicated the program provides students with debt relief because partner congregations pay a seminarian’s tuition. (You can read more about the Co-op model elsewhere in this issue of PS Portions.)
Lose added that the seminary is preparing to offer a “Track and Cohort DMin Program in Biblical Preaching and a Distributed Learning MDiv initiative.” The latter is slated to begin in the fall of 2016. “Our research with the Association of Theological Schools indicates that these strategies are good ways to work toward increasing our enrollment,” Lose said.
The seminary is also planning a Strategic Life Long Learning Day for September 17, and is renewing its Preaching Days program during the third week of October this year. The program used to be a summer initiative, and will be set up this year, as before, with three days of lectures and workshops. “If there are other ways we can support you or if you have questions, let me know,” Lose said.
The president added that LTSP is exploring best use practices for the campus, including developing possible new partnerships to provide for more community outreach and developing additional revenue streams. The school is continuing to expand its partnership with Gettysburg Seminary, including the development of additional faculty exchanges. Lose said talks involving Palmer Seminary’s (formerly Eastern Baptist) locating to the campus are ongoing. “This would not be a merger/ acquisition,” Lose said, “but a plan for partnering together to strengthen our approach for training future leaders in Philadelphia and moving toward greater financial health.”
He candidly stated to listeners that LTSP “needs to double the amount of its annual unrestricted giving.” He said that alumni and individuals in congregations become generous once they learn about the cost and value of training future leaders, “once they think it makes sense,” he said.
But many individuals in churches make the assumption “that the national church funds seminaries. That may have been true generations ago. The national church funds seven percent of our budget and synods provide an additional seven percent.” Tuition furnishes an additional 25 percent of the budget. “And so we need to develop additional partnerships in order to see our way forward.”
The second major concern he has been hearing is in regard to the ecumenical character of the school, which he explained is appreciated. But he also said he has been hearing a concern about whether the school’s ecumenical outreach has cost LTSP in terms of its historic Lutheran roots and constituency. “Our ecumenical vitality is important,” Lose said. Reiterating a point that dates to the days of Reformer Martin Luther, Lose said simply, “You cannot be Lutheran without being ecumenical.” He invited anyone with this concern and desiring to talk about it to contact him.
Lose described two hopes that had been expressed through the the visits and in the online survey results.
The first hope is that the seminary could provide more resources to its constituencies, such as providing a place and opportunity “to gather and think our way through together” the challenges facing the present and future church. “No one really knows how to best be the church in the future,” he said. And so opportunities to gather and think together really matter. “God has blessed us with people in this room, representing the seminary, churches, and the church,” Lose indicated. “I am confident we can find our way forward together. We want to know how we can best give support to you.”
The second hope Lose said he had heard expressed “is a desire to see the seminary being willing to take risks to be innovative in how we educate leaders, be willing to educate in a different way and to think differently,” he said. “If we experiment we will fail,” he ventured. “We will not learn our way forward without mistakes, but because of what we learn from mistakes we can learn our way forward.” Examples of experimentation have included the Master of Arts in Public Leadership initiative, which he said has taught students effectively how to lead in non-congregational settings, involving for example social ministry organizations. Lose spoke of the impact of the first year introduction of the Co-op program, enabling students to immediately bring back to the congregation where they serve what they have just learned in the classroom. “The program provides an exciting environment for teaching and learning,” he said. And partner congregations pay student tuition during the long-term three-year relationship with a church.
After the distinguished alumni awards were presented, a special program paid tribute to the Rev. Louise Johnson, Vice President for Mission Advancement, who was recently appointed president of Wartburg Seminary, her alma mater. Alumnus Michael Dubsky and former colleague Rick Summy gave testimonies on Johnson’s behalf. Her gifts included a bag of locally manufactured potato chips, a box of Tastykakes, and a beautiful cross comprised of recycled materials, made in Vietnam.
The Rev. Kathleen Ash-Flashner, outgoing Alumni Board chair, received a tribute from colleague the Rev. Michael Guy, and was awarded a giclée print of The Brossman Center in recognition of her years of service.
Tom Henderson, director of Church Relations, gave a moving appeal to the alumni for continuing support and offered thanks for their many kinds of contributions to their school over the years.
During the dinner, President Lose recognized the anniversary classes of 1975, 1985, 1995, and 2000. He acknowledged in particular members of the classes of 1965 and 1955. The latter class led the way in leadership gift offerings collected for the convocation. Forty percent of the class donated a total of $4,720 to the seminary.
Alumni Board members include John Saraka, Ruth Miller, Audrey Moody, Tom Irwin, Sherri Trotter, Kay Braun, and Annemarie Hartner Cook. Chris Halvorson was recognized for his service to the board. He concluded his service this year.
Watch the president’s State of the Seminary talk:
View a slide show from the banquet:
(click any image to go to the photo gallery)