Frederick Houk Borsch: Naming of Anglican Chair “a sign of shared cooperation”
When the Rev. Dr. Frederick Houk Borsch was honored April 9 with the seminary’s Anglican Chair being named for him, Borsch acknowledged the naming as a “great honor.”
“But you have to remember,” Borsch said, “even though I have been here for some time, the Chair is really a sign of shared cooperation between Lutherans and Episcopalians. We’ve been cooperating for a long time. And I think the Chair celebrates the good things we have been doing together. It recognizes we have so much in common.” Borsch said his favorite part of the celebration was seeing people he has known over the years, including Episcopalian friends and faculty colleagues, and others he knows who were there to mark the occasion with him.
In an interview, Borsch, who has now taught at LTSP for a dozen years, reminded the Chair was originally made possible by the generous legacy of an Episcopalian couple who had left a legacy with the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania to be used on behalf of education.
How did Borsch get to LTSP? “I retired as Episcopal Bishop of Los Angeles in January, 2002, and within three weeks had accepted the post as interim dean at the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University,” Borsch recalled. He spent 18 months there as dean, and also teaching, an experience that reminded him greatly of his previous teaching roles in other schools. Bishop Charles Bennison of the Pennsylvania Diocese told him of a new Chair at LTSP. “He asked me to think about chairing Anglican Studies here at the seminary,” Borsch said. He remembers traveling in a borrowed convertible from New Haven to Philadelphia to be interviewed for the Chair opportunity, rumbling down Germantown Avenue’s cobblestones to the campus, his wife Barbara at his side. He was welcomed by President Philip Krey, Dean J. Paul Rajashekar, and the Rev. Dr. Timothy Wengert, Ministerium of Pennsylvania Professor of Reformation History.
Borsch accepted the post. “We liked being near our three sons, all of whom live on the East Coast, and I liked the idea of getting back to teaching,” Borsch recalled. He told his interviewers that Anglican Studies “isn’t really my field.” Borsch teaches New Testament. Rajashekar said to him,” You can teach anything that you want.”
“I think that is the nicest thing anyone ever said to me,” Borsch said.
Borsch said LTSP’s ecumenical perspective “is one of the most appealing things about teaching here. There is real diversity in race, age, gender, sexual preference, and multicultural aspects of the student body. There are so many denominations represented, but there is a strong core of Lutheran students and faculty. I think the seminary wants to have this kind of diversity because it is good for the education of students. They will be future leaders in diverse communities. Being part of a school like this helps everyone understand better their own traditions, and they learn insights and values about other traditions.”
Borsch added he has enjoyed rich conversations with quality faculty members, “who have always been friendly and accepting of me.”
Not long after Borsch arrived on campus, the building of The Brossman Center began in earnest. “The facilities are much better,” he said, noting that Room 204 in Brossman has been dedicated as the Diocese of Pennsylvania Episcopal Room. “I enjoy teaching interactively,” he said. “I am a big believer in peer education. Students teach each other by bringing their different knowledge and experiences to the classroom. I’ve found ways to make use of technology in my teaching, but I find it a challenge to make the best use of it.” Borsch kids that when he started teaching, copying machines had not yet come online. “That in itself was a great breakthrough, so you could give handouts to your students,” he remembered. “It is also a reminder of how old I am.” Borsch said he was born in 1935.
“You need to value what every student brings to the classroom, the stories that are relevant to their experiences today,” he explained.
Borsch said LTSP really is a vocational school. “We are teaching students the things that they need.” In teaching a recent class on the parables and healing, Borsch tells students simply, “You are going to use these and preach about these and apply what you are learning to one-on-one pastoral care. In what I teach about the Bible I tell them there are a whole bunch of sermons in what we are learning here.” Borsch noted people in pews hear the parable stories differently. “I tell students they are getting ready to become teachers themselves,” he said. “They are teaching each other in class lessons they will soon be passing on to others.”
He recently preached in chapel the parable of the laborers in the vineyards, bringing students along to help act out the story. “Some worked 12 hours and some one hour, but all were paid the same. A challenge is to put yourself in the shoes of the laborers who worked 12 hours. Of course it doesn’t work as a business model today. What would a metaphor for today be?” Borsch said discussions surrounding the parable took note that there are “different forms of deserving and earning. People get what they need and they get it together. In a family we get the love we need.” Discussions also focused on the issues surrounding equality of life and wealth inequality. “It is not so much that some get a lot (of wealth), but that some get so little,” he said. “Philadelphia Airport workers pushing wheelchairs earn $7.25 an hour but may not get to take it all home.” (A referendum on the ballot in May could double the income such workers receive.)
Borsch believes one of the greatest challenges today is for Christians to understand that faith is a communal, not an individual experience. That is a challenge because today’s secular society emphasizes individuality. “As people of God our experience of faith and religion is at its best when it is a communal experience. When we think about our faith experience and moral experience, what is best for us together, rather than from an individual standpoint? I am hopeful about it.”
What is in the future for Fred Borsch? “Well, Fred Borsch is getting on in years,” he said. “I’m not looking for work or jobs. I love to teach and for that matter be around people who are younger. So I may do that.” He noted that he has written seven books during his 12 years on campus, including a novel and poetry.
“Philadelphia is attractive to us,” he said. “We may decide to move here. I’ve made a lot of friends here including people on the staff.” Borsch references a friendship with Vince Ferguson, head of campus security. “Vince is from Santa Monica, and when I visit Los Angeles I tell him what the weather is like. I’ve learned by being the head of institutions and by being a bishop that everyone who works there is important to an institution like LTSP. We are all a team. Without people like Vince we couldn’t function.”
Watch the Extended Interview