Monday, December 14, 2009

Advent Vespers: Remembrance, Recognition, Anticipation

Bueschers honored, cherished lives recalled during seminary’s annual Advent Vespers Dinner and Service

In a season filled with the anticipation of Christ, this year’s Advent Vespers Dinner and the following worship included a celebration of lives devoted to The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP). The Vespers were held Sunday, December 6, 2009.

The dinner was an occasion tinged with sadness. Attendees recalled that Registrar Emeritus John Augustus Kaufmann, who served the school with inspiring dedication for more than 50 years, had died less than 24 hours earlier. And this past May the seminary had lost another dynamic leader, the Rev. Dr. Robert Bornemann, the seminary’s Professor Emeritus of Hebrew and Old Testament, to whom this year’s Vespers service was dedicated. Bornemann, a composer and talented musician, served 35 years as seminary choir director and founder of the Advent Vespers service, part of a teaching career that spanned 41 years at LTSP.

Then came the joyful opportunity to pay tribute and give thanks for the special gifts afforded the church and seminary by Robert and Janet Buescher of Long Island. The couple received the seminary’s cherished Soli Deo Gloria Award for distinguished service to the seminary. Making the presentation were Dr. Robert Blanck, who chairs the LTSP Foundation Board, and the Rev. Dr. John Richter, chair of the LTSP Board of Trustees.

Much of the evening’s spirit shone through brief remarks given by David B. Devan, executive director of the Opera Company of Philadelphia, who came to the dinner to deliver a surprise tribute to Bornemann.

Saying that the late professor emeritus well understood “the intersection between faith and music,” Devan said Dr. Bornemann “worked tirelessly for decades to develop the corps of ‘extras’ who graced the opera company stage.” Devan noted that in that way Bornemann “embodied the spirit of this place – making the community within this school a part of the community outside” by encouraging seminarians to serve as part of the company’s corps of non-singing extras known as “supernumeraries.” Devan drew laughter when he noted that the seminarians Bornemann recruited “got to carry spears and weapons of destruction (on the stage) that are not normally a part of their lives.” And he said their participation through Bornemann’s efforts “made many special moments possible…Robert Bornemann understood that in moments of great joy and sadness we do two things. We pray and we sing.” He urged those present to reflect on a life well-lived that brought joy to so many people.

In presenting the Soli Deo Gloria Award, Blanck noted Robert Buescher’s contributions to the school as an initial member of the seminary’s President’s Council, formed in the early 1990s and as a member of the LTSP Foundation Board, begun in the mid-1990s. Buescher, he said, played a key role in managing the seminary’s investment portfolio and also leading fund-raising efforts for the school. He praised Janet Buescher for her advocacy on behalf of the school, her personal stewardship through the management of a Foundation and for her sponsorship of events promoting the school to prospective and current donors. (In a lighter moment preceding the award presentation, Blanck gave the Bueschers Philadelphia Phillies caps, noting that the couple, fans of the New York Mets, had decided to pledge allegiance to the Phillies in baseball’s recent World Series after their team had experienced a really down year.) Robert Buescher, an electrical engineer, has held key engineering management posts in several industrial organizations and served as a partner for a prestigious venture capital firm. Janet Buescher has devoted her life to teaching and service as a librarian as well as philanthropic leadership, directing the Robert H. and Janet C. Buescher Foundation.

In accepting the Soli Deo Gloria Award, Robert Buescher said, “We don’t really think we deserve it, but thanks be to God. We’ve been blessed more abundantly than we ever could have imagined when we were married 57 years ago. What we have done is a feeble attempt to respond to the love of God.” Buescher cited the words of the Apostle Paul in II Timothy that all are “called not to good works but to God’s own purpose. To God alone is the glory.”

Janet Buescher recalled her days years ago as a confirmation teacher when the lessons urged classes to consider the role of seminaries, and no one around her understood anything about them. She urged those in the room to encourage those they know to become more familiar with the schools that train their pastors.

Invited to speak on behalf of the Bueschers, the Rev. Gary Mills offered remarks. He is the assistant to the Bishop of the Metropolitan New York Synod in the area of Global and Multicultural Mission. Mills recalled the significance of the Advent season “when it always seems to surprise us how the Christ child breaks into our lives and the world. I know the Bueschers would not want me to compare their lives to what Christ has done.

“But tonight I think of the great gifts and the surprising example of the Bueschers’ Christ-like humanity and how they have broken into our lives in support of the church, their synod and seminary,” Mills said. “They invite each of us by their example into a more personal relationship with Christ. They have always been concerned about the betterment of all they’ve been called to serve.” He cited Robert Buescher’s role as synod treasurer and the couple’s support of struggling congregations and advice they have accorded to lay leaders and pastors as well as their work on behalf of the seminary.

In other highlights of the evening, Pamela Peterson, president of the LTSP Student Body, thanked dinner attendees and donors for their support of future church professionals studying to be leaders at the seminary. President Philip D. W. Krey described encouraging signs of the seminary’s health and Dean J. Paul Rajashekar also brought greetings and laughter when he said, “Where there is a will….we want to be in it.”

The opening prayer was delivered by Bishop Claire S. Burkat of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod. Bishop Samuel Zeiser of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod concluded the dinner event with prayer.

The dinner was followed by the annual Advent Vespers service at Grace Epiphany Episcopal Church, a few blocks from the LTSP campus in East Mt. Airy. The Seminary Choir under the leadership of Michael Krentz, Director of Music Ministries/Seminary Cantor, led the Vespers. Music included compositions by Robert Bornemann, Edward V. Bonnemere, Georg Philip Telemann, and a South African traditional tune arranged by Nancy Grundahl.

A gallery of Advent Vespers photos can be viewed online

Audio selections from the Advent Vespers service are available as an MP3 file: Dr. Bornemann's composition "Rejoice in the Lord Always" is the final selection in this recording.

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