(6/8/10, updated with new photo; updated below to include remarks prepared by LTSP Prof. Jon Pahl for the event 6/4/10)
Sara Calderon, a volunteer leader in the Northwest Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network who serves on the Board of the Lutheran Settlement House in Philadelphia, has been elected to receive the Congregational Beacon Award from the Neighborhood Interfaith Movement of Philadelphia. The award will be conferred at the NIM annual assembly at 7 p.m. Thursday June 3 at the Germantown Jewish Centre in Philadelphia’s West Mt. Airy section. (at right: Sara Calderon receiving the Congregational Beacon Award from Rabbi George Stern, NIM Executive Director. Photo courtesy NIM/George Stern)
Professionally, Calderon is administrative assistant for the Graduate School at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP), one of eight professional schools certified by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to train a variety of professional leaders for church service, including pastors. She also coordinates student housing for the seminary. In the past she has fulfilled many administrative functions for the seminary, including service to its Advancement Office, now known as the LTSP Foundation, and coordinating hospitality. Calderon has been on seminary staff for about 15 years.
Sara Calderon provides key leadership at Christ Ascension Lutheran Church in Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill where she has been involved in recruiting volunteers to be hosts for the Northwest Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network. The network provides host sites, including congregations, synagogues and mosques to house disadvantaged families who desperately need housing. LTSP is among many host sites for the initiative, hosting four or five families at a time during the summer. During the Christmas shopping season, Calderon works closely with the Chestnut Hill 10,000 Villages store to conduct a shopping fundraiser. The fundraiser annually provides 15 percent of the proceeds to the Hospitality Network.
As a member of the Board for Lutheran Settlement House in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood, Calderon is a key volunteer in support of a shelter for homeless persons and a domestic violence hotline, among many forms of ministry offered by Settlement House, a certified social ministry organization of the ELCA.
Calderon was nominated for the award by the seminary and her congregation. “I am really honored to receive this award,” Calderon says. “But I must tell you I am just a small part of an overall tapestry of volunteers who make a difference with this kind of service.”
Sara Calderon and her spouse, the Rev. Dr. Nelson Rivera, are parents of four children and live in Mt. Airy. Rivera is the Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Hispanic Ministry at the seminary, where he has been a faculty member since 1993. The couple’s four children are Noelia, a junior at Boston University majoring in Education; Paula, an artist studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; Celeste, an 8th grader at Masterman High School in Philadelphia, and Laura, a 7th grader at Our Mother of Consolation Parish School in Chestnut Hill.
An Ode to Sara Calderón by Prof. Jon Pahl prepared for the Congregational Beacon Award:
Puerto Rico's first published female poet, Maria Bibiana Benitez Constanza, offered the following words around about 1800 or so in regard to the honors that come to us with age, in a poem entitled A La Vejez:
!Adios los pasados dias, de mi dulce juventud;
idos con la multitud de glorias que fueron mias!
To translate: The poem is called "To Old Age." And a rough translation is:
Farewell, the past few days of my sweet youth!
Gone with the crowd of glory that was mine!
Tonight, we have occasion to celebrate a person whose life belies this bleak verse, whose glory is vibrant, alive, and very much before her - because it is the glory found in compassionate caring for a living community.
Sara Eneida Calderón was born in the small town of Cataño, a beautiful place next to the San Juan Bay, across from Old San Juan, the historic city. Her father is Emilio Calderón, an M.D. in general practice, a poet (he published some 3 poetry books), and an athlete. Sara's mother is Crucita Rosado, who was an administrative assistant in the local Puerto Rican Legislature. Sara is their only child.
Sara was educated from 1st to 12th grade in Catholic Schools; her high school was in Old San Juan - she would take the ferry boat across San Juan Bay every school day to get to San Agustín High School. Sara did 3 years of study at the University of Puerto Rico in Philosophy, and then transferred to Temple University here in Philly where she finished her B.A. While at Temple she studied with the well-known Jewish philosopher Joseph Margolis, among others. Sara had transferred to Temple when her husband Nelson Rivera came to Philly to pursue his MDiv studies at LTSP.
From 1988-1989, Sara completed course work for a Masters in Comparative Literature, but chose to forego completing her thesis when Noelia was born. Since the birth of Noelia Patricia, Nelson and Sara have welcomed three other beautiful girls - now young women - into the world: Paula Sofia, Celeste Lucia, and Laura Mercedes. Nelson and Sara have been married for 27 years.
In her spare time (!) Sara loves to read good literature - she's currently reading the late Chilean writer Roberto Bolaños' massive novel "2666." She also continues to enjoy reading philosophy - Derrida is one of her favorites; and (as many of us have learned to our culinary delight) Sara also loves gourmet cooking.
Sara has always been very active in the church; she is currently a member of Christ Ascension Lutheran Church in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, and serves on the congregational council. She is on the Board of Directors and plays a very active role in Lutheran Settlement House. For years, Sara has collaborated with the Interfaith Hospitality Network. She's a volunteer at Ten Thousand Villages, both in Northwest Philadelphia.
And here's what our colleague, David Grafton, had to say about Sara: "I can honestly say that without Sara's dedication and hard work done with gracefulness and love the Graduate School and all of Seminary Student Housing would be mired in complete chaos! She has the wonderful gift of responding to the needs and requests of students, staff and faculty with poise - even when such a response is not always deserved. She is truly a disciple of Christ, serving as "God's hands" in our community."
And here's an anecdote from Nelson: When Sara was a student at Temple, he reports, the theologian Hans Küng came for a lecture there. It so happened that Sara had read his book "On Being a Christian" and liked it very much, so she went to the lecture and treated Hans Kung like a star, taking his picture, and asking for his autograph - which she received, and would be happy to show to anyone since she now has it in her seminary office!
And finally, to wrap things up, here is what Sara's pastor, the Rev. Dr. Martin Lohrmann, had to say about Sara:
As a graduate student at the Lutheran Seminary, I came to know Sara as a reliable and helpful person in the office who helped me navigate my way through a new program.
As someone who has worshiped at Christ Ascension Lutheran Church for some years now, I have long been moved by her commitment to the faith-life of the congregation and by her service to the wider community, which grows out of that faith.
Now, as her pastor at Christ Ascension, I can say that it is an absolute joy to lead with her in church. She is on the church council, assists in worship, teaches children's Sunday School, and contributes in many other ways. We often pray that our communities are blessed in order to be a blessing to others. In Sara, that prayer has been fulfilled! Congratulations, Sara, and God's richest blessings to you!
Indeed, congratulations, Sara - and thank you from all of us for all you do!
(photos of the event to follow)