Friday, December 30, 2011

A Tree Grows in Wittenberg - and in Philadelphia

To close 2011 and continue the Tercentenary story of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, here's a story you may have missed from earlier in the year. The Legacy of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg celebration at LTSP continues in the year ahead. Happy New Year!

Seminary plants a tree in Wittenberg, Germany; 'Luther Garden' commemorates the Reformation

A Flowering Ash tree sponsored for planting by The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP) on May 28 became the 76th tree to be placed in a commemorative “Luther Garden” in Wittenberg, Germany. The garden, designed as a symbol of the global magnitude of the Reformation, also is intended to mark the interconnectedness, interaction and reconciliation between Christian churches.

Groundbreaking for the garden, located  near the Lutheran World Federation Center in Wittenberg, took place Oct 31, 2008. The goal is to attract the planting of 500 trees there from Christian Churches on five continents by the time the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is celebrated Oct. 31, 2017. The May 28 tree planting was the first to be placed in the garden by a seminary. Wittenberg is the City of Reformer Martin Luther.

Planned by renowned landscape architect Dr. Andreas Kipar, the garden features a public square shaped around a Luther Rose created from a variety of cobblestones. The trees surrounding the square are in the design of an oval. The garden is part of a greenbelt triangle in Wittenberg, connecting the garden to Wittenberg’s Castle Church and City Church. The garden connects the town center to the Elbe River, with the garden pointing toward the river, symbolically opening itself toward the world. Kipar says the trees overall will represent the events in Wittenberg 500 years ago that fundamentally changed the world, and the trees will provide the opportunity for people of today to reflect on those developments.

Representing LTSP at the tree planting here were the Rev. George E. Keck, retired director of admissions for the seminary and a member of the LTSP President’s Advisory Council, and the Rev. Stephen Godsall-Myers, pastor of Advent Lutheran Church, Harleysville, PA, one of the many congregations planted in North America with connections to Lutheran Patriarch Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. Godsall-Myers is a 1983 graduate of LTSP.

“The garden is not only a living monument to the Reformation, but also an ecumenical monument,” Godsall-Myers says. “It recognizes that what happened in Wittenberg did not stay in Wittenberg.” The first trees planted in the garden (in the petals of the Luther Rose) were “ecumenical trees” representing the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Reformed and Methodist communions. “A lesson we took from our Wittenberg visit is that whatever happens in the church, no matter where it is, should not stay in the church but be spread out in all directions.”

After the planting, the seminary was awarded a certificate commemorating the event and signed by the Rev. Hans W. Kasch, director of the LWF Center in Wittenberg.

The agreement with the seminary to plant the tree, signed by LTSP President Philip D. W. Krey, also calls for each Wittenberg Garden sponsoring church organization to plant a tree in its own setting connecting the local planting to the “Luther Garden” in Germany. The dual planting approach aims to emphasize the worldwide significance and influence of the Reformation started by Martin Luther in Wittenberg. The seminary campus’s “partner” tree is located near the main entrance of the Wiedemann Center, LTSP’s main residence hall. LTSP is the first of the seminaries in the United States to have a partner tree at Wittenberg.

Pr. Steve Godsall-Meyers planting the tree
(photo courtesy George Keck).

Watering the tree in Wittenberg with the U.S. contingent watching
(photo courtesy Steve Godsall-Meyers).

Story by seminary writer Mark Staples.

Friday, December 23, 2011

LTSP Alumnus Steve Jensen finds a Wounded Warriors ministry in retirement

It began in February with a request from a former officer in charge of a Wounded Warriors ministry in Hawaii. Would retired U.S. Navy Chaplain Steve Jensen, an alumnus of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP), provide pastoral counseling to a couple having a particularly difficult time with the husbands IED wounds, traumatic brain Injury, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and coping with a dozen or more medications?
"There was no funding for a chaplains position, Jensen explains. However, I quickly was embraced by the patients and families I met hungry for someone to help them deal with the spiritual issues you might expect: Why was God AWOL when I was injured and my friends killed? Why did the best of us die and I was kept alive? Is there a purpose for me to be here?
"I spend a great deal of time encouraging them (Wounded Warriors) to work on their medical, mind, body, spirit, relationship issues, but also building trust," Jensen explains. "They come to my home regularly for a cookout and discussion, finding it a safe place where people don't ask probing or uncomfortable questions. There aren't large crowds, and no loud noises startle them.
"Since I didn't have access to any funds to help with emergent needs, the Lutheran Church of Honolulu (LCH) established a discretionary account, and with local support I was able to create Friends of Windward Wounded Warriors," Jensen continues. Local church conference lay members help as mentors, he notes, provide intern positions at their businesses, host monthly barbecue meals at the barracks, invite individuals and small groups to sail, fish, and play golf, sponsor family days at places like Wet 'N Wild, and more. 
"In turn, the Wounded Warriors enjoy giving back to the community by painting out graffiti or doing beach clean-ups, bringing their service dogs to encourage children to read or allow homeless kids in a local program to pet them," Jensen continues. "They send notes and Christmas gifts to Silver Springs-Martin Luther School [located near LTSP in Plymouth Meeting, PA], assist with Special Olympics or Veteran Paralympic games; and much more. Friends, churches and strangers contribute to the fund so Jensen can buy new baby items, provide work clothes for internships, sponsor a date night for two couples a month, celebrate birthdays with cake and ice cream, and the like," Jensen says.
I take about a dozen with the most severe PTSD each quarter for a retreat to a neighbor island, Jensen explains. "The United Service Organization and Armed Services YMCA help underwrite the costs of lodging and transportation, while Lihue Lutheran [Church, Kawai] for example, uses their contact or funds to provide recreational activities and meals. LCH provides free tickets to church/symphony concerts and St. John [Lutheran Church, Kailua] cooks at barbecues and provides secretarial support for me. Prince of Peace [Lutheran Church, Waikiki] is paying for the Thanksgiving meal at my home. Other churches have gathered materials for care packages to the units from which these Marines and Sailors came, still fighting in Afghanistan. And on it goes.
"Because I am also greatly concerned about what happens to them after they are discharged, I am now a member of the Veterans Administration's Institutional Review Board, at which we scrutinize all new programs and services being developed for veterans and their families," Jensen says. "I have agreed to be a Navy League board member beginning in January so I can further develop contacts and resources for the detachment. The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) has invited me to join as well so I can advocate for donations of materials and jobs for Wounded Warriors. I'm promised four refurbished computers and printers soon, for example, so patients can do their college homework and check e-mail in the lounge. I regularly speak at churches, Rotary clubs, military organizations, yacht clubs, and so on to get out the story and invite people to think about how they personally can get involved."
Slowing down in retirement? Whats that? As Jensen puts it, "It seems I have been given a second chance at ministry for which all other military and civilian experience and training has equipped me. I don't want to squander a day of this opportunity, so I go at it all ahead full. As a friend says, I want to be all used up when my time comes, and I can't think of a better way to expend myself in service to others."

Photo caption: LTSP Alumnus and retired US Navy Chaplain Steve Jensen enjoys a visit in Hawaii with First Lady Michelle Obama, who was on hand to encourage Wounded Warriors in Hawaii that Jensen ministers to as a volunteer chaplain.

Written by seminary writer Mark Staples, photo courtesy Steve Jensen.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Henry Melchior Muhlenberg & Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg: Fall Forum Reflections

Reflections on the LTSP 2011 Fall Forum
by Clair Anderson
What does Henry Melchior Muhlenberg have in common with Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg? At the November 7 Fall Forum at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP), an animated, engaging LTSP professor, the Rev. Dr. J. Jayakiran Sebastian, acknowledged that both men were sent out as missionaries by the University of Halle, Germany, to spread Lutheran pietism beyond Europe. 
In 1706, Ziegenbalg brought the message of salvation through Jesus Christ to South India as the first Protestant missionary, sponsored by the Royal House of Denmark. Realizing the importance of understanding the Indian people before converting them, he engaged them in disputations and published his findings in the book Detailed Description of South Indian Society, showing their need for the Gospel. The book had an impact upon Europe and may have inspired Muhlenberg to seek a missionary appointment to South India. However, Halle responded to the need for pastoral leadership among the infant congregations along the eastern seaboard of America by sending Muhlenberg there. His ministry is described in his Journals and in his Notebook of a Colonial Clergyman. Ziegenbalg imported a printing press so he could have the Bible printed in the Tamal language, as well as a Tamal grammar and dictionary.
Dr. Sebastian began his afternoon presentation with a touching personal story about the impact of missionaries on his own life. The tragic death of his Hindu grandfather led his grandmother to seek refuge in a Christian mission in India, where Dr. Sebastian's father was raised. As a teenager, his father cranked a missionary's Victrola and listened to J.S. Bach records. When asked what name he would take, his father requested "Sebastian."
Moving from mission past to mission now, Dr. Sebastian raised the question, “What is the paradigm or motivation for missiology today?” The last 50-60 years have been dominated by Missio Dei, or the mission of God. A theological critique of this paradigm is needed and begins with the question who is responsible for mission? He advocates a new Missio Humanitas, or mission to God, which takes seriously the human condition as well as human responsibility for mission in a pluralistic, post-colonial world. What does the Bible mean for people in our society now? Mission to God forces us to contemplate who God really is and who we are in relation to neighbors we have, not those we might choose. What are the consequences of our choices and actions? How does mission relate to the victims of globalism, those who have suffered and continue to suffer?
When asked what mission to God would look like, Dr. Sebastian drew upon a Buddhist image of the person who reaches bliss, but waits to cross over so he or she can help others to cross. Jesus accompanies us on the pilgrim journey as our guide, but instead of going on ahead of us, stands along side and encourages us to pass on. We too serve as guides pointing to God. There was a good question and answer exchange at each session.
Dr. Sebastian's spirited, personal, relational style was well-received by those present who greatly appreciated being opened to an unknown area in a stimulating, thought-provoking manner. Dr. Sebastian was born in Bangalore, India, and educated there and in Germany. He served several congregations in India and taught at an Indian seminary for 10 years before joining the faculty at LTSP in 2008 as H. George Anderson Professor of Mission and Cultures, and Director of the Multicultural Mission Resource Center.

The Rev. Dr. Clair Anderson is a retired ELCA pastor and LTSP alumnus, living in Hanover, PA. He tells his connection to the Muhlenberg Legacy on the Muhlenberg 300 website at

Monday, December 12, 2011

Rest, Refreshment, Renewal March 17, 2012: Early Registration Discount now available

“A Great Cloud” is the theme for LTSP’s annual Rest, Refreshment and Renewal Women’s Day 2012.

Our day will center on the celebration of the 300th birthday of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the patriarch of the Lutheran church in North America, and the great cloud of women witnesses from Katie Luther and Anna Muhlenberg to all women who will gather on Saturday, March 17, 2012.

Those who register by January 1 get a discount – and remember your friends by giving them a gift of rest, refreshment and renewal!

Brochures will be sent to those who have participated before and to congregations. Registration deadline is Monday, March 12th. Open to women of all faiths!
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us”  Hebrews 12:1

Learn More: Schedule | Gatherings | Register Online |

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

John and Robert Asher honored with Soli Deo Gloria Award at Philadelphia Seminary’s annual Advent Vespers Dinner

For noted candy executive and philanthropist John L. “Jack” Asher, Jr., the dinner honoring him and his brother, Robert, featured a big surprise.

Asher and his brother were this year’s recipients of the Soli Deo Gloria Award for outstanding leadership and service to the church and to the mission of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP). (Robert was unable to attend the annual Advent Vespers in the seminary’s Brossman Center.)

LTSP Trustees Robert Blanck and Board of Trustees Chair John Richter presented the award to Jack Asher, and just as he stepped to the microphone to extend remarks of gratitude, Blanck asked him to stop. And into the hall for a surprise performance tribute to Asher and the dinner audience came 60 members of the 150-member Keystone State Boychoir featuring directors Joe “Fitz” Fitzmartin and Steven M. Fisher. Jack Asher is the choir’s founding Board member. The surprise tribute was arranged by the seminary’s interim Director of Communications, Merri Brown. Her son, Graeme, was a soloist for the occasion.

Visibly proud and moved, Asher explained the accomplishments of the vocal group, who call his congregation, The First Presbyterian Church in Germantown, their home. The choir, he said, has performed on every continent. 

Jack Asher, who has served on LTSP’s President’s Council, has been a driving force behind the seminary’s capital campaigns and strategic planning. In opening remarks LTSP President Philip D.W. Krey thanked Jack Asher “for helping me to make the right associations and meet the right people when I became President.” In expressing appreciation for the honor, Jack Asher, a native Philadelphian, called LTSP “one of the signature places that I always remember.”

In his greetings to dinner attendees, Krey noted that the annual Advent Vespers program to follow under the direction of Michael Krentz, seminary Director of Music Ministries, is in honor of The Rev. Dr. Robert E. Bornemann, the late professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at LTSP, who directed the Seminary Choir he founded from 1955 to 1990. Krey told the audience that gifts to the Bornemann Memorial Fund secure the present and future of a vibrant program of music at the seminary. The vespers were held in the Schaeffer-Ashmead Chapel following the dinner. Krey told his audience of invited donors, “We live in troubled times. This is a challenging time for the church, institutions and the country. It is a tall order to keep venerable institutions like the seminary stable and thriving. Thank you for understanding the challenge. I count you as our best friends…” Krey said in the current time of transition, improvements to the seminary’s Krauth Memorial Library, including a connector to The Brossman Center, are beginning to unfold. Highlights of current seminary life include plans for a new curriculum, the ongoing 300th birthday anniversary celebrating of the life of Lutheran Patriarch Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, and a recent gathering of Philadelphia religious leaders, who strategized over “the increasing challenge of hunger in our city.”

Seminary Student Body President Laura Gorton, who is studying for a Master of Arts in Religion with a focus on Christian Education, told the audience she is striving for a career as a director of Christian Education (DCE) and urged the audience to keep in mind the rich diversity of graduates, including pastors, DCE’s, directors of music, social workers and diaconal ministers. “Thank you for supporting us with your gifts in these tough economic times,” she said.

“We watch and wait expectantly for the Christ who was given to us as a child, brother, and Savior,” The Rev. John Puotinen, said in brief remarks. Puotinen is Vice President for Philanthropy and Executive Director of the LTSP Foundation. “I welcome you to this celebration of God’s generosity,” Puotinen said. “I thank you and thank God for sending you here to provide leaders for the church — making use of gifts already given to you by God.”

With Soli Deo Gloria Award recipient Jack Asher (center), (l-r) Bishop Claire Burkat, The Rev. Dr. John Richter, Carolyn Asher, Dr. Robert Blanck, Rene Diemer, President Philip Krey

Brief remarks were also delivered by Richter and seminary Dean J. Paul Rajashekar. Rajashekar introduced The Rev. Dr. Jayakiran Sebastian of the seminary faculty. Sebastian becomes LTSP’s new Dean next academic year as Rajashekar returns to the classroom. The Dean also introduced The Rev. Dr. Richard Stewart and his spouse, Dawn. Stewart retires from the faculty at the end of this academic year. The opening prayer for the dinner was given by Trustee, Dr. Addie J. Butler. The closing prayer was delivered by Bishop Claire S. Burkat of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

After his father’s death in 1966, Jack Asher and his younger brother, Robert, took over Asher’s Chocolates in Philadelphia’s Germantown section and expanded the business. In 1991, Asher’s acquired the Goss Candy Co. in Lewistown, PA, and renamed it Asher’s Chocolates, Lewistown. The enterprise has grown dramatically over the years to become nationally known. In 2006, Jack Asher was elected to the Candy Hall of Fame while serving as president of the firm and co-chair of Asher’s Chocolates. His honors have included being named Small Business Person of the Year (Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, 1988). He’s served on many boards including as President of the Germantown Business Association, President of Whosoever Gospel Mission, Germantown, President of the Germantown Historical Society, and the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. He’s served as a volunteer firefighter for 35 years and today helps direct re-enactments of the Battle of Germantown from the Revolutionary War period. He has served his congregation, The First Presbyterian Church in Germantown, as Deacon, Trustee, Elder, Head Usher, and President of the Couples Club. Jack and his wife, Carolyn, have three adult children.

Native Philadelphian Robert “Bob” Asher serves as co-chair of the Board of Asher’s Chocolates as well as President of Robert Asher Associates. He is a member of the Session of Oreland Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Oreland, PA. He is a Pennsylvania member of the Republican National Committee and served as co-chair for the Tom Corbett for Governor Campaign. Bob Asher serves on several boards including the Delaware River Port Authority, Philadelphia Hospitality, Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation and Greater Philadelphia Executive Committee Chamber of Commerce. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business and Commerce and is a U.S. Army veteran. He has been recognized for public service by the Montgomery County Association for Retarded Citizens, Boy Scouts of America and the Union League of Philadelphia. Bob Asher has been a key networker on behalf of LTSP, facilitating the securing of grants for seminary capital projects. Bob and his wife, Joyce, have three children and seven grandchildren. Both brothers are members of the Union League of Philadelphia.

Soloist Graeme Brown performs as a highlight of the Keystone State Boychoir musical tribute to Jack Asher. 

LTSP Vice President John Puotinen: “Welcome to this celebration of God’s generosity."

Click any image to view a larger version, Right-Click to download the image.
Story and photography by seminary writer Mark Staples.

Friday, December 02, 2011

UTI 2011 Lecture & Worship Celebration - Videos of the Day

UTI 2011 Lecture & Worship Celebration

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

11:15 am Lecture

 7:00 pm Evening Worship

The Rev. Dr. William ShawThe Rev. Dr. William J. Shaw

Lecturer and Preacher

Past President of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.

Gifts for the annual lecture benefit the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Sr., Chair in African American Studies. Learn more and give online here.

Learn more about Dr. Shaw, the 2011 lecturer and preacher, here.