Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The 148th Commencement - May 18, 2012: Videos and Photos

Videos, photos and more from the 148th Commencement of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia are now online. Start here on the LTSP website:

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mission Now: A panel defines today’s challenges and opportunities (report from Spring Convocation)

(see the photo gallery from Spring Convocation at the end of this article)

Remarks by four leaders were a highlight of LTSP’s Spring Convocation, attended by about 125 alumni
Today’s mission frontier looks and feels different in many ways from the colonial frontier American Lutheran Patriarch Henry Melchior Muhlenberg mined to plant the church in the 1700s. But there are similarities too.

“The God who made the world still loves it,” the Rev. Stephen Bouman told more than 100 alumni gathered for the 2012 Spring Convocation at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia on May 1. Bouman, paraphrasing the Apostle Paul’s Acts 17 message to the people of Athens, noted “That is the message of our mission as a church today. Through the death of Jesus the world was restored, and we are challenged to keep restoring it.”

Bouman suggested, however, that people today may be “more alone and afraid than they have ever been. He cited an article in the May 2012 issue of The Atlantic entitled “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?”

Panelists (left to right) Bouman, Rajashekar,
Neale and Miller.
“Are we more concerned about putting the story of ourselves on a Facebook wall than we are about tending to our relationships?” asked Bouman, the executive director of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Congregational and Synodical Mission initiative. He was one of four panelists dealing with an afternoon theme of “Mission Now.” The two-day convocation had the overall theme of “The New Frontier: Mission Then, Mission Now.”

Bouman said a preoccupation with ourselves “makes us lonely” and added that the Lutheran Church today needs to have a global, ecumenical and interfaith focus. 

Bouman told the story of a Sudanese woman, once abused and neglected in a refugee camp, who had found a home at Grace Lutheran Church in Omaha, NE, and through the church had found the power to forgive her abusers. “We have always been the church of renewal for the poor and the stranger,” Bouman said. “This Sudanese woman belongs to you and me, and we belong to her. If the Lutheran Church can’t find a way to continue to show up on this kind of issue, then God will find a church that will. We have the same holy obligation each year…If we tell immigrants and strangers to check their baggage at our (church) doors as poverty grows, then we are hypocrites.”

Bouman has co-authored a book with Ralston Deffenbaugh entitled They Are Us: Lutherans and Immigration (Augsburg, 2009), which defines Lutherans as part of an immigrant church and which makes the case for immigration reform, calling on the modern-day church to a “mission of evangelical hospitality.”

“Today’s new mission starts often look different from our traditional congregations,” Bouman said. Of the 60 new starts in the current year, one-half focus on immigrant populations. Mission developers are often connected with community organizers, he said, and the focus is not only on worship but also on service, creating what he described as “a powerful front door.”

Leadership can look different too. In Hollywood, CA, the church is employing seven lay evangelists. As in Muhlenberg’s day “the church must be planted,” Bouman said. “But that requires us to go out into the community and encounter and listen to our neighbors.”

He called upon the church to be a part of a strong “public platform” that often requires creativity. In Minot, ND, Bouman described how Lutheran Disaster Response, responding to ruinous storm damage, has helped to foster congregational renewal, “a bridge to healing” in the community.

Seminary Dean J. Paul Rajashekar explained to the alumni he is concerned that, to many people, “the mission of the church is unclear. They are allergic to the church and don’t want to be a part of it.”

Rajashekar described the seminary’s mission: “Centered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia seeks to educate and form public leaders who are committed to developing and nurturing individual believers and communities of faith for engagement in the world.”

“Mission,” Rajashekar said, “is the practice of faith in the world. The mission is to make churches in our communities public places for use by all people with pastors as public leaders.” He said the seminary is working through its teaching to build that attitude within future leaders. “The Eucharist is not just a thing that we share. It is an All You Can Eat Eucharist. That is our mission and we need to learn how to get there.”

Rajashekar said, “The Church must belong in the community, otherwise there is no sense of mission. We need to build and nurture the communities we are a part of. We are one community in the midst of other communities these days, frequently with many diverse and different publics.

“We need to be bridge-builders,” he said. “Not everyone we meet will intend to be a Christian. We need to come to terms with that. To practice our faith in the world we need to engage other communities within our communities.”

The Rev. Lee Miller II, pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Northeast Philadelphia’s Mayfair section, described his congregation as part of a working class, blue collar community dealing with considerable poverty. 

“We’re rapidly growing in diversity with residents who are Chinese, Albanian, Liberian and Vietnamese." He said 65 per cent of the church membership lives within a mile of the church, and 25 per cent come from the region, sometimes at quite a distance.

“Our challenge is to live out Acts 2,” Miller said. (And all who believed were together and had all things in common – Acts 2:44). “We gather for worship, study Scripture with 40 adults doing Bible study, and we care for those in need.”

He said the congregation sets its leaders free “to do what they are gifted to do.” Miller, who focused on urban studies while at the seminary before graduating in 1998, said the congregation works to engage the people in its community context and embrace the cultural diversity surrounding it. “I try to make my preaching accessible to everyone,” he said. “We are trying to build connections through social service, vibrant worship, prayer, music and proclaiming the Word in our context so that people will feel invited into our ministry.”

A key component has been to expand upon St. John’s Food Cupboard, now known as the “Feast of Justice.” St. John’s associate pastor the Rev. Patricia Neale (MDiv 2007) directs the program, which is now a non-profit social service agency serving about 1,700 families annually with food, literacy and resource counseling initiatives. The program has many community partners, Miller said.

“We’ve been able to remove the divide between church and service within our building,” Neale said during her panel presentation. “We’ve transformed our mission through organizing the development of our church in a new way. It’s not Sundays only. We are practicing discipleship 24-7. We dispense about 340,000 pounds of food each year through four feeding programs….”

But Neale explained that the goal is not simply to feed people who need to be fed, but transforming lives by teaching about “the bread of life.” She said that neighbors partaking of social service through St. John’s benefit from “a dignified experience. We help connect people to resources and we provide counseling. We’re transforming lives, but all our lives are being transformed. We are called to be planted in our community, and that is what is happening.”

Mark Staples, seminary writer, served as panel moderator.

Earlier in the day, alumni heard from faculty member Dr. Karl Krueger, director of the Krauth Memorial Library, about “Mission Then,” a look at Muhlenberg’s colonial era ministry in North America.

LTSP President Philip Krey (left) with Distinguished Alumni
Mc Near, Philips and Simmons, and Alumni/ae Association
President the Rev. Kathleen Ash-Flashner 
At the Convocation dinner, three LTSP graduates were honored with the Distinguished Alumnus Award. Awardees were the Rev. Gordon Simmons, who was honored for his diligence in making the neighborhoods he served in Philadelphia’s Mt. Airy and West Oak Lane, and Wallingford, PA “his mission field by reaching out to residents and responding to their needs.” He is known for his bicycle ministry through neighborhoods. While in Mt. Airy, over a 15-year period he visited 10,000 homes three times each, and when honored by the Community College of Philadelphia for his leadership in 2004 was recognized in part this way: “His spirited leadership and mobile style of ministry tell the story of his love for the city and his commitment to its people.”

The Rev. Ernest McNear, MDiv ’99, a graduate of the seminary’s Urban Theological Institute, was recognized for his leadership in sponsoring a “Fugitive Safe Surrender” program at his True Gospel Church in center city Philadelphia. The program, conducted several years ago, resulted in 1,500 non-violent offenders streaming to the congregation over four days to turn themselves in in exchange for favorable considerations. The offenders were charged with such crimes as being scofflaws, drug possession, or other summary violations. True Gospel Church sponsors a learning center for 130 children in kindergarten through fourth grade “because the lack of education is a direct cause of incarceration,” he says. He’s also involved in prison ministry and directs the Philadelphia Freedom from AIDS campaign.

The Rev. Leon Phillips’s mission field has primarily been in response to disasters throughout the U.S. and its territories. The 1961 LTSP graduate began his career serving congregations. In 1969, the Lutheran Church in America’s Board of American Missions called him to serve as coordinator of the Greater Wilkes-Barre area and consultant to the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod for congregational and area studies. He became a deployed staff member of the LCA’s Division for Mission in North America in 1972. After major flooding in the Wilkes-Barre, Kingston area of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Lutheran Disaster Response began bringing the energy and efforts by Lutherans around the country to together respond to natural and human-caused disasters in the U.S. and its territories. Dr. Phillips’s mission became to serve as Domestic Disaster Relief director. He was at the forefront of the church’s response to disasters such as Hurricanes Hugo and Andrew, earthquakes in San Francisco and Los Angeles, the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and the Oklahoma City bombing. 

Preacher for the convocation’s Opening Eucharist was the Rev. Dr. Nelson Rivera, associate professor of Systematic Theology and director of the Hispanic Concentration, who is observing the 25th anniversary of his graduation from LTSP (MDiv '87). Keynote presenter the morning of May 2 was the Rev. Dr. Timothy Wengert, Ministerium of Pennsylvania Professor of  Reformation History at LTSP.

Enjoy this slide show of photos from Spring Convocation:
click here to view the photo gallery and 
download images or order photos

Monday, May 07, 2012

Andrew J. “Jack” White : Lutheran Seminary Professor Emeritus and civic activist in Philadelphia and Chambersburg

The Rev. Dr. Andrew J. White, who as a service-minded activist profoundly lived out his 30-year career of teaching practical theology at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP), died Sunday, May 6, 2012 in Chambersburg, PA, where he lived in retirement. He was 79.

Emeritus Professor
"Jack" White on campus
in 2005
When White, known to colleagues and friends as “Jack,” retired from LTSP in 1997, he had held the Peter Paul and Elizabeth Hagan Professor Chair of Practical Theology for 14 years and had served as secretary of the faculty for three years. From 1983 until his retirement, he was director of Contextual Education (field work) at the school, and directed the seminary’s Graduate School (Advanced-Level Degree Programs) from 1991 until he retired. During his seminary career, White served four years (1978-82) as Executive Director of the Council for Lutheran Theological Education in the Northeast (CLTEN), which coupled the Philadelphia and Gettysburg seminaries with 11 regional synods and districts of two national Lutheran church bodies of that time, the Lutheran Church in America and the American Lutheran Church, predecessor bodies of the current Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) denomination. White for many years also edited Parish Practice Notebook, a publication that sought to convey to alumni and other church leaders fresh ideas in connection with successful congregational ministry.

What especially distinguished White was how his teaching of theology was reflected in his lifestyle of engaging himself in a wide variety of community service endeavors. Such interests were evident early in his career. He served two congregations before becoming a professor — Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cicero, IN, and Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church in East Cleveland, OH. While in East Cleveland he also chaired that city’s Human Relations Committee (1962-65).

“Jack White had remarkable energy and a real vision for where he thought the church should go,” recalls the Rev. Dr. LeRoy Aden, a colleague of White’s who retired as the Luther D. Reed Professor of Practical Theology after a 27-year career at the seminary. “Many of us on the faculty were teaching in more theoretical areas. Jack had a real focus on the practical side of ministry in the world, particularly social ministry and the urban church. He was not a traditional thinker, but was sometimes viewed as something of a vagabond. He could be really assertive. He was not much into the usual way of doing things.”

Aden said even though his wife, Miriam Eileen Recker White, was not in the best of health during their retirement years living at Luther Ridge Retirement Community, Chambersburg, PA, they maintained active lives, traveling overseas as active supporters of global ministry in South Africa and Germany. The Whites spent a year in Slovakia in retirement while White taught at Bratislava Seminary there. In 1998, White was an international observer of the Parliamentary elections in Slovakia representing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Prof. White in 1997
Appointed to the LTSP faculty in 1967, White became vigorously active on the civic scene while a resident of Philadelphia’s East Mount Airy neighborhood. He served on the Board of East Mount Airy Neighbors (EMAN) from 1968 to 1974 and from 1976 to 1979. He served four years on the Board of Philadelphia’s Haverford Community Center (1968-72). From 1972 to 1978, White was on the Democratic Ward Executive Committee and was frequently its vice-chair. From 1971 to 1978 he was vice-chair of the Board for EMAN Group Homes, focusing on personnel and fundraising for that program serving individuals with developmental delays. Beginning in 1981, White also served from 1981 to 1997 as secretary for the Board of the Mt. Airy Village Development Corp. For 11 years while living in Philadelphia White chaired the Board of Lutheran Retirement Homes (Paul’s Run), a social ministry organization of the church located in Northeast Philadelphia (1977-1988).

He continued that vigorous service in retirement in Central Pennsylvania. White served as a member of the Ethics Committee and as an on-call chaplain for the Chambersburg Hospital. He was vice-chair for the Board of Lutheran Home Care and Hospice in the area, a tutor for the Harrisburg area’s Scotland School for Veterans Children, which closed in 2009. (It was originally founded to serve the children of Civil War veterans.) In retirement White was a board member of the Auxiliary of Lutheran Social Services of South Central Pennsylvania and former president of the Franklin-Fulton Chapter of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.

A Wittenberg University graduate (1954), he earned his Master of Divinity in 1957 from Hamma School of Theology, a predecessor school for today’s Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, OH. Trinity named him its distinguished alumnus in 1986. He earned his PhD from Case Western Reserve University in 1969, focusing his thesis on the areas of political science and community organization. He earned the Master of Theology from the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, IN.

In Philadelphia, the Whites belonged to Reformation Lutheran Church in East Mount Airy. He served on a committee assigned to call a pastor, as assistant scoutmaster, as a member of the congregation’s finance committee, and its choir. For several years he served the Board of the Northwest Philadelphia Lutheran Parish, a collaborative organization of Lutheran congregations.

White was also involved in activities of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the ELCA. He served on a task force on Ministry of the Laity and on a committee evaluating chaplaincy services. National church activities included service on a commission to study the nature and mission of the congregation and serving in South Africa as a volunteer missionary (1990).

After his wife died early last year, White remarried. His widow, Phyllis Ann Akers White, survives. Also surviving are four children, Mary Sue Burns of Marlinton, WVA; Daniel of Atlanta, GA; John of Houston, TX, and James of Huntingdon, PA; five grandchildren, Jesse and Jonathan Burns, Sara May, Shelby T. and Joanna M. White; and a sister, Dorothy Jean Robinson of Ormond Beach, FL. Two stepchildren survive: Kathryn Perbetzky of Philadelphia and George Akers of Gettysburg, PA.

A memorial service will be held at 11 am Thursday, May 10, at St. Luke Lutheran Church on the Luther Ridge Retirement Community campus, 2695 Luther Drive, Chambersburg, PA 17202, where White was a member. In lieu of flowers, gifts are invited for Lutheran Social Services of South Central Pennsylvania, 1050 Pennsylvania Avenue, York, PA 17404, or The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, 7301 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19119.