The Rev. Dr. J. Jayakiran Sebastian assumes the post of Dean of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP) July 1. He succeeds the Rev. Dr. J. Paul Rajashekar, who has held the post for 12 years and will now focus his energies on a variety of interests, including returning more fully to the classroom as the Luther D. Reed Professor of Systematic Theology.
Dr. Sebastian, 53, a
resident of Philadelphia’s East Mt. Airy neighborhood on the seminary campus,
has served on the faculty since 2007. Called “Kiran” by colleagues and friends,
he is the H. George Anderson Professor of Mission and Cultures, directs the
seminary’s Multicultural Mission Resource Center, and for the past three years
held the position of Seminary Chaplain.
He earned his Doctor of
Theology in 1997 from the University of Hamburg, Germany (Magna Cum Laude). In
1991 he earned his Master of Theology from the Federated Faculty for Research
in Religion and Culture, Kottayam, India, where he received the all-India prize
for having the highest grade in all branches of study for the degree. He was
awarded his Bachelor of Divinity in 1984 from the United Theological College in
Bangalore, India, where he was likewise honored for receiving the highest
grades during his studies. He holds a Bachelor of Science from Bangalore
University (1980). He went on to teach from 1988 to 2007 at the United
Theological College, where he served as Professor of Theology and Ethics and
Chair of the Department, Dean of the Doctoral Division, Secretary of the
Governing Council, and Editor of the Bangalore
Dr. Sebastian’s teaching
background reflects his wide-ranging scholarly interests and love of books
fostered by his family — especially his grandmother, whom he terms his foremost
mentor, and his parents and uncles, many of whom were pastors and scholars. At
LTSP, courses he has led include the History of Christianity, with a focus on
the Early Church, Theology and Ethics of the Early Teachers of Faith, Gospel
and Cultures, Global Christianity, Study of the Churches at the edge of Empire,
Eucharist and the Koinonia of the Church, Baptism and the Unity of the Church,
and courses on Religious Toleration and Public Theology.
“I enjoy a range of
interests,” he smiles. Dr. Sebastian’s decision to teach at LTSP arose out of
an invitation from Dr. Rajashekar to consider joining the faculty after former
LTSP Professor H.S. Wilson stepped down as the first faculty member to hold the
Anderson Chair. Dean Rajashekar’s link with Dr. Sebastian began in the early
1980s, when Dr. Rajashekar, fresh from earning his doctorate at the University
of Iowa, taught him at the United Theological College in Bangalore in courses
including “Introduction to Indian Christian Theology” and “Life and Thought of
Dr. Sebastian became an
ordained pastor of the Church of South India in 1985. The Church of South India
was formed in 1947 by a union of Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, and
Congregational traditions in what has been good-humoredly called “the greatest
coming together of traditions to form a church since the Pentecost!” Being part
of such a church has made him feel “very comfortable” at LTSP, which he says is
firmly rooted in its Lutheran tradition but which has also welcomed students
from the range of traditions he has known in India, as well as students from
many other backgrounds. The United Theological College likewise features a
diverse faculty and student body including students and scholars from Orthodox,
Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Pentecostal backgrounds.
Dr. Sebastian says he is
thrilled at his new opportunity as Dean at a seminary with a wide range of
interests that reflect his own, including foci on public and global theology
and strong Lutheran roots that have been fed by other traditions, including the
school’s 30-year-old Urban Theological Institute with its breadth of traditions
and student backgrounds. “Our Latino/Latina, Urban/Metro, Multicultural, and
Black Studies concentrations and Interfaith perspectives reflect the changing
demographics of our landscape,” he says. “Our challenge will be to harvest
these rich gains into a format for a new curriculum flexible enough to
accommodate full- and part-time students.”
While the seminary faces
economic challenges in a difficult time, he describes the circumstances as
posing an opportunity. “We can’t stretch ourselves too broadly,” he says. “The
economic realities force us to meet our core challenge to provide a top quality
theological education training public leaders for the church and wider society.
It is not only the seminary, but our staff, faculty, and students who are
dealing with these economic realities. In such a time we need to continue to be
faithful to our mission. It is a chance to rethink about how to maximize our
“I am amazed that my
colleagues entrusted me to this post,” Dr. Sebastian says. “That they have
welcomed a stranger who until recently was an outsider to this country and
seminary says a lot about what the seminary has accomplished and about its
ethos. They have made me feel like I belong.” He praises Dr. Rajashekar for
providing a solid legacy as a hard-working Dean that he can build upon.
In a time when many focus
on a “declining” church, Dr. Sebastian cautions that decline is not a part of
church life everywhere. “The Bride of Christ always has surprises for us,” he
says. “A Christian needs to ask, ‘Why is there this living hope in us?’ We are
here to tell the good old story in a changing and messy context. We are not
witnessing to a dead faith but rather to the real, living Christ, interacting
with all of humankind and beyond.”
Dr. Sebastian explains his
family background and upbringing, which led him seamlessly to become a pastor.
His grandfather was a pastor of the Basel Mission (formed early in the
nineteenth century as a joint mission of South German Lutherans and North Swiss
Reformed) who died when Dr. Sebastian was an infant, but his grandmother kept
memories alive and was the first to tell him stories from the Bible and of the
Christian heritage, including the story of Luther at the Diet at Worms in
Germany, a 1521 trial by the Roman Catholic Church’s hierarchy during which the
Reformer refused to recant his writings that disputed the church’s claim that
freedom from God’s punishment of sin could be purchased with money. “She
dramatized that story of courage,” he says. “She taught me the family’s history
and made the Bible come alive.” His parents were both teachers at a prominent
and well-known school in Bangalore. His father went on to become Professor of
English at the Regional Institute of English in Bangalore and senior editor at
Orient Longman, an international publishing house. His mother taught Sunday
school at his home parish, the St. Mark’s Cathedral of the Karnataka Central
Diocese of the Church of South India, Bangalore, where his father also served
as organist for 43 years. “I used to listen to him practice, and I was an altar
boy,” Dr. Sebastian says. In fact, Sebastian explains, he received his last
name through a choice made by his father because of his Dad’s love of Johann
Sebastian Bach’s music. “Bach is my favorite classical musician today,” Dr.
Sebastian says. He likes to listen to classical music when he reads. In
addition to enjoying a range of scholarly books, Dr. Sebastian admits to
enjoying real-life stories of Jim Corbett, the famous hunter and conservationist, who has
written many tales about villagers in North India living amongst (gulp) tigers
that eat people. A seminary alumnus, the Rev. Ben Krey, has taught Dr.
Sebastian about baseball, and he is now a Phillies fan.
While a lover of academia,
books, and scholarly pursuits, Dr. Sebastian says he remains influenced daily
by his pastoral ministry experiences in India. “My first posting was to a
remote and rural area with five congregations that brought me back to earth and
grounded me in the life of the people,” he recalls. “The parishioners were poor
and vulnerable, what some would term ‘untouchable’ people. These people
embodied for me and taught me what ministry is. Today I teach about these
people and draw from my experiences with them. I have never been able to get
away from them, and I don’t want to. They taught me lessons for life, about
centeredness, about how to live a life of faithfulness.”
Dr. Sebastian tells of how
he and his wife of 25 years, Mrinalini, would, during a subsequent call to a
large urban church, ride a Moped to visit a dozen or more urban church families
each evening through the chaotic traffic in Bangalore in order to regularly
reach out to the 750 families they served.
The couple has two adult
children — Neeraj, 22, holds a BS in Biology from Drexel University and is now
engaged in cell biology research, and Saagarika, 18, soon begins her studies in
mechanical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania.
Dr. Sebastian credits his
wife for all her support in fostering his career and helping the family adjust
to a new culture. “She gave up a lot.” She holds a Doctorate in Literature from
the University of Hamburg, has served as a lecturer in a number of colleges,
and was a Fellow of the Center for the Study of Culture and Society in
Watch extend video interview segments with Dr. Sebastian on the LTSP website.
(Read the resolution the faculty presented to outgoing Dean J. Paul Rajashekar.)
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
The week following Memorial Day 2012 marked the return of the Asian Theological Summer Institute at LTSP. For the sixth year, this annual mentoring program for doctoral students of Asian heritage, supported by the Henry Luce Foundation, brought emerging scholars together with faculty mentors. The 2012 Institute was held Tuesday, May 29 - Saturday, June 2, 2012.
Faculty mentors for the 2012 Institute included Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock, Director, Faith Voices for the Common Good, Visiting Scholar, Starr King School for the Ministry of the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA; Dr. W. Anne Joh, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, IL; Dr. Jung Ha Kim, Senior Lecturer Sociologist, Director of the Asian American Community Research Institute, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA; Dr. Tat-siong Benny Liew, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean and Professor of New Testament, Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, CA; Dr. Peter Cho Phan; Igancio Ellacuría Professor of Catholic Social Thought, Georgetown University, Washington, DC; Dr. J. Paul Rajashekar, Academic Dean and Luther D. Reed Professor of Systematic Theology, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA and program director of ATSI; and Dr. J. Jayakiran Sebastian, H. George Anderson Professor of Mission and Cultures and Director of the Multicultural Mission Resource Center, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA.
Here is a photo gallery of images from the 2012 Institute:
Learn more about ATSI on the Institute website at Ltsp.edu/ATSI, and join the ATSI Facebook page here.
You are cordially invited to a special workshop sponsored by the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia, scheduled for the LTSP Campus on Tuesday, June 26. Come and participate in an interactive, meaningful, and relevant workshop focused on ministering to and with youth in a religiously diverse world.
WHO: "Walking the Walk" Mentors & Religious Leaders, Clergy teaching Confirmation, Youth Ministry Professionals, High School Chaplains, and Professional Christian Educators
WHAT: Christian Faith Formation in a Religiously Diverse World - A One-Day Workshop for Christian Leaders
WHEN: Tuesday, June 26th, 2012, 9 am – 4 pm
WHERE: The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, The Brossman Center, 7301 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19119 (directions here)
COST: $15 per person to cover lunch expenses
REGISTRATION: Register online on the Interfaith Center website at www.interfaithcenterpa.org/blog/cfm-workshop
ABOUT THE WORKSHOP:
In our time together, we will present and discuss some of the challenges of youth ministry in America's religiously complex setting. How do we bridge the gap between traditional youth ministry models and ministry in a multifaith world? As ministry leaders, what best practices can we model in our congregations and beyond?
A panel of Christian leaders will offer a variety of perspectives and positive ripples.
You’ll hear about some of the current trends and realities of youth ministry today.
We’ll discuss how to communicate effectively with our congregations.
You’ll have the opportunity to hear about and share best practices!
Do not hesitate to contact us with any questions, and please invite others!!!
Note: If you aren't able to join us June 26 but are interested, please contact Rev. Nicole Diroff to let us know, because we may do this again!
Many blessings, and much wholeness; we hope to see you soon!
The Rev. Nicole Diroff
firstname.lastname@example.org / 215-222-1012
Director of Outreach and Innovations
Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia
The Rev. Josh Blakesley
Program Coordinator, 'Know Thy Neighbor, Know Thy Self'
Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia
(Thanks to the Eugene Bay Committee, Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church & the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, ELCA for helping to make this workshop possible!)