Reflections from President Rev. Dr. R. Guy Erwin

October 22, 2021
Week of Pentecost 21

Dear ULS Community:

My heart is full of joy as I look back on the last two weeks, and especially the inauguration events of last weekend and the life-long learning events of this week: what a rich, full, busy and joyful time this has been! Though the pandemic has kept us cautious and the numbers are still not what they used to be, there were plenty of people present in person to make these events happy ones, and the feeling of excitement that comes from having all the folks together in one place was really tangible.

I am also overwhelmed with gratitude for all the people whose hard work made this happen—just to organize one large event is stressful, but to have three in a row, on three successive days—well, that took a whole village. Linda Fiore, our director of marketing and communications, led the team, but she was ably assisted by many others, including Marlita Lee on the Philadelphia campus and Carla Pavlick on the Gettysburg campus. Don Redman, our tech expert, as always was the unflappable leader of our efforts to get all the events out livestreamed and recorded, and that went wonderfully well. There were lots of others, too, including Kyle Barger, our operations head, who handled logistics between three locations, and the people who helped make all our locations look so good.

I know some of the readers of these Reflections were able to be there in person, and many of you watched the livestream on the ULS YouTube channel. The recordings remain there for those who want to catch the spirit “after the fact.” I do hope those of you who were witnesses were able to sense the anticipation and delight of those of us who were at the center of the event. We needed a little excitement, to be honest, and a little joy in being together at (and “as”) ULS—and joy was what we got!

For me, it was the presence of so many friends of the seminary (and of mine) that was the most powerful aspect of the celebration. How nice to see people face-to-face again, and friends from near and far! I mentioned a few of them in my last Reflections, and there were many more too numerous to list. What a joy to be in the company of people we love to celebrate a seminary we love.

There were a few moments in the events that were particularly memorable for me: one of them was my “chairing” at the Friday night event in the chapel in Philadelphia, where my faculty colleagues draped an Osage blanket over my shoulders and ceremoniously “seated” me in a special chair engraved with my name and the Ministerium of Pennsylvania Chair designation. The impressive list of the former holders of the chair, followed by the lovely collegial moment of having the entire faculty (including some former faculty) gathered around me, and the extra layer of meaning provided by the blanket, brought me to tears. But I had to collect myself quickly, for I had a lecture to give right after that!

A second moment was during the ritual promises I made in the installation rite on Saturday in Lancaster: being asked to commit myself with all my heart and faith to this new call was momentous enough, but to have the questions asked by THIS presiding bishop—the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton—made it even more meaningful to me. For in a way a circle was being closed—over 40 years ago, in 1978, she (then a seminary intern) stood next to me (then a college sophomore) as I made my baptismal promises and was received into the church as a new member of the Body of Christ. What a wondrous and providential leading God has had for us all, in bringing us to these days we now celebrate!

Then, a third indelible moment came during the inaugural concert put on by Music, Gettysburg! in the chapel on that campus on Sunday night: after a meaningful set of musical pieces (and narration read by my husband Rob) we closed with the singing of the hymn “Voices Raised To You We Offer” (ELW 845) by my much-loved predecessor, Dr. Herman Stuempfle. The beautiful words, the soaring melody, and the love for God and music that was clearly present in that room were so strongly and powerfully expressed that the singing literally gave me chills. That his widow was there to sing it too, was very moving to me.

These were just three of many moments I will never forget. I hope others carried away with them from the weekend some of their own special moments too. We can think about these days of joy when things get harder and more tiring, as they inevitably will. I’ll hope to have a few pictures from the events to hang on the walls of my offices to remind me of these bright days on days that are less joyful. But I am generally optimistic about the future and always hopeful—for I know that those who build on the foundation Christ has laid for us, build on rock and not on sand.

Times of rejoicing are important for any community—even in our families, when we gather for holidays we remember those we love and renew our bonds for the future. I could tell that the love and loyalty our alumni and donors and friends feel for their—our—seminary was being renewed and strengthened by this shared experience we were having together, long delayed though it had been. That also fills me with hope.

There is still so much to do, so much work and thought that lies ahead for ULS and for me as we wrestle with what it means to fulfill our mission to prepare leaders for church and society for these challenging days ahead. We need to pull together our many resources of people, property, and funding into patterns of effectiveness and good stewardship. We need to plan for changing times, not digging in too deeply into any one idea, but remaining flexible and adaptable. We need to remember our past, carry forward our founders’ commitments, and answer the call of a God who is always making all things new in Christ.

I give thanks to God for the witness of so many, last weekend, this week, and always, who uphold this seminary with their presence, their gifts, and—especially—their prayers. I hope you will all be with us in this too, as I know many of you already are. God bless you all.

Yours faithfully,

Rev. R. Guy Erwin, Ph.D.
Ministerium of Pennsylvania Chair
and Professor of Reformation Studies
United Lutheran Seminary

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