December 3, 2021
Week of Advent 1
Dear ULS Community:
I hope that all of you had as nice a Thanksgiving as Rob and I did. We spent Thanksgiving week on the Gettysburg campus, and Lewars House was put through its paces as we welcomed twenty—yes, 20—of Rob’s relatives for Thanksgiving Day and the day after. That represented four generations, spanning from Rob’s 92-year-old father (who after a few months of shaky health was able to visit us in our new home for the first time) to Rob’s 4-year-old grandniece, his father’s great-grandchild. It was noisy and fun, and we had a nice time. Though the pressure to the plumbing of having so many people in it at once did bring to light some more maintenance this old house needs, we count it all a great success.
In contrast to Rob’s large and complex blended family, I come from a small nuclear family and a quiet one—so I don’t associate family holidays much with boisterousness and noise. But it’s exciting to live on the wild side sometimes, with folks who make the house ring with laughter and good humor. (I only had to hide in my study once.) And—thanks to Rob’s careful organizing—our two-turkey feast was delicious and came together at the right time. It helped that we had scattered the relatives around other campus housing for the occasion, and thus we had a couple more refrigerators and ovens at our disposal than just the ones in the president’s house.
I suppose it happens every year this way, but the bridge from Thanksgiving to the First Sunday of Advent was amazingly short this year, and somehow it caught me completely by surprise. We still had a Thanksgiving guest in the house when the Advent Vespers in the Gettysburg chapel happened last Sunday, and taking her to it was the culminating treat of the holiday weekend. I suppose that because I didn’t have to preach on Advent 1, I didn’t really prepare myself for its coming so soon, and we hadn’t even taken the autumnal decorations down before I had to think about an Advent wreath. (There’s a sermon illustration in there too, about planning and preparedness.) I have to confess I haven’t put a wreath up even now, but plan to do so by Advent 2.
I really love Advent, with its grand hymns and complex Scripture lessons of both anticipation and apocalyptic imagery. I had the chance to preach at the ULS community Eucharist here in Gettysburg yesterday, and it was so nice to be able to reflect on those complex and thought-provoking Advent texts. I hope you’ve been joining me in reading your ULS Advent Star devotions every day. I’m finding them especially meaningful in this year of ongoing pandemic uncertainty.
Among our students on both our physical campuses and our virtual one, the fall semester has entered a pretty hectic phase of reading and papers and final projects. There aren’t many weeks left now, and even I can feel the intensity that comes at the end of the semester and the calendar year. Faculty have their plans in place for spring, booklists are due, and registration for the next semester is already closed—giving us a strong sense of how quickly the academic year is passing. We’ve already started planning for Commencement in May and thinking about how we can give the classes of 2020 and 2021 some special attention as we prepare the class of 2022 to graduate. More information will be posted on our website and social media. We’ll make it as festive as we can both for this year’s class and for those from the previous two classes who wish to return. The pandemic has taken much from us, but not our desire to be together for these meaningful moments.
On our two physical campuses, preparations are being made for some pre-Christmas festivities: I am hosting small after-worship lunches for students on each campus after successive Wednesday chapel services; the staff and faculty on each campus are having special luncheons with some games and prizes; and I’m hosting the whole ULS community to receptions both after the Advent Vespers in Philadelphia on December 5 in the Brossman Center, and before the Music, Gettysburg! Christmas Offering at Lewars House on December 19. There will be cookies and hot cider for all who gather—so join us if you can! Details are on our website.
On a slightly less festive but still important note, our Finance office has completed the audit for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021 in record time, the first time in some years we’ve been able to accomplish that so easily. After the Board receives the report in January we’ll share more, but I can tell you now that the news is generally quite good. We still need the generous support of our donors every year, but our endowment has grown significantly in value, and we are watching expenses closely. It is very satisfying to me to see that ULS is fiscally sound and stable and is likely to be even more so in the future.
As you probably all know, “Giving Tuesday” was earlier this week, and we did wonderfully well, exceeding our goal and (probably) setting a new record in generosity. Generous matching pledges by faithful ULS friends Karen Albrecht and Rev. Winston Dookram put a firm foundation under the rest of the effort. We reached our goal early and raised the bar a bit—and reached that second goal too! If you were one of the many who gave that day, thank you. If not, just keep in mind that any day is a good day to help ULS fulfill its mission of preparing leaders to proclaim the gospel in a changing world.
Between now and Christmas I even have a little travel planned—I am preaching at Augustana Lutheran in Washington, DC, on December 19 and having lunch with a friend of the seminary the day before that in Maryland. Next year will bring a whole raft of such congregational and donor visits. I may be coming to a congregation near you, and it would be great to meet more of you! I’ll try to keep you informed of my movements.
It is one of my great joys in my call here at ULS to encounter people like you everywhere I go, people who tell me that they feel like they really know me even though we’re meeting for the first time in the flesh. I thank you for being interested enough in our seminary to read my missives, and I look forward to being with you again in two weeks with my final “reflections” of the year.
I wish you a blessed and reflective Advent, and every joy in preparing for the festival of Christmas! God bless you.
Rev. R. Guy Erwin, Ph.D.
Ministerium of Pennsylvania Chair
and Professor of Reformation Studies
United Lutheran Seminary