Obituary for the late Rev. Dr. Richard Nelson Stewart

November 21, 2022

Dr. Richard N. Stewart, Associate Professor Emeritus, who taught communications and parish administration for nearly three decades at the former Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (now United Lutheran Seminary), died in his Philadelphia home on November 13 after a long illness. He was 78.

Born in Toledo, OH, of parents connected to the African American Episcopal and Baptist traditions, Stewart became attracted to the Lutheran Church when his father, Paul, was engaged to become the church musician for Ascension Lutheran Church in Toledo. Stewart went on to become President of the Luther League statewide in Ohio. He thus became a close part of a Lutheran Church in America denominational tradition not always popular with Blacks of his day.

As a professor, Stewart taught rostered leaders in training about the essential aspects of  communications, also how to be effective administrators of congregations they would later lead and the role of administration in providing good pastoral care.

As himself a student and researcher of African American Lutheran history, Stewart also possessed a distinctive pastoral style. His concern for students went well beyond the classroom. He and a close colleague, the Rev. Dr. Charles Leonard, made it a regular practice to attend the ordination rites and other celebrations of many students, sometimes involving far-flung travel. Stewart’s “spare-time” devotion to those students frequently went beneath the radar. He was an expressive and effective preacher with a gentle sense of humor.

Stewart held a lifelong fascination for radio, television, and technology. Before the positions of Information Technology and Instructional Design directors became vogue at schools, Stewart served as a crucial, early bridge to those fields at the seminary. He ran the school’s fledgling media center, engaging in the practice of interviewing seminarians and overseeing the recording of special events like “Preaching with Power.” That decades-old annual March activity features week-long appearances of nationally noted Black preachers in support of the seminary’s Urban Theological Institute, an initiative that has sought to expand the training of African American pastors throughout the Delaware Valley. In this bridge capacity, Stewart was an early advisor to seminary planners on how to make best use of technology in designing the Brossman Center, the Seminary’s first building devoted to classroom teaching.

Stewart met his future spouse, Dawn C. Cartee, at Wittenberg University, Springfield, OH, where both were students. Stewart graduated from Wittenberg with a BA in Sociology in 1967. He received his Master of Divinity degree from Hamma School of Theology in Springfield in 1971, becoming ordained in the Lutheran Church in America (a predecessor body of the current Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) in 1971. Following his ordination, Stewart became assistant pastor of Westwood Lutheran Church, Dayton, OH (1971-1973); served as a consultant to Urban Crisis, Inc., Atlanta, GA (1970-1974); Chaplain for the Dayton (OH) Rehabilitation Center (1972-1973),and worked as Director, Inter-Faith Campus Ministry, Central State University, Wilberforce, OH (1973-1983).

From 1983 to 1989 Stewart was pastor of Lord God of Sabaoth Lutheran Church in Christiansted, St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, a congregation that is more than 200 years old. In 1989 he joined the Seminary faculty as part of its Black Scholars Initiative. At the same time, he engaged in studies at Temple University where he completed all of the course work for the PhD but was unable to finish the dissertation. While at the Seminary, Stewart earned a DMin Degree. In retirement, he served for a time as an interim pastor at his home church, Christ Lutheran Community Church in Upper Darby, PA.

Stewart served on numerous church and synodically-affiliated boards including an eight-year stint on the consulting committee of The Lutheran magazine (now entitled Living Lutheran) and twice serving on the Board of Directors for Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Hamma’s successor school. Among his community posts, Stewart served on the Xenia, OH, Area Interfaith Council, Tornado Disaster Recovery, as a Board member (1974-1978). He was significantly involved in the Conference of International Black Lutherans (CIBL) and the African Descent Lutheran Association (ADLA). CIBL had a special place in his heart because of his deep desire to create a genuine working relationship between Black Lutheran scholars and church leaders from the Northern Hemisphere and the African Continent. During a six-months sabbatical he taught at the Seminary in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

 At the time of Stewart’s death, he was researching an extensive history depicting the contributions of Africans and African Americans to global and domestic Lutheran traditions. He had conducted scores of recorded interviews in which a variety of key Black leaders described the challenges and opportunities of contributing to those traditions. A group of scholars have committed themselves to completing the work Stewart started.

 In addition to Dawn, his widow, Stewart is survived by two sons, Karl, who lives with his spouse, Curtina, in Reno, NV, and Joel of Wyncote, PA.

A Celebration of Life Service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday, December 5, at Christ Lutheran Community Church, 7240 Walnut St, Upper Darby, PA 19082. In lieu of flowers memorial donations can be made to Lutheran Outdoor Ministries or to the Stewart Memorial Fund at United Lutheran Seminary -

The fund will support the continuation of Stewart's research.


 Posted by Linda Fiore