Reflections from the President
Rev. Dr. R. Guy Erwin
Week of Pentecost 11
August 21, 2020
Dear ULS community:
It’s now been three weeks since I arrived at ULS. Rob and I continue to get settled in on the Philadelphia campus while looking at houses in the new realm of social distancing real estate practices. Our second physical visit to the Gettysburg campus this summer will happen late next week. It feels good to be here in Pennsylvania, and I feel like we are making it a home. The ground feels firmer under our feet now.
I received several heartfelt responses to my initial email greeting last Friday and wanted to share one that echoes my hope for ongoing, transparent and open dialogue with constituents.This alumnus wrote about the love alumni have for the Seminary and that “the relationship will be stronger with regular communication from the seminary and feedback from the constituency.” I hope that by sharing a frequent summary of my activities and my thoughts on how the church and seminary continue to play a vital role in a changing world, we will become more closely knit together in our shared role as faithful stewards of United Lutheran Seminary. I invite you to follow my “public figure” Facebook page to read my daily thoughts and reflections—some serious, some more lighthearted. Perhaps they will provide you some insight into how I think and what’s on my mind. Keep in mind, though, that these are my own ruminations and not statements of ULS policy. I belief knowing each other better will build greater trust between us.
I’m still on a steep learning curve and will be on it for some time. I continue to meet faculty, students and staff in addition to our partner institutions, donors and alumni. I have heard happy stories and painful ones, told with honesty and hope for change. I have had a fruitful meeting with heads of other ELCA seminaries to exchange cooperative strategies focused on recruitment and admissions. I’ve learned more about ULS’s partnership with the Washington Theological Consortium, providing cross-course registration among its members, faculty enrichment opportunities and shared library privileges. There are so many things yet to learn!
One of the highlights of the week past was to join (via Zoom) a “Meet the August Greek Class” and have the chance to meet 30 of our incoming students and hear their “call stories” and how they found their way to ULS. I look forward this week to joining the Social Media intensive course by Zoom. In the last week I met with the faculty representatives to the ULS Board of Trustees, with The United Lutheran Seminary Alumni Association (TULSAA), held my first President’s Cabinet meeting with the senior staff, and met with ULS’s student leaders. I have already joined one meeting of the Urban Theological Institute’s Committee of Advisors. I am just astounded by our Seminary’s reach and diversity, and the deep loyalty of those who support it.
Rob and I are both excited for a two-day trip to the Gettysburg campus next week. There, I’ll continue to meet colleagues and record a couple of videos: a benediction for an upcoming Lutherans Restoring Creation worship service promoting care for creation in the ELCA, and I’ll record a message for “In God’s Image,” as it observes National Coming Out Day on October 11. I’ll also be meeting with staff and faculty while in Gettysburg and get an update on renovations to Lewars House, which we hope will soon be our second home—I long for the day when we can open it to the community again as a locus for hospitality.
Less happily, as I’m sure you’re aware, several colleges and universities around the country have seen a spike in positive COVID-19 cases after only recently opening for the fall semester, forcing a transition to remote learning and in at least one case,sending students back home. I am grateful for the diligent work of the ULS COVID-19 Task Force over the past 5 months in making decisions that best serve the safety and well- being of our community. While we continue to miss the face-to-face contact we used to have, the decision to teach and work remotely for the fall was the right one to make. We are in close communication with Gettysburg College on this, too, as some of its students are housed on our seminary campus. The College shares our Seminary’s concern for the health and well-being of all our students, and together we will be as careful as we can.
In this time of uncertainty and both literal and figurative displacement, many of us have longed for the stability in what we remember of “how things used to be.” I know that I have wrestled with some deep moments of anxiety in the midst of all this. So it is with some comfort that I read this Sunday’s gospel lesson from Matthew 16, in which Jesus—by asking his disciples “Who do you say I that am?”—actually reminds them that their strength, and their future, is in God—and in Jesus. Faith is the rock on which the disciples stood, and faith in God’s promises is the rock on which we still stand today. Things longed for but “not yet seen” come into our sight through that faith. In a time of contagion, of political polarization, and of uncertainty, we still have a rock on which we can stand fast: God’s love, shown in Jesus Christ.
That faith—Peter’s faith and ours—is the rock on which I stand. It strengthens me in difficult days. I ask you to join me in showing an extra measure of care for each other in the days just ahead, as we all wrestle with challenges both shared and private, in this beginning of a semester unlike any other. I do hope these messages from me to you can serve as a way for us to stay connected and as a reminder to each of us also to care for ourselves, as we try to care for each other. You will be in my prayers, and I ask for yours.
Grace and peace,
Rev. R. Guy Erwin, Ph.D.
Ministerium of Pennsylvania Chair
and Professor of Reformation Studies
United Lutheran Seminary