Wednesday, March 14, 2007

R.I.P., Brother Herman

The Rev. Dr. Herman G. Stuempfle who served Gettysburg Seminary as professor, chaplain, dean, and president has died.

Eternal rest grant him, O Lord;
And let perpetual light shine upon him.

I was privileged to study preaching with Dr. Stuempfle -- along with a January course on Bernard of Clairvaux and a course on literature and theology. The integration of the fine arts into the task of preaching was of particular skill to Dr. Stuempfle, and he was always generous, clear, and committed in promoting his approach.

For those who want to read on, here is the entire communication from the synod in which Dr. Stuempfle served:

Lutheran Educator, Seminary President, and Prolific Hymn Author Herman G. Stuempfle Dies (Gettysburg, PA)

The Rev. Dr. Herman G. Stuempfle Jr., a Lutheran church leader known for his outstanding contributions as a preacher, professor, president and poet died Tuesday, March 13, 2007, following a long illness. StuempfleÂ’s life and work will be remembered in a memorial service to be held at the Church of the Abiding Presence, the chapel of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Saturday, March 17, 2007, at 2pm.

Stuempfle, born April 2nd 1923 in Clarion, Pennsylvania, was a resident of Gettysburg for more than five decades and best known as the President of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, serving as professor, dean and president for a total of 27 years. Beginning in 1962, he served the seminary as the John and Susannah Ulrich Professor of the Art of Preaching, teaching seminarians as late as the spring semester of 2003.

The Rev. Michael Cooper-White, President of the Gettysburg Seminary, said "During the latter half of the 20th century, no other individual left a larger imprint on the life of Gettysburg Seminary than Dr. Herman Stuempfle." "On his watch as dean and president the Seminary fortified its reputation for academic excellence," Cooper-White continued, "doubled housing capacity for students, launched the widely renowned Music Gettysburg! Concert series, welcomed the local YWCA to our campus, and navigated the turbulent times as the newly formed Evangelical Lutheran Church in America struggled to solidify its system of theological education. But it was in the classroom and chapel where Dr. Stuempfle's most enduring legacy was forged. As professor of homiletics, and author of the widely acclaimed Preaching Law and Gospel, he sounded a defining tone for a whole generation of us who were blessed to be his students."

Stuempfle, a product of the public schools of Hughesville, PA, was a graduate of Susquehanna University and the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. He received additional advanced degrees from Union Theological Seminary in New York and the doctoral degree (Th.D.) at Southern California School of Theology at Claremont. Before coming to Gettysburg Seminary in 1962 as professor of preaching, he served congregations in York and Gettysburg, PA and in Baltimore, MD. For four years he was associate director of the Board of Social Ministry of the United Lutheran Church in America. In addition to his teaching, he served as seminary chaplain for a brief time and in 1971 he became dean of Gettysburg Seminary.

Following his inauguration in 1976 as the 10th president of the Gettysburg Seminary, the oldest Lutheran graduate and professional school in North America, he spent thirteen years of service as its president. He retired in 1989, remaining a rostered pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).Stuempfle is the author of several books and numerous articles and lectures on preaching, history and theology.

The Rev. Donald McCoid, Bishop of the ELCA's Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod and chairman of the Seminary Board of Directors, said "Herman Stuempfle will long be remembered for his preaching, his hymnody and his personal graciousness. Years after he preached them, we can still remember some of his sermons."

His most widely read theology text, Preaching Law and Gospel, was published by Fortress Press in 1978. He also wrote Preaching in the Witnessing Community (1973) and Theological and Biblical Perspectives on the Laity (1973), and Images for Ministry: Reflections of a Seminary President (1995). He contributed to preaching resources such as Proclamation: Lent. In addition, he wrote scholarly and popular articles for journals, the Lutheran Magazine, and adult Christian education curriculum. Stuempfle and his wife of 50 years, Gretchen S. Parkinson, are the parents of two sons, Stephen and David, and one daughter, Kristin.


In the years of Stuempfle's presidency, the seminary faculty continued to evolve with more than ten appointments. The presence of women in the student body increased from 13% to more than a third of seminarians. The Seminary initiated its Washington, D.C. based program of study and established its House of Studies there during Stuempfle's tenure. At the same time, Stuempfle helped develop the Town and Country Church Institute, created a permanent chaplaincy for students, and initiated a support program for the seminary's overseas students. A major chapel renovation resulted in the installation of the Andover tracker organ and the beginnings of the Music, Gettysburg! concert series. Also under his leadership, the Seminary entered into a long term agreement with the YWCA permitting its facility on the seminary campus. The Seminary also expanded the A. R. Wentz library. Annual support for the seminary grew 400% during his 14 year presidency and a successful capital campaign added significant resources to the seminary's assets.

The Hymn Writer

Stuempfle is among the most honored and respected of hymn writers of the 20th and 21st Centuries. His four volumes of hymn texts, published by GIA Publications, include songs of devotion and reflection; dancing and jubilation; sorrow, wonder, and delight. The collections are entitled: The Word goes Forth : hymns, songs, and carols (1993), Redeeming the time : a cycle of song for the Christian year (1997), Awake our hearts to praise : hymns, songs, and carols (2000), Wondrous Love Has Called Us (2006). His texts have graced Lutheran congregational anniversaries, consecrations of Roman Catholic bishops, and English hymnal supplements.

It was in retirement that he became an active hymn writer. He has written an estimated 550 texts, more than half of them already published. Stuempfle is among the most published hymn writers in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, published in 2006, which features eight of his hymn texts. Stuempfle has always been mindful of the link between preaching and hymn writing, saying "Hymns are the sung testimony to God's mighty acts of grace and judgment," and creating hymns always remained for him a part of his "fundamental vocation to communicate the Gospel." Dr. Mark Oldenburg, the Seminary's Steck-Miller Professor of the Art of Worship, and fellow hymn writer said his "language is simple, glorious, and deep, whether he's preaching or writing."

Community Leader

Dr. Stuempfle was known throughout the Central Pennsylvania area, and Gettysburg in particular, for leadership in community and civic projects. Always taking an active stance in social issues, he participated in the creation of day care centers, served on the Gettysburg area Inter church social action committee, and the community wide observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. He helped create and support prison ministries and a local homeless shelter. He tutored young people in the after school program of Christ Lutheran Church of Gettysburg, where he was a member, and where and chaired the congregation's most recent building expansion and renovation efforts. He was a trustee of both Susquehanna University and Gettysburg College.


Stuempfle has been honored everywhere he has served, spoken and contributed. Symbolic of the esteem with which he was held in many communities over decades, Susquehanna University, Gettysburg College and Thiel College, Greenville, PA. presented him with a honorary degrees. He became the first recipient of the Gettysburg Seminary Distinguished Alumni Award in 1989. The Seminary named a student apartment facility for him and recently began a major project to fund the Herman G. Stuempfle Chair of the Proclamation of the Word in his honor. That endowment project1 milliony crossed the $1million mark on its way to full funding at $1.5 million.

The Gettysburg Rotary organization presented Stuempfle with its fourth 2006 Eisenhower Humanitarian Award, the first going to Eisenhower himself and Bob Hope. He was granted the "Peacemaker Award" from the Gettysburg area based Interfaith Center for Peace and Justice. He was admitted to the Academic Hall of Fame of Hughesville High School in 2003. The Hymn Society of the United States and Canada awarded Stuempfle the elite status of "Fellow of the Hymn Society" in 2004, demonstrating the deep and abiding appreciation for his dynamic creativity in the pulpit, at the lectern, and at the writing desk.

The Rev. Carol Hendrix, Bishop of the Lower Susquehanna Synod, ELCA, gave thanks "to God for the gift of the Rev. Dr. Herman G. Stuempfle Jr., pastor of the church, whose pastoral presence and words have impacted the lives of people throughout the world. A consummate churchman, Dr. Stuempfle used his many God-given gifts in service to Christ's church and as a faithful disciple of the lord Jesus Christ. Through his books, his teaching and preaching, and the hymns he wrote he helped to keep the church faithful. He was a gracious, gentle man whose life we celebrate."

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

All in there Family

-- with apologies to Norman Lear.

There is a fascinating discussion going on over at The Volokh Conspiracy, here, that wrestles with issues of familial essentialism, biology-is-destiny, adoption, artificial insemination, and -- while they don't address is there -- public policy regarding child protection. Chuck Colson is always good for a good and controversial quote. (Does he really mean to suggest that there is something theologically suspect about adopting a child?) Thanks to Eugene Volokh (one of the conspirators) for highlighting the issue.

This is an issue that cuts me at several levels. I have served as a family lawyer in divorce and custody cases. (Thank God I had the good sense to leave that behind.) And I have served as a guardian ad litem in juvenile court -- charged to represent not children or parents or others, but in the lingo of the law the "best interests of the child." (And that can be a painful and important distinction.) Beyond that, I wrote my M.S. thesis on ethnic connections (and variations) in family structures, and I wrote my law review article (I might add, "award-winning" law review article) on same-sex marriage. Before those experiences, I was originally trained and ordained as a pastor, so theological issues are never far from the surface. (In case anyone is interested, even though I am no longer "rostered," i.e., serving as pastor on the roles of any denomination's clergy, I still believe myself bound by the vows I made at my ordination -- primary among them to stand fast against false doctrine and inadequate scriptural representation.)

To assert that we are in the midst of a social upheaval regarding what constitutes "family" is to test other's patience with its obviousness. So when Brother James Dobson urges politicians to "Focus on the Family," I wonder what "family" he references with that definite article. When I remember back to my first child-protection case, I wonder what we all think a family is, that we so blithely consign children to their biological roots regardless of the chance for harm to them.

In my first child protection case, "my child" -- i.e., the child whose best interests I was charged with representing to the court -- was a 6-month-old baby whose mother was 13 years old, (She had become pregnant at age 12 by a high school senior of her acquaintance, and the "father" was no where to be found.) The case came to child protection from the baby's pediatrician, who was concerned that the mother kept leaving the baby with friends so that she could do the things young teenagers do and then forgetting for days on end where she had left her child. Mother and child were living with mother's 42-year-old grandma (who was herself pregnant) because mother's mother couldn't control mother.

Under state law, the court was charged with doing all in its power to keep that "family" together -- or "reunifying" the "family" if the child had been taken from the home, as she had been. In other words, the system was geared to returning the child to the care of the mother (with the county's providing appropriate supports to help her succeed as a parent, commonsense doubts of the effectiveness of that service notwithstanding). After several months of wrangling in and out of court, sure enough, baby was placed in custody with her great-grandmother so that mother could continue to "parent" her under guidance of the great-grandmother.

I read Chuck Colson to say that there is something biblically, sociologically, psychologically, and all else healthier and "normal" about that situation for a child than there is when a separating lesbian couple each desire custody of the child they had been raising together (even though only one of the mothers had a biological connection with the child). I also read him to say that society has played an unholy game with children by allowing artificial insemination (in all its various guises, I suppose, but primarily in its third-party donor variety) and even adoption.

That strikes me as faulty theology, if not just damned silliness. Biology is not destiny, according to Scripture. If the resurrection doesn't prove that, nothing does. Additionally, family ties are important; no dispute there. But Jesus also cautioned his followers of the contingency of familial ties. And marriage and childbearing within marriage have been blessed by God; that is undeniable. But the rest, it seems to me is argument from silence.

There may be good prudential reasons for cautions about artificial insemination. (I hear that there are lawsuits at least pending that seek to pierce the veil of secrecy surrounding donors for purposes of finding one's "real" father or gaining child support or whatever. But they will only succeed in a structure which presumes that "fatherhood" is exclusively biological, as opposed to social, bond and experience.) And one may argue against same-sex marriage on prudential, moral, and theological grounds.

But I think it completely wrong to ignore that children borne into a relationship are children of the relationship, regardless of whether the partners are married straights or partnered gays/lesbians. Children who are adopted need to be socialized to see that their "real" parent (how I loathe that talk) is the one who wiped up the puke when they were sick, and drove them to soccer, and put up with their sass -- not the one who biologically "fathered" the child or bore her to birth. (I'm willing to be convinced otherwise, but I think that Jesus' experience with Joseph is probably not something that we can analogize from.)

Chuck Colson is on sinking sand with his argument.

Perhaps more later. But in the meantime, check out the controversy.

Monday, March 05, 2007

"Versus Populum" versus "Versus Orientam"

When I named this blog "Versus Populum," I chose the title deliberately. Because of my interest in liturgy, I intended a slight nod in the direction of what had been for some time a relatively minor controversy among church-types -- viz., whether the mass ought to be celebrated with the presbyter/pastor/priest facing the altar or facing the people. "Versus Populum" translates as "facing the people," but I did not intend to act as a proponent of that liturgical posture: I, in fact, prefer (for aesthetic, theological, liturgical, and pastoral reasons) the opposite -- called "ad orientem" or "toward the East" -- in which the pastor faces the same direction of the people, traditionally east, to face the rising sun/Son. I was convinced of the propriety of this position -- in contradiction of what I was taught by Robert Jenson decades ago -- by no less an authority than then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in a book written "before he changed the color of his cassock" (as Fr. Newman -- see below -- describes the situation).

I chose the title because I wanted to raise issues of church life face-to-face, as it were, with the people of the Church. I want to speak eye-to-eye, not from some great tower from which my wisdom can fall like rain on the needy. Just so it's clear: My choice of a title was word play.

Now comes a blog with a title the opposite of mine which does, in fact, stand for what it says: Fr. Jay Scott Newman writes "Ad Orientem," and he strenuously argues regularly for all kinds of re-orientation in the Church. Fr. Newman is a robust scholar, debater, writer, and priest. Even when I disagree with him (as I often do), I find that he is worth reading. (That, in this case, we agree both in principle and in level of enthusiasm on the matter of east-facing priests pleases me.) At this entry, he commends a book on the subject of the direction a priest ought to assume in leading the mass. I will try to read the book soon, especially given that it argues for a position with which I agree (and that it is endorsed by the person who convinced me of the propriety of the posture).

I commend further Fr. Newman's blog to you. He is a good friend of Fr. Al Kimel, whose work in "Pontifications" I regularly recommend here. And by reading the two of them (with a critical eye), one could get a quite decent education in classic Christian theology.

By the way, my title to this post is also meant humorously. I do not mean to suggest that there is a battle of the blogs going on between Fr. Newman and me. I'm smarter than that: I'd lose any such contest hands down. The lawyer in me just couldn't resist using "versus" three times in one heading.