The Turns in Ministry through Seminex

Bob Stuenkel

Editor’s Note: Few events have shaped Lutheranism in America more than those connected with Seminex whose 40th anniversary is being observed this year. Prior to that time incremental steps were being taken to foster Lutheran unity in the nation.  Under the Lutheran Council (LCUSA) campus ministers across the country worked and worshipped together.  Missionaries from the LCA, ALC, and the LCMS together were prepared for their work overseas. Military Chaplains worked in tandem to serve Lutherans and others in the armed forces. One student congregation in Ft, Collins, CO,  even belonged to all three Synods.

The actions surrounding the New Orleans Convention and Seminex changed all that. It left the dream of  united Lutheranism shattered. The LCMS was torn apart. Some left and others continue to live in a still divided church body.  The ELCA was formed with the separated group from Missouri, the ALC and LCA.  However, tensions in that church body have led to even more divisions.

On the 40th anniversary of Seminex, the DayStar JOURNAL will feature articles, some rather lengthy, from people involved in the Seminex event.  To understand the current shape of American Lutheranism, these articles are extremely important and well worth the time it takes to read them.

Bob Stuenkel, a 1964 graduate of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, served in campus ministry for 36 years: 1967-74, at Indiana State University and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute; 1974-78, in the Detroit Metropolitan Lutheran Campus Ministry; and 1978-2003, as pastor of University Lutheran Church & Campus Ministry at the University of Colorado at Boulder.  Bob received the S.T.M. degree at Concordia Seminary in July 1973.

Bob and Julie continue to make their home in Boulder, and, since retirement in 2003, they spend the winter months in Sarasota, FL.  Bob’s clergy membership is in the Florida-Georgia District, LCMS.

         The Seminex experience was intertwined with our Lutheran Campus Ministry in Terre Haute, Indiana, during the 1973-74 academic year.  While January 1974 was a pivotal time in the whole Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the months following the July New Orleans Convention in 1973 and, then, the aftermath of the Exile from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis in the “bleak mid-winter” left us with a distinct Seminex imprint.  The story of impact from this unjust judgment on the part of synodical leadership and the “tragic necessity” of exile can be told from so many perspectives.  I am eager to give one personal and community account which illustrates the dramatic “turns” experienced because of Seminex. 

        Of course, the “brand” name of Seminex evolved out of this crisis.  When Mark Strietelmeier of Columbus, IN, transferred from Indiana State University in Terre Haute to Concordia Senior College in Fort Wayne, IN, for his senior year in the fall of 1971, the theological education for ministry at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, was clearly his goal.  I was delighted to project these educational steps for Mark in our campus ministry and accompany him in a Senior College visit that outlined the specifics for his ministerial preparation.  Its not likely that Mark would have been exposed in his first college years to my concerns for direction of our church body with the election of Jacob Preus as synodical president in the summer of 1969.  (Even that election became personalized in having a conversation with Dr. Preus in Paris, IL, on the day after his return from the Denver Convention.  He seemed overwhelmed, but we knew the new presidents orientation.)

        Now in his first year at Concordia Seminary [CS], Mark was a member of the large student body (more than 400 in residence) studying with an outstanding faculty of forty-seven members.  The winds of concern about the teaching of the professors, particularly on the authority of Scripture, were growing stronger in the Synod.  Still, note the dramatic turn that takes place officially in one year.  James Burkee condenses the story, and a paragraph from his book, Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod, illustrates this turn: 

        “In January 1973, the Seminarys Board of Control [BoC] under mandate from the 1971 convention and Preus to reexamine the doctrine of Concordias professors, commended all forty four faculty members following two months of interrogation.  Furthermore, the Boardnot yet under Preus controlelaborated that not one faculty member needed to be corrected.  . . .Preus, in an April Brother to Brothernewsletter, warned that he would now take the issue to the convention” (pages 142 & 143).

        I had the perspective of being an advisory delegate of the Indiana District at the Synods Convention in New Orleans, July 1973.  (What a blessing to be accompanied by my wife Julie, to be with my fathera committee memberand mother, and brother Roger, a voting delegate from the South Dakota District!)  I heard Concordia Seminary President John Tietjen state to the Convention of over 1000 delegateson Wednesday evening, July 11, 1973: “Our Board of Control listened to us and after careful consideration, voting on the faculty one by one, had affirmed that we were not to be accused of false doctrine but were teaching in accord with the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions” (Memoirs In Exile: Confessional Hope and Institutional Conflict, page 141). 

        John Tietjen was responding to the accusations in Resolution 3-09: “a. subversion of the authority of Scripture (formal principle); b.Gospelism or Gospel reductionism whereby the authority of Scripture is reduced to its Gospel content; c. denial of the third use of the Law, i.e., the function of the Law as guide for the Christian in his life.”

        On July 12, 1973 by a vote of 574 to 451 the convention declared the Concordia Seminary faculty to be teaching false doctrine that “cannot be tolerated in the church of God.”  What a turn!  Yes, there can be a change of mind that comes from presentation of facts and substantial evidence.  Study, discussion, and debate may be an healthy instrument for mission and take the church as institution in a good direction.  The turns in the life of the church, however, that are brought about by false statements, mistrust and control/power should “not be tolerated in the church of God.”  It is in a critical situation like Resolution 3-09 that I am inspired by those first lines of the familiar hymn: “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father; There is no shadow of turning with thee. . .” (“Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” Lutheran Service Book, #809)

        The elections of the New Orleans Convention reinforced the ultra-conservative  program, together with the key resolutions on enacting Jacob Preuss “A Statement of Scriptural and Confessional Principles” (Resolution 3-01) and on the teaching of the Concordia Seminary faculty, Resolution 3-09.  The Preus party had published an election guide, and it took control of all the major boards and commissions of the Synod.  It gained a six-to-five majority on the CS Board of Control, in fact, 143 of the 147 candidates listed in the guide were elected.

        There was a devastating turn in the Board of Control meetings during the fall of 1973  from the “commending” of the faculty members in January of 1973.  The culmination came on January 20, 1974 when the Board of Control voted 6-to-5 to suspend President John Tietjen.  John stated in his Memoirs In Exile: “The November meeting of the BoC shocked the students into realizing that they would be attending a very different seminary from the one they had entered in September” (page 192).

        Mark Strietelmeier, now a second-year seminarian, kept our Campus Ministry Assembly in Terre Haute, IN, informed, a meaningful reciprocal relationship.  We were able to support Mark and the Seminary community in the prayers of our Chapel worship, and we received insights from a student/seminarian facing the full range of vocational uncertainties.  A shocking action of the BoC in November was the decision not to renew the contract of faculty member Paul Goetting.  The BoC also changed the retirement policy, declaring that all faculty members who had reached the age of sixty-five would be “honorably” retired or put on modified service as of February 1974.  This was an obvious step in purging faculty members.

        The students spent December 5 in a “Day of Theological Reflection” to deal with the problems confronting the Seminary.  Out of the reflection came a document, “With One Voice,” in which the students appealed to the BoC to reverse its November actions.  Ultimately, 450 students signed the document.  John Tietjen adds: “ With One Voice cited the apostle Pauls description of the church as the body of Christ to affirm an identity between the faculty majority and the students of CS: Because as members of the Body of Christ we do not suffer alone but together, we understand the condemnation of the faculty majority of Concordia Seminary to apply also to us “ (p. 192).  Our campus ministry community in Terre Haute, IN, felt in solidarity with them as a ministry in higher education, particularly because of our personalized connection.

        Mark kept in touch with us almost daily by phone in January.  On January 19 and 20, 1974, just before the meeting of the BoC, the Student Administrative Council (SAC) and the leaders of Seminarians Concerned came together with some campus pastors they had invited to listen to their concerns and share advice.  One of them, Elmer Witt, suggested they consider a moratorium, and after discussing it decided to present it to a meeting of the student body.  Martin Marty gave encouragement by a videotaped presentation.  Eugene Brueggemann, chair of the LCMS caucus of our Lutheran campus ministry staff, was a participant and supported a moratorium.  The LCMS campus ministry caucus had delegated Marcus Pera, Elmer Witt, and me to stay in close contact with the Seminary community and serve as liaison in support from our sister ministries.  I consulted frequently with the colleagues in those months and identified fully with the Seminary community in this capacity and as Marks campus pastor.

        The whole sequence of a moratorium, essentially beginning with the BoC meeting on January 21-22, is chronicled by John Tietjen, pages 187-207.  That chapter is very instructive about the community process, which was shared by Mark but has become vague in my mind.  The BoC had issued a deadline to the faculty for returning to the classroom. The Faculty Advisory Committee (FAC) “agreed that vacant classrooms were the most radical and most eloquent form of Christian witness that the faculty could make in response to the suspension [of President John Tietjen].  The FAC agreed to recommend that classrooms should remain vacant until the moral and theological issues were squarely faced and resolved by an action that either clears or dismisses the faculty majority” (p. 197).

        We need to remember a remarkable action of the CS students during the moratorium.  They agreed to disperse across the nation, “spending from a week to ten days in reporting to the people of the Missouri Synod what was happening in St. Louis and why they had declared a moratorium” (p. 200).  A total of 259 students participated, logging more than 118,000 miles.

        John Tietjen gives the specific series of events: “On February 6 the faculty acted to deal with the growing student unrest.  It affirmed its commitment to complete the winter quarter and to follow the curriculum as closely as possible for the spring quarter.  It declared its intention of certifying and placing graduates on May 1 and of providing internships on March 22” (p. 202).  The faculty wrote to the BoC to announce that it would resume instruction on February 19, the day following the February BoC meeting.  It informed the BoC that instruction wouldtake place in the CS classrooms if the BoC took steps to reverse the decisions of the past months.  If there is no satisfactory resolution of the issues, “Theological education conducted by the same faculty with the same students under the same curriculum and confessional commitment would begin again, but it will not be under your auspices and not at the customary location” (Memoirs, p. 202).    

         At 11:00AM on February 19, the Concordia Seminary community was gathered in the Field House for a student vote on whether the students would join the faculty in resuming theological education through a seminary in exile.  The action was decisivewith only a handful of students voting against the exile.  John Damm, the Academic Dean, expressed the feelings of faculty and students: “Seminex is undertaken reluctantly” (p. 211).

        The procession from the Quad and Luther Tower, headed through the tree-filled east campus toward DeMun Avenue.  The “exiles” were led by a crucifer and a banner bearer.  The banner depicted a felled tree from which a new shoot was growing.  The design was created by faculty member Robert Werberig to serve as a symbol for those who were going into exile.  A tree stump in the corner of our front yard, covered from the sidewalk by a large evergreen shrub, is a reminder of Seminex each time I see it for over thirty years.  No new shoot has grown from the decaying centers of the two trunks, but the holly and lavender and mum flowers give life all around it.

        The turns through Seminex were mutual for Mark Strietelmeier, for our Campus Ministry Assembly in Terre Haute, and for my ministry relationship in the LCMS.  Mark reflects on his full Seminary experience: “I was not a big player but I was there and I voted and I signed and I walked and I wore a red shirt on that walking day, because I had a sense of the revolution that this  really was.  Nobody seemed to talk back to authority in the LCMS but we had.  The students led the way.  Faculty only did their voting after students called for a suspension of classes.  These were defining moments and I have never regretted the redirection.  But it was frightening and there was pressure from all sides” (personal correspondence.)

        My ministry experience was especially affected by “bookend” calls.  I received a call in January 1974 to the Lutheran Campus Ministry at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.  Julie and I visited the campus ministry congregation as part of the healthy consideration, and I was able to consult with Indiana District leaders and mission board.  In fact, the campus ministry committee of the mission board happened to be meeting at our Lutheran Student Center in Terre Haute, and they urged me to remain in this ministry of six and one-half years.  I did return the call in early February.

         In the fall term of the 1973 academic year, Immanuel Lutheran Church in Terre Haute and our Lutheran Student Assembly at the Student Center & Chapel had invited the Concordia Seminary Chorus to present a concert at Immanuel on their tour in February.  The relationship with Immanuel congregation was strongsupportive in every way of this full-time campus ministry, our family membership, and my service in their “vacancy,” which was filled with a pastor from the St. Louis area during the fall.  Arrangements had been made for co-hosting the Seminary Chorus, even publicity placed with the newspaper and sent to  congregations in the area.  I was called on a Sunday morning in early February to meet with the elders following worship services in both places.  They notified me that they were withdrawing their sponsorship, even referring to the Seminary Chorus as “those rebellious boys.”  Their decision changed our relationship dramatically.

        Our CM Assembly Council determined to proceed with hosting the Chorus and to hold the concert in the Chapel of our Student Center.  The neighboring ALC and LCA congregations volunteered assistance in housingas did several of our students in their residences.  The Concordia Seminary-Seminex Chorus presented its concert as scheduled for monthswith a filled chapel.  The students and accompanying faculty members, Robert Bergt and Alfred von Rohr Sauer, shared their experiences freely with us, and they were very appreciative of the support of our community.

         The most telling reaction came in my consideration of the call from the Michigan District in April to serve in the new Detroit Metropolitan Lutheran Campus Ministryand to team with a pastor called by the National Lutheran Campus Ministry agency of the LCA and ALC.  The support of the Indiana District President, Elwood Zimmermann, had changed from his close association as Executive Secretary for Missions in the formative years of our campus ministry.  He and the mission board almost encouraged my acceptance of the call, seemingly a response to our support for Seminex.  The “turn” in those three months was significant. 

        We followed the spring months of Christ Seminary, based at St. Louis University, through Marks sharing with us.  He recounts vividly the uncertainties of a vicarage assignment and, then, serving with two LCMS congregations in the Rome, NY, area.  I was able to participate as preacher in Marks ordination and installation as pastor of St. George Lutheran Church (LCA) in rural Edinburgh, IN, in the summer of1977.  Prof. Gilbert Thiele represented the Seminex community with special meaning.

        There was a year of “unemployment” for Mark after his graduation from Christ Seminary-Seminex, when he returned to his home area in Indiana.  He shares his memory of one hurtful change: “Up until my going with Seminex I was more than welcome to cover for vacationing pastors in my home Columbus area.  After the break I couldnt get the time of day.  In fact, Elwood Zimmermann traveled, I am told, all the way to Jonesville, IN, to talk a congregation out of calling me.  St. Paul, Jonesville, is LCMS.  So my experience is like yours in that the tide turns as pressure is applied.”        

        Mark continues to serve in the Indiana/Kentucky Synod of the ELCA, the gifted pastor of Zion Congregation, and of deep family roots in the LCMS.  (Marks uncle was John Strietelmeier of Valparaiso University.)  Marks response in ministry was cultivated in Seminexs “Faithful to Our Calling; Faithful to Our Lord” (Developed in the 1972-73 academic year from faculty members Affirmations of Faith).  A good number of the Seminex student in 1974 became pastors in the Missouri Synod by various routes.  Ralph Klein, CS/Seminex and LSTC professor,  reported at the Seminex 40th Anniversary Reunion in June 2014 that 372 of the 750 students at Seminex in 1974-1983 are rostered in the ELCA.   13 are listed in other denominations as ordained ministers.

        My campus ministries in the Detroit Metro area (1974-78) and at the University of Colorado in Boulder (1978-2003) were developed as inter-Lutheran mission settings.  Each faced the challenge(s) that came into the Terre Haute ministry coinciding with Seminex.  The “turns” of these forty years have been considerable.  May we all take heart from the refrain of a contemporary hymn, based on the Magnificat:

        “My heart shall sing of the day you [“God of my heart”] bring,

         Let the fires of your justice burn.

         Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn

                        (“Canticle of the Turning,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #723)

                                                                                       

Bibliography

James C. Burkee, Power, Politics, and the Missouri Synod: A Conflict That Changed American Christianity  (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011).

 John H. Tietjen, Memoirs In Exile: Confessional Hope and Institutional Conflict (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990).

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2 thoughts on “The Turns in Ministry through Seminex

  1. In about 1975-1980 my father donated our heirloom family Bible to Seminex in St Louis County. I would dearly like to know what happened to it & I would like to get a scan of the family records pages. I have talked to several people, including a librarian at a Lutheran Seminary in Texas which received many books from the Seminex library, but no record can be found of what happened to it. It was a Lutheran version, printed in a script to look like handwriting, probably printed between 1600 and 1700. It was very large, about 16″ x 12″ x 6″ thick, including wood covers, with leather straps. A unique identifier is that it was printed in German. I have a long list of names which might appear in the family records entries. It was accompanied by an interesting letter of provenance, that it came to our family about 150 years ago, by being traded with a neighbor for a ‘sprinkling can of wine’. If anyone has any ideas where or how it might be traced, please write to me: themomma09 at gmail.com. Thank you for this post.

    • As you know, the Seminex library went to Austin, TX.

      However, the Seminex Rare book collection went to Wartburg Seminary.

      It is possible that your family Bible is there. So you should should contact the Wartburg Seminary library.
      Warm regards,
      Matt Becker

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