Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago

LSTC >> About LSTC >> History >> 50th Anniversary >> Kadi Billman: Braided Stream


Many Voices, One Story


About the author:

Kathleen \'Kadi\' Billman

The Rev. Kathleen D. “Kadi” Billman, Ph.D., is the John H. Tietjen Professor of Pastoral Ministry: Pastoral Theology at LSTC.

She served as Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs from 2000 – 2010.

This brief history is part of the LSTC Student Handbook.

Download this account as a PDF.

Highlights from LSTC History: A Braided Stream

by Kathleen D. “Kadi” Billman,
John H. Tietjen Professor of  Pastoral Ministry: Pastoral Theology

Professor Barbara Rossing has sometimes used the image of the “braided stream” to describe LSTC, and that image has captured many people’s hopes for LSTC, past and present.  “Braided streams are rivers of many branches, crisscrossing, weaving together and then dividing again—often found in glacial or mountain settings—making a pattern of ever-shifting water channels.”  Although they may look very rocky and tumultuous close up, “from a distance a braided stream can look like beautiful strands of French-braided hair, with the sun sparkling off each strand” (see Walk in the Ways of Wisdom: Essays in Honor of Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, eds. Shelly Matthews, Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, and Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre, pp. 74-87).

LSTC owes its existence to a crisscrossing and flowing together of many branches of the Lutheran “stream.”  It came into existence on September 4, 1962, as the result of the merging of four Lutheran seminaries. Augustana Theological Seminary, Rock Island, Illinois, was the oldest of the predecessor schools (founded 1860). LSTC numbers its academic years from Augustana's inception; thus the 2007 graduates of LSTC were listed in a commencement program announcing the 147th commencement of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

The other three original merging schools were Grand View Seminary, Des Moines, Iowa (founded 1886); Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary, Maywood, Illinois (1891); and Suomi Theological Seminary, Hancock, Michigan (1896). In June 1967 Central Lutheran Theological Seminary of Fremont, Nebraska (1893), merged with the consolidated seminary at Chicago. Thus from the beginning LSTC constituted a tapestry of several ethnic heritages in Lutheranism—Danish, Finnish, German, and Swedish—that joined together in 1963 to form the Lutheran Church in America.

The eyes of the entire church were upon us.  The motto of university, city, and ecumenical outreach embodied the hopes and dreams of the church. Everyone wanted us to succeed… No one who was part of LSTC in those years can forget the thrill and the optimism and the hard work (LSTC Epistle, Summer 2006 edition, p. 17.  See also see Harold Skillrud’s Decade of Decision for an account of LSTC’s early history).

The Tumultuous and Sparkling Waters of the 1960s -70s

Hefner’s article (noted above) is full of stories about the early years of LSTC, and the high hopes and tremendous challenges the school experienced.  In the braided stream of institutional life, both sparkling and rocky places intermingled.  LSTC’s first president, Stewart W. Herman, encouraged faculty and students to participate in the civil rights movement and he joined the march at Selma, Alabama, in March 1964.  Yet it is also true that at the laying of the cornerstone of the seminary, he was confronted by protesters distressed that apartment buildings, including several that housed students whose rents were subsidized, were demolished to make way for the new seminary building. 

At his inaugural address President Herman asserted, “In direct contrast to the general trend in the resettlement of seminaries, we are moving into the city, not away from it” (see article by President James Kenneth Echols, Epistle, Summer 2006, p. 11).  Yet the struggle to embrace this vision was not a smooth one, as predecessor seminaries located in pleasant rural and suburban settings faced a move to a neighborhood considered “an unstable social experiment” in the 1960s, and a city that would—like other U.S. cities—experience tremendous social upheaval during the 1960s and 1970s.  LSTC would participate in it, not just as spectator, but actor as well.

The history-making Democratic Convention of 1968 took place in Chicago during the summer following [Martin Luther] King’s assassination. LSTC was publicly identified as a place of refuge for those protesting the [Vietnam] war.  The “Chicago Eight,” who were brought to trial after the convention for conspiracy and inciting to riot, held a public meeting at the seminary, for a standing room only crowd (Ibid., 18).

In the decade of the 1970s, the streams of African American and Hispanic/Latino Lutheranism infused the braided stream of LSTC with new currents and new directions. 

In 1972, LSTC joined a group of Pan Lutheran local church leaders in establishing an academy for the training of Hispanic lay leaders.  This initiative was succeeded by the creation of a Hispanic Ministry Program in 1978, and Rev. Roberto Navarro was called to be the Director of this program.  Navarro was succeeded by José David Rodríguez in 1987, who held this position from 1987 to 2004   From its early beginning the Hispanic/Latino Ministry Program reached out to a variety of constituents, lay and clergy, from TEEM (Theological Education for Emerging Ministries) candidates to Ph.D. candidates (see Epistle, Spring 2004, pp. 18-19).

Albert (“Pete”) Pero earned a Ph.D. from LSTC in 1975, after study at Concordia Seminary and Christ Seminary-Seminex, becoming the first African American Lutheran to earn a Ph.D. in theology.  In that same year, he became an instructor at LSTC, becoming a full-time faculty member in 1977—the first African American professor at any Lutheran seminary. His leadership in creating the first Multicultural Conference in 1976 laid the groundwork for the ELCA’s Commission for Multicultural Ministries and paved the way for a new generation of African American theologians and pastors (see Epistle, Spring 2004, pp. 10-16).

Many of LSTC’s distinguished Professors Emeritus who still teach and support LSTC in a variety of ways were active during those years, including Philip Hefner, David Lindberg, Wilhelm Linss, Walter Michel, Albert Pero, James Scherer, and Paul Swanson.  They all could tell stories from that era. In the mid-1970s, Professors Richard Perry and José David Rodríguez were in the process of earning the M.Div. degree at LSTC and Professor Vítor Westhelle began Ph.D. studies at LSTC in 1978. Mr. Nick Spehar, Building Services, joined the staff in November. He retired in 2008, but continued to work, part-time, until his death in July 2012. He served at LSTC longer than any other staff member.

Three of LSTC’s Presidents served during the decades of the 1960s and 70s:  Stewart Herman (1964-71), Walter Wolbrecht (1972-76), and Arthur Arnold (1976-78).  In 1978, William Lesher began what was to become a 19-year presidency (1978-97).

The 1980s: New Current, New Church

In 1983, 10 members of the faculty of Christ Seminary-Seminex, St. Louis, Missouri (1974), were deployed to LSTC, thus adding to the braided stream another distinctive tradition within North American Lutheranism. They were accompanied by several Seminex students who also made the transition to Chicago. On December 31, 1987, a full organizational unification of the two schools was effected so that they might enter as a unified body into the new Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) as it officially came into existence in 1988.

The story of the Seminex heritage may be found in the memoirs of John H. Tietjen (Memoirs in Exile: Confessional Hope and Institutional Conflict, 1990), whose suspension as President of Concordia Seminary was a catalyst for the emergence of Christ Seminary-Seminex as an independent Lutheran seminary in St. Louis in 1974. 

For the next nine years Seminex flourished in St. Louis, but its supporting church body,  the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC), called for Lutheran union as soon as possible… [Tietjen] became an articulate spokesperson on the committee of seventy that was selected to put together what we now know as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America… Through extended negotiations, [Tietjen] sought a graceful exit for Seminex, leading finally to the deployment of its resources: ten professors and an administrative computer to LSTC, four professors to Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, and two professors and the Seminex library to the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest, in Austin, Texas… With the dawn of the ELCA, Seminex became a wholly owned subsidiary of LSTC… A decision by the LSTC Board later recognized John Tietjen as a founder of LSTC (article by Ralph W. Klein, Christ Seminary-Seminex Professor of Old Testament, the Epistle, Fall 2004, p. 6).

People at LSTC who know firsthand the Seminex story include Professors Emeritus Mark Bangert, Ralph Klein, Edgar Krentz, and Albert Pero.  Close at hand are regular faculty member, Professor Kurt Hendel, and staff members Bob Berridge, Ruth Ann Deppe, and Mark Van Scharrel.

The LSTC Faculty was a faculty brought together by seminary mergers up to 1988, when Professor David Rhoads was elected to the faculty through a search process conducted by the faculty. This search, on the cusp of a new decade, was a herald of many changes in the composition of the LSTC faculty and staff.  Leading these changes were President William Lesher (1978-1997) and Academic Dean Ralph Klein (1988-1999).  In 1989 Harold Vogelaar became “Resident Scholar in Mission and World Religions.”  This “temporary” appointment became a long and distinguished ministry, assisting LSTC to become a leader in Christian-Muslim studies and interfaith dialogue. 

The 1990s: Fast-moving Currents

In nearly every year from 1990 to 1997, LSTC called a new faculty member to succeed retiring colleagues. Still present today are:  Professors José D. Rodríguez (1990), Kathleen Billman (1992), Vítor Westhelle (1993), Barbara Rossing (1994), and Richard Perry (1996).  In 1997 the Board of Directors elected Dr. James Kenneth Echols, dean and professor of American church history at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, to become LSTC’s fifth president.

President Echols launched his presidency at the culmination of the seminary’s 1997 Self Study with a strategic planning process. The 1990s ended with expressions of gratitude for the ministries of Ralph Klein as dean and Mark Thomsen as director of the Th.M./Ph.D. program and the election of Professors Kathleen Billman and Richard Bliese to the posts of academic dean (Billman) and Th.M./Ph.D. director (Bliese). The late 1990s culminated in a “closer collaboration” with McCormick Theological Seminary (MTS) that resulted in MTS’s building its own administration building on the LSTC campus, and the initiation of four new faculty searches.

The New Millennium: The Stream Flows On

The beginning of the 2000-01 academic year was one of those “sparkling” times in the LSTC stream—the welcoming of four new faculty members—Professors José Irizarry (now on the faculty of a seminary in Puerto Rico), Craig Satterlee, Linda Thomas, and Audrey West, and the expectation that two additional colleagues, Professors Antje Jackelén and Esther Menn, would join the faculty in 2001-02.  Construction was underway not only for the new MTS building, but for an underground parking facility and new chapel, overseen by Bob Berridge. 

As the new decade began, LSTC was navigating a capital campaign for the creation of the Augustana Chapel and new office and meeting room space. LSTC received a $1.5 million gift for the establishment of an endowed position of Cornelsen Director of Spiritual Formation/ Dean of the Chapel. 

The events of September 11, 2001, and those that followed, which ultimately led to a costly war in Iraq and tremendous economic destabilization, revealed how intimately pain and joy “crisscross” in the streams of institutional as well as personal life. In the midst of interfaith misunderstandings and conflicts, the work of Dr. Harold Vogelaar and his Muslim colleague Dr. Ghulam-Haider Aasi, adjunct professor at LSTC, bore tremendous fruit in countless congregations following September 11.  In 2004-05 a group of Muslim students, primarily from Turkey, entered the M.A. program at LSTC to study Christian theology and participate in interfaith dialogue. 

LSTC carried on during the early years of the new decade amidst a sea of changes: a new academic calendar, a major curriculum revision, new administrative software, new building spaces, and a new director of JKM Library, Dr. Christine Wenderoth.  A new dean of community, Pastor Linda Johnson Seyenkulo, took office in 2003-04, just as the new curriculum set sail.  Pastor David Miller, the first Floy L. and Paul F. Cornelsen Director of Spiritual Formation, joined LSTC the following year, and LSTC also welcomed a new vice president for finance and special projects, Richard Hensey.  In 2006-07, the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid was reorganized as “VAF”—the Vocation Admissions and Financial Aid office, under the co-directorship of the Rev. Joy McDonald Coltvet (Director of Vocation and Recruitment) and Ms. Dorothy Dominiak (Director of Admissions and Financial Aid).

LSTC launched its first comprehensive campaign in 2005. In its “quiet phase” a major gift enabled the establishment of A Center of Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice and the calling of Dr. Mark Swanson to the Harold S. Vogelaar Chair in Christian-Muslim Studies and Interfaith Relations. Dr. Swanson and Dr. Monica Coleman, assistant professor of systematic theology, called during the same year, began their ministry at LSTC in 2006-07.  When Dr. Antje Jackelén was elected bishop of the Diocese of Lund, Sweden, in October 2006, a focused search for a successor in systematic theology/religion and science and director of the Zygon Center for Religion and Science (ZCRS) brought Dr. Lea Schweitz to the LSTC faculty. Dr. Schweitz began her service on July 1, 2007; she serves as assistant professor of systematic theology/religion and science and director of ZCRS, where Dr. Gayle Woloschak currently serves as associate director. 

The Multicultural Center was born in fall 2006, made possible by a grant from the ELCA Vocation and Education Unit for the purpose of recruiting and educating multicultural leadership for the ELCA. The Rev. Lydia Rivera Kalb was called as its first director. The years of effort invested by José David Rodríguez (director of the LSTC Hispanic/Latino Ministry Program for almost 20 years), Pete Pero, Richard Perry (African American studies and urban ministry), and many others have helped to engender the trust that LSTC can “produce” in the area of multicultural leadership development. 

At the same time, as has been the case since its inception, the challenge to confront the obstacles created by historic structural inequities as well as cultural differences is not for the faint of heart.  Ongoing learning on so many fronts is a lifelong task, as LSTC faculty, staff, and students realized afresh through the forum on disabilities led in March 2006 by Professor Craig Satterlee, the formation of a student-initiated Anti-Racism Task Force during the same spring, and the launching of the LSTC Diversity Committee in 2006-07 under the leadership of Professor Linda Thomas. As Hefner put it (Epistle, Summer 2006, p. 18), the vision he caught from LSTC’s first president “pushed” him to become “a swimmer in deep water.” Those who have followed have also testified to that “push” that comes from living life at LSTC. Though not always easy and sometimes even painful, learning to swim in deep water is often the place where, surprisingly, the “everlasting arms” are most poignantly experienced.

The conclusion of the academic year 2007-08 brought a period of enormous institutional transition. Professors Mark Bangert and Ralph Klein retired from long and distinguished teaching careers at LSTC.  Pastors Linda Johnson Seyenkulo and David Miller both resigned from their positions as dean of community and Cornelsen Director for Spiritual Formation/ Dean of the Chapel.  Professors Monica Coleman and Audrey West both resigned from their positions—Dr. Coleman has taken a position at Claremont School of Theology and Dr. West continues to serve as adjunct professor of New Testament at LSTC. The Rev. Lydia Rivera Kalb resigned her position as Director of the Multicultural Center. Professor Connie Kleingartner, who was on disability leave throughout 2007-08 undergoing treatment for cancer, learned in spring 2008 that her cancer had metastasized. At the community farewell and Godspeed for departing students, Dr. Kleingartner led the community in a walk through the waters of the baptismal font in Augustana Chapel, as the LSTC community commended her and one another to God’s care in all of life’s transitions, including death.

For students returning in 2008-09, there were missing faces in the faculty and staff.  However, for all community members, there were wonderful new people to greet:  Professors Benjamin Stewart (worship) and Peter Vethanayagamony (church history) began their service on the LSTC faculty on July 1, 2008. Professor of Old Testament, Dr. Klaus-Peter Adam, began his service on the faculty in the spring semester 2009. Other colleagues who took office on July 1, 2008 included the Rev. Dr. Terry Baeder as dean of community, the Rev. Dr. Rosanne Swanson as director of field education, and the Rev. Paul Landahl, former bishop of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod, who serves as LSTC’s coordinator for candidacy.  Professor Ben Stewart began to serve as dean of the chapel in 2009-10, and was installed in the Gordon A. Braatz Chair of Worship in September 2009. The seminary also welcomed Dr. Ray Pickett as professor of New Testament position in the fall of 2009. Ten years of service for Professor Kadi Billman, Dean/Vice President of Academic Affairs, concluded in spring 2009, and Michael Shelley was appointed to serve in that position during the 2009–2010 academic year.

During the course of the 2009-10 academic year, Dr. Shelley was appointed to a five-year term as Dean/VPAA, with the term beginning (retroactively) in July 2009.  We bid a fond farewell to Dr. David Rhoads, who retired in May 2010.  The 2009- 2010 academic year was given the theme of “Earth Year at LSTC,” with many activities and events revolving around our need to be diligent stewards of our planet and its resources.

In September 2010, Esther Menn was installed in the Ralph W. and Marilyn R. Klein Chair in Old Testament. We also welcomed the Rev. Joan Beck, as the Floy L. and Paul F. Cornelsen Director of Spiritual Formation and Pastor to the Community.  The Rev. Dr. Cheryl Stewart Pero was been appointed as the director of the Multicultural Center, with Kim Ferguson appointed as the associate director.

Story-telling and attempts at historicizing never fail to have some kind of agenda or “frame.”  May you gain from these highlights not only certain bits of historical information, but also a taste of the hope and the hard work that characterize the “push” to “swim in deep water” that theological education has meant to those who have attempted to navigate the braided stream of LSTC.  And as you face the many transitions you are now undergoing and will undergo in the years ahead, may you experience the “streams of mercy, never ceasing” that enable us to navigate these changes with a trusting heart.  May that braided and merciful stream ever bear us up and carry us along.

The Rev. Kathleen D. “Kadi” Billman,
Ph.D., is the John H. Tietjen Professor of Pastoral Ministry: Pastoral Theology at LSTC.

She served as Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs from 2000 – 2010. This brief history is part of the LSTC Student Handbook.


Page last modified Mar 24, 2016