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Feature from the Winter 2014 Epistle:

Stewart Herman, Jr.—“The Man in the Middle of Things” for LSTC

by Philip Hefner, LSTC professor emeritus of systematic theology and senior fellow of the Zygon Center for Religion and Science

"A man in the middle of things”--that characterizes the career and the person of Stewart Winfield Herman.  As such a “man,” he distinguished himself and brought distinction to every effort to which he gave himself--as LSTC’s first president and in the thirty years of his ministry before he came to Chicago.  His service at LSTC carried on the style and substance that marked the rest of his life. 

A few vignettes reveal the man who forged the very first years of our seminary’s life in Chicago’s Hyde Park.  A Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Gettysburg College in 1930, he shipped out the following year as an ordinary seaman to South America, ended that year touring the British Isles, spent a brief few months at the University of Chicago in 1933, graduated from Gettysburg seminary, and was ordained in 1934.  Heading immediately to Europe, he earned a degree from the University of Strasbourg (where he became well acquainted with Albert Schweitzer) and began studying in Germany.  In 1936 found himself pastor of the American Church in Berlin.  In that same year, he wrote to his family (his father was Stewart Winfield Herman, Sr., a well-known pastor in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) about his “man in the middle” situation: 

I have not stepped gingerly, toe by toe, into the whirl of Berlin’s public life.  I have been tossed headlong in the deep waters and left to swim for myself, gasping and choking.  I am impressed by the incredible chance I’ve had. 

The “whirl” of Berlin’s deep waters was the currents that accompanied the rise of Nazism, including the members of the diplomatic community and the American business people who became Herman’s parishioners.  The whirl moved on; it did not dissipate in later years, as he worked with the church and the government in rebuilding Europe after World War II, particularly with refugees, and moved into Lutheran World Federation work in South America and Africa.

This was “the man” who became LSTC’s president in 1964, and he did not step “gingerly, toe by toe,” into the seminary situation, either. 

To get a sense of his accomplishment, we should try to picture the Chicago whirl into which he stepped.  It was quite a different scene from today’s.  For one thing, rivalries within the church and between the merging seminaries had brought the search for the president to an impasse, which presiding bishop Franklin Clark Fry managed to resolve by nominating a person who had not figured in the search up to that point--Stewart Herman.  Perhaps his first success in the job was his ability to bring the previously contesting parties together as a team.  The second thing to remember is that nearly half of his presidency--1964-67--took place prior to the completion of the new seminary complex of buildings and the beginning of classes in the fall of 1967.

The experience and skills that the new president brought from his thirty years in Europe and South America demonstrated that he knew very well how to swim in deep waters.  Even in comparison with the complex life of the seminary today, the challenges that faced him were unbelievably large:

(1) Convincing a constituency in the churches that was ambivalent (to say the least) about moving the predecessor seminaries, located in pleasant rural and suburban settings, to the south side inner city of Chicago.  Hyde Park itself was an unstable social experiment in the 1960s (I was a student at the University of Chicago in those days).  Parts of the neighborhood were actually “slums”; crime was rampant.  Supporting congregations of our Midwest constituency were largely small town, rural, and suburban, and they were not at all convinced of the soundness of moving to the city.  The first Urban Renewal project in the United States was launched in Hyde Park in 1962.  Fifty-Fifth Street was completely redesigned.  By the time the seminary buildings were dedicated in 1967, the street was unrecognizable compared to my student days just five years earlier.

(2)  Even though the urban renewal agency and the University of Chicago had approved LSTC’s location where it is now, the approval and good will of the community was not automatic.  Apartment buildings were demolished to make way for the seminary, including several that housed students whose rents were subsidized.  Critics charged that the seminary was an unwanted intruder displacing defenseless tenants.  At the laying of the cornerstone, President Herman had to confront jeering protesters who carried signs attacking the seminary.

(3)  The funding campaign was underway; the new president had to pour his energies into raising the money that would enable the new seminary to operate.  To say that he “pounded the pavement” is an understatement.  In 1970, the project was more than $1,000,000 in the red.

(4)  The president had to work with and coordinate the efforts of architects and contractors, some of whom had not yet been signed on when he arrived.  The board of directors had approved the architectural design (which received an award of excellence upon its completion), but the modernist design in the style of Mies van der Rohe, did not please all who saw it, including some in the constituency that was being asked to contribute funds to the building.  The design of the chapel-auditorium, for example, which was entirely re-built in 2004, was an item of controversy from its inception.  Robert J. Marshall, then president of the Illinois Synod and chair of the building committee (he became presiding bishop of the LCA in 1968), reports that he devoted considerable time interpreting and defending the architectural design to the supporting congregations.  There was even controversy surrounding the name of the new seminary; “school of theology” was a novelty for the church, and many preferred a more traditional-sounding name.

(5)  In addition, the “real work” of the seminary needed to get off the ground--filling faculty vacancies, recruiting students, designing a new curriculum that was appropriate to the motto of the new school: “university location, urban orientation, ecumenical cooperation.”  All of this was new--and exciting.  It also entailed lots of hard work to bring it off.

Stewart Winfield Herman was up to the job.  When he started, the Lutheran School of Theology had two campuses, 200 miles to the west in Rock Island, Ill., and 12 miles to the west in suburban Maywood; he was negotiating with a third school 500 miles to the west, Central Seminary in Fremont, Nebraska, which did join the new seminary in 1967.  His office was in the Loop, in downtown Chicago, until the new building was completed.  The second half of his presidency--1967-71--was in Hyde Park, leading the school and its component communities as an exciting new venture took off on its maiden voyage. 

LSTC was the first (and only?) seminary that came into existence by a mandate of the entire denomination, 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, and the president was the standard-bearer in that adventure.  No one who was part of LSTC in those years can forget the thrill and the optimism and the hard work.  And the leadership of Stewart Herman stands out vividly in our memories.

In his years before coming to LSTC, Herman had focused on at least three things: (1) a vision of the entire world as the field in which the church ministers and for which seminaries prepare leaders; (2) the vast needs of the societies in which the church ministers--he had dealt specifically with the ravages of war, rebuilding communities, refugees, hunger, and natural disasters; and (3) serious theological training.  All three of these concerns were manifest in his presidency.

There was a steady stream of international figures to the seminary.  Some were distinguished notables, like former British Foreign Minister, Lord Caradon, who joined in the dedication ceremonies of the new building; or the president of the National Council of Churches, Eugene Carson Blake, who was a commencement speaker.  Others were less well-known but nevertheless distinguished in their own right--teachers, pastors, students from all over the world.  In his years, Herman presided over formal affiliations with Makumira Seminary in Tanzania and what is now The Evangelical School of Theological Studies (ISEDET) in Argentina.  In Hyde Park he worked hard to bring the Jesuit School of Theology to LSTC’s campus and the Catholic Theological Union to the neighborhood.

The whirl of Berlin’s public life would perhaps never be surpassed by the whirl of later years, but the years at LSTC were far from tranquil and monotonous in Chicago and in the country as a whole.  He was in the march at Selma, Alabama, in March, 1964, and he encouraged faculty and student participation in the civil rights movement.  Before the first commencement ceremony had taken place, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, followed two months later by that of Robert Kennedy.  In 1967, criticism of the Vietnam War was building.  Herman had spoken out during World War II against war as a solution to the world’s problems.  In 1942, when he returned to America from five months of internment by the Nazis, he preached in a sermon:

If the world had armed itself to wage a war of brotherly love instead of hate, if all the nations had vied with each other in a contest of mutual helpfulness, there might never have been a war.

He spoke for the seminary in these tumultuous times, and he also encouraged faculty and students to speak for themselves.  The history-making Democratic Convention of 1968 took place in Chicago during the summer following King’s assassination.  LSTC was publicly identified as a place of refuge for those protesting the 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; President Herman was in the front row.  He encouraged and mentored students in their protest against sulfur oxide emissions by a local utility company.

Herman may have been the first seminary president to speak out for a comprehensive program of theological education that would cover not only the M. Div., but also continuing education for pastors during the first five years of their ministry and beyond.  To implement this idea, he appointed Robert Tobias, an ecumenical colleague from the World Council of Churches, to direct LSTC’s first Doctor of Ministry program.  Tobias traveled throughout the Midwest synods directing the continuing studies of pastors.

A man in the middle,” a man accustomed to swimming in deep water--these phrases certainly suit Stewart Herman, and they describe his years at LSTC.  This was no “ivory tower” job that he had assumed. 

Additionally, we must not forget that he was a charming man.  His physical appearance always reminded me of that epitome of the dapper figure--British Prime Minister Anthony Eden.  He visited me in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where I was teaching when I received the call to join the faculty at LSTC.  He drove up in his robin’s egg blue sports car, the top down, and bounded up to the door.  “I want you to know two things, he said.  The first is that I want you to join our faculty, I really do.  The second is that you will have to take a decrease in salary--we just can’t afford to pay you more.  I hope that won’t keep you from joining us, but I will understand if it does.”  What a man! I thought--what an honest man.  But he charmed me, as he did so many others.  I am not by nature a swimmer in deep water, but Stewart Herman pushed me in.

There was a lighter side to the man, as well.  When the “Chicago Eight” held forth at that public meeting in the old chapel-auditorium, the wife of one of the Eight, sitting on the stage, commenced to smoke a cigarette.  I was moderator of the event, and I saw Stewart passing a note to me.  It read “Tell Mrs. Rubin to put out that cigarette!”  I looked at him and mouthed the words, “Are you kidding?  Tell her yourself!”  Mrs. Rubin smoked all evening, unperturbed.  Stewart Herman attached the same care to the new carpet in that new auditorium that he gave the carpet in his own living room--watch the cigarette ashes!  He was not above asking an errant faculty member in the faculty lounge to take his feet off the new coffee table, either--at the same time that he was talking with us about protesting the war or joining forces with the young Jesse Jackson’s new movement, Operation Breadbasket.

The “man in the middle.” There’s a Yiddish word for that, “Mensch,” which is defined as a good man, “a guy you can always count on,” “a stand-up fellow,” “someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character.”  Stewart Winfield Herman, Jr., was that man all of his life.  LSTC needed such a man as its first president; a lesser man could not have brought it off.  There was something about him and his work that leaves us breathless, just as LSTC left us breathless in those days as we participated in its unfolding history.  We give thanks to God for him, just as we give thanks that we have known others like him at LSTC--not afraid to be God’s man in the middle of things.


Robert J. Marshall and Stewart Herman III contributed details to this article.  The quotations by Herman are taken from Stephen R. Herr and Matthew L. Riegel, “Stewart W. Herman, Jr.:  From Nazi Berlin to International Envoy,” in Witness at the Crossroads: Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary Servants in the Public Life, ed. by Frederick K. Wentz (Gettysburg, PA: Gettysburg), 2001.



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