President-elect James Nieman:
Comments to the community, May 14, 2012
I am humbled and thankful for the confidence of the search committee and now the board of trustees in selecting me to be the next president of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. This is the best call in the Lutheran church, because I get to lead this fine school during these promising days amidst your outstanding company. I am so glad our paths have crossed like this, in medias res, and I eagerly look forward to the opportunity to work alongside you in serving the mission of this seminary—or if I may say it now, our seminary.
Some of you know that this has been for me a complicated process, discerning where God is leading. Every good call process is this way. A bishop friend recently told me (yes, bishops can be your friends) that his own father, himself a Lutheran leader of great renown, once said that if a call didn’t scare you just a little, you probably shouldn’t take it. Though I’ve had plenty of frights, more important is that, in recent days, a calm has settled over me, borne of realizing that this whole business isn’t about me or you or that pointless project of proving ourselves good enough. Instead, God is doing something new with us in this place, and we can rest in that assurance and rejoice in that presence.
Save the dates:
October 27-28 Presidential Inauguration Weekend
Saturday. Oct. 27, 1:30-4:30 p.m. - Inaugural Weekend Event
- President’s Forum: "Ministerial wisdom."
What kinds of ministerial wisdom will be needed in the emerging years to announce the gospel for richer discipleship? Panelist Dr. Nancy Ammerman, professor of sociology of religion at Boston University; Dr. Bonnie Miller-McLemore, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Pastoral Theology and Counseling at Vanderbilt University; and the Rev. Dr. Michael Burk, bishop of the ELCA’s Southeastern Iowa Synod will explore that question. Recent LSTC alumni will serve as respondents. James Nieman will present an inaugural lecture following the panel discussion and response.
The Rev. James Nieman, Ph.D. will be installed as LSTC’s seventh president on Sunday, Oct. 28, at 4 p.m.
Service of Holy Communion and President’s Installation, Rockefeller Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn, Chicago. Pre-service music begins at 3:30 p.m. ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson presiding, the Rev. Dr. Barbara Lundblad will preach. A reception at LSTC immediately follows the service.
If you have concerns about my selection and the days ahead, I likely share those feelings and hope we can talk soon about what’s on your mind. If you are enthused about my selection and want to tell me everything that must happen as soon as possible, I also share those feelings and hope we can talk soon about what’s on your mind, with patience for the finitude of a new president who has a lot to learn. Most of all, I long for your prayers, as I pray also for you and our common work here. I also beg your prayers for the seminary I am soon leaving, that they may receive wisdom and vision during this period of unexpected change.
I wish to extend my heartfelt thanks to several people who were integral participants throughout the entire search process. There are surely others who deserve mention that time does not presently allow, but I hope they know they are also truly included in the ensemble efforts of those I now name.
Search committee — For their dedication to this duty as stewards of the future of our seminary. They were my conversation partners, inquisitionists, chauffeurs, handlers, and hosts, roles they executed with skill and élan. At several points in the past months, I heard that the search committee was excited about this or that, which I realized was a code that really meant “exhausted.” May you enter into the rest you now richly deserve.
Patti DeBias — For her support of the search committee and patient attention to my requests. Every such process needs someone who is utterly reliable and ferociously competent, and Patti is just that. She was so careful that she didn’t submit my travel reimbursement request out of concern to preserve confidentiality! That’s a person you want, and I am fortunate now to work with her. We’re already e-mail BFFs.
Trina Gould — For her leadership of a complicated search process that was thoughtful, thorough, and professional. At many points, I’d seek information of one kind or another that Trina supplied promptly, along with answers to any questions I might have. The value of excellent administration often goes unsung, but the way you shaped such a well-run process reflected so positively upon LSTC. What will you do for an encore?
Sarah Stegemoeller — For leading the board during a challenging year with courage and dignity. During my first phone call with Sarah in mid-January, I learned her willingness to be transparent about all matters LSTC, and her clarity about present circumstances and possible directions. Every contact with her since has had the same character, confidence, grace, and good humor. I look forward to working with you and the board.
Phil Hougen — For dinner on April 25th, as bracing a conversation as I’ve ever had. When things are urgent, Phil doesn’t dally in small talk. He had lots to say—important, poignant, heartfelt, and ever hopeful. Phil is a truth-teller partly because he’s a plain-spoken Iowan, but mainly because he’s a theologian of the cross who, as Luther said, “calls the thing what it actually is.” Our debt of gratitude for your selfless service is incalculable.
This leads to one other Iowan I’d like to thank, my wife of three decades, JoAnn Post. She encouraged me beyond my doubts, even though she would surely bear new burdens if this all ever came to pass. At rare times, you are blessed by a dear friend, or a fascinating colleague, or a faithful companion. Through the vocation of our marriage, I have been blessed with all three in one remarkable person for whom I am daily thankful. It will be a while before you get to know her through regular contact at LSTC, but until then I beg your prayers for her ministry and our household. And as a little teaser, just wait until you hear her preach.
Discernment can sound so lofty, spiritual, unflustered, and wrinkle-free. But let me tell you how it really was for me only eighteen days ago. It was early on the Thursday when I was last here on campus. After a night largely untroubled by sleep, I was shaving at the bathroom mirror, thinking about the long day ahead, when JoAnn appeared in the doorway holding a worn LBW she found on the bookshelf in the guest apartment. She had opened it to the very end of Vespers. “Here, listen to this,” she said, and then read this prayer:
Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Those simple, lovely words are meant to be prayed as the sun sets, but they’re not so bad at the start of a new day. They were just what I needed to hear, not generated from within my own presumed wisdom, but a word from outside to interrupt the nonsense of worry and open a horizon of hope. Friends, a steady hand is leading us and a holy love supporting us, and that’s all we need discern. May this be our prayer for one another, for our seminary, and indeed for the forgotten and humiliated of this world, to whom our attention can now turn.