Updated November 23, 2015
The Rev. Dr. Albert “Pete” Pero Jr., professor emeritus of systematic theology at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC), died on November 18 in Chicago, Illinois. He was 79 years old. Pero became the first African American professor at a US Lutheran seminary when he joined the LSTC faculty in 1977. He was also the first African American to earn a PhD in theology.
A funeral service will be held at noon on Tuesday, November 24, 2015, at the Augustana Chapel at LSTC, 1100 East 55th Street, Chicago, Ill., with visitation starting at 11 a.m.
“The Rev. Dr. Pete Pero was a gift to LSTC through his wisdom, joy, and warmth. His deep faith and his appreciation for all people as created in God's image have helped to shape the character and commitments of our seminary community,” said Dr. Esther Menn, Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs.
President James Nieman, said, “I recall Pete’s robust, ebullient, joyful, and sharp-witted witness to the gospel. He was a remarkable child of God whose courage and clarity left a strong impression. I feel blessed to have known him, both early in my teaching career and again in my coming to LSTC.”
Albert “Pete” Pero Jr. is survived by his wife, the Rev. Dr. Cheryl Stewart Pero, his four children, nine grandchildren and twelve great grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to LSTC and designated for the Albert “Pete” Pero Jr. Multicultural Center at LSTC. Gifts may be made online at http://www.lstc.edu/alumni-friends/giving/. Click on “Make a gift now.” At the bottom of the online giving form, please mark “Other” and write “Pero Center” in the Gift Purpose box.
Changing the seminary and the church
Albert “Pete” Pero Jr.’s approach to multiculturalism helped transform LSTC and the Lutheran church. He taught that understanding one’s own culture and sharing it with others allows people of different cultures to come together in more wholesome ways. Pero called this cultural transcendence.
“From his earliest days at LSTC, Pete revolutionized our thinking about multiculturality. He reminded us that whites have a culture, too, alongside Blacks, Latinos, Asians, native people, and others. Whites are a culture in company with the others. Too often--up to today--white culture is taken as the standard, by which others are to be assessed,” said Philip Hefner, professor emeritus of systematic theology at LSTC.
“One of Pete's fundamental beliefs touched on our identity. He said that ethnicity, social class, skin color and the like are our identifications, not our identity. We are children of God--that's our identity. This also describes how he related to other people. He had a great soul, and was a man of enormous love. He lived as a child of God, among all the others of God's children,” Hefner added
Kathleen “Kadi” Billman, John H. Tietjen Professor of Pastoral Ministry: Pastoral Theology at LSTC, said, “Pete Pero gave embodied witness to how the oft-separated terms ‘pastoral’ and ‘prophetic,’ confrontation and consolation, grief and gratitude belong together in ministry. Grieving, our hearts are filled with gratitude for his life in the world—and among us.”
Pero organized the Multicultural Conference in 1976 for a predecessor body of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). This laid the groundwork for the ELCA’s Multicultural Ministries.
Pero was a role model and mentor to African American seminary students and theologians. He was instrumental in forming the Conference of International Black Lutherans, a gathering of African Descent theologians from around the world.
Richard Perry Jr., professor of church and society and urban ministry at LSTC, said, "I am deeply saddened to learn that my dear friend, mentor, and colleague Pete has joined the ancestors. Pete, who was the Lutheran church's first African American Lutheran theologian with an earned PhD, inspired many of us to be a person for others. His passion for life was immensely contagious. Pete's love for all people is a shining light to what he always believed, despite all that he experienced in life and in the church, that water (Baptism) is thicker than blood. My prayers and deepest Christian sympathy are with The Rev. Dr. Cheryl Pero, Ph.D. and Pete's family. I celebrate his contributions to theological education around the global Lutheran communion."
In 2011, the LSTC Board of Directors renamed the seminary’s Multicultural Center to honor Albert “Pete” Pero’s lifelong work to reform the Lutheran church to be culturally inclusive. The Albert “Pete” Pero Jr. Multicultural Center at LSTC is a resource for the whole church. The annual Martin Lutheran King Jr. Day Celebration, the annual Albert “Pete” Pero Jr. Lecture, an annual Vine Deloria Jr. Symposium, monthly programs focusing on our cultural heritages, and other events sponsored by the Pero Center continue the work of “cultural self-transcendence” begun by Dr. Pero.
Education and accolades
As a youngster, Albert “Pete” Pero Jr. caught the attention of Sunday school teachers who encouraged his parents to enroll him in the Lutheran school. They agreed and Pero became the only African American at St. Paul’s High School and College in Concordia, Mo.
Pero earned a bachelor’s degree in theology at Concordia Seminary in Springfield, Ill., and did graduate study in sociology at the University of Detroit. He began doctoral studies at Concordia Seminary and Christ Seminary-Seminex and earned his PhD at LSTC in 1975. He did post-doctoral study at the University of Chicago and the University of Zimbabwe.
He was a missionary at the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago in the early 1960s. He served as pastor and principal at Berea Lutheran Church and School in Detroit, Mich., and as part-time professor at Shaw University in Detroit. Pero returned to Chicago in 1970 to serve as pastor at the Lutheran Church of Christ the King. While earning his PhD, he was a part-time instructor in Systematic Theology and Contemporary Black Theology at St. Louis University, Concordia Seminary, and Metropolitan College in St. Louis. During that time he also served on the executive staff of the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Church’s Partners in Mission.
Pero served in leadership positions for a number of organizations, including the National Committee of Black Churchmen, the Lutheran Council in the USA, Association of Black Lutheran Churchmen, Theology of the Americas, the Illinois Synod of the Lutheran Church in America. He was a member of the Lutheran Human Relations Association of America, the International Afro-American Museum/NAACP, the Martin Luther King Center for Social Change, and the American Academy of Religion.
He received numerous honors and awards, including the Disciple for Justice Award from the ELCA’s Commission for Multicultural Ministries and the Achievement Award from the African American Lutheran Association. He was named The Staley Distinguished Christian Scholar by St. Olaf College, and received the Distinguished Service Award from the Milwaukee Theological Institute.
Pero published dozens of articles and was the co-editor, with Ambrose Moyo, of Theology and the Black Experience: The Lutheran Heritage Interpreted by African and African-American Theologians.
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The Lutheran School of Theology (LSTC) is dedicated to bearing witness to the good news of Jesus Christ. Based in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, it is the leading urban Lutheran seminary training students for purposeful vocations in the global community. Aligned with its Lutheran heritage and built on a foundation of intellectual rigor, LSTC’s innovative, nationally recognized curriculum gives students skills for visionary Christian leadership in the public sphere.