The Rev. Dr. John Silber Damm, pastor, professor and seminary president, died May 4 in his assisted living apartment at Wartburg Place in Mount Vernon, N.Y. He would have been 93 years old on June 21.
The Damm Chair, established with a $1 million gift to the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago from Larry and Christie Tietjen, will endow a future faculty position dedicated to education in leadership in the church. The Tietjen family will also match $500,000 in gifts from families, colleagues, students and parishioners of Damm who wish to join in honoring him.
Amadus J. Derr, senior pastor at St. Peter’s Church in New York, N.Y., sent a letter of tribute to the church community recounting Damm’s influence: “His influence on 20th Century seminary education and his incredible care for his students, their spouses and their families has made him one of the most influential Lutheran leaders of the 20th Century. His wisdom, love and humor and his incredible sense of hospitality has affected us all.”
The Mass of the Resurrection will be celebrated at 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 22, and his ashes will be laid to rest at Saint Peter's Church Columbarium. Per his instructions, his body was clothed in liturgical vestments, including the white and green chasuble given to him by his mother on June 16, 1951, the day of his ordination, Derr reported.
"Father John," as he was called, served two parishes, Grace Lutheran Church, Teaneck, N.J., and St. Peter's Church in New York. Between his parish ministries he served first as a professor and ultimately as academic dean at Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis, Mo., and at Concordia Seminary in Exile -Christ Seminary/SEMINEX as academic dean and interim president. Through his ministry, Father John served as mentor and friend to countless pastors and their families as well as an equally large number of parishioners and friends.
In 1973, he was one of the faculty members of Concordia Seminary labeled "not to be tolerated in the Church of God" and became the principal organizer and founder of Concordia Seminary in Exile, formed on February 19, 1974. Damm was both a liturgical scholar and liturgical pioneer, playing a major role in the development of baptismally-centered Eucharistic Lutheran worship. He was the first to introduce the Great Vigil of Easter to a Lutheran parish.
In 2019, LSTC honored him by establishing the John S. Damm Chair in Pastoral Leadership. “In these his last days, nothing pleased him more than that honor,” Derr wrote.
In late November of 2018, the Tietjens, Derr and local friends visited Damm at his home in Wartburg place for a small ceremony to name the endowed chair. Weather prevented President James Nieman from attending, but he and Clyde Walter, interim vice president for Advancement, visited him later in December to share the Eucharist and present him with items to commemorate the naming of the endowed chair. Focusing on education in the area of leadership, faculty persons called to this chair will enrich the formation of students in all six of LSTC’s degree programs.
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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.