by Robert Smith, M.Div. senior
How long has it been since you've been on the Luther Seminary campus? How many things have changed? How many have stayed the same?
As this year's alum-in-residence, Mark Reitan,'71, was able to explore the seminary--and its changes--from the inside. Reitan is now senior pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lynnwood, Wash.
"I always love coming back to Luther," Reitan said. "But it is very different."
Being with students was one of Reitan's objectives for the week. "I've been really impressed with the variety--of ages and the even mix of men and women--as well as their inquisitiveness and the ways they've asked questions," he said.
"Some asked me to sit down and talk with them about their call or parish life," he added, noting that his time on campus came just after regional assignments. "I've been able to pray with students in the cafeteria as we finish our conversations."
Reitan was also able to spend considerable time with seminary faculty and staff. "It was great to visit with President Tiede and Dean Lull; it wasn't perfunctory but lengthy and meaningful," he said. "They were really interested in what was happening with the work I'm doing and they shared what their work was like and what they're excited about."
During their week on campus, alumni/ae in residence have opportunities to attend and contribute to several classes. Reitan stated he was pleasantly surprised by the professors' willingness to give up entire class periods for him to talk about what is relevant in the parish.
One recurring theme throughout Reitan's visit was the content of "call." "The whole business of call and resisting call is a very real thing," he reflected, after listening to a lecture by Fred Gaiser on the topic of Jonah. "You have to decide if you'll stay where you are or if God is calling you to another place.
"On occasion, I've had calls when it's become clear that God wanted me to accept it, but I didn't want to." His current call presented just such an occasion. "I had every reason to want to stay in southern Arizona," he said. "But God really made it clear, and He made some promises. He promised that he would bless the parish in remarkable ways if I'd go, and that he would take care of my daughter."
His daughter, Julie, was a student athlete at the University of Arizona at the time. "He promised he'd take care of her," Reitan repeated. "What I didn't know is that he would take care of her in heaven. A little less than two years later, she died."
Reitan related this story during the chapel service over which he presided during his week at Luther. Faith in the midst of crisis was the theme of the sermon. It could be said to be the theme of his life. "It is important to proclaim how real and relevant faith is in the midst of life's crises," he said. "It isn't always what we expect or anticipate, but God keeps his word.
"The love of God in Christ is sure and does not waver; that is the kind of solid foundation upon which life is lived," he added. "Everybody needs to hear it and know it's the truth. It became important for me to proclaim that truth in the midst of crisis, for the parish and for me. Now, crisis is no stranger to any of us."
The importance of one's relationships is made in crisis, said Reitan. "When I was in my deepest need, the deepest darkness of grief, those friends I made here [at Luther] helped me the most," he shared. "They came to my side. Rick Foss sat with me for three days. Jim Nestingen would call and weep with me.
"When you're studying the real stuff of life, you make friendships that last forever," he said, looking around what is now the multimedia instruction room in Bockman Hall. "And when the need is there, those friendships are fresh and alive--they've been there all along."
While such relationships are crucial in personal crises, they can sustain the body of Christ in public conflicts as well. "During Wednesday's class on the prophets, I encouraged the students to not be afraid of conflict, to not sidestep controversies," Reitan said. "Invite conflicts to the door; don't let them sneak up behind you--they'll do you much more harm that way.
"There ought to be nothing we're afraid to talk about in the church," he continued. "One of the things about controversial issues in congregational life is that people don't always have to get their way but it's important for people to get their say. Process is so valuable; it almost becomes more important than the result."
The church doesn't always put such ideals into practice. "What hurts us is the kind of disrespect, the demonizing of the competition, the unkindness spoken behind the scenes in congregational life and in churchwide issues--it's like the body inflicting damage on itself," Reitan said. "My hope and prayer is in diversity on these issues; our oneness in Christ will sustain us."
Along with the seminary, the church in which today's seminarians will serve has undergone 20 years of change. Reitan encourages those students to be responsive to God's call. He suggested that students interviewing for first calls should "come with a willing spirit, ready to serve and not to be served.
"The congregations that are reaching out and putting themselves on the line are thriving," Reitan added. "We need leaders who approach life in the same way, leaders who give their lives for Christ's sake who aren't concerned with protecting, holding onto themselves."
This sacrificial, visionary leadership is not limited to clergy or rostered leaders. "This is a calling to which all of God's people are called," Reitan said. "I remember George Aus saying to us, 'what a privilege it is to speak on behalf of the Lord Jesus! This is the top job of all God's people. And think about it, you'll get a salary for doing this!'"
Do you know an alum with an exciting ministry to share with the seminary?
Nominate him or her for alum-in-residence The Luther Seminary Alumni/ae Council is receiving nominations for the 2002-2003 alumni-in-residence program at Luther Seminary. All Luther Seminary graduates are eligible. The alum-in-residence stays on campus for approximately one week, preaches in chapel, speaks in seminary classes, meets with faculty, visits formally and informally with students, and eats meals in the dining room. All expenses are covered by the Office of Seminary Relations.
The schedule is flexible to meet the needs of the seminary and the candidate. To nominate an individual, send a letter of submission by August 31, 2002, to: Office of Seminary Relations Luther Seminary 2481 Como Avenue St. Paul, MN 55108 For more information call 651-641-3448, or toll-free at 888-358-8437.
View this issue as a PDF.