by Shelley Cunningham, '98, M.Div.
The first thing Greg Van Dunk noticed when he stepped back on Luther Seminary's campus was that the student body seemed a lot younger.
It's a perspective that comes from spending 25 years out of the classroom. As the 2010 alum-in-residence, Van Dunk, '85, came back to Luther not as a student but a teacher. During the week in March he spent talking with students about his experiences, he noticed a smaller student body than what he remembered. Enrollment has actually gone up since Van Dunk's time at Luther, but the growth in distributed learning programs and commuter students means fewer bodies on campus.
He feels the changes on campus signal hope for the future of the church.
"Folks in my generation need to know how to build community in new ways," said Van Dunk. "It used to be that community just happened. But (now) we live in a world of virtual community. As a church, we need to be intentional about guiding people, inviting them to gather and get to know each other. (Distributed learning students) have a unique perspective on how to do this and how important it is.
"The distributed learning program is a great asset for those students who are living out their ministries and learning at the same time. After all, isn't that what we want our congregation members to understand, that their ministries take place in their everyday settings?"
Van Dunk is also encouraged by the development of the Congregational Mission and Leadership emphasis in the seminary curriculum.
"When you leave seminary you know you have to preach, teach, care and administrate effectively. But what's especially needed in the parish today is the ability to help folks spiritually discern where they are now and how we discover what God calls our congregations to be."
His passion for revitalizing congregations comes from what he has seen God do in his churches and his own life.
"I love (Professor of Systematic Theology Pat) Keifert's philosophy that we can't simply say we are in a time of post-Christendom decline--there are too many things happening that the Spirit is clearly stirring up."
Did You Know?
Greg Van Dunk's pastoral career included 15 years planting the multi-racial All Peoples Church in inner-city Milwaukee. He's currently starting his fifth year at Atonement Lutheran Church in Muskego, Wis., redeveloping a suburban congregation that had been conflicted over relocation. He has also served on the Greater Milwaukee Synod staff as part-time ELCA Mission Director since 2004.
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