Story Magazine - Second Quarter, 2003

Daniel Simundson: Connecting Students With the Old Testament

by Nancy Giguere, Special to Luther Seminary Story

Daniel Simundson (front seated) acknowledges the ovation given to him and Peter Sethre at the 2003 Commencement.

As professor of Old Testament, Daniel Simundson has spent the last three decades connecting students with the traditions of the Bible so they can better understand how God is at work in their lives and in the world.

"When you read the Old Testament, you know you're reading about real life," he says. "Nothing is sugar-coated. God comes to people who have all kinds of flaws: people like Abraham who hid behind Sarah so the Egyptians wouldn't kill him and claim his wife, or Jacob who was deceitful, or David who was a great king but also a seducer and murderer. God uses people like this, and that tells us that though we may not be perfect, God may still have significant and useful tasks for us."

A More Sophisticated Seminary

Simundson says that during the last 30 years the seminary has become a more sophisticated, complex institution. When he arrived in 1972, the student body consisted of young men--and a mere handful of women--just out of college who were training for ordained ministry. There was no such thing as a "second-career student," and the options for those interested in lay ministry were limited.

Today women make up about 50 percent of the student body, and those interested in lay ministry have a variety of master of arts programs to choose from. Luther has also added Ph.D. and doctor of ministry programs.

New Perspectives

Another change is the presence of non-Lutherans on the faculty and among the students. It's a change Simundson welcomes. "In a global, ecumenical world, you need awareness that although we're all Christians, we don't all emphasize the same things, interpret scripture the same way, or identify the same doctrines as key," he says.

Simundson believes that having non-Lutherans on campus helps break down stereotypes and introduces both students and faculty to new perspectives. "We're talking about the mysteries of God," he says, "and no one can claim to have everything tied up neatly."

Teaching and Learning

Simundson emphasizes that teaching is not a one-way street. Often the teacher learns as much as the students. He has learned, for example, how to articulate his subject matter in a straight forward, direct way so that students find it easier to understand. And he has also learned from his students' experiences and questions. Even now, after many years in the classroom, he can still be surprised by a comment that makes him think about things in a new way.

He says the best part of teaching has been getting to know the students, Ph.D. and doctor of ministry programs, both in and out of the classroom. He is still in contact with students who studied with him many years ago. Some have moved into leadership positions in the church. "It's great to see people that you knew when they were beginners doing really great things out there," he says.

Cherished Friendships

Simundson also cherishes his friendships with faculty and staff. "When you stay in one place so long, you get to know each other well," he says. "You watch each other's children and grandchildren grow up. It's like a family that stays together a long time."

Over the years, he and his colleagues have enjoyed going to concerts and Simundson plays together. For the last 15 years, Simundson has participated in a monthly book group that focuses on current bestsellers. Recent selections include The Lovely Bones and Peace Like a River.

A Wonderful Career

Simundson hesitates to plan too much right away because he wants to avoid becoming busier than ever in retirement. But he does look forward to traveling. His plans include a trip to Seattle where he grew up and where his brothers, sisters and cousins still live. He'll also spend time in New England where he'll visit his daughters and their families.

He hopes to travel to Iceland in the fall "before winter sets in." There, he'll catch up with relatives--his family is of Icelandic origin--and friends from the Church of Iceland and the university where he once taught.

Here at home, he'll continue to serve on the church council at Galilee Lutheran Church in Roseville, where he also sits on the education committee and occasionally preaches.

As he looks back on his years at Luther, Simundson's feeling is one of gratitude. "Many times I've thought what a privilege it is to be able to do something you really want to do--and get paid for it," he says. "I've had a wonderful career."