Story Magazine - Third Quarter, 2004

Bob Brusic: Seminary Pastor, Man of Mystery

by Sheri Booms Holm, director of publications

Bob Brusic loves a mystery.

There is the mystery of the divine revealed in the breaking of the bread, reflected in a Russian icon or echoed in a hymn. Then there are the mysteries solved by the likes of Sherlock Holmes and a bevy of "at least 20 clergy sleuths." Brusic seeks out and encounters all these mysteries with an ever-present sense of delight.

"It is our duty and delight that we should everywhere and always offer thanks and praise to you, O God liturgy announces, and for Brusic, who retired this July after 15 years at Luther Seminary as seminary pastor, and more than 30 years in ministry, duty and delight have gone hand in hand.
<>h4East Meets MidwestGrowing up and serving parishes on the East Coast, Brusic never thought he'd end up in Minnesota. He was recommended for the call as seminary pastor by Professor Emeritus Lee Snook, who was teaching systematics at Luther and had served with Brusic in Ithaca, N.Y. A persistent President Tiede encouraged him to prayerfully consider the position, invited him to visit campus several times, and kept the offer in the forefront of Brusic's mind, even calling on an Easter Sunday. "I don't know if I said yes, or if I just stopped saying no," Brusic said with a grin.

There was a reason Tiede was so determined. Brusic came to the seminary wonderfully qualified to minister to a campus parish. Throughout his ministry, reaching out to the local university community was an integral part of the pastoral care he offered.

"I have felt what's important for the church is to reach out to the neighborhood, and that includes businesses and universities," he explained.

This has included establishing a Lutheran presence at MIT while still a student at Harvard Divinity School. After graduation he served the Cornell University community with Snook. In Philadelphia, after serving a Germantown congregation for four years, he became a headmaster for a Missouri Synod parochial school, "the hardest job I ever had." His tenure involved working to salvage a struggling school by helping it merge with another private academy and moving it to a new campus. After three years, Brusic accepted a call to Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, Conn., where for 14 years he and his congregation were heavily involved in the community, which included campus ministry. Brusic even taught a polity course at Yale.

Then came Tiede's first phone call to Brusic during Holy Week of 1989, asking him to submit his name for the call as seminary pastor at Luther Seminary. This out-of-the-blue request from Minnesota may have seemed a mystery to Brusic at the time, and perhaps that's why he and spouse Lucy just had to find out where it would lead.

Life at Luther

Ask Brusic what his call at Luther has been and he will say that it has been primarily one to oversee the worship life of the seminary. Listen for a while, and you'll find out that what has been most rewarding for him "is being in relationship with students as their pastor."

"I've really been blessed in all my calls that I can knock heads with students," Brusic said. "Knocking heads" has translated into being a pastoral presence on campus. "I feel like an undercover agent. Most students have a church pastor. I'm a parish pastor. I mingle with them, I'm part of the community," he explained. For example, a simple trip to dining services for a cup of coffee often grew from a five-minute task to an hour or more as he took time to greet and catch up with students, faculty and staff--all whom he considered members of his parish.

And a presence he has been. Besides the daily work on campus, both
Brusics could be counted on to attend the many Luther events, concerts, hymnsings, readings, and worship services presented by Master of Sacred Music students. Brusic has appreciated what the students bring to the worship life of the seminary community. "Students are dedicated to worship. They offer their talents.Without them, worship would be hollow." He expressed particular gratitude for the many student sacristans who have served with him over the years to make sure daily chapel ran smoothly and meaningfully.

Finding Balance...

That hasn't always been easy. Yet another mystery for Brusic to examine and solve has been chapel's style of worship. Denominationally, and even in the ELCA, "there's a wide variety of expressions: liturgical, preaching, music," he said. "It's been difficult but satisfying finding a balance to these expressions. When students come back for Mid-Winter Convocation or continuing education, they often say what they miss most is daily chapel and the singing."

Still, Brusic has seen changes to the worship life of the community. As more people live off campus, it's been harder to sustain some of the occasional services, like evening prayer, he noted. But prayer and meditation are still an integral part of a student's life. Brusic has developed small chapels in Bockman Hall for those living and working there, and one in the Sandgren apartment complex, as well. In all, he was in charge of six chapels.

...and Harmony

One of Brusic's joys has been playing baritone with the Luther Brass. The seminary ensemble is comprised of students, faculty and staff. "It's been a rich and rewarding experience," he said. "I'm amazed and gratified by the quality of musicians who have been a part of the group." He has particularly enjoyed the annual reunion of Luther Brass alums who bring their horns to play with the group during Mid-Winter Convocation.

Working with the arts has been meaningful for Brusic, as well. He is a member of the Luther Seminary Fine Arts Committee that oversees the acquisitions of new art and the installation of exhibits at Luther. "I have been amazed at the significant pieces that have been given to the seminary over the years," he said. Brusic has liked how the Chapel of the Incarnation acts as a fluid space, allowing for specific season-appropriate art throughout the liturgical year.

Brusic has done a lot of writing, such as book reviews and articles for Word & World, Sunday and Seasons, and as co-editor of the annual Advent and Lenten devotionals. He has chosen the theme and texts and has written several of the meditations since the devotionals' inception.

Outside of seminary, Brusic, the mystery buff, is a great fan of Sherlock Holmes. He and Lucy are members of the Norwegian Explorers, which is Minnesota's chapter of the Sherlock Holmes Society. He serves on its board, and is a member of the Friends of the Sherlock Holmes Collection at the University of Minnesota's Wilson Library.

Into the Mystery

Brusic's plans for retirement? "My hope is to find new things to do, books to read, places to go," he replied. But he does admit that, beyond that, it is somewhat of a mystery. "This is the first time in 60 years I haven't been in school!"