Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
[Matthew 17:4 NRSV]
On October 5, 2016, I had the distinct privilege of giving the keynote address to the Fall Conference of the Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM) Program at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (PLTS) in Berkeley, California.
TEEM is an alternate route to ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for people identified to provide pastoral ministry to emerging ministry contexts throughout the church, or to underserved communities, which include ethnic, multicultural, rural, inner city ministries and ministry with deaf communities.
Having entered ministry through the TEEM program, I have become somewhat of an anomaly in the church in that I was the first person to emerge from the program to be elected bishop. I’ve stated before that since becoming bishop in 2014, it seems that more people than I could ever imagine are interested in hearing what I’ve got to say. Two years into my call I am still somewhat surprised by that experience.
The theme for the conference was “Theologizing for the World.” The title gave me the latitude to take the address in multiple directions. Even though it was a keynote and not a sermon, I used the call to Abram, as found in Genesis 12, as a scriptural springboard. It is my conviction that the story of the call to Abraham offers us a lens through which we can understand our relationship with the living God. It is a reading that resonates with me on several levels. First and foremost, it is a call story. And I feel any talk of theology must start with a discussion of call.
As Abram was called and obeyed, I reminded the students that in much the same way, their candidacy for ministry in the TEEM program was God’s idea before it was theirs. None of us are where we are because we choose to be in that particular place. God calls us in the waters of our baptism to serve, to be a child of God, to become a member of a royal priesthood, a holy nation. It is my hope that my words inspired the students.
I was also honored to preside at worship at the Chapel of the Cross, a Eucharist service that was organized by a group of students from the seminary community and at which the Rev. Shauna K. Hannan, Associate Professor of Homiletics, preached.
After a potluck lunch, I was treated to a tour of the campus by the director of the TEEM program, the Rev. Moses Penumaka, and accompanied by our Northeastern Ohio Synod Director for Evangelical Mission, the Rev. Terrance Jacob.
This tour was significant in that it will be most likely my first and last time ever on the Berkeley campus of PLTS. In August of this year, PLTS announced that it has decided to relocate to downtown Berkeley starting in fall of 2017. The decision puts PLTS closer to social and civic life, closer to public transportation, to become not only in but also of Berkeley. It will be a 15-minute walk to Graduate Theological Union, a partner in the ministry of PLTS, and blocks away from the University of California Berkeley campus.
The current location at the top of the hill, with its beautiful campus with inspiring views Spanish colonial era buildings has been home to seminarians since 1952.
Having been there for only a day, I can’t begin to imagine the difficulty involved in deciding to leave. As I observed the stunningly breathtaking scenery from the top of Sawyer Hall, I was reminded of the scene at the Transfiguration with Jesus, Peter, James and John. [Matthew 17; Mark 9]. I jokingly said to Moses Penumaka, and Terrance Jacob, “It is good for us to be here. I will make three dwellings, one for Moses, one for Jacob and one for Abraham.”
All the changes taking place in the church and in the world have had a transfigurational effect on our ELCA seminaries. They are being challenged to become creative in the ways of doing theological education in order to prepare leaders for the ministry to which Christ calls us. Pacific’s move is just one of several that have taken place in recent times. The seminaries in Philadelphia and Gettysburg announced a merger earlier in the year. A few years ago, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina, became a part of Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina.
The lesson of the Transfiguration has not been lost on the leadership of PLTS. As Peter and the disciples learned, ministry happens in the valley, not on the mountaintop. I pray for PLTS and all of our ELCA seminaries; that this decision is pleasing to God and bears fruit for the future of PLTS, the church, and for the mission of God in the world.