Author Topic: A Life Journey with Catholicity and Lutheran Schools by Bob Christian  (Read 2020 times)


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The following is Bob Christian's reflection on his life of ministry in Lutheran Schools. It is printed here as a supplement to the Una Sancta Issue of Lutheran Forum. +Paul Sauer, Interim Editor, Lutheran Forum

A Life Journey with Catholicity and Lutheran Schools
Bob Christian

   I became a “Christian” Christian, a member of the one holy catholic apostolic Church, through Holy Baptism on 1 January, 1928, the “Naming Day of Jesus”. “I was made a Christian …When my name was given, One of God’s dear children …and an heir of heaven. In the name of Christian, I will glory now, Evermore remember, my Baptismal vow.”   A major purpose of Lutheran schools is to help the baptized to be all that they are by virtue of their Baptism, and to live as part of the church catholic. 

   I entered first grade at St. John’s Lutheran School in Chicago, and since then, have never been away from Lutheran Schools, elementary and high school, and Concordia Teachers College, River Forest. Upon graduation I was called into the teaching ministry at Our Saviour Lutheran Church and School in the Bronx, New York, serving with Pastor Berthold von Schenk, theologian, educator, and sacramental/liturgical leader. This 17-year ministry was life changing, an immersion into Word and Sacrament. His emphasis on the  “oneness” in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper revealed the church as the Body of Christ, with an understanding of catholicity and inclusiveness. Since that time, the weekly Eucharist, a driving force in Pastor von Schenk’s ministry, has been a focus of my life, and I’ve been blessed to experience it in every congregation where I’ve served.

 From my real experiences, I want to show the relationship between catholicity and the Lutheran School. Pastor von Schenk was adamant that if a congregation baptized children, it was important that it have a Christian Day School to support the next steps in the child’s life. He led Our Saviour Church to extend its elementary school to include a full high school in a multiracial setting with an enrollment of over 500, an amazing step for a small congregation in the Bronx. In the diversity of the student body, there was catholicity. Students celebrated their Baptisms and worshipped together with the full Eucharist for minor festivals, all possible in a parish school.

Pastor von Schenk also accepted me and other called teachers on our staff as partners in ministry. When, as a 21 year old I was commissioned and installed at Our Saviour, my new pastor, with the blessing and the laying on of hands, told me that he considered this to be my ordination into the teaching ministry of the church, an act which carried me through all my years of serving in the church. How important such an understanding can be for the professional church workers in our Lutheran Schools.

Continuing the Journey:  Hong Kong … Seattle… Tacoma …Portland

   Our Saviour was preparation for just about anything, and that took place as I was called by the LCMS Board for Missions to open the International School in Hong Kong (HKIS), foundations of which had been laid by Lutheran Missionaries and lay persons in the business community of Hong Kong. A mission of the Lutheran Church, it raised ever-present questions. Today, in China, Hong Kong International has a K-12 student body of over 2500, with unbelievable diversity in race, religion (all the major religions of the world), and other factors.  In this setting, questions arose whether HKIS could meet the needs of this diverse student body and still maintain its identity as a Lutheran/Christian School?

 Yet, consciously, HKIS has remained a Christian School, with a challenging ministry of love and care, and students touched by God’s love. Is there catholicity? Yes, in a unique manner, through exposure of students to the Christian faith, through the care of Christian teachers, and through the ministry of Church of All Nations on one of the campuses of the school.  Here is catholicity, the spiritual home for a transient community of people from across the world, and for faculty and students from the school. Leonard Galster, first pastor of this congregation, understood catholicity and celebrated Holy Communion every Sunday. Contacts with alumni, students, and former staff members, give evidence of the catholic ministry of the school and of its partner in mission, Church of All Nations.

HKIS lives “on the edge”, as it continues to explore, test, and revise approaches to being a Lutheran Christian School. Its current Mission Statement demonstrates this … “Dedicating our minds to inquiry, our hearts to compassion, and our lives to service and understanding … An American–style school grounded in the Christian faith and respecting the spiritual lives of all.”  After visiting HKIS, Martin Marty had this to say, “Is HKIS one more chapter in the history of secularization, a match for what happened to many “once-church-related colleges” in the U.S.? I couldn’t get anyone at the school to see its evolution as a story of religious decline toward fall. … I think the school offers a model for how others might deal with the “one and the many”, with one’s own faith and the faith of others, in the only kind of world that believers will face in this new century. Maybe here, as so often, a little child shall lead them.”   HKIS is a Lutheran School… an encouragement for Lutheran Schools to value diversity and seize the opportunity for outreach in the spirit of catholicity. 

After 11 years of more life-changing experiences in Hong Kong, I received a call to open a Lutheran High School in Seattle. Here Lutheran High School Association of Washington grew to more than 30 Lutheran Churches and at the opening of the school on September 17, 1978, bishops and presidents represented the congregations of the Association from four national Lutheran Church Bodies. Again, catholicity was demonstrated by oneness in purpose and support of a Lutheran School with a diverse set of Lutheran Congregations and a diverse student body including unchurched students. A school hymn proclaims:  “Our praise and thanksgiving, to you Lord we offer. We pray for your blessing on our school family. Oh Father Creator, Christ Jesus our Savior, Blest Spirit, Source of power, Great God one in three. In classroom, athletics, in music, clubs, drama, Help us love and serve you and show forth your ways. Yes, we’re Seattle Lutheran, God’s people together, Forgiven and free, Yes, Christ’s saints all are we.”

17 years were spent at Seattle Lutheran , but then, in retirement, came the opportunity to work toward opening a new Lutheran High School in Tacoma , Washington. I agreed, with the understanding that this too would be an experience in catholicity, bringing together Lutheran congregations from Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.  “Mount Rainier Lutheran High School” has official recognition by both of these.

I was also privileged to serve 12 years as a Concordia University - Portland. regent. This, and other schools of the Concordia University System, have faced major changes in terms of offering broader ministries for diverse student bodies which include individuals from a wide spectrum of religious backgrounds, as well as some who are having their first direct exposures to the grace God. Here, in a setting of Lutheran theology and teaching, there is catholicity in practice.

Lutheran Schools can be parish schools, association schools, and church body schools; preschools, elementary and high schools, and colleges and universities. My Lutheran School journey has taken place in the diversity of Lutheran Schools which have tremendous potential for ministry in the 21st century.  Lutheran Schools on all levels, ministries of the church, are so very much needed to face today’s tensions and complexities. They are Lutheran and catholic as they reach into the exciting diversity found within their student bodies. Is there any better place for catholicity to be taught and experienced than in the Lutheran School, where “Education is for life, and the school is life itself?”

Robert Christian is former headmaster at Our Saviour Lutheran Church in the Bronx, New York, and Founding Headmaster of the Hong Kong International School. In retirement in Seattle he continues to assist in the planting of Lutheran Schools.