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Growing in the faith

By Melanie Ave

“I love surrounding myself with people of great faith, which is exactly the people at these seminars. God uses them to strengthen my faith.”

Solomon Conrad of St. Peters, Mo., was reading through his church’s newsletter several years ago when he noticed something that caught his eye: a notice about a Lay Bible Institute at nearby Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.

Three times a year, the Seminary hosts the seminars, which are faculty-led studies of the Bible and how it relates to today’s life and events. The Lay Bible Institutes are open to interested laypeople, students, pastors and other church workers, and are offered every winter, summer and fall. Most are daylong seminars held on Saturday except in October, when they are scheduled on four consecutive Wednesday evenings.

As a fairly new Lutheran at the time, deeply interested in learning more about God’s Word and Lutheran theology, Conrad signed up immediately.

“I liked it so much I kept coming back,” said Conrad, a married father of two teenagers.

He is just one of many people who regularly take advantage of workshops, Bible studies, publications, events and other resources the Seminary offers to equip the church and its people to grow in their faith and share the Gospel with the world.

Conrad has attended seminars about the Reformation and its modern-day effects with Dr. Erik Herrmann, another with Dr. Charles P. Arand on creation, one with Rev. Ben Haupt on confessing Christ and one with Dr. Joel Okamoto on science and theology.

“The teachers are wonderful and effective in applying God’s Word to the specific subjects they teach,” he said. “I love surrounding myself with people of great faith, which is exactly the people at these seminars. God uses them to strengthen my faith.”

The workshops have deepened his understanding of the Scriptures, and he has shared his newfound knowledge with friends and family alike.

“Rev. Haupt’s class made me think about how the church has for centuries been mainstream in society, but we may be returning to minority status and persecution as in the early days,” Conrad said. “Dr. Herrmann’s class was very enlightening regarding how so many different areas in the present age were affected by Luther’s Reformation. Dr. Arand’s class reinforced how we are to be stewards of God’s creation. Dr. Okamoto’s class left me with insight into how to reach and witness to scientific nonbelievers in a cosmological way.”

An added benefit to attending the Seminary’s events? Conrad has made several new friends, friends who share his love of theological education.

“I definitely recommend people attend, as it will grow their faith and enrich their lives,” he said.

“From that first class I wanted to learn more.”

‘I wanted to learn more’

Like Conrad, Paula Dustman of Ste. Genevieve, Mo., also has benefited from the Lay Bible Institutes at the Seminary.

The retired Los Angeles police officer grew up in a Roman Catholic family that rarely practiced the faith. “I never read the Bible and didn’t have a clue who Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were,” she said.

As a child she said her family life was “not normal.” Throughout her childhood and much of her adult life, she always felt like something was missing. But what?

Time moved on and in 2004, after she and her husband retired, they moved to Missouri. About six years ago, she was in a parking lot, unable to get a key in her car door. A local Lutheran pastor stopped and asked if he could help. “After helping me with my car, we started talking and he told me who he was,” she said. “He said he led a Bible study at the apartments nearby.”

Perhaps she would like to come? With the nagging sense of something missing still playing in her mind, she accepted his invitation.

“Many people don’t understand the Holy Spirit but I can tell you I felt His power working in me,” she said. “From that first class I wanted to learn more. I started going to church every Sunday, went to Bible study and talked with people in the church to learn more about the Lutheran faith.”

Dustman eventually was confirmed. Then, like Conrad, Dustman saw a notice in her church bulletin about a class being offered at Concordia Seminary. “I didn’t even know what Concordia Seminary was,” she said. It was a small blurb about one of the Seminary’s Lay Bible Institutes.

“I went and loved it,” Dustman said. She sat in a classroom at the Seminary — the same classrooms where pastors are trained and formed — and delighted in the deep dive into theology under the tutelage of esteemed Seminary professors.

“It was just amazing to be able to sit there and ask questions,” she said. “Nobody ever makes you feel bad if you don’t know something. They don’t mind you asking questions. It’s just fun to have all those people there who enjoy studying too.”

She has become a Seminary regular, attending institutes on Revelation, John and Arand’s institute on creation. “I think it’s all the detail you get in one day that’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s an amazing place to study. It’s beautiful. And it’s not expensive.”

“I grew to understand more about my faith and my relationship with Christ and how to approach my life from a more Christian and religious perspective.”

‘Christian in the world’

For Mark Zimmermann of St. Louis, he saw the Seminary’s offerings as a way to learn more about the subjects he often writes about as an editor of worship, Bible study and devotional materials for Creative Communications. He also leads a Bible study at his church and blogs about theological topics at Creative Christian Perspectives.

He has attended the Reformation Lay Bible Institute with Herrmann and the science seminar with Okamoto.

“I liked the expertise of the presenters and the new way of looking at things,” Zimmermann said. “For instance, I came to really understand more about Martin Luther’s life and how he introduced making the secular sacred in our vocations, no matter what we are called to do. I learned more about the church at the time of the Reformation and the sharp divide between the common people and the religious ministers. I learned more about how scientists look at the world versus Christians and how our worldview is based on faith and not strictly on the scientific discovery.”

But the education didn’t stop there for Zimmermann.

“I grew to understand more about my faith and my relationship with Christ and how to approach my entire life from a more Christian and religious perspective,” he said. “I have become less compartmentalized in my thinking, not just keeping thoughts on church and faith related strictly or solely to Sunday mornings, but at work, at home, in my neighborhood.”

Zimmermann has happily shared his theological learnings with others.

He has shared nuggets of knowledge from both institutes he has attended in his Bible study and on his blog. In conversations after lunch on Sundays, Zimmermann said he has become more confident in sharing scriptural insights from sermons.

“It makes me feel more in touch with how I need to be more of a Christian in the world, even if it’s in small ways,” he said.

Dr. Erik Herrmann, front row left, led the “Reformation Reverberations” Lay Bible Institute Feb. 4, 2017. Herrmann is the associate professor of Historical Theology, chairman of the Department of Historical Theology, director of theological resources and special projects, and director of the Center for Reformation Research at the Seminary.
Photo: Jackie Parker

The focus of the October 2015 Lay Bible Institute was “Confessing Christ and Living His Mission in the Early Church and Today.” Rev. Ben Haupt, assistant professor of Practical Theology and director of Library Services, led the seminar.
Photo: Melanie Ave