We are in a time of transition, and I would say that is true on many fronts. Most obviously, we are transitioning from Dr. Dale A. Meyer’s 15 years as Seminary president — significant in itself. On another level, we are in the process of transitioning back to face-to-face classes on campus. At still another level, we are learning that there may be a new normal out there in terms of how we live and behave because of the coronavirus pandemic. We also have become acutely aware that there is a need to address issues of racial bias and prejudice in our society. All of these transitions are matters that God’s Word addresses directly and honestly.
Dr. Meyer’s time as president has been marked with some serious challenges, especially when hard decisions had to be made as a result of the 2008 economic recession. He led the Seminary through that difficult period and brought it to a place of strength in terms of wonderful, dedicated students, faculty, staff and finances. These things did not happen overnight nor by chance. They required persistence and steady leadership. Moreover, the sound position the Seminary finds itself in was not all Dr. Meyer’s doing either, which he would be the first to declare. It has been a team effort – the faculty, staff, students and the Board of Regents, as well as our supporters — stepped up to the plate when we needed to face something that came upon us by surprise — the coronavirus pandemic. Dr. Meyer thought his last few months as president would be peaceful and somewhat quiet, but God was not through with him yet.
Dr. Meyer will be followed by another experienced and competent churchman. Dr. Daniel Preus will serve as interim president until the new president is elected and installed. We are confident that he will demonstrate steady leadership and work with the team to provide stability during these challenging times.
We will transition back to face-to-face classes beginning July 6, when summer Greek and Hebrew classes commence. St. Louis County opened up June 15 and we re-opened our campus June 22, but it is not business as usual. Many measures such as face masks, rescheduling classes to allow for greater social distancing, cleaning protocols and a myriad of other measures are in place to ensure the safety of the Seminary community.
Recently I visited my cardiologist for a routine appointment. He said, “It’s never going to be like it was before.” He is an Asian American and he talked about how it’s common for people to wear face masks in Asia — either because they are sick or for fear of others who may be sick. And most Asian cultures don’t go around shaking hands, as is the custom in the West. “We are going to have to get used to such things here, too,” he said. Nobody really knows exactly what the new normal will be, but most of us recognize that this transition is coming.
Finally, the issue of racial injustice came surging in on us just when we thought we were being put to the test and being stretched almost to the limit because of the stay-at-home orders and other COVID-19-related measures. The killing of George Floyd while in police custody has made it clear we do not have racial relations figured out. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has spoken out against racism, as has Concordia Seminary. But there is much more to learn and much more work to do, for sure.
These are times of transition, even upheaval. But there are several things that don’t change. Jesus Christ is still Lord of the universe, who created and sustains all things (John 1:3-5 ESV, 1 Cor. 8:6 ESV). In the midst of our worries about the future, God’s Word, first, calls us to repentance, which, as Luther pointed out, is to be a daily activity. Any tragedy is a call to repentance. “I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3 ESV). His Word also provides assurance: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28 ESV). Our Lord Jesus Himself promised that He would establish His church and that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). The Lord of the universe is at work among us and in this world, even when we cannot understand how or why.
There is another matter — and this is essential — the mission endures. Taking the Gospel of forgiveness, reconciliation, peace and righteousness to all the world remains a duty and privilege that God has given to us. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38 ESV). The mission of Concordia Seminary continues because that is what we are about — preparing and sending men and women to proclaim the Good News to a world that seems to be hearing only bad news.
During this time of transition, I know that you, too, have been faced with challenges of life and ministry. Be assured that we have thought of you often, praying for your safety and health, and thanking Him for your faithfulness, for your continued love for Christ’s church, and for your love and support of your alma mater, Concordia Seminary.
Dr. Douglas Rutt
Provost, Chief Academic Officer and Professor of Practical Theology