On Pioneers and Prophets

Thanks to the efforts of a handful of colleagues, and a generous memorial gift from the widow of a distinguished alumnus, we refurbished an expansive first-floor room in the Seminary library and named it the Pioneer Room.  This space, available for meetings, receptions and, with generous wall space for our many campus art exhibits, also enables us to offer rotating displays of photographs, books and other memorabilia related to Seminary-related folks who have been notable pioneers in one arena or another.

It occurs to me that we have other spaces around campus that might be dubbed “Prophet’s Rooms.” 

While one should, in my opinion, be a bit wary anytime someone self-describes as a “prophetic preacher” (it seems to me true prophets are only so designated by others and usually long after they speak or act and that speech or action is reviewed in the rear view mirror in terms of its long-term impact and effectiveness), we do indeed hear prophetic sermons from the pulpit in the Church of the Abiding Presence.  And while professors are not often described as prophets, indeed our faculty often fulfill a prophetic role in their work and witness.  The word “prophet,” after all, means one who interprets, who discerns and points out to others things they may not see on their own.  Our professors’ prophetic voices and writings extend their influence far beyond the Seminary’s campus classrooms.

Of late, we’ve had some prophets sounding forth their courageous voices in Valentine Hall’s spacious Alumni Auditorium.  A couple weeks back, alumni, current students, military chaplains and a small group of U.S. soldiers and their family members helped all of us in attendance become better prepared for ministry with and among veterans of combat who come home from Iraq, Afghanistan and others places where they have been called upon to exercise their perilous vocations.  Regardless of how one feels about particular wars or combat in general, those who serve in military forces are just as much in need of gospel-centered pastoral ministry as persons engaged in all other walks of life.

An essential component on our academic calendar is a special lecture marking the life, work and martyrdom of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.  Dr. Nelson Strobert of our faculty coordinates this important lecture and annually invites a noted King scholar to deliver the address.  Rather than observe the MLK legacy in January at the time of our national holiday in his honor, we hold the King lecture in springtime when more folks are around campus (both students and faculty tend to scatter in many directions during the January term) and typically in April, the month in which Dr. King was murdered.

This year’s lecturer, the Rev. Dr. Cain Hope Felder, is a widely recognized long-time professor of New Testament at the Howard University School of Divinity, one of our sister institutions in the Washington Theological Consortium.  In his delightful and engaging style, Dr. Felder delivered a riveting address on how Martin Luther King’s commitment to non-violent prophetic justice-making challenges us to engage in global friend-making and not give way to a default position of regarding every stranger we meet as a potential enemy or terrorist bent on doing us harm.  Dr. Felder’s lecture comes at a propitious moment for us as we move along in the process of converting our “Old Dorm” to a public interpretive center that won’t just tell the story of the great Civil War battle here on Seminary Ridge, but will also lift up heroic and prophetic peace-making efforts than ensued on the part of many whose lives have been shaped and influenced by a Gettysburg sojourn. 

It is always a privilege to be in the presence of prophets, as I find myself on a daily basis moving about among colleagues, students and those like Dr. Felder and others who come among us and lift their voices, joining in our mission of “bearing witness at the Crossroads of history and hope.”  Just a few weeks down the road, we’ll hear from other prophetic voices—including the Pulitzer Prize winning war correspondent and social commentator Chris Hedges—as they sound forth in our 2011 Spring Convocation and Alumni Days.  Hope to see (and talk with) you there!  Meanwhile, I’d appreciate hearing some of your stories of times when you’ve found yourself in the presence of pioneers and prophets.

And now, as we enter the Great (Holy) Week, and trudge along the way of the cross and on to Easter, I pray for you every blessing in the name of the greatest prophet of all time, Jesus of Nazareth, in whom we live and move and have our being . . . 

Posted: 4/15/2011 9:26:50 AM by John Spangler | with 0 comments

From the Gettysburg Seminary President's Office

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