Remarks at Opening Ceremony of Gettysburg Civil War Quadrennial Observance
The Rev. Michael L. Cooper-White, President, Lutheran Theological Seminary
Pennsylvania Monument, April 30, 2011
In the Hebrew Bible, or “Old Testament” as it is commonly called, a man named Moses was emboldened to lead his people out of bondage and slavery in Egypt. At a pivotal moment in his younger years, Moses came upon a burning bush that was not consumed as the fire burned on; there he heard a voice beckon, “Put off the shoes from your feet, for the ground on which you stand is holy ground.”
It is a privilege for me to join these esteemed colleagues in welcoming us all to this sacred space, this holy ground we call the Gettysburg National Battlefield. Here on these fields and ridges thousands upon thousands of our forebears indeed gave the last full measure of their devotion so that we might enjoy a uniquely American freedom in this enduring democratic nation.
While the National Park Service, and our local police and proprietors might well discourage residents and visitors alike from pattering around barefoot, I hope that in a symbolic way we will all put off those things that separate us and would keep us from absorbing into our very souls the meaning of this place.
As its 12th president, I represent the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, founded in 1826 by Lutheran minister Samuel Simon Schmucker, who would go on to establish what became Gettysburg College, and also Christ Lutheran Church. Each of these sacred sites bore witness to the Prince of Peace during and after the great battle, when they sheltered soldiers from both sides and thereby within their walls launched the great and still unfinished movement for reconciliation and national unity.
We describe thevision of our calling today atop Seminary Ridge today as bearing witness at the Crossroads of history and hope. On our campus, as elsewhere around town, a few trees remain that we call “witness trees,” young saplings perhaps at the time of the great battle. If you listen carefully at midnight, their rustling leaves may tell tales of what they witnessed seven score and eight years ago. The floorboards in the Seminary’s Old Dorm still bear the bloodstains of hundreds who suffered and many who died within those sacred walls. Soon we hope to convert that historic and iconic edifice into a world-class museum through a joint venture with our local Adams County Historical Society by means of a project called the Voices of History. While you can walk or drive by the Seminary building on your visit this weekend, in the near future we aspire to welcome you within its walls and let them tell you of what they witnessed.
As you wander about our fields and ridges, as you traverse our sidewalks and venture into our many local venues of history and lavish hospitality, for which Gettysburg is known far and wide, I hope you pause often to listen for the Voices of History that may occasionally shout, but more often speak quietly but eloquently of peace and freedom, of equality and justice for all. While the bodies and bones of those who here gave their last measure of devotion have long ago left the scene, their voices beckon us indeed to a new birth of freedom here at the hinge-place, the pivotal point of American history, where it truly all was decided!
Thank you for coming. Welcome to this hallowed ground.