My senior year of seminary we had a guest presenter for a couple days during our Church History class. Roger Fjeld, a previous president of Wartburg Seminary, came to talk to us about the history of the Lutheran Church in the United States.
I sometimes think that history can be a bit dry and not always that exciting, but I have to say I was riveted. I couldn't get enough of what Roger was saying, especially as he talked about the years leading up to the merger of the LCA (Lutheran Church in America), the ALC (American Lutheran Church), and the AELC (Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches) into the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America).
He told us about the schism in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) over disagreements about Biblical interpretation, among other things. This schism led to the AELC, as well as Concordia Seminary in Exile, which later became Christ Seminary-Seminex. The AELC then became a voice for Lutheran unity and was an impetus for conversations about a new Lutheran church which eventually led to the merger of the three Lutheran bodies and the creation of the ELCA, at that time the fourth largest protestant church body in the United States.
This kind of stuff fascinates me. I could hear about it and talk about it for hours. So, when Roger Fjeld mentioned a couple of books that were written about this subject, I think it was almost immediately after class that I got onto a computer and found and purchased these books.
Now, I have to admit that I have a severe case of A.D.D. when it comes to reading. I'll start a book and read for a bit, but then I'll see another book I think looks interesting so I'll start to read that and lose interest in the first one. So I've started to read one of the books a couple of times, but each time I'd get distracted by a different book. But this time I sat down to read one of the books and I'm currently on the last chapter. I've almost made it!
This book is "Anatomy of a Merger" by Edgar Trexler. Trexler served in the LCA as the editor of their periodical The Lutheran, and went on to continue to be the editor of The Lutheran when it became the publication of the ELCA. So he was present as media at all of the meetings and conventions that led up to the merger.
It's a bit dry, sometimes it felt like I was looking through really extensive minutes from a church council meeting. But it gave a inside look at what led up to the merger - the struggles and the joys, the ego trips and the compromises, the long journey and finally the celebration when the three churches voted at their respective assemblies to merge into this new church.
There were lots of people involved in this process, too. People like Barbara Lundblad, who now serves as Professor of Preaching at Union Seminary in New York. Herbert Chilstrom was very involved, and served as the first presiding bishop of the ELCA. Will Herzfeld was also very involved, and was a strong voice for the inclusion of minorities and women (sidenote: Herzfeld was an associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. and served as the bishop of the AELC making him the first African-American to lead a U.S. Lutheran church body. He also came to speak at my college when I was a student there and, had I really known all of this about him at the time, I probably would have taken more time to get to know him and hear his story). Even Stanley Olson is mentioned who was serving as a synod bishop at the time but then went on to be the Executive Director of the unit for Vocation and Education in the ELCA and now serves as the current president of Wartburg Seminary.
It's really quite an interesting story. It's about people trying to discern what God might be calling us as Lutherans to be about and to do, and seeking to be a united group and a unified voice. It wasn't a perfect process, there were little groups that broke off and didn't want to merge, there were people who thought things went too far or not far enough. But they worked together and compromised and tried their best to do what they discerned to be the will of God.
Next in line is the book "High Expectations" also by Trexler which is sort of the follow-up to "Anatomy of a Merger." In this second book, Trexler details the first few years of the ELCA as it began to get its feet and figure itself out.
Then, the next book is "Memoirs in Exile" by John Tietjen. Now this should really be interesting. Tietjen was president of Concordia Seminary in St Louis, MO which was the flagship seminary (I think) of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. They got into a "discussion" about the use of the historical-critical method of Biblical interpretation and whether it should be used, or not. Tietjen led the group that left the seminary and started the AELC and Concordia Seminary in Exile. This book is the story of his experiences during that time.
So that's what is on my list of things to read. If you've read this far, I'm impressed. I think when I sat down to write this blog entry it seemed a lot more exciting and fascinating in my head. But then, I am a self-avowed church nerd and this kind of thing really does interest me.