Now, when the forsythia is in full bloom, and daffodils are everywhere – in spite of snow in April! – we can think Spring is finally on its way, and, thinking of Spring, we can also think of “seminary.” “Seminary” is a word traced back to the middle English of the 1400-1500’s with the root word meaning “Seed bed.”
“Seminary” a “seedbed” for the planting and growing of students who will become a harvest of service in the world.
Now a seminary is a “seed bed” for growing church leaders,
and that’s where the story of Lancaster Seminary begins.
The old way of importing pastors from Europe wasn’t a solution – some came with shady backgrounds and less than acceptable motives. Pastors needed to be home-grown. At first one or two students were “home-schooled” by the pastor, but a more formal education with a faculty dedicated to teaching more students was what was needed.
In 1825 a group of church leaders of the German Reformed Church met in Carlisle, PA at Dickenson College to establish a seminary. It began with one professor, five students and a library of 200 books.
Eleven years later, it moved to Mercersburg under their charter of Marshall College with a celebrated faculty of John Williamson Nevin, Friederich Augustus Rauch, and Philip Schaff, known for their concerns for worship, sacraments, and ecumenical dimension to the church – living out that word before it was used as it is today.
In 1853 Marshall College moved to Lancaster and joined with Franklin College; F and M, as we say now. The Seminary followed in 1871, and in 1893 left the campus for its own site across the street – where it is today:
Lancaster Theological Seminary. From: The Reformed Church in Pennsylvania. Joseph Henry Dubbs, (1902) Pennsylvania-German Society.)
At first it was the only seminary for the Reformed Church; then with the merger in 1934 to form the Evangelical and Reformed Church, it was one of three. With the mergers to create the United Church of Christ in 1957, it
became one of seven “seedbeds” to grow pastors and lay leaders to live out the Easter Gospel words we hear today:
Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,
and he said to them,
“Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,
and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things.”
To UNDERSTAND THE SCRIPTURES –
to know the languages in which they were written,
to be immersed in the setting and culture –
to, in other words, see, live, be draw into the drama
of God and humans as told in a Hebrew and Christian
that comes to focus on and center in God taking
on our flesh, in Hebrew expectations – Messiah,
in Christian titles – Jesus, Christ, Lord.
A “seminary,” Lancaster Seminary, a “seedbed” where students grow into understanding and seeing the Scriptures with the third eye, the Eye of Jesus, and seeing:
Become WITNESSES OF THESE THINGS – the eye witness of those who could swear to the evidence of
the empty tomb, that Jesus who was dead is alive again, and because they saw, we trust their report.
Frederick Buechner, Presbyterian minister and author of more than 30 books, says,
“…what I believe happened and what in faith and with great joy I proclaim to you here is that he somehow got up, with life in him again, and the glory upon him….I was not there to see it any more than I was awake to see the sun rise this morning, but I affirm it as surely as I do that by God's grace the sun did rise this morning because that is why the world is flooded with light.” (Quoted from Dudley C. Rose, Here Are the Witnesses, You Are the Jury, in Sernons.com for April 15, 2018)
Scott Hoezee, a professor of the Christian Reformed Church teaches pastors to preach with faith that believes:
“…Easter means that the sin and evil that put up obstacles and caused a gaping chasm between us and God will not stand. God will bring all things back to their created intent. God will restore all things to himself. Easter is not only about the end of the cosmic story but is also a vindication of the beginning.” (Scott Hoezee, Comments and Observations’ We Are Made for God, IBID)
A “seminary,” Lancaster Seminary, a “seedbed” to nurture pastors into speaking in the pulpit with conviction.
Years ago, when Lancaster Seminary students would go out to small churches to conduct a worship on a Sunday, other students sent them off with the motto in the school’s seal: “Preach the Word!”
“Preach the Easter Word of the risen Christ, God’s new creation dawning in Him, preach it IN the pulpit, so those who hear may carry it BEYOND the pulpit, that its light, shining on them, will be reflected by them.
When Mahatma Gandhi studied in London, he read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and decided that Christianity was the most complete religion in the world. Later, he lived with a Christian family in East India, who did not reflect any of the light of Christ. The teachings of Christ and the life of Christ had no effect on them. It was their witness that caused him to change his mind about becoming a Christian.
Susan R. Andrews’ word from the pulpit prompts her question:
“How ‘fleshy’ is Jesus in our congregations? How passionate is our preaching? How much do our hearts burn within us when the scriptures are opened to us?” (Susan R. Andrews, "Holy Heartburn," article in the Christian Century, April 7, 1999, p. 385)
And I find myself asking,
“How much does the word preached from the pulpit go beyond the pulpit? How much is our life a sermon – as feeble as it may be – that is a witness to the effect Christ is having on us – how we talk and think, how we love one another with a love that is both fair and just and compassionate? Enough to persuade someone like Gandhi to become a Christian?
“Precah the Word – the living Word, the Easter Jesus, preach that Word, in and beyond the pulpit. AMEN.