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My early recollections of attending church on the South Side of Chicago are that we were a close-knit congregation with about 40 people attending. Our building was really only the basement of the proposed and never completed superstructure. We had a sanctuary nonetheless, because it was not the building but the presence of God in His Word and in His Sacraments that count. The chancel was partitioned by a thick, velvet curtain when we had other events.
We were a dual parish, joined at the hip with one further south and not in the city limits at all. About 10 of us children were driven every day to school at Bethlehem Lutheran on the East Side across the Calumet River, probably four miles away. Our pastor led the eighth graders in catechism classes every Saturday morning. For my brother, Phillip, there were five in the group. Later on in life, I realized that for us to have a pastor was truly a gift. Our faithful pastor, Rev. Borchers, was our shepherd.
As time went on, we moved to a modest suburb and attended a huge church and for us younger brothers, a huge Lutheran school, but for Phillip, the eldest, the formation had already been made. He understood that in a small congregation there was no way to be carried along as in a large congregation, but that every member had a responsibility to help. He knew our tiny congregation wouldn’t have a chance without everyone being involved or without a permanent pastor.
Fast forward many years, and my brother found himself in Michigan working for Dow Chemical as a Ph.D. researcher. Along with a group of other Bible-interested Lutherans, he formed a Bible study group with the means to invite seminary professors up for weekends. This gave the group the opportunity to study with the best theologians of our Church. The truth of God was always at the spear point. What was the truth, and how can we learn it and know it? For Phillip it was catechism class with Pastor Borchers, relived and extended. How much better can it get?
Putting the resources of his vocation at Dow Chemical together with the needs of Concordia Theological Seminary (CTSFW), Fort Wayne, Indiana, he initiated The Dow Chemical Company Endowment Agreement. Dow was a matching funds company that doubled every donation my brother gave to CTSFW. When he determined that my wife’s employer, Macy’s, was also a matching funds donor, he worked with my wife, Maureen, and me to join in the mission.
In the early 2000s, my brother retired from Dow and became a university chemistry professor and was able to attend summer sessions at CTSFW. He invited me to spend a two-week vacation with him on campus, taking two regular courses during the Summer I session. We both had the opportunity to hear the professors teach, to learn, but most importantly and uniquely, to watch the seminarians participate in classes. They probably had no idea what the two older guys were doing there. A few found out. We were learning first-hand what a seminarian does on campus and how they act. In the confines of the classrooms we heard men confess their Savior faithfully as they prepared to bring His Good News to others. We saw the formation of future pastors from a perspective that few other laymen have seen.
Eventually, I also retired, and with my 18 credits from three summers at CTSFW, I was permitted to enroll. I didn’t at first match my brother’s approximate 90 credits. But through him I had learned to love this place, and I loved to watch my younger brothers prepare for a life of service to Christ and the Church.
I have experienced the seminary, my vicarage congregation, the congregation of my call, and I have seen seminarians come and work and graduate. I ask, how can I help? Christ opened the eyes of the sightless, not just physically but also spiritually. Without fully capable and trained pastors to guide us, it would soon degenerate into the blind leading the blind.
Every congregation, whether they realize it or not, has a stake in what CTSFW exists to do. How many times have you been in Bible class and the pastor comments on something you have read before and you say, I never thought of that in that way. You might say, I can see what a difference in perspective that is for me. Or how many times has the pastor pointed out how the secular world is so much against the Church and how it twists even faithful churchgoers into thinking that wrong is now right. A trained pastor is capable of highlighting these things.
Pastor Borchers in the 1950s was my brother’s guardian in the faith. My brother was mine. The endowment is in support of CTSFW to help prepare yours.
The Rev. Mark J. DeLassus (Mark.DeLassus@ctsfw.edu) serves as Vice President of Institutional Advancement at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana.