Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father, +Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Throughout the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s Herman Stuempfle and Frederick Wentz were leaders in Lutheran theological education. Both were seminary professors and presidents – Fred at Hamma Divinity School and Herm at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. They educated and trained generations of future pastors, deacons, and church leaders. In addition to preparing church professionals for service, these two Lutheran educators advocated vigorously for the role of the laity in the life of the church. Shaped in part by the theology and preaching of Pastor Dwight Putnam, who served at Christ Lutheran Gettysburg from 1930 until 1948, Fred and Herm sought to empower the laity to embrace their role in the life of God’s church. At the same time they encouraged the laity to live out their faith in their daily lives. They emphasized the value of Christian discipleship in the exercise of one’s own vocation be it in or outside the home.
The titles of their published works give an indication of their perspective and the significant value they placed on this topic. The Layman’s Role Today, Set Free for Others, Getting into the Act: Opening Up Lay Ministry in the Weekday World were all books written by Fred Wentz. They each seek to inspire the laity to integrate their faith with their daily world. Whether a student in the classroom, an athlete on the field, court, or in the pool, a worker in the workplace, or a parent caring for their children at home, Wentz wanted lay persons to dig deep and explore how to be a faithful Christian disciple and steward in their everyday worlds. In Stuempfle’s Theological and Biblical Perspectives on the Laity, he noted that “no one can speak adequately of the church without affirming the role of the laity.” Stuempfle traces the laity’s role from the early church through the Reformation era until the modern day. He too calls on the laity to embrace the liberating call to enact their mission and ministry in the world. Over the years members at Christ Lutheran Gettysburg benefitted from Fred and Herm’s ministry and wisdom around this topic. They challenged members prayerfully to reflect on their faith and its implications for their everyday lives and their service on behalf of the church. Many an adult forum consisted of Fred asking members to present on the intersection of their job and their faith. Thus, while they addressed the role of laity in the mid-twentieth century, people of faith in the twenty-first century benefited from their work as well.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America embraces the value and importance of the laity in the constitutional polity of its governance. The highest legislative bodies at the congregation, synodical, and churchwide expressions of the church each involve a majority of lay persons. Lay members serve in important congregational offices of president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer. At the churchwide level the Vice-President of the ELCA must be a lay person and the offices of secretary and treasurer may be filled by lay persons. Currently three of the four officers of the ELCA are lay members. The office of Vice-President is a volunteer position that requires tremendous amount of work with governance and serving as an ambassador for the ELCA.
On August 15th I received a text during Sunday morning worship from our son, Jared, sharing the breaking news that ELCA Vice-President Bill Horne had died unexpectedly in Clearwater, Florida of an apparent heart attack. Bill was three weeks away from retiring as the City Manager of Clearwater, Florida, a job he had held for twenty years. His death was a shock to all, most especially to his wife Loretta and their family. Bill was a friend and trusted colleague throughout my six years of serving with him on the ELCA Church Council. From the beginning of my service, we connected on the importance of faith, the role of the church, good process, and transparent governance. We enjoyed discussing the Phillies as their spring training home is Clearwater. Working to make the city a place of hospitality for the Phillies was an important part of Bill’s work. Over the years Bill shared stories that illustrated his love for his family and how proud he was of them. A retired colonel of the United States Air Force, he was a patriot and a model of steady, faithful leadership.
Bill was a gift and treasure to the church in its many expressions. He was active in his own congregation, the Florida-Bahamas Synod, and the ELCA Churchwide organization having served on the ELCA Church Council and being elected Vice-President at the Churchwide Assembly held in New Orleans in 2016. His leadership was collaborative, respectful, engaging, and inspirational. He did not get caught up in drama and was measured, inclusive and encouraging. His death leaves a void and sadness for his family, the city of Clearwater and the ELCA. In 2018 the Christ Lutheran youth who attended the ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston, Texas met Bill. He joined our group for one of the evening large gathering events at the NRG Stadium. He danced, sang, and prayed with us throughout that night.
Bill Horne embodied the themes and emphases voiced and advanced by Wentz and Stuempfle. He lived out his faith in his daily life while serving in the U.S. Air Force and in Clearwater. His unselfish offering of time and talent in service to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America significantly contributed to its mission and ministry. He was and remains to all an inspiration modeling the important role of lay ministry in the weekday world and within the church.
Through Jesus Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection Bill, Fred, and Herm all rest in the arms of our eternal God. Until that day when we are reunited with them and all the saints who have gone before us, may their lives and teachings inspire each of us to serve our God with faithfulness, energy, and joy.
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Stephen Herr