Disciples Divinity House

of the University of Chicago
September 15, 2016 —  

On September 1-9, DDH hosted “Reformation and Improvisation – Then and Now,” the second conference/exchange with the Theologisches Studienhaus (TSH) at Morata-Haus at the University of Heidelberg. A group of 22 students and trustees from the two institutions met for a week of seminars, immersions, and shared reflections in Chicago. Virginia White and Stefan Aderhold offered reflections at the end of the conference.
   “The idea of travel reminds me of movement—movement across distances, across time, across cultures. It seems to me that movement is at the heart of reformation and of improvisation,” explains House Scholar Virginia White, who was one of the participants. “To reform we have to move our attention between the present and the past. We have to know where we have been, and begin to separate what worked from what didn’t. To reform we must be bold enough to move things around, to change traditions, to discard old ways. To improvise, we take this consideration of the past, and turn toward the future, ready to make meaningful changes.”
   “This necessity to let go of the old, to let some things die in order to make space for something new, is certainly a part of our Disciples of Christ heritage. We heard it loud and clear in the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery—a document which calls for the immediate end of a local and entrenched church structure—which we read with Professors Gilpin and Schweiker. And, I would say, it is right at the heart of our shared Christian identity—in the very story of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. In this sense, reform is that which helps us to clear space for that which is to come.”
   The 500th anniversary of the Reformation will be celebrated in 2017, counting from 1517, when Dr. Martin Luther posted 95 theses for debate in Wittenberg, Germany. Last year, a delegation from DDH traveled to Heidelberg for the first conference/exchange, and both DDH and TSH delegations traveled together to some places in Germany that were formative for Luther’s thought. This year’s DDH-TSH conference paired the theme of reformation with that of improvisation, finding both themes highly germane to the realities of the city of Chicago and of American Protestantism.
   One of the TSH participants, Stefan Aderhold, remained in Chicago after the exchange. He had been admitted to the Divinity School’s Master of Arts in Religious Studies program, and is now studying and living at the Disciples Divinity House. He will return to Germany for doctoral studies on Melanchthon next year.
   “Reformation was not finished in the 16th century and will hopefully never be completed,” Mr. Aderhold noted. “Melanchthon was seen as the Reformation's mastermind. He was a thinker, a thoughtful theologian. His best abilities have been his biggest weakness though. He was gripped by self-doubt, he agonized about nearly any decision and became sick. His good friend Luther sent him a letter giving him comfort by finding the right words. He wrote: ‘Be a sinner, and sin bravely, but believe more bravely still.’ We cannot live without making mistakes. We are sometimes weak; or broken. Wrong decisions are part of our everyday life. Doing nothing can be even more wrong. But what Luther tells Melanchthon can teach us at least two things: First, it’s okay to do mistakes. We cannot be perfect. Having faith in God while we are acting is the best we can do. And second, others are struggling with the exact same thing.”
   “To be a Christian means to be on the road,” he said, sounding a related theme to Ms. White’s reflections about movement. “If we understand ourselves as students instead of holding the truth in our hands, we are making space for the other and for improvisation, as Erin Brown told us yesterday. This activates some kind of fertile creativity. At the same time, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel but ground ourselves on our community’s history of more than 2000 years. We are on the road, reflecting constantly, trying out new ways, and driving still.”
   “Let us keep driving, let us exchange and learn from each other, let us be disciples more than teachers, let us not overlook cultural, social, ethnic, religious and racial issues, but let us shape all these challenges in a creative way. On the whole, let us be at the wheel together,” he concluded, speaking of TSH and DDH together.
   “Improvisation requires a lot from us,” Virginia White observed. “It requires that we be humble enough to encounter difference and be changed by it. Ultimately, I think improvisation is about letting ourselves be moved. Whether it is moved to laughter, or moved to wonder, or even moved to tears, our best improvisations come from being moved. That’s what we have done this week.”

September 10, 2016 —  

The second Disciples Divinity House -Theologisches Studienhaus (TSH) at Heidelberg University exchange met September 1-9 in Chicago around the theme, "Reformation and Improvisation - then and now." The first exchange/conference was held last summer in Heidelberg. Dean Culp, Trustees Paul Steinbrecher, Mareta Smith, and Michael Karunas, along with House Scholars Joel Brown, Jonathan Cahill, Douglas Collins, Judith Guy, Mark Lambert, and Virginia White hosted a group of students and association members from a sister institution at the University of Heidelberg, where Heike Springhart is the Director.

   Together they read Martin Luther and James Baldwin on freedom and love, talked with Professor Curtis Evans about religion and race in South Chicago, toured Chicago neighborhoods, and attended the Jazz Festival. They shared meals and worship, examined immigration and migration, crossed lines drawn by race and wealth, explored changing forms of hospitality and ministry.

   The conference was generously resourced by additional guests, including Divinity School professors Clark Gilpin and William Schweiker, who reflected on reformation and improvisation in relation to the Disciples of Christ and other US churches as "communities of persuasion." The delegations also met with four editors at the offices of The Christian Century magazine—Debra Bendis, Amy Frykholm, David Heim, and Elizabeth Palmer—and with young Chicago clergy innovators Erin Brown, Kathryn Ray, and Andrew Packman. They surveyed the landscape of Chicago via a Chicago Architectural Foundation tour on the Chicago River.

August 18, 2016 —  

Speakers for the 2017 General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have been announced. Alumna Sandhya Jha of the Oakland Peace Center and Associate Dean Yvonne Gilmore will keynote the "Justice" and "Transformative Leadership" learning tracks. The General Assembly will convene in Indianapolis, July 8-12, 2017. The DDH luncheon and a StoryHour event are in the works. Make plans to attend now.

August 10, 2016 —  

Clyde Curry Smith, alumnus, died August 5 in River Falls, Wisconsin, of congestive heart failure. He was 87. An expert in ancient history, the Old and New Testaments, and ancient Greek and Semitics, he taught at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls from 1965 until his retirement in 1990. The author of numerous scholarly monographs and articles, his numerous awards and recognitions included an honorary doctorate from Fairfax University.

Clyde Curry Smith was born in Hamilton, Ohio, the only child of Mabel Ethel Ola (Curry) and Clyde Charles Smith. Mr. Smith earned his AB in Physics from Miami University of Ohio, graduating Phi Beta Kappa and with honors in 1951 and, in August of that same year, his MS in Mathematical Physics. He entered the Divinity School of the University of Chicago in the fall of 1951; he earned BD, MA, and PhD degrees as a Disciples Divinity House Scholar. He was ordained in 1954.

In 1951 while attending a church conference for college students in Ohio, he met Ellen Marie Christine Gormsen of Lakewood, Ohio, a student at Bowling Green State University, Ohio. On June 13, 1953, they married at her home congregation, the Lakewood Christian Church. In 1958, they moved from Chicago to Winnipeg, Canada, where Clyde began his academic career at St. John's College, University of Manitoba. Ellen began her career as a teacher and eventually gave extensive public service; she died in July 2015.

Clyde and Ellen Smith were well known for their civic work in River Falls, including Mr. Smith's notable service for the River Falls (Public) Library Foundation. They volunteered readily and gave generously throughout their lives.

Their legacy includes an extraordinary gift of $329,000 to the Disciples Divinity House to support women and men preparing for leadership in the church and the academy. Clyde considered the gift to have come through Ellen's inheritance, but the gift expressed the shared roots and commitments of their lives. They jointly supported and tended the gift. The gift was only part of his contributions to the Disciples Divinity House. He served as a special assistant to Dean Blakemore, he sent at least one student to the University as a House Scholar, and he served on the Alumni/ae Council. In addition, his scholarship, academic service, and teaching distinguished the House and the Divinity School.

Clyde Curry Smith is survived by his son Harald and daughter Karen, their spouses, and seven grandchildren. A memorial service will be held November 12, 2016.

August 08, 2016 —  

The biennial North American Pacific Asian Disciples (NAPAD) Convocation met August 3-6 in Sunnyvale, California. John Roh was the Moderator, and Timothy Lee is the Moderator-Elect. April Lewton preached for the closing service; Chris Dorsey also preached. Sandhya Jha led anti-racism training. JoAnne Kagiwada, one of NAPAD's founding figures, provided leadership in worship.

August 01, 2016 —  

April 16, 2016, would have been Ellen Marie Christine Gormsen Smith’s eighty-fifth birthday. On that day, friends, colleagues, and family— husband Clyde Curry Smith, children Harald and Karen and their spouses, seven grandchildren, and extended family—gathered from far and near to celebrate her birthday and her life. There was an abundance to celebrate: friendships and family, to be sure, and also gifts of teaching and service, faithfulness, Danish heritage, and generosity to the Disciples Divinity House.

Ellen Marie Christine Gormsen was born on April 16, 1931, in Lakewood, Ohio, to a Danish immigrant family within a Danish Brotherhood Community primarily established by her great-uncle, Jens (James) Gormsen. Her father, Henry Emil Gormsen, had joined his uncle’s world in 1922; her mother, Louise Marie Jensen, came from Denmark to be his wife in 1929. More than did her younger sister, Anna Margaret, she experienced the ambivalence of being the “immigrants’ daughter.”

Ellen was educated at Bowling Green State University, Ohio, receiving the Bachelor of Science in Education degree in 1953. On June 13 that same year, she married Clyde Curry Smith of Hamilton, Ohio, then a Disciples Divinity House Scholar who would receive the BD (1954), AM (1961), and PhD (1968) degrees from the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. After their Chicago years, they moved to Winnipeg, Canada, where their two children were born. In 1965, they moved to River Falls, Wisconsin, where Mr. Smith joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin—River Falls, and Mrs. Smith’s career eventually led to extensive public service.

William E. Crowl, alumnus and former Associate Dean, gave the eulogy at the April 16 service. “Ellen’s whole adult life was marked by her work for the common good,” he observed.“Her family—parents, husband, and children—were central in her labors. But so, too, were the unnamed and unknown she encountered wherever she lived and worked.”

The Smiths had met at a church conference for college students in Ohio and served together as staff at Camp Christian. They were married in her home congregation, the Lakewood Christian Church. Those connections in the Disciples of Christ grew deeper over the years.

In 2002, the Smiths called Bill Crowl to inquire about making a gift to the Divinity House. Mrs. Smith had received one-half of her parents’ estate. While profoundly appreciative for that, the Smiths said they “did not need the money.” Instead, they decided to create a charitable gift annuity with the Christian Church Foundation that could provide income in retirement for Ellen with the residual ultimately benefiting the Disciples Divinity House. Bill Crowl, together with Gary Kidwell of the Foundation, worked with them to make that possible.

Ellen Smith’s family legacy, combined with the Smiths’ shared commitment to the Disciples of Christ and the Disciples Divinity House, provided for a significant gift to the Divinity House. They shepherded and shielded that gift, including reducing the payout of the annuity in 2009 after the economic decline.

The Disciples Divinity House received a check earlier this year from the Christian Church Foundation for the magnificent sum of $329,380.37. After Ellen’s death, Clyde decided to terminate the gift annuity so that the residual could be distributed during his lifetime, and the check represented that distribution.

This astonishing gift, provided by “the immigrants’ daughter,” is among the very largest that the Divinity House has ever received. The gift was fashioned from the fullness and faithfulness of the lives of Ellen Marie Gormsen Smith and Clyde Curry Smith. It was made all the more remarkable in that Clyde Smith made it possible for the Disciples Divinity House to receive the full fruition of their plans during his own lifetime. We are deeply grateful for Ellen Smith, for Clyde Curry Smith, and for this astonishing gift—indeed, for the many remarkable gifts of the Smiths’ lives and work.

June 13, 2016 —  

Thomas Virgil Stockdale, alumnus and Minister Emeritus of Union Avenue Christian Church in Saint Louis, died June 9 in St. Louis. He was 82.

An eloquent and poetic thinker as well as a beloved and insightful leader, he served the historic Union Avenue Christian Church for fifteen years as its Senior Minister. In his work and life, the arts of ministry spanned preaching, worship, social change, education, administration, community outreach, and also the arts of poetry, music, visual arts, and film.

Born to Catherine and Virgil Stockdale on July 27, 1933, in Peoria, Illinois, Tom Stockdale became class president of his high school and received his B.S. from Bradley University in Peoria in 1955. That same year he married Patricia Gibson. They would raise four children and share 61 years of marriage, a marriage that their children describe as "one of those rare friendships and loves that lasted a lifetime."

In 1956, Mr. Stockdale entered the University of Chicago as a Disciples Divinity House Scholar, from which his older brother Jim was a recent graduate. Tom Stockdale earned his B.D. degree from the Divinity School in 1960 and was ordained. He served congregations in Michigan, Ohio, Kansas, and Nebraska before becoming Senior Minister of Bethany Christian Church in the Capital Area Region, where his significant ministry included a new building and the establishment of the Stevens Ministerial Fund, which has now supported Disciples seminarians at DDH and elsewhere for decades.

In 1986, he was called to Union Avenue, where he was devoted to congregational life and worship and to community outreach initiatives including opening the doors of the church to Food Outreach, which fed men living with HIV/AIDS. He was instrumental in welcoming youth groups from all over the country to stay in the Urban Mission Inn and serve in various ministries in St. Louis. A lover of the arts, he encouraged and supported the congregation's stellar choir and for the music director to begin the Union Avenue Opera Theater. He was a founding creator of the Interfaith Sidebar (Film and Faith) of the St. Louis Film Festival. He was an avid photographer, golfer, and a lover of Labrador retrievers. He was a patron of the arts in many forms including photography, painting, sculpture, music, cinematic arts, theater and poetry.

Mr. Stockdale served more than once on the DDH Alumni Council. In 2006, he helped to assemble and edited a collection of prayers by alumni/ae, Winged Words: Prayers for Common Worship and Common Life, with Sandhya Jha, Phil Points, and Dean Kris Culp. His own keen words and observations were prized by fellow alumni/ae. For example, in his 2004 memorial of Wayne Selsor, published in the DDH Bulletin, he wrote: Selsor knew how to coax a Holy Spirit out of sacred earthy stuff, which is to say - he knew we are never fully spirit or body, until we are a joyous, playful, bright, intelligent, and redeemed unity of both. ... Selsor was a unique spokesman for the life of faith: Godly, human, and winsome. We might substitute "Tom Stockdale" for "Selsor."

In addition to his wife Pat and his brother Jim, he is survived by four children, Pam Milley (Roy Krieger), Peggy Stockdale (Michael Heck), Tim Stockdale (Liz), and Katie Horner; nine grandchildren; and his trusted Labrador, Harry Truman.

May 20, 2016 —  

The Disciples Divinity House will mark the close of the 121st academic year and celebrate its graduates on Friday, June 10. Angela A. Kaufman, Minister to the University and the Church Relations Officer at Texas Christian University since 2004 and a DDH Trustee, will speak at the convocation in the Chapel of the Holy Grail. Her remarks are entitled, "Journeys of Grit and Grail."

At TCU, she provides moral and ethical leadership for the campus, and works with student religious organizations and campus ministries in addition to leading the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, the Robert Carr Chapel, and the Office of Church Relations. She previously served in campus ministry at DePaul University in Chicago. She earned her MDiv degree from the Divinity School as a Disciples Divinity House Scholar.

March 28, 2016 —  

Four House Scholars will preach in four Illinois Valley Cluster (IVC) Disciples congregations on April 3; their honorarium will be a commercial-grade coffee maker and warmer that will be an enduring gift to House students. House Scholars Hannah Fitch and Colton Lott "brewed" the idea in collaboration with the Illinois Valley Cluster of the Christian Church in Illinois and Wisconsin.

Preaching for coffee are: Colton Lott (first year MDiv) at First Christian Church, Pekin, IL; Danielle Cox (graduating MDiv) at First Christian Church, Creve Coeur, IL; Van VanBebber (second year MA; not pictured here) at First Christian Church, Peoria, IL; and Hannah Fitch (first year MDiv) at Sunnyland Christian Church, Washington, IL.

March 10, 2016 —  

A task force, convened by trustee Chad Martin, invites your ideas, suggestions, and hopes for observing DDH's 125th anniversary. A brief survey makes it easy. Please reply by March 31.