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Peter Marty 85 M.Div. returns to YDS as Hoskins Visitor

By Leslie Brown ’10 M.Div.

Peter W. Marty ’85 M.Div., pastor, author and radio show host, returned to the YDS campus April 14-16 to spend time with students, faculty and staff as the 2009 Hoskins Visitor.  Though most of his time was spent in small-group or one-on-one sessions, he gave a public address in the Common Room, moderated by Assistant Dean William Goettler, during which he reflected on his experience in parish ministry, preparation for pastoral leadership, and the language of faith.

MartyAs host of the popular Evangelical Lutheran Church in America radio program Grace Matters, Marty is no stranger to mass communication.  Yet, he acknowledged the challenge and great joy of translating other disciplines into the “language of faith” for a wide listening audience.  For him, it is time for the church to “expand, rather than narrow [its] expressions of grace,” and he pointed to a “lack of imagination” as a root cause of diminishing memberships among the traditional mainline churches.

He lamented the fact that many mainline churches seem like “unwieldy organizations from another era” or “complexes that have become mini cities.”  He also spoke of internal power dynamics and “mini fiefdoms” that have become obstacles to strong ministry.

Churches generally, and pastors in particular, Marty suggested, need to begin thinking of multiple vocations instead of one, to know the diversity of gifts and passions within oneself and bring them to bear in the life of the church.  His own two-year program for young pastors, he noted, helps pastors make the change from the necessary “self-focus” of seminary to the “other-focus” of congregational life—the type of preparation for seminarians and pastoral leaders that Marty sees as central to renewal of the church.  He also pointed to the need for the “security to make mistakes,” and raised the importance in maintaining a sense of wonder in relationship with one another—in simultaneously knowing and not knowing another person.

Marty began and closed his remarks with an anecdote on the value of language and silence, recounting the formidable experience of the death of his mother prior to beginning his studies at Yale. At the time, Marty was living in Cameroon, West Africa, serving as the director of building for a Lutheran mission outpost.  He found himself taken in by the community and their own indigenous cultural practice of accompaniment in bereavement.  He told how his Cameroonian friends sat with him for hours in silence, acknowledging his grief, and how he returned to the United States to carry his mother’s ashes in memorial and the peace he found in the idea of life after death.  It was an experience that led him to believe that we spend “too much time imagining heaven” without enough emphasis on having “the faith to die well.”

For Marty, the reform and renewal of the church hinges not so much on outward programmatic agendas as it does on development of the faith life, through transformative experiences such as the one he encountered in Cameroon.

Marty is senior pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, a 3000-member congregation in Davenport, IA. He is a frequent preacher and speaker at colleges, churches, and conferences across the country. He has written more than 60 articles on leadership, preaching, and parish renewal in America, including The Anatomy of Grace (Augsburg Fortress, 2008).  Among his other writings are contributions to several multi-volume works on preaching,

Yale Divinity School hosts a Hoskins Visitor to campus in alternating years to meet with students, faculty and staff to discuss issues related to the reform and renewal of the church. The Hoskins Visitorship was established in 1967 in memory of Fred Hoskins ’32 B.D. by gifts from the churches that he served and from individual friends.

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