To: Luther College students and parents
From: President Jenifer K. Ward
Re: A Personal Message
Date: April 9, 2020
Dear Luther Community,
Today, Maundy Thursday, always reminds me of the Easter season in Germany in the year 2000. I was leading a semester away experience for 13 students--eleven from Gustavus Adolphus College and two from St. Olaf College. We were studying the life and legacy of Martin Luther, and were in the middle portion of our term. The first month had been spent living in the Leucorea in Lutherstadt Wittenberg; the next three months were spent in Halle and Leipzig; and the final month was spent in residence at the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt. The entire term was structured around the concepts of service and living in intentional community, and we had been with each other 24/7 for a long time. Adrenaline had long since been replaced by fatigue, by the difficulty of managing a second language, and by the emotional impact of witnessing the results of enduring unemployment and alcohol dependency in our neighborhood in the former East Germany, just a few years after (Re)unification. Our tempers were short and our patience was thin. Sound familiar?
On that night in Holy Week, we gathered in my small apartment and took a collective deep breath. We accounted for our impatience with ourselves and with each other, we acknowledged where we were struggling, and we apologized to those we had offended with now unburdened hearts. And then we did something that many Christian communities do on this day, based on Jesus Christ’s washing of his disciples’ feet during the Last Supper in the Gospel of John: we washed each other’s feet.
This time now, this time that is remote, distanced, virtual, and nonetheless marked by community is by no means a result of intention. And our physical separation from each other means that we are unable to share a hug or shake hands, much less wash each other’s feet. But we continue to follow the commandment to love each other in new and creative ways. I witness multiple examples daily, albeit by Zoom or Google Hangout, of the care shown to our students and colleagues and the concern for their welfare during this unanticipated experiment. And just as we were reminded during Christmas at Luther this year that we never know when we are encountering angels, it is not always apparent when we are providing service to each other. No doubt the faculty on a Zoom call earlier this week thought they were simply discussing curricular matters with me. But in fact, they were reminding me of the power of this work we share, and they were providing figurative water for these dusty feet.
As we complete the first two weeks of remote learning and enter into true holy days this April for people of many faiths--Easter for Christianity, Passover for Judaism, and Ramadan for Islam--all of which include a call to reflection, I hope you will each reflect on the ways you serve and are served, and how this common experience of being apart together will shape us as a community into the future.
Now more than ever, these words from the Norse Creed guide us:
We are learning to be well rounded people.
We are becoming more.
We Are Luther.
Soli Deo Gloria.
President Jenifer K. Ward