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Greetings to the seminary community: For those who have been keeping abreast of developments at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, either through the internet or from a sidewalk here in Waterloo, you can see that significant renewal of our school is well underway. Construction crews have gutted our 54-year-old building, and have recently raised the steel frame for a new entrance to welcome the community.

As with any significant alteration, not everyone will agree with the need or the direction of the changes we’ve chosen to make.

This may be no more evident than in the decision our Board of Governors took in 2013, as part of the “2015 to 2020 Business Plan,” to change the seminary’s name to Martin Luther University College.

Given recent coverage in the mainstream news media it is my duty and desire, both as the principal-dean and as a pastor of the Eastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, to respond to the concerns of those who might not agree with that decision.

Martin Luther, the 16th-century reformer from whom our church takes its name, was a flawed individual — as are we all. His theological genius must be set side-by-side with his most vociferous anti-Semitic writings which were denounced even by his contemporaries. Our church, both the ELCIC and the Eastern Synod, formally and unequivocally repudiated Luther’s violent invective more than two decades ago.

Nonetheless, Luther’s decision to follow his conscience in matters of faith, his deep convictions regarding the importance of human freedom, and his emphasis upon readily accessible education for all led to significant and positive reforms that shaped western society. The impact of many of those reforms endure to this day. I, for one, believe we can build on Luther’s positive impacts, even as we acknowledge and contend with his flaws and failings.

At the seminary, we have done so for decades. Our school has grown to become an inclusive and multifaith learning environment. Our students represent over 30 religious traditions — or claim to no faith tradition at all. Many are also members of historically marginalized groups including LGBTQ, physically challenged, Jewish, Muslim, and Indigenous communities. It is in the hard work of living and working together that we are compelled to critically and honestly confront the impact of our histories, yet not be constrained by them.

Every person in the seminary community has faced challenges of some sort. That is simply the way of life. The $9-million renewal and modernization of the seminary building has been, and continues to be, a significant challenge. Yet it is an endeavour that I believe will help us more effectively serve our students and the broader community. Likewise, I believe that changing the seminary’s name to Martin Luther University College will help us continue the long process of confronting the consequences of our history, even as it inspires us to continue the enduring positive reforms sparked centuries ago.

Sincerely,

Rev. Dr. Mark W. Harris

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