Bliese will leade ELCA's largest pastoral training school
He replaces Luther Seminary’s retiring president, David Tiede
The Luther Seminary Board of Directors and Foundation Board of Trustees met on May 2 and selected, from a field of around 50 candidates, a replacement for retiring president David Tiede. Their choice was Richard Bliese, currently the school’s dean of academic affairs.
A former professor of global mission and evangelism at the ELCA’s Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC), Bliese has served Lutheran congregations on three continents — in Germany, in East Africa, and in North America. On July 1 he will become the leader of the largest of the ELCA’s eight pastoral training schools.
In a conversation with the editor of Metro Lutheran, Bliese admitted that his selection was a bit of a shift in cultural direction for Luther, which has roots in the Norwegian Lutheran Church. “My background is in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod,” he explained. “In fact, my whole family is still LCMS.” His seminary training was at Christ Seminary-Seminex, the theological school that resulted when the faculty of Concordia Theological Seminary, St. Louis, walked away from their campus and their employment in LCMS.
Bliese, who pronounces his name “Bleeze,” was thrust into the international ministry arena immediately after graduation from seminary. He served on the pastoral staff at St. Stephanus Lutheran Church in Herne, Germany. Four years after that he was in East Africa, serving as director of the continuing education program for pastors and evangelists in Zaire and Rwanda. That position was sponsored by the United Evangelists Missions in Germany.
After ten years overseas, Bliese returned to the United States, to serve St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Glen-wood, Illinois. During his service to St. Andrew Church, he earned a doctorate in confessional theology from LSTC.
What influence will his experience in parish ministry on three continents have on the way he leads Luther Sem-inary? Says Bliese, “I hope a lot. I was a parish pastor for 23 years. I still miss that, to be honest.”
He explained, “My last parish experience was gained while I was earning my doctorate, so the parish was really ‘my night job.’ I was teaching at the seminary during those years, so my parish ministry really affected the way I taught — in a healthy way, I should think.”
It would be a rare pastor in the Lutheran Church anywhere in North Amer-ica who could match the unusual learning op-portunities Bliese had in Germany and Africa.
“Unlike most European Christian congregations today, that parish I served north of Dusseldorf, was a vibrant, alive community. There were 700 people at worship every Sunday. The place was packed. We had 150 in the youth program.”
Said Bliese, “This congregation had a healthy mix of pietism and confessionalism. It had been in the confessing church movement during the Hitler years. Its pastor had opposed the Third Reich and had been dragged off to a concentration camp, from which he never returned.”
That German congregation, he explained, has fostered a series of ministry renewal movements.
In Zaire and Congo, he worked to train church leaders in evangelism. “My imagination for mission was expanded there. The German congregation was blue collar. In Africa, church folk were very poor. We developed an outreach center. Unlike Germany, where there was tax support for church work, in Africa we tried to raise our own funds.”
When the genocide began, Bliese had to leave the area. The parish he served survived, but the project changed. “Among other things, they took in refugees and started an orphanage.”
With so many candidates on the list for Tiede’s successor, was Bliese surprised to be selected?
“Surprised? Yes! But it makes sense, in one way. Luther Seminary’s mission statement brought me to this campus in the first place.”
And what’s task one for the president-elect? “We’re going to have to keep our connections to the congregations and keep listening to parish leaders. Parishes are on the cutting edge. Sem-inaries can fall behind the curve.”