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A Tribute to Joseph Sittler
by Donald F. Hetzler

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From Running with the Hounds

There was a knock at the door of my friendís room. A tall, gangly fellow appeared clad in a T-shirt and paint-stained jeans. The most memorable feature of all was his wide, incredibly joyous grin. I was introduced to Professor Joseph Sittler. I was incredulous. A professor who called on students in the dorm? And for the purpose of meeting a studentís visitor from the outside world? A theologian in such informal dress?

I stumbled over my awe and my surprise for a few awkward minutes. Professor Sittler was too gracious to notice. And then the conversation took flight: mutual regard for a professor both of us had studied under, Shakespeare, my studies in art history, his experience in Florence, the relationship of the arts to the faith, the encouragement of my future in ministerial studies....

Later he graciously responded to an invitation to speak to all fifteen members of the Lutheran Student Association at the University of Chicago. He talked to us as we sat around the table after one of those, you know, student suppers. It was luminous.

These episodes are mentioned in order to suggest that in them Joe Sittler demonstrated several virtues common to campus ministry: a genuine concern for students ó and for his studentsí friends; an uncondescending sense of collegiality; a gift of counseling based on a willingness to share and to give; a willingness to be available ó even to the point of calling on students!

Other people tell similar stories, I am sure, to illustrate his guiding influence and to exemplify ways in which they learned from him something of the conduct of the Christian in the academic world.

I think his personal impact and inspiration has been his most important gift to us. But, of course, we have gained a great deal more. He has invited people to learn that academic discourse can also be doxological and that precision in language is a holy obligation. The vigor and imagination contained in his speech and his writing demonstrates ó in an inimitable way ó how the medium should be appropriate to the message. He has shown the loving care with which the Word as well as the earth should be treated in thought, speech, and action. Overleaping usual homiletical doggerel, he reintroduces us to the beauty of strong images of great poetry.

Most of all, however, it is his manner: the terse expression in word and action of a sober humility mixed with high hilarity before the awesome truth of Godís provision for us in all that Jesus Christ means.

It is appropriate to pay tribute to him as a teacher, a counselor, a model, a friend. While other communities may claim Joe Sittler as their own legitimately and more intimately than we, this tribute is entered in the record to assert that generations of us in campus ministry, too, claim him and love him.

Donald F. Hetzler
Executive Secretary of Associated Church Press Director of National
Lutheran Campus Ministry (1968-1976)

From Running with the Hounds




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