Newsletter of the Society of the Holy Trinity

Societas Trinitatis Sanctae

Volume 5, Number 2, Pentecost 2002


From the Senior



The pastor of a large Roman Catholic parish nearby is a veteran of the Vietnam War. Nothing—he recently confided to his congregation—nothing since two years on the front line of battle has caused him such emotional trauma—nothing until now. Lately he cannot sleep. He is overcome with anger. He prays against the sin of despair. He is speaking, of course, about the trauma of scandal and deep offense in the wake of revelations of the sexual abuse of children and young people by priests. I do not refer to his suffering (multiplied by that of thousands of faithful priests) as if to measure it against the suffering of those who were abused by their Christian pastors. He certainly would not stand for the comparison. It is the victims’ suffering that is at the center of his own. And with it there is the betrayal of the priesthood that is his very station in life, and the perceived smear on holy celibacy, already incomprehensible to most of the culture, but to which he has given himself body and soul. Added to it all is his dismay at the apparent pattern of disastrous mismanagement.


It is only right that we members of this pastoral society express our desire to “weep with those who weep,” and to share, with all public ministers of the Church of Christ, the sorrow, the sense of shame, and in prayers for corporate repentance. It is only right, because neither the facts nor our love for the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church will allow us any denominational safe distance from the tragedies of pastoral betrayal. As you pray for those who have suffered at the hands of priests, pray also for those who will struggle on in faithfulness under the burden of public scandal and suspicion.


In the froth and frenzy of public scandal, important distinctions get blurred. Certainly the public debate about the nature and remedy of the present crisis is littered with distinctions-begging-to-be-made. One distinction, however, we in the public ministry of the Church ought to be very clear about: forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God is one thing, continuation in the public ministry another. Forgiveness comes by grace alone. Public trust does not. Forgiveness frees us for eternal life; it does not in all cases free us from the temporal consequences of our failures and betrayals. Pastoral wisdom and Christian love (which “hopes all things”) will naturally search for a way to salvage a wrecked vocation. But it is no “mixed message” to speak in the same breath about forgiveness of sins, the power of the gospel to transform lives, and the sometimes inevitable consequences of pastoral betrayal. We who have been entrusted with the holy mysteries and the care of souls would do well to cultivate the holy fear of Sin’s inexorable temporal consequences.



The Senior of the ministerium shall gather the whole Society in retreat for no less than 48 hours once each year in a place suitable for prayer, worship, and study (Rule, Ch. III).


Details for your planning and registration are enclosed. The travel equalization plan, which provides remuneration for those who bear larger travel costs, depends on securing the lower air fares available when you book early. Please make your plans now.


The retreat will mark the fifth anniversary of the Society’s founding. The Illinois Chapter is leading the way in helping us to celebrate. On Wednesday afternoon, we will travel by coach from the retreat house in Techny to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Luke in downtown Chicago, to join in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, and to be the guests of the parish at a banquet to follow. Thanks to the good will of David Abrahamson, STS, and to the generosity of the congregation (along with a bit of extra fundraising), the plan will entail no additional cost to our members.


When the plan was proposed to the STS Council, there was some concern about “breaking out” in the middle of a retreat for a longish bus ride and a banquet. At the same time, the council recognized the opportunity to invite ecumenical guests and  lay supporters, and to make our common work and prayer better known—not to mention the opportunity to offer our common work and prayer to the One who has offered himself for us, as Christ’s people gather at Christ’s altar.



This is the beginning of a reflection about our common work and prayer that will continue in prayerful conversation when we gather as a General Chapter in the Fall. I hope a second, maybe even a third “installment” will reach you before then.


The Society of the Holy Trinity was founded in a time of crisis and deep conflict among Lutherans. The crisis is now manifestly acute in the largest of the Lutheran denominations. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is set to make momentous public decisions about the sexual ethical standards it will commend to its public ministers and, therefore, what the denomination will teach (or refuse to teach) to the faithful about marriage and sexual love. The “issue of homosexuality” is at the symbolic and strategic center of the conflict. But the conflict is much broader than any discrete issue; it has to do with wide-ranging and long-standing questions about religious authority, Lutheran identity, the church’s relation to the culture, the nature of ecclesial fellowship, ecumenical vision, and the very shape of the life we are saved to live.


Many confessional Lutherans are alarmed. Not a few speak words like “apostasy,” “heresy,” “schism” as they look toward upcoming ELCA churchwide assemblies. In this confessional reaction inside and outside the ELCA, there is much shared anger, but little shared vision. Given our Lutheran history, given the mix of “Lutheranisms” merged in the ELCA, this is not surprising. It is, nevertheless, one of the saddest aspects of the present situation—that the pressures of the present moment are deepening the fault lines, not only between radical revisionists and “confessional” Lutherans, but between various incompatible “confessional resistance” groups.


In the midst of the conflict, what is to be the public posture of the Society? We who have signed our name to our common Rule—to what sort of engagement have we committed ourselves? What is a faithful confessional response in the present crisis? With whom do we make common cause? Pondering the questions, I venture these convictions, intuitions, and judgments. For brevity’s sake, and to provoke searching conversation, I speak in the imperative voice. But, in fact, I have little self-assurance in the necessary discernment of spirits.


As ordained pastors in the Church of Christ, our persistent and common appeal within our churches is to the Word of God, heard in the Church, that is, in a spirit of ecumenical accountability and baptismal solidarity within the Body of Christ. With regard to public utterances about the meaning and morals of sexual love, for example, we must pray and plead and demand that the ELCA will not act as a sect, betraying its own formal commitment to Church unity with a practical denominational unilateralism based on its private interpretation of the Word (“our Lutheran hermeneutic”?).


As a catholic Christian, I speak of faithfulness to the Word and ecumenical accountability in the same paragraph. We must learn again to think “faithfulness” and “unity” in the same thought. There is no movement toward church “renewal” that is not at the same time a movement toward Church unity. How we came to think otherwise in a post-Reformation church is a familiar (but not necessarily well-understood) story.


This means that we must not betray and undercut this appeal to faithfulness with any form of “confessional” sectarian reaction. To fight a liberal sectarianism with a conservative sectarianism is to abandon any ecclesial high ground. We must publicly repudiate all “break away” strategies, all threats of further schism, all whispers about a “confessing synod” all attempts to form semi-ecclesial “fellowships” (with the inevitable implication of breaking fellowship with those we criticize). Anyone who thinks that “STS” was proposed as a fresh acronym in the list of Lutheran ecclesial “fellowships” or synods has not been listening or reading the Rule.


Should not a truly confessional Lutheran be humbly considering the possibility that the present debacle in Lutheranism is God’s judgment on all self-contained, self-perpetuating Lutheran denominationalism—a judgment that cannot be dodged by yet another attempt to purify Lutheranism? Should not the dream of purifying Lutheranism be discarded as reactionary? No more reform movements within reform movements! The only way ahead is by gestures that call into question all self-perpetuating denominationalism.


Is this a call to abandon the “Lutheran” confessional documents? On the contrary, it is in fidelity to those documents that we are obligated finally to disassociate the vocation of being “Lutheran” confessors from a separatist Lutheran denominationalism. For the confessors at Augsburg sought to confess, not to circumscribe gospel proclamation by their confessional constructs or tie it to the fate of a “Lutheran” confessing party. Are we not in the present moment being given opportunity to finally allow the Augustana its distinctive and clarifying ecumenical witness—if only we will refuse to keep pretending that our confessional heritage represents a covenant with God for the existence of “Lutheranism”?


Of course, for those who say “Church” and mean really “Lutheran Church,” there is more than one denominational option in North America where that way of thinking is at home. But the Society has brought together Lutheran pastors (from several denominations), and how the Rule to which they have subscribed speaks “Church” can be quickly discerned in Chapter VIII (Ecumenical Commitments). I urge anyone considering subscribing to the Rule to notice that this chapter is not an appendix.


The way forward in the present crisis is radically and unpredictably ecumenical. How will the way present itself? Will we be ready for it when it does present itself? Surely any “next step” must begin in prayerful conversation with sympathetic orthodox Christians in other communions. For, as Father Jay Scott Newman likes to describe the present situation, many who are in the same church are separated by different religions, and many in different churches are united in the same religion.


Especially, as our Rule makes clear, we must work in our lives, our parishes, and as a Society, to walk the ecumenical bridges and tunnels that may, in God’s time span the Catholic-protestant breach. That is no side road off the way to faithfulness, it is the main route.


“So then,” I hear the question coming, “What is a faithful pastor in the ELCA actually to do, if the denomination publicly abandons the historic and ecumenical consensus fidelium in its teaching on marriage and sexual ethics?” To my mind there are only two faithful options, and I will spell them out next time.


Phillip Max Johnson, Senior


Chapter News



Dean, Paul C. Lundmark,

The Chesapeake-Potomac and Susquehanna chapters of the Society will gather for a joint retreat June 3–4 at the Precious Blood Spiritual Center in Columbia, PA. Richard Ballard, STS, will serve as our teaching theologian on the Pastoral Rule of Pope Gregory the Great.



Dean, Paul G. Bieber, 

Eleven pastors attended the St. Mark’s Day retreat of the Illinois Chapter of the Society in April. Among those attending were an ELCA pastor who declared his intention to subscribe to the Rule and an ecumenical guest, a Servite priest serving in the Archdiocese of Chicago, who attended his second STS retreat.


Wolf Knappe, STS, served as teaching theologian, offering reflections and remembrances on “The Christian Church Under the Nazis.” The son of a Lutheran pastor in Munich who opposed the Nazis, Wolf was a boy when Hitler assumed power; he was drafted near the end of the war. Tim Hubert, STS, served as chaplain, leading the daily office and preaching at a Eucharist commemorating St. Anselm of Canterbury. Pr. Bill Callister, who earlier stated his intention to subscribe to the Rule, presided at the Eucharist. Individual confession and absolution was offered, as was time for meditation and conversation.


Paul Bieber was elected to a second term as the chapter’s second dean. Frank Senn, Vicar, presided at the election. Steven Tibbetts, STS, was appointed chapter treasurer, with Wolf Knappe retiring from that position. Chapter members discussed local arrangements for the upcoming General Retreat in September, which we look forward to hosting. Informal conversation also included making plans for an inquirers retreat in Wisconsin that could lead to the organization of a new STS chapter in that state.


Reported by Steven Tibbetts, STS, Illinois Chapter



Dean, John D. Larson,  (NJ)

Acting dean, Ronald Yergey,  (PA)

Our New Jersey and NE Pennsylvania chapters were fortunate to have our Lenten retreat on March 10, the day of Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome, A.D. 604. With our times of prayer, silence, meals, and confession and forgiveness, we had the opportunity for Christian reflection on important sections of the Holy Scripture’s Pastoral Epistles, related quotations from St. Gregory’s Pastoral Rule, and our Society’s Rule on congregational practice, Chapter VII. All this was focused on our pastoral ministry centered in the proclamation of Word and Sacrament in Christian speech and Christian living. Nine of us were together, stimulated and refreshed by the Spirit of God among us.


Reported by John Larson, STS dean, New Jersey Chapter



Acting dean, Beth Schlegel,

A joint retreat is scheduled for the Susquehanna and Chesapeake-Potomac chapters of the Society on June 3–4 at Precious Blood Spiritual Center. (See previous report from Chesapeake-Potomac.) We regret the resignation of Paddy Rooney, STS, as chapter dean due to a heavy workload in the parish and synod. We thank God for Paddy’s leadership and appreciate his ongoing participation in the Society and support for the chapter. An election of dean will be held at the June retreat.



Dean, Richard J. Niebanck,

The Upstate New York Chapter of the Society met in retreat at Stella Maris, Skaneateles, on March 12–13. Ten pastors were in attendance. The daily office was prayed, private confessions were heard, and the Order for Corporate Confession and Forgiveness was held. John Priest, STS, served as chaplain and confessor, and the dean as preacher. Wesley Hamlin, STS, had a discussion of the Augsburg Confession and Apology, Articles 1 through 21. This was the first in a series of studies of the Book of Concord.


The next retreat is to be held August 13–14 in Derby, NY. It is hoped that the location will make possible the attendance of pastors from NW Pennsylvania and NE Ohio.



Dean, Ronald Marshall,

On February 12, the dean of the chapter, Ron Marshall, made a parish visitation to First Lutheran Church, Tacoma, WA, that included the sacrament of penance.


The Washington Chapter held a spring retreat May 17 at First Lutheran Church of West Seattle, WA, with prayer, meals, and the discussion of a paper on the prohibition of divorce and same-sex blessing.


News of Chapters in Formation



Contact Bruce Lundberg,  (No. CA)

Contact William Hampton,  (So. CA)

Plans are being made for a “preorganization” chapter retreat to be held in the Sacramento area. The date will be determined following the General Retreat of the Society.



Contact, Joy Schroeder,

The “provisional chapter” that has been meeting for the last several years in the Dayton, OH, area voted to establish a chapter and formalize its relationship with the Society.


Seven pastors and two seminarians gathered in retreat at the Maria Stein Spiritual Center (60 miles northwest of Dayton) on April 7–8. A dean has not yet been elected, nor a name for the chapter decided. The next retreat is tentatively scheduled for November 10–11 at Maria Stein. Most of those who attended the April retreat plan to attend the General Retreat in Chicago this September.



From the Vicar

The Rule of the Society of the Holy Trinity nowhere says that the Society is an evangelical catholic organization.  But the various commitments in the chapters of the Rule express an evangelical catholic sensibility. We are committed to an historical and ecumenical form of common prayer, the use of individual confession, a biblical and traditional moral life, a catholic and orthodox liturgical life in the parish, a study of the fathers and doctors of the church as well as the Scriptures and Confessions, and an ecumenical vision that includes reconciliation with the Bishop and Church of Rome. I don’t know how someone without an evangelical catholic sensibility could be comfortable in the Society.


In his famous dictum, Vincent of Lérins identified the catholic faith as “that which is believed everywhere, always, by all” (ubique, semper, ab omnibus). He said this in the face of the invading Arian Goths who overran Western Europe. It takes a certain chutzpa, not to say imagination, to be a good Catholic in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, matched by a resolute unwillingness to succumb to sectarianism. His stance must have been like the late Arthur Carl Piepkorn’s frequent public descriptions of “the Church of the Augsburg Confession” that few of us saw in practice in our own Lutheran congregations and denominations.


“Evangelical” refers to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel surely must be the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who was crucified for our offences and raised for our justification. Lutherans have expressed this gospel by the proposition of justification by faith for Christ’s sake according to the Holy Scriptures. We have used this proposition as a criterion for judging doctrine and practice. In the Lutheran Reformation this led to a critique of the received catholic tradition, but not a rejection of it.


We believe that the Holy Spirit continues to create both personal faith and the whole Christian church on earth (“catholic” means “according to the whole”—kata holos).  That which has proven true and useful is retained by us because it testifies to the work of the Holy Spirit in history.  This includes traditions and historical institutions such as the Divine Liturgy and the Holy Ministry. Note the adjectives modifying these nouns. We don’t believe that these developments in the life and mission of the church are purely human.  Indeed, the whole life of the church is the work of the Holy Spirit who creates a human community on earth that reflects in its life together the divine Community of Persons in heaven we call the Holy Trinity.


There is not space in this newsletter to lay out all the characteristics of evangelical catholicity. Instead I commend the following basic bibliography. Leafing through the annuals of Lutheran Forum and Pro Ecclesia will undoubtedly yield other important articles.


Gustav Aúlen, “The Catholicity of Lutheranism: A Contribution to the Ecumenical Discussion,” World Lutheranism of Today (1950), 3–20.

Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, editors, The Catholicity of the Reformation (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1996). A good study book for chapter meetings.

Sven-Erik Brodd, Evangelisk Katolicet. Ett studien av innehall och funktion under 1800 och 1900 talet (Uppsala: GWK Gleerup, 1982). A magisterial dissertation in Swedish with an English summary on what “evangelical catholicity” has meant over the last two centuries.

Yngve Brilioth, Eucharistic Faith and Practice, Evangelical and Catholic, trans. A. G. Hebert (London: S.P.C.K., 1965). Originally published in Swedish in 1930.

Max Lackman, Katholische Einheit und Augsburger Konfession (Graz, 1960). A profound statement of the catholic content and ecumenical vision of the Augsburg Confession.

George A. Lindbeck, “Ecumenical Directions and Confessional Construals,” dialog 30 (1991), 118–23. Contrasts the agendas of the evangelical catholics and the denominational Lutherans.

Jaroslav Pelikan, Obedient Rebels. Catholic Substance and Protestant Principle in Luther’s Reformation (New York and Evanston: Harper and Row, 1964). Essential reading on the topic.

Frank C. Senn, “The ‘Evangelical Catholic’ Debate Continues: Who Said the Way Was Back?” Lutheran Forum 25 (Advent 1991), 8–10. Two sidebar quotes from myself: “The way is not ‘back’ to the ecumenical impasse of the Reformation era, but forward to new ecclesiastical relationships.” “The clear thrust of evangelical catholicism is to move out of the status quo of the present denominationalism and into the future of the ecumenical church.”


Frank C. Senn, Vicar



STS Calendar


May 26-28       Rocky Mt. Chapter retreat, FCJ Retreat Centre, Calgary. Contact K. Glen Johnson.


June 3-4                       Chesapeake-Potomac and Susquehanna chapters retreat, Precious Blood Spiritual Center, Columbia, PA. Contact Paul Lundmark or Beth Schlegel.


June 3-4                       New Jersey and NE Pennsylvania chapters retreat, Loyola House, Morristown, NJ. Contact John Larson.


June 17-18       Virginia Chapter retreat, Roslyn Retreat Center, Richmond, VA, Contact Lou Smith.


Aug. 13-14      Upstate New York Chapter retreat, St. Columban Retreat Center, Derby, NY (SW of Buffalo). Contact Richard Niebanck.


Sept. 17-19      STS General Retreat. Divine Word International Techny Towers Conference Center, Techny, IL (17m from O’Hare). Contact John Priest.




News and reflection from the Society of the Holy Trinity

Volume 5, Number 2, Pentecost 2002

Editor: Constance R. Seddon

Editorial office: 14 Oak Road, Briarcliff Manor, NY 

10510-2311 / 914-941-5202 /


Please direct subscription inquiries or changes of address

 to the Secretary, below.


Senior: Pr. Phillip M. Johnson, St. Paul Lutheran

Church, 440-448 Hoboken Ave., Jersey City, NJ 

07306 / 201-963-5518 /

Vicar: Pr. Frank C. Senn, Immanuel Lutheran Church,

616 Lake Street, Evanston, IL  60201

847-864-4464 /

Secretary: Pr. John E. Priest, Immanuel Lutheran

Church, 17 High Street, Delhi, NY  13753

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Bursar: Pr. Mark A. Hoffman, 200 St. Ann Drive,

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