The Seminary as the Outcome of the Russian Project

A word must be said about the Russian Project of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN. I will speak about it from my peculiar perspective. On a number of levels our Seminary in Novosibirsk is a daughter Seminary of CTS. To be sure, it is not some Concordia replica in Siberia. That’s not an impression I would like to create. (In fact, at the beginning our friends wanted to call our Seminary “Concordia College,” a name that did not last long, as both terms – “Concordia” and “college” – were confusing and partly misleading for the local people.)

 At the same time, our seminary did not appear in a vacuum. It was the result of a certain theological and missiological vision that transpired at the end of the 20th century in some circles of the LCMS. Somebody had to put this vision into practice for it not to stay on the level of an idea. I tend to think of our seminary as a good product. And nice and good products are not created by committees. There is a name behind a product. The Russian Project’s name is Dr Timothy Quill. He is the one who made it possible. Of course, there are people who provided the money. There are people who provided administrative oversight. He is the one who implemented it all. I’m sure the program would not have been what it happened to be without his personal and direct involvement.

1996

I missed an opportunity to meet him when he came to Novosibirsk for the first time, which was in the spring of 1996. At that time I was still in Krasnoyarsk, working at the Biblical Institute. I heard positive accounts of his visit, though. I met him for the first time in July of 1996 at the summer seminar in Berdsk near Novosibirsk, where he recruited me to come to Concordia Theological Seminary to be the first student of the newly launched Russian project. Dr William Weinrich and Dr Arthur Just also participated in our conversation regarding specifics of the academic program at CTS.

Over the years the program trained dozens of people for the ministry in the Lutheran churches of the post-Soviet world, including the Baltic. This project yielded much fruit and made a significant impact on the Lutheran environment in the former Soviet countries, contributing to the more confessional character of theology and practice in this part of the world. I would venture to say, however, that the establishment of our Seminary in Novosibirsk was the major result of the Russian Project. I was the first student to enroll into this program, and another instructor of ours, Rev Pavel Khramov, was probably the last. I received the MA and STM degrees at CTS, Rev. Pavel Khramov got his STM, and Dr Pavel Butakov, an adjunct instructor at our Seminary, got his MA there as well.

There is something about Dr Quill’s personality that is largely the reason why the Russian project happened to be successful. Let me explain what I mean. The 1990s was a very difficult time in the life of my country. To be sure, it seems that in Russia every time is a difficult time – the Soviet era was no fun for Christians, while the present time has its own challenges for non-Russian-Orthodox confessions. But the 1990s was a time of chaos and humiliation for the people, who suddenly lost their jobs and their sense of material security for the future, and who struggled to retain their dignity due to the economic devastation of the time. So a number of western visitors and especially American guests (missionaries and others) misjudged what they saw. Many of us were people who attended theaters, symphony music concerts, operas, ballets, and so on a regular basis. We had read many books, fiction and non-fiction. But they looked at us and saw poverty and even misery (unlike so many of my neighbors, I never experienced real poverty due to my scientist parents, who helped me out even amidst economic depression and supported me well through the University, but my situation wasn’t typical) and thought of us (at least, this is my guess) as a third-world country incapable of running things wisely and responsibly. And you know how stereotypes can work. “Oh, those Russians, they just can’t be in charge of anything. They need to be controlled. They are used to having a strong leader like Stalin, and so they can’t organize anything on their own.” I could go on and on, but I think the main idea is clear enough.

Dr Quill was not like that. You know, sometimes people say about Russians that they don’t smile, and so they must be angry or disgruntled. According to Russian culture, though, you don’t smile at a stranger. A smile is an expression of trust and personal friendship. A casual smile is considered insincere, and sincerity is very much appreciated. Timothy indeed smiled like an American, yet according to Russian sensitivities it seemed like a sincere smile, as something coming from his heart, not just a certain role he had to play. Not like the “nothing personal, just business” mentality. Some of us even said to each other sometimes that he had a Russian soul, or at least an intuitive understanding of the enigmatic (to westerners) Russian soul.

In our culture you wouldn’t say, “How are you?” and not mean it. For us it is a real question and not just some polite expression. Now things are changing because of the continuing westernization of the last 30 years, but there are still differences. So I remember how several times I got myself into a very awkward situation upon coming to United States when a passer-by would greet me with “How are you?” and I would stop and begin to tell him or her the story of my life, only to realize seconds later that the person was already far away and could no longer hear me. What a cultural confusion!

In any case, Timothy appeared to be a very caring person. He did not think everything through in the beginning – how could he have done so when he didn’t even have a job description when starting his assignment? – but he earnestly tried to work everything out. And he was successful at that.

I remember having a conflict with him a couple of months after my wife and I arrived on campus. I won’t go into detail here, but let’s just say that we looked at a certain situation from different angles and so saw things differently. I was young and foolish at the time and did not see the complete picture. At one point I thought we would just pack our bags and go home. But what a relief it was when the conflict got resolved and we carried on! I think that incident played an important role in our mutual appreciation of each other’s characters. We have got along very well ever since.

What was special about Tim Quill? He wasn’t bossy. I never felt humiliated by him. If I had, I wouldn’t have been able to work with him on the Seminary project. Timothy let things take care of themselves. He stayed in control as much as it was necessary to ensure that things would run smoothly, but not more than that. Of course, what also made him so effective in his position at CTS was his administrative assistant Judy Bascom, who set the bar extremely high for this type of work, taking excellent care of all the technical detail.

Timothy was also in a unique position to get things started at the right level. Here I specifically mean our program in Novosibirsk. He was a St Louis Seminary graduate who now held a position at the Seminary in Fort Wayne. And for years he served a pastor of the Reformation Church in St Louis with some distinguished professors of Concordia Seminary as members there. So he had the best of both worlds at his fingertips. He could easily phone any number of people and talk them into some adventure of taking a trip to faraway Siberia to help the Lutheran Christians over there. And so he ensured that we got the best possible teachers the LCMS had to offer to come to our Seminary and teach.

The very first professor to open classes at our seminary was Dr Horace Hummel, who had retired from the faculty of Concordia Seminary shortly before coming to us. Dr Hummel stayed in Siberia for three months, teaching Hebrew I as well as Old Testament Isagogics I classes. I had the honor of interpreting for him, and I can assure anybody that his standard of teaching (and standard of examination!) was extremely high. He did not condescend to anybody and made everybody alike feel miserable (I mean this in a good way). He was an excellent professor to have for a start, just to appreciate what seminary education was all about. The last professor in the first academic year of the Seminary in Novosibirsk was Dr Ronald Feuerhahn, who taught an intensive course on the History of the Modern Church, concentrating especially on the periods of Lutheran Orthodoxy, Pietism, and Rationalism in the Lutheran Church, as well as on the history of the Ecumenical movement of the 20thcentury. It was an absolute delight to have him share his expertise with our students.

Of course, excellent Professors from CTS as well as qualified parish pastors with proper credentials followed. What I described was just an example to show how Timothy set it up. That was really his merit. I don’t know if it would qualify as an act of supererogation, but if I were a Roman Catholic I would probably be tempted to conclude that it would.

Now, 22 years after the Seminary in Novosibirsk was started, Dr Timothy Quill is officially retired from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne. And so now he applies himself to raising funds for our Seminary Endowment. And I think his doing this continues to speak of his character I mentioned before. It’s partly because he is engaged in this activity that I decided to write these essays. I believe that Dr Quill will be able to pull this one off too, as unlikely as it seems. “Ora et labora,” he keeps telling me. I find encouragement in the words of our Lord that “with God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26). Dr Quill is capable enough to find a sufficient number of people who would lay up for themselves treasures on heaven (Mt 6:20). And who is a better person to implement this than Dr Quill, whose work with the Russian Project will already go down in history as one of the remarkable achievements of Concordia Theological Seminary?