This speech was given at the seminary’s retirement party for Pres. Schmeling on May 10, 2022.
In the old tradition of Lutheran theological faculties, I wanted to offer some words of appreciation for our distinguished colleague, mentor, and father in the faith, Pres. Gaylin Schmeling, as he enters into his Ruhestand, (i.e., his “retirement”). If my accolades sound anything like an obituary, let me assure you he has no plans to take it easy in the years to come. In fact, he has already commandeered the office next to my own!
First of all, Schmeling exemplifies what it means to be a theologian. Now, we often think of him as a church historian and dogmatician, but his first passion was the Old Testament, which always remained close to his heart. To be sure, his knowledge of the Church Fathers was infectious. He also helped spark a renewed appreciation for Trinitarian theology, Christology, and the means of grace in our midst, but it was his love of Scripture that really enriched all his teaching, especially his quest for excellence in preaching. What is more, he never forgot that theology was fundamentally a God-given ability to apply Law and Gospel—an ability that must be regularly cultivated through prayer, meditation, and the cross.
Second, he will go down as one of the leading ELS churchmen of the turn of the century. He not only helped us navigate the vexing doctrinal issues of that time, but he did so with Scriptural fidelity and an evangelical hand. Still his influence extends even beyond the ELS into the Wisconsin Synod. In addition, he was instrumental in the formation the CELC and served this global organization for Orthodox Lutherans by holding many of its offices.
Third, Schmeling has been the longest-running seminary president in ELS history. More pastors have cut their teeth under him than any other president. We have been all the better for it. He taught us to be Seelsorger, (i.e., “those who cared for souls”). His pastoral wisdom was in such high demand that students continued to seek it well after their graduation. Even those who never studied at his feet regularly sought out his sage advice. He is the unsung circuit visitor of our ELS ministerium.
Fourth, the seventeenth-century Lutheran pastor Valerius Herberger (1562–1627) was known as the “Jesus Preacher” because of his Christ-filled homilies. Schmeling can rightly be called the “Comfort Preacher” because of his comfort-filled homilies. For him, a sermon just wasn’t a sermon unless it offered peace to soothe our bitter woes. This was so much the case that you could hardly get a sermon draft past him that lacked the healing balm of comfort.
Fifth, Schmeling recognized that he could never be any of these things without a faithful companion by his side. Rebecca was a true helpmate fit for him. She didn’t just support and encourage him; she mentored the seminarians’ wives and organized the social life at the seminary. Together they provided a model for the Lutheran pastor’s home.
This brings me to my final accolade, if I can even call it such. Despite his manifold talents and gifts, Pres. Schmeling would count all these as loss compared to his baptismal grace. Here our old man is daily killed so that our resurrected life in Christ can break forth anew. For above of all else, he wants us to so recognize our sinful condition that nothing can be more precious than Christ’s saving work and the Hauptartikel (i.e., “chief article”) of justification by faith alone. This is why we celebrate him. May you continue in this confession and baptismal grace throughout your Ruhestand. Hoch soll er leben (i.e., “Long may he live”)
Rev. Prof. Timothy R. Schmeling, Th.M., Ph.D.