By Adriane Heins
“I love these students,” said the Rev. Dr. Daniel Gard, moments after being inaugurated president of Concordia University Chicago (CUC) Oct. 10.
The students love him, too. Trotting toward the dining hall for supper, one young volleyball player gushed, “Dr. Gard’s awesome. He’s really accessible. He even walks around campus and just talks to us.”
It’s an exciting time for both Gard and the students of CUC, not to mention its faculty, staff, Board of Regents and community. Founded in 1864, the university celebrated its 150th anniversary Oct. 10-12 in conjunction with Gard’s inauguration as the school’s 11th president.
The event included a list of noted speakers, all there to congratulate Gard, but it was clear his focus was elsewhere. “It is all about the student,” he said in his inaugural address. “Each student is a unique creation of God. Each student is one who is loved by God. Each has immeasurable value by virtue of who he or she is as a human being and as a student given us as a gift from Him.”
That love of and for people didn’t go unnoticed by those in attendance. “We are simply ecstatic that you are here as president of this great institution,” the Rev. Dr. Herbert C. Mueller Jr., first vice-president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, told Gard. “You have a solid, unshakeable core for who you are and what you believe in the Lord Jesus but you are also open to people … as Jesus is open to people with a heart for all.”
“Concordia is beyond blessed, by the will of Christ, to have Dr. Gard as our 11th president,” noted Orlando Pabon, a member of CUC’s Board of Regents. “We know that he will bring the Gospel and balanced academics. We know that he will be an effective leader, as demonstrated both in his personal and his public life. He’s going to do a fantastic job in bringing the community of Concordia as it should be: centered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“Here is a man that has an immense amount of integrity embedded in a caring heart,” noted the Rev. Dr. Dean Wenthe, president of the Concordia University System. “His DNA is that of a caring pastor,” a trait that makes him “a blessing here and in the Church.”
As one who submitted his application to the seminary with the intent of being what he calls “a simple country preacher,” Gard is “grateful to the LCMS that she’s allowed me to serve in the ministry for over 30 years now. I’m still stunned that I have the privilege of serving as a pastor in this way.”
The next 150 years
The university celebrated its history in other ways as well. Official resolutions from Illinois State Senator Kimberly Lightford and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn commended the school for being a “world, state and regional leader in education” that “has and continues to equip men and women to serve and lead with integrity, creativity, competence and compassion in a diverse, interconnected and increasingly urbanized church, state and world.”
A similar resolution from the Village of River Forest, Ill., recognized Oct. 10, 2014 as “Concordia University 150th Anniversary Day” while commending the school for graduating some 34,000 alumni.
The school also hosted, on Oct. 12, its 150th Anniversary Festival Worship where LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison preached. Drawing on the approaching 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Harrison reminded those in attendance that “the greatest era in the history of the Church began with repentance” and that “If this era, this Gard era of this university shall be a blessed one, it will begin and be blessed to the extent that this is a time of repentance.”
“I’m reminded at every anniversary I preach of the words of Martin Luther,” Harrison noted. “He describes the Gospel as a … rain shower that comes along. And it rains for a time in a place and then it passes on. And Luther said in several places this is what the Gospel does. … It passes for thanklessness.”
But “Today, for the university, I am thankful,” Harrison said. “Five hundred years ago, a little university rocked the world [in Germany]. God grant that this university rock it.”
Being what we are
Gard’s inaugural address focused on history, too — the history of CUC, but also looked with excitement to the future. “At the very heart of its [the college’s] inception was the recognition that all academic endeavors are to be shaped and informed, not just by excellence, but by commitment to the Word of God,” he explained. It’s why “Concordia University Chicago has a long, 150-year history of service to the Church and to the world” and why “the university is poised to continue that service for another 150 years.”
That service flows from “intentionally and self-consciously opting to be what we are,” Gard said, “a university of the LCMS, a university that is filled with the message of the love of God in Christ,” even in the face of a culture that stands counter to what Lutheran education has to offer.
Instead, “Concordia must be and will be what it was formed to be: a place where the Word of God reigns supreme and where that sacred Word shapes and informs all that we do,” Gard explained. “As an institution of the Synod, Concordia is united to a confession of faith and practice that cannot and will never be comprised, even under the most intense external and internal pressure from the contemporary culture.”
And Gard means it.
Closing out his speech and preparing to spend time at the homecoming football game with the students — “my peeps,” he says — he quoted words from Joshua: “Choose this day whom you will serve. But as for me and my house, me and my university — which is not mine — me and Christ’s university, we will serve the Lord.”
Adriane Heins is managing editor of The Lutheran Witness.
Posted Oct. 15, 2014