Thursday, April 25, 2019
The end of an era. . .
When I was in college, it did not take long to discover Christian News and it was urgent reading (that and Missouri in Perspective) during the tumultuous years of the Lutheran Battle for the Bible. To his credit, Herman Otten correctly saw that there was a different spirit developing at the flagship seminary of the Synod. Many will disagree over how different that spirit was but it is clear in hindsight that an unhealthful distance had developed between old Missouri and the emerging face of the new Missouri of the 1960s.
Herman was a tiger in print but gracious in person. As a college student choosing a seminary several of my friends and I made the pilgrimage to the Oracle of New Haven. We were surprised to find that he was a most welcoming fellow in person and would not let us leave without a meal. When I was in my first parish, I encountered the Monthie family who had hosted Herman and his brother Walter on their farm some summers of their youth. It was in the Atlantic District, his old stomping grounds, that I met other members of the Otten family -- Marie Meyer, his sister, and Paul Behling, his cousin. Later I got to meet Walter and Ruth Otten. Suffice it to say that not all the Ottens sounded like Herman!
The last time I spoke to Herman was when he called me earlier this year to congratulate me on an opinion piece I had written for the Forum Letter. "Brilliant" is what he called me (even in print!). It was not the first time he had quoted my blog but most of his quotes were not flattering. Herman was not a person who believed personal loyalty should overlook disagreements. In fact, you could be brilliant one moment and a hypo-euro sacerdotalist another (a serious charge from Otten). Herman judged all things by issues and was dogged in the pursuit of what he felt were the most important causes to face Lutheranism in general and Missouri in particular. Nearly every Synod President or candidate for that office since the 1960s had to deal with Herman. He was remarkably consistent but he would not fail to punish those who crossed him or who took him for granted or ignored him. If you were mentioned in Christian News you were one of many. He was still relishing his role as kingmaker and influence right up to the hour he died. And to think that for most of that history he typed every word, bicycled the copy to Washington, Missouri, all the while pastoring a Lutheran congregation in New Haven and running a Lutheran camp nearby (with the help of his large family).
What does one say to the passing of an icon and an era? I wish I could come up with something pithy. All I know to say is this, Herman Otten left some rather big shoes and long outlived in years and in influence those who were his targets. As far as the future is concerned, it is likely that his family and some of his cohorts will keep publishing the newspaper for a while but like many enterprises, the Oracle of New Haven left no line of succession and no clear future for the enterprise that guaranteed him a mention in everyman's history of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. What is ironic is that he died in the midst of trying to unseat a Synodical President he initially worked to elect -- a familiar place for Herman over the years but with an ending that was a surprise even to him. One thing you cannot say, however, is that Herman was unclear about his faith or uncertain about his conviction that Jesus Christ was and is his Savior and Lord. So now is a time to let that be the final word and to wish to his family the comfort of the Gospel and the hope of the resurrection of the dead to everlasting life..