The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


You taught me what to keep ...

Dear George,

Thirty-eight years ago you became my teacher when you gave the convocation address at Iowa City West High in fall 1971. The next fall you became my undergraduate adviser. Eventually I became your last doctoral student. Over the years, our relationship changed — you and Betty danced at Ann's and my wedding; you preached at my ordination; you had me take German lessons from your 90-year-old mother; you became the godfather of our son John; you held my hand and prayed at my hospital bed when an aneurysm nearly killed me. At some point, you asked me to call you "George."

In this early 1960s photo, George Forell focuses on the point of a budding female theologian.
And you continue to be my teacher. When you moved into assisted living, you asked me to help sort through your file boxes: a mountain of newspaper clippings, letters, conference papers, photos and memos. The first morning, we did that together. You sat on a folding chair and directed each piece of paper into one of three boxes. There was a box to keep and move with you (by far the smallest). There was a box for the university archives. And there was a box to recycle (by far the largest). By lunchtime I was ready to sort on my own and you were ready for a nap.

I felt so privileged and so blessed— privileged that you would trust me to perform such a task. And blessed that, in those days, you had taught me a most precious lesson: how to decide what to keep, what to pass on and what to throw away.

So, George, my teacher and my friend, I thank God for all the lessons you have taught me. And I pray, in the words of the Apostle Paul, that you will always "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil ..." and "may the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thessalonians 5: 21-22, 23).

Thank you,


Who is George Forell?

George Forell, 90, has long been known as a powerful public speaker, as well as an occasionally controversial ethicist and Luther scholar. As a teacher, however, perhaps his greatest gift was his ability to listen. He was known to destroy the arguments of self-absorbed, "know-it-all" students. On the other hand, Forell would encourage the genuine questions of earnest seekers.

In a 40-year career that began at Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minn., Forell taught thousands. His classes at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, were so popular that in the early 1960s the university moved them to an auditorium with overflow seating. Known as "a students' teacher," Forell was once arrested with anti-Vietnam student protesters who had gathered on the university quad.

A refugee from the Nazis, Forell studied to be a pastor at the Lutheran Seminary at Philadelphia and earned a doctorate in theology from Union Seminary in New York. He mentored dozens of doctoral students and helped develop Lutheran social statements in the ELCA and its predecessor bodies. Forell turned 90 in September 2009.



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February issue


Embracing diversity