Tribute to the Reverend Dr. Robert J. Marshall
A message from Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson
With quiet competence and steady courage, the Reverend Dr. Robert J. Marshall served the Church in manifold ways. His dedication to the well-being of the Church especially was demonstrated when he became president of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA), one of the three predecessor church bodies of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
Dr. Marshall was elected LCA president in 1968 under very difficult circumstances. He was chosen to succeed Dr. Franklin Clark Fry, who had been widely recognized as one of the giant Lutheran leaders of the mid-twentieth century. Dr. Fry had died just a month before Dr. Marshall’s election at the LCA biennial convention. Those who gathered at that convention mourned the loss of Dr. Fry and called upon Dr. Marshall to undertake the duties of the office of president, the office that now is known in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as the office of the presiding bishop.
Dr. Marshall led the LCA through the turbulent times of the late 1960s and sought to look ahead to the needs and opportunities of the 1970s. He directed a major reorganization effort for the LCA’s national and international ministries, making certain that the LCA’s structure could respond well to the challenges of that era. At the same time, he sought greater expression Lutheran unity in the U.S.A. and abroad. With generosity and wisdom, he contributed his guidance and leadership to the work of the Lutheran World Federation as well as the World Council of Churches and the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. He also provided significant leadership for relief and development efforts throughout the world, especially through Lutheran World Relief and Church World Service.
After a decade of serving as LCA president, he chose to yield the burdens of that office in 1978. He then undertook responsibilities for three years for global service and development efforts through what then was known as Lutheran World Ministries, the U.S. arm of the Lutheran World Federation. In 1981, he returned to what had been an earlier role in his life, namely theological education. He joined the faculty of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C., and subsequently taught at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago before retirement.
Dr. Marshall worked with vision and dedication for the formation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He served as a member of the Commission for a New Lutheran Church. That commission was charged with the task of planning for the ELCA’s establishment. Upon the ELCA’s constituting in 1987, Dr. Marshall was elected to the first Church Council. He brought his wisdom in deliberation and his wide knowledge of the work of the church to the ELCA’s board of directors during those initial years.
The years do pass quickly. Leaders are called by the Church and serve during their particular time. But their contributions should not be forgotten. We now remember such a leader—a leader who showed grace, dignity, dedication, courage, and vision as a faithful witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
To God we give thanks for the service of the Reverend Dr. Robert James Marshall, who himself became one of those giants among Lutheran leaders who served in the twentieth century.
Rest eternal, grant him, O Lord; and let light perpetual shine upon him.
In God’s Grace,
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America