Professor Ralph Quere was one of my teachers at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa who died last week. As an incoming student with a degree in civil and environmental engineering and several years as an officer in the army, I had very little background in the types of thinking that I would need for the study of theology that are part of the formation of pastors. Ralph was one of my early teachers who had the challenge of helping me learn how to think differently. He didn’t normally teach the two semesters of church history that make up the first year of seminary, but due to the other church history teacher being on sabbatical he taught my year. Additionally, I would have Ralph as a teacher for Lutheran Confessions, and then in my final year I took electives studying Jaroslav Pelikan’s five volume The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine as well as a jointly taught course as a dialogue between Presbyterian and Lutheran confessions and teachings.
One of the impact he made on me had less to do with the content of his teaching and everything to do with his attitude towards his students and life in general. He was a person who genuinely seemed to enjoy teaching, care for his students and that could make even a normally dull topic more engaging. I still remember some of the ways he illustrated the difference between the way Luther and Calvin understood communion, or some of his ways of explaining the early church’s wrestling with the two natures of Christ or the language around the Trinity. Seminary is a very challenging experience for most people because it forces you to re-examine what you believe and why you believe it. While I enjoyed many of my other classes, it was those semesters on the early church and reformation era history that helped me stay grounded by encountering the way the church had struggled with how to talk about God and faith. Ralph introduced me to the writings of Ireneaus, Augustine, Luther and many more of our ancestors in the faith and helped me to become curious about the story of Christianity. He helped me to understand the confessional tradition that the Lutheran church was formed by and how these five-hundred-year-old documents still inform the life and faith of the church. He helped me appreciate the witness of Martin Luther and the other early Lutheran teachers and writers. He forced me to rememorize Luther’s Small Catechism which continues to be a useful part of my ministry today as I can easily call to mind the words Luther intended for parents to use to teach the faith to their children. In his own subtle way, he gave me the tools to transition from thinking like an engineer or a military officer to thinking theologically. He broadened my horizons of how to think about the church and how to approach my faith and for that I am grateful.