Baptism Depicted in the Cranach Altarpiece, City Church, Wittenberg

When Dr Wilhelm Torgerson retired from teaching at the seminary in 2018–he had served as an instructor in pastoral theology since his first “retirement” from parish ministry in Germany back in 2011–the seminary community wanted to honour this unique man in a unique way. His love for the daily worship life in the seminary chapel was famous, and he had already shown that love by donating candle stands for the lectern and a paschal candle stand. It seemed the perfect opportunity to complete the liturgical furnishings of the chapel by adding a baptismal font.

It is understandable that a font was not the first priority when the chapel was built in 1984. After all, Baptism normally takes place in a congregation, even for new children of seminary students. But there was a significant gap in the symbolic message of the chapel. The central fixtures of a Christian house of worship, the pulpit, altar, and font, focus our attention on the means of grace by which God makes and sustains His people: proclaimed Word, Lord’s Supper, Holy Baptism. The seminary chapel ought to carry the same message and serve as a model Lutheran Church.

Over the past two years subsequent donations in memory of the seminary’s Administrative Assistant, Linda Lantz (who died in 2019) and in honour of retired (and now recently sainted) LCC East District President Rev. Dr Roger Winger, enabled us to proceed with this important project. When Resurrection Lutheran Church moved into the seminary in November 2020, the need for a baptismal font became more urgent.

The font, designed in consultation with the seminary’s Dean of Chapel, Dr Thomas Winger, was built by New Holland Church Furniture of Pennsylvania. Constructed in plain-sawn red oak, it picks up on details of the existing furnishings, incorporating the hollow geometric cross pattern found throughout the building.

Baptismal Font in the CLTS Martin Luther Chapel

The font, in traditional Christian fashion, has eight sides, representing the eight souls saved in Noah’s ark, circumcision on the eighth day, and the eighth day on which Christ rose from the dead, initiating a new creation. All this is fulfilled in Christian Baptism, as new life is given to the one who dies and rises with Christ in the font. The eight-sided symbolism is particularly poignant in the Martin Luther Chapel, which itself is eight-sided–the font is therefore the chapel in miniature, or rather, the chapel is the font on a large scale, reminding the worshippers that they are always enclosed in their Baptism, that they have been reborn to the Heavenly Father.

The font is designed with eight side panels that will be filled over the course of the next year or two with small pieces of religious art. These paintings depicting the work of the ministry in the Christian life–Baptism, preaching, Lord’s Supper, visiting the sick, etc.–are being commissioned from Lutheran artist Avery Prozenko. The artistic plan is based on mediaeval fonts that used carvings on their eight sides to teach the catechism visually. The first panel, depicting the central act of Christ’s crucifixion, will be completed and installed over the summer.

All Saints’ Church, Little Walsingham, Norfolk, England: 15th c. Catechetical Font. Photo by Thomas Winger.

The font has been installed at the entrance to the chapel, again in traditional fashion. It thus symbolises Baptism as the entrance into the Christian life and church, as every worshipper must pass by it to enter the chapel. It is built to substantial proportions, with a bowl 20 inches across, in accord with the substantial importance of what it represents. Filled with water at all times and open to the air, the font encourages worshippers to remember their Baptism as they enter and even to touch the water and make the sign of the cross, as Luther’s Small Catechism reminds us to do each day.

While a formal unveiling will take place at the opening service in September, local circumstances required an immediate consecration for holy use. On Sunday, 9 May, Dr Winger blessed the font in the divine service of Resurrection Lutheran Church so that it might be used very soon for the Baptism of a child recently born to a family in the congregation.

We are grateful to the Concordia Seminary Guild for graciously considering a final gift to complete the project. Thanks be to God for His goodness.

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