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iWhyThe Evolution of a
Spiritual Servant

I was born in 1940. However, my story begins in 1945 in Palatine, Ill. My three brothers and I (two of my brothers were twins and born six years later) were raised in a dysfunctional home due to alcoholism. There was no religious climate at all. Both of my parents were raised in the Salem/Danvers (MA) area, and it was the custom to feed the children at 5:00 p.m. and parents socialized until 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. when they ate dinner. At that point, loud arguments broke out.

A neighbor who belonged to Immanuel Lutheran Church approached my parents to invite my brother and me to Sunday school.A neighbor who belonged to Immanuel Lutheran Church in Palatine, Ill., approached my parents to invite my brother and me to Sunday school. I believe the Holy Spirit prompted my parents to say “yes.” Immanuel was an easy two-block walk. The Holy Spirit further prompted my parents to approach Immanuel and inquire about enrolling my brother and me in Immanuel Lutheran School as tuition students. This was extraordinary because in those days Lutheran schools were for member children only. Thus, began my spiritual walk with the Lord.

While I do not remember the names of my teachers for grades two through five, I do remember their love for me and that I learned about Jesus for the first time. My classmates accepted me as one of their own, and my journey toward the Lord was well on its way.

In 1950, my dad, who traveled a lot for DuPont, came home and informed my mother that he had bought an 80-acre farm near Plymouth, Wis. My dad had read a lot about farming and thought it would be a good environment for raising his four sons. Plymouth was the home of St. John Lutheran Church and School. My parents decided to continue our Lutheran education at St. John, and my mother drove us the six miles into Plymouth every day for many years. My teachers for the next four years were male and were outstanding religious role models.

The senior pastor at St. John was Rev. Herbert Baxmann, who also served as the South Wisconsin District President. In those days, there were no district offices and the district president served both as parish pastor and president. In eighth grade, he put his hand on my shoulder and said I would make a good pastor or teacher. He also told my parents that I needed to be baptized before I was confirmed. So, on a Sunday afternoon, Rev. Baxmann came to our farm home and baptized the four of us.

I believe that the Holy Spirit prompted my parents to make this decision.... I saw this decision as a way to leave a toxic home environment.Rev. Baxmann asked my parents to consider sending me to Concordia College located in Milwaukee. Because of his East Coast roots, my dad wanted to send me to a boarding school back East. When this suggestion about attending Concordia came up, he considered it a good alternative because he did not want me to attend the local high school in Plymouth. Again, I believe that the Holy Spirit prompted my parents to make this decision. I also have to be honest. I saw this decision as a way to leave a toxic home environment. I need to say at this point that two of my brothers had special needs and did not experience the home environment as I did. Although not a teacher, Mrs. Baxmann tutored one of my special-need brothers in reading.

In 1954, I enrolled at Concordia, which at that time was an all-male preparatory school for the pastoral ministry. There were about 60 boys in my class, and our class name was sexta, the Latin word for six. Each of the next five years had their own Latin names, ending up with prima, number one. In my first two years, we were required to sit at our desks from 7:00­ to 900 p.m. as a study period. Our curriculum was classical with an emphasis on foreign languages (German, Latin, and Greek). One of my most memorable moments in sexta was standing before my class (religion) and reciting the Six Chief Parts (with explanations) of the Catechism from memory with under three mistakes.

Lutheran schools were my safety net!Most of my classmates came from church worker or Lutheran families. My professors and classmates were good role models for me. By my quarta year, my classmates were my family and best friends. After I graduated from prima, I felt called to become a Lutheran teacher and decided to transfer to Concordia Teachers College in Seward, Nebraska. I graduated in 1962, and served the next 45 years in Lutheran ministry. Lutheran schools were my safety net!

Some Concluding Thoughts

Research tells us that in the average Lutheran school, over 50 percent of the student body comes from non-member families, with 20 percent of those from non-churched families. Many of these children come to our schools from less than ideal home environments. They may not trust members of their family to keep them safe and provide for their needs. When [children] come to our Lutheran schools, they find people they can trust who continually remind them of a God who loves and cares for them.When they come to our Lutheran schools, they find people they can trust who continually remind them of a God who loves and cares for them. The teaching of Bible stories and life in the affective domain are perhaps more instrumental for them than in the lives of traditional Lutheran students. Integration of the faith provides them with a necessary condition for learning.

While at Concordia, Milwaukee, the administration had a saying that “who you marry can break or make your ministry.” In 1964, I married Elise, a 1961 graduate of Seward. Her parents were Lutheran teachers. While her expertise was early childhood education, she took off 17 years to care for our four children, three of whom are in church work today and the fourth is a hospice nurse. Elise has a servant heart, and after 55 years of marriage is still heavily involved with serving the church. Having a partner of the same faith is an absolute blessing, and she has been and still is a role model to me.

In our country today, there is a lack of civility, hatred manifested by the use of guns, and a decline in spirituality. I pray for a renaissance of faith-based education to extinguish our resentment toward one another and that we love one another. I find solace in knowing that God is in charge. Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:33 encourage me “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

George Locke served 23 years as teacher and principal in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan and 22 years in the Nebraska and Michigan District Offices as Superintendent of Lutheran Schools. In retirement, he has served on the Board of Directors of Lutheran Braille and MOST Ministries. He and Elise make their home in Canton, Mich.

If you want to share an iWhy, send the story of how you became a Lutheran school teacher to ed.grube@lea.org with the subject line iWhy. (Try to keep it to 600 words or so, if you can.)—the editor