Requiem for a Vice President

He was the preacher for our 100th anniversary in 2013. Not so many years ago. Yet today, when even last Sunday seems a world away, 2013 must be an eternity. Indeed, for Herb Mueller, child of God, it is. He has left this world of sin and disease and death, and now stands at the throne of God and the lamb.

I first heard of him second-hand. Roger Pittelko ordained him. Within only a few years the two served together on the College of Presidents. By then Herb had moved from English to Southern Illinois District. The Bishop knew even at his ordination that he would serve the wider church. And so he did. Eventually he would also serve as the synod’s First Vice President. He was a gentle man. When he came to our district to explain the Koinonia project he would not condemn anyone. “When we followed this process in my district, almost always we would settle matters based on the Word of God.”

“But what of those who would not hear the Word? Will you remove them?”

“It always became clear what needed to be done.”

“What does that mean? Will you remove those who will not hear the Word of God?”

“It always became clear what needed to be done.”

We were frustrated. We wanted some assurance that heretics would be removed. We would get no such statements from Herb Mueller. You can criticize him for it if you want. He was not willing to call anyone a heretic without first hearing him. He would not so criticize pastors of the synod.

Ultimately the Koinonia project was not a success. I think that’s because of certain pre-suppositions he was handed and forced to work with, more than because of his work on the project. The one thing that you could fault him for was that he was willing to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and assume they were acting with integrity. Perhaps that was hopelessly naive with Seminex in the rear window. But on this day,  as we celebrate his translation to the church triumphant, let’s call it dogged adherence to the eighth commandment, and a desire to always seek excellent things.

I spoke with him once during the Koinonia project. We were walking back across the street, having toured a local Eastern Orthodox church on break. We were mourning the loss of common friends who had left the safety of the pure doctrine for the allure of the Eastern church. I mentioned that it was ultimately not the synod or her structures that kept me in the synod. It was the Small Catechism. I couldn’t imagine teaching without the Small Catechism as the basis for teaching and preaching. I think he appreciated my love for the small catechism, if not my rather cavalier attitude toward synod.

But back in 2013, the first time we had met, Koinonia Project was still in the future. He flew out and stayed overnight before the service. We served chili for dinner (Wyoming!) He really enjoyed it. We also spoke about various pastoral matters. I remember being impressed with his wisdom and loving attitude toward all. The next morning, he arrived at the church, and said “I looked at your blog last night. I really enjoyed your Pentecost sermon.” It was September. He scrolled through five months of various posts on political matters to find something he could compliment.

I think that moment explains every encounter I had with him. He would seek out things that were true, honorable,  just, pure,  lovely,  commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. Those are the things he would think about. I think he might have gotten the idea from scripture somewhere. In our divided world – especially now as we “shelter in place” – we could use more of that attitude.

And, as a Eulogy for a departed pastor in, of, and to the church – that’s about the highest praise you can give.

Rest in peace Pastor Mueller. I know you do, because I know that you rest in Christ and his work for you. Your Lent is over. Your Easter has begun.

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