While attending the recent commencement ceremony Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne I was privileged to see the seminary give Mr. Walter Dissen its Miles Christe Award. Many of you may not know this faithful layman who has served the church for many years. I know of no layman who has had a greater positive impact on the LCMS in its recent history than Walt. Here is a man who joined the St. Louis Seminary board at the time of the walk out and helped lead them back from disaster. He served on the synods Commission on Appeals where among other things he had to deal with Ralph Bohlman’s attempt to throw Robert Preus out of the Ft. Wayne Seminary. He was then elected to a new majority on the Ft. Wayne Seminary board that brought an end to what many called “the dark days” at that institution with the election of Dean Wenthe as president. He has continued to serve in elected positions and behind the scenes offering advice to those who seek to keep our church faithful to her calling.
We often say of someone whom God has called to himself “Well done, good and faithful servant.” In this case it great to see that the seminary has recognized Walt while he is still with us. Below you will see the award statement read by then Dean Larry Rast at the Commencement.
President Wenthe, may I present Mr. Walter Dissen of Chesapeake, Virginia. Born in North Dakota, Mr Dissen describes himself as “a preacher’s kid.” For many years he served as a corporate attorney, first with the New York, Chicago, and Saint Louis Railroad—better known as the Nickel Plate Road—and later with the Norfolk and Western and the Norfolk and Southern railroads. Mr. Dissen’s keen legal mind and his careful reading of synodical resolutions, seminary handbooks, and board minutes is nothing short of legendary.
There is never a question about where you stand with Walter Dissen. He is a man who personifies the biblical adage of both Matthew 5:37 and James 5:12: “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” Walter Dissen speaks his mind clearly and with a conviction born of a deep familiarity with the Lutheran Confessions—and refined and steeled in the stormy crucible of synodical conflict.
Mr. Dissen was elected to the Board of Control of Concordia Seminary, Saint Louis, at LCMS’s Milwaukee convention in 1971, just as our sister institution was moving into a particularly difficult period in its history. Mr. Dissen served with distinction for twelve years on that Board. In 1983 he was elected to the LCMS’s Commission on Appeals, where he served through 1995, providing key leadership during difficult times. In 1995 he was elected to the Board of Regents of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, where he served the Board as secretary and was an important participant in the calling of President Wenthe in 1996. In all of these capacities he has served faithfully and with distinction.
But there is more to Walter Dissen than this. There is no one who knows more about the recent history of LCMS than he. When I have a detail question on a matter of synod history, I check with Walter. I jokingly refer to his home as Concordia Historical Institute “East,” given the documentation that he has gathered. Just yesterday, upon his arrival here at the seminary, he left a photocopy of the Cleveland, Ohio, Plain Dealer at my office, with reports from the synod convention in 1973. Needless to say, I was delighted as always to read what he had to share.
Here I must share a personal story. Mr. Dissen was serving on our Board at the time of my being interviewed for the faculty of this seminary in 1996. He asked, as one would expect, a typically direct question. I, as a young theologian, began to offer a rather marvelously nuanced answer—at least in my opinion. 3 minutes…5 minutes…7 minutes—finally Mr. Dissen could not contain himself. “No!” he stated, “you’re not answering the question!” “Could you restate it?” was my timid reply. “Okay. Are we saved by grace or by works?” “By grace,” I said. “Good!” And that was that.
A long-time friend of this seminary, Walter Dissen is a wonderful example of a Miles Christi, a soldier of Christ. He has honored the Christian commitment to vocation through a lifetime of service. For his leadership in synod and seminary, his support of numerous ecclesiastical institutions, and his commitment to Concordia Theological Seminary, it is my privilege and honor, Dr. Wenthe, to recommend Walter C. Dissen for the Miles Christi award.
Rev. Roger Gallup
Bethlehem Lutheran Church
River Grove, IL