LSTC to Honor Visionary Leaders at the 2024 LSTC Alumni Awards!

Headshots of LSTC's awardees from left to right: Dr. Christine Helmer, Rev. Cheryl Peterson, Dr. Syafaatun Almirzanah, and Rev. Kimberly Vaughn

The LSTC community will gather at this year’s Seminex/Homecoming event, held April 16-18, to honor four exceptional individuals who have left an enduring mark on our institution and the world. 

The 2024 Alumni Award winners represent the pinnacle of achievement and service within their respective fields. They embody the values of excellence, leadership and compassion. 

From groundbreaking research to disruptive community engagement, these distinguished alumni prove that an LSTC education not only shapes a person’s career trajectory, but can have a lasting impact on the broader landscape of higher education, theology and pastoral care.

This year’s winners include:

  • Dr. Christine Helmer, winner of the 2024 Specialized Ministry Award, who is being celebrated for her contributions to the academy and evolving our global understanding of Martin Luther. 
  • Rev. Dr. Cheryl Peterson, recipient of the Faithful Servant Award, who is being acknowledged for her legacy as a steadfast servant throughout her career. 
  • Dr. Syafaatun Almirzanah, recipient of the Witness to the World Award, who is being honored for her academic achievements and interfaith leadership. 
  • Rev. Kimberly Vaughn, winner of the Called to Lead Award, is being recognized for her ministry of leadership within the greater Church.

Each of these remarkable individuals represent the very essence of the LSTC legacy, inspiring future generations to strive for excellence in service and leadership. Read on to learn more about their journeys toward excellence.

Dr. Christine Helmer speaking

The Specialized Ministry Award: Dr. Christine Helmer MA ’89

Dr. Christine Helmer is a Peter B. Ritzma Professor of the Humanities and Professor of German and Religious Studies at Northwestern University. She is being honored with LSTC 2024’s Specialized Ministry Award for her significant contributions to the study of theology in the academy, her work on the philosophy and theology of both Martin Luther and Friedrich Schleiermacher, and her international leadership in Luther scholarship. 

Dr. Helmer earned an MA in 1989 from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, setting the stage for her 1997 PhD in Religious Studies from Yale University. She also has an honorary doctorate from the University of Helsinki’s Theology Faculty.

Dr. Helmer is a trailblazer who has reshaped the understanding of Martin Luther’s theology and its subsequent reception in German intellectual history. Her groundbreaking scholarship has uncovered Luther’s profound engagement with medieval philosophy and revealed Luther as a late medieval Catholic theologian. 

Throughout her career, Dr. Helmer worked internationally, connecting with scholars from around the world on numerous interdisciplinary projects, most recently as founder of the Lutheran Scholars Network and the monthly “Logic & Luther” webinar.

-Dr. Christine Helmer

Dr. Helmer’s intellectual commitment is in securing a viable place for the study of theology in the university. Her knowledge of and appreciation for the robust intellectual Lutheran tradition has framed this commitment. 

In her recent book, Ordinary Faith in Polarized Times: Justification and the Pursuit of Justice, co-written with Lutheran theologian Amy Carr, she extends her Schleiermacherian perspective on promoting and fostering discourse and understanding to bridge academy and church. In it, she uses her decades-long studies of Luther as a theologian of grace to address pressing issues in American politics, notably abortion and faith in politics, thereby showcasing Dr. Helmer’s dedication to creating dialogues that transcend ideological divides.

Receiving the Specialized Ministry Award is a testament to Dr. Helmer’s transformative scholarship. It illustrates the importance of her work in reshaping the narrative around Martin Luther and fostering a more inclusive and nuanced understanding of Christian theology.

Rev. Cheryl Peterson preaching

The Faithful Servant Award: Rev. Dr. Cheryl M. Peterson MDiv ’91

The illustrious career of Rev. Dr. Cheryl M. Peterson, a distinguished theologian and servant-leader, was shaped by the formative experiences and rich ecumenical environment at LSTC. Inspired by mentors and friends, she earned her Master of Divinity degree from LSTC in 1991 and, later, a Ph.D. from Marquette University. 

Throughout her career, Rev. Dr. Peterson has embodied the spirit of faithful service in leadership through the various roles she’s held. From pastor to professor, Rev. Dr. Peterson has continued to demonstrate a holistic understanding of ministry and theological education. 

In reflecting on winning this alumni award Rev. Dr. Peterson said, “I’m honored to win something that recognizes all the service I’ve done across the Church. I’ve been a pastor, I’ve been a professor and an associate dean, and now I’m an academic dean. I’ve published articles and books. I’ve served on synodical candidacy committees, spoken in several synods, served the ELCA and LWF on ecumenical dialogues, and in other ways. To be recognized with this award is an honor.” 

A prolific scholar, Rev. Dr. Peterson has contributed extensively to the field of theology. Her 2024 book, The Holy Spirit in the Christian Life: The Spirit’s Work For, In, and Through Us (Baker Academic), is poised to provide a significant intervention in graduate classrooms. She wrote it to encourage new discussions around the Spirit’s role in three key movements of Christian life: justification, sanctification, and mission. 

Other publications reflect Rev. Dr. Peterson’s deep engagement with topics such as ecclesiology, pneumatology and the intersection of theology with contemporary issues like #MeToo movement. Through her writings, she continues to inspire critical reflection and dialogue within the church and academia.

-Rev. Dr. Cheryl Peterson.

After serving for 18 years on the faculty at Trinity Lutheran Seminary at Capital University, Rev. Dr. Peterson joined the Wartburg Theological Seminary community as the first female Academic Dean last summer. 

Her dedication to nurturing future generations of theologians, pastors and deacons underscores her commitment to the ongoing mission of the Church. As she continues her journey, Rev. Dr. Peterson’s legacy stands as a testament to the lasting impact of faithful service in God’s kingdom.

Headshot of Dr. Syafaatun Almirzanah

The Witness to the World Award: Dr. Syafaatun Almirzanah PhD ’08

A distinguished scholar and expert in the field of interreligious studies, Dr. Syafaatun Almirzanah has made significant contributions to fostering understanding and dialogue among diverse religious communities. 

Dr. Almirzanah’s profound insights and commitment to promoting inclusivity have transformed how scholars today perceive and engage in religious diversity.

In her groundbreaking dissertation, “When Mystic Masters Meet: Toward a New Matrix for Christian – Muslim Dialogue,” Dr. Almirzanah explores the intersection of Christian and Muslim perspectives, paving the way for a more nuanced understanding of religious discourse.

As a scholar, Dr. Almirzanah has explored various aspects of religion, spirituality, and interfaith dialogue, as evidenced by her extensive publications and conference presentations. The upcoming release of her books, Sayyid Qutb, al-Qaeda Franchais and Terrorism and Religion and Biotechnology Revolution, reflects Dr. Almirzanah’s continued dedication to exploring diverse aspects of religion and its intersection with contemporary issues.

Dr. Almirzanah’s influence extends beyond her research. As a Fulbright awardee and former Visiting Associate Professor at Georgetown University, she has actively shaped the minds of future leaders, cultivating a spirit of global understanding and cooperation.

LTSC looks forward to honoring Dr. Syafaatun Almirzanah, her significant contributions to the academic landscape and all the ways she works to create understanding and respect among various religious traditions.

Kimberly Vaughn preaching

The Called to Lead Award: Rev. Kimberly Vaughn, MDiv ’08

Rev. Kimberly Vaughn leads at the ELCA with conviction, resilience and a steadfast commitment to inclusivity, values that have long defined her work in ministry. 

In fact, Rev. Vaughn chose to attend LSTC because of its multicultural setting and the opportunity to advance the urban ministry work she had long been called to. 

“Upon [my] arrival in Chicago,” Rev. Vaughn remembers, “I was introduced to those who would become my ‘family’ forever –Dr. Richard Perry, Dr. Linda E. Thomas, Dr. Albert Pero, Dr. Cheryl Stewart, Dr. Monica Coleman and Dr. James Echols, as well as Southside pastors who walked alongside me and others through our seminary careers and beyond.” 

Those relationships proved significant in shaping Rev. Vaughn’s path at LSTC, supporting her work in pastoral care and guiding the choices she made when accepting leadership positions within the ELCA.

After graduating from LSTC with her MDiv in 2008, Rev. Vaughn embarked on a career in ministry that involved both pastoral work and leadership at the Churchwide office. 

“At [Churchwide] I found that the work we do to promote inclusion and justice was, indeed, the good trouble we were called to,” Rev. Vaughn says. 

Around the same time, Rev. Vaugh took a position as Assistant to the Bishop years with the New Jersey Synod. The role lasted a little over five years. 

“I loved being on staff and all the learning that came with working with congregations on issues of multicultural ministry, call process and discipleship,” she said of her time as the Bishop’s assistant. 

Reflecting on her current role as pastor of Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran in Jersey City, Rev. Vaughn says she finds fulfillment in the on-the-groundwork. She enjoys engaging with the community, celebrating life passages and discussing scriptures with colleagues and church members. 

Rev. Vaughn remains dedicated to promoting inclusion and justice and continuing to make deep connections with the people in her congregation. 

“I love getting to know the neighborhood, hearing their stories, joys and concerns, and they seem to enjoy getting to know the new pastor on the street,” Rev. Vaughn said. “I relish life passages – blessing newborns, sitting with the bereaved, sharing Eucharist each week. 

“Discussing the scriptures with people, finding the struggle and the hope in God’s word … those things still fulfill me after all these years.”

The significance of Rev. Vaughn’s work and her passion to continue it are just some of the reasons LSTC honors her with the 2024 LSTC Called to Lead Award.

Rev. Kimberly Vaughn

Winning the LSTC Called to Lead Award holds special meaning for Rev. Vaughn, who appreciates the recognition of her impact and the affirmation of her leadership style. 

Rev. Vaughn remarks, “Being spoken well of in your absence – that’s amazing to me.” Looking towards the future, she hopes the ELCA and LSTC will boldly embrace learning from those on the margins, allowing room for transformative growth in our community.

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