Paul Otto Wendland (1953-present)
Seminary President (2004-2019)
By John M. Brenner
Some men have experience in only one form of the public ministry; others have served in various ways. President Wendland fell into the latter category. When he came to the seminary as a professor in 2001 he brought with him experience in home and world missions, an established congregation, and the synod’s ministerial education system. His varied experience uniquely prepared him for service as a seminary professor and president.
Paul Otto Wendland was born on September 1, 1953, to Pastor Ernst H. and Betty A. (nee Jungkuntz) Wendland. He has two older brothers, Ernst R. and Mark, and two older sisters, Anne and Claire. His younger brother John was killed in a tragic car accident in the late 1970s. He was baptized by his father at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Benton Harbor, Michigan, and attended the parish school there. In 1962 his father accepted a call to Northern Rhodesia to set up ministerial education schools. Wendland described his experience as a child in Africa.
The feeling of being a complete stranger in an utterly strange land as I looked out from my airplane window seat and saw, for the first time, the heat rise from ground and shimmer in the air between me and the flat-topped thorn trees in the distance. Living first in the British colony of Northern Rhodesia and going to “British” schools (the Lusaka Boys’ School) and then seeing a country gain freedom as the independent state of Zambia. Similarly—to watch a mission grow from infancy to mature adulthood as an independent church body with its own Bible Institute and Seminary. Meeting such great men as William Schweppe, Edgar Hoenecke, Theodore Sauer, John Janosek, R.G. Cox and many others too numerous to mention by name. But the greatest missionary I ever met was my mom. To this day I’m struck with wonder at how she, upon hearing that Dad had the call to set up the worker training schools in Central Africa, said to him, “Ernie, we have to go!” This Benton Harbor pastor’s wife had six kids in 1962, ranging from six to eighteen, but her mission zeal never wavered, and she always encouraged us with the thought that we were where we were because Jesus had sent us.
Wendland was instructed and confirmed in Chelston in 1966. The British school system in Africa advanced students more quickly than their American counterpart so that when Paul entered the WELS ministerial education system he was a full year younger than his classmates. He enrolled at Northwestern Preparatory School in Watertown, Wisconsin, and was graduated from Northwestern College (NWC) in 1974. During his college years he was an active participant in choir and the Forum Society as an actor and director.
He enrolled in Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 1974. His outstanding gifts as a linguist were recognized when he was assigned to Northwestern College in 1975 as an emergency Greek instructor to fill in for Professor Armin Panning who had accepted a call to teach New Testament and church history at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.
His vicar year saw him traveling back to Zambia and serving under veteran missionary Raymond G. Cox. His youth in Africa and his vicar year prepared him for his first permanent call. In 1979 he was assigned as a missionary to the Lutheran Church of Central Africa. For five years he served at Mwembezhi, Zambia. He became conversant in the Tonga language.
In 1984 Wendland accepted a call to serve an established congregation, St. Paul Lutheran Church in Hopkins, Michigan. He happily served God’s people in that small town for six years. A different challenge awaited him when he accepted the call to a mission congregation, Prince of Peace, in Salt Lake City, Utah, the heart of Mormon country. Recognizing his academic and linguistic gifts, the Northwestern College Board called him to teach Latin in 1993. He moved with the Northwestern faculty to New Ulm when Northwestern College and Dr. Martin Luther College were amalgamated to form Martin Luther College (MLC) in 1995. During his years at NWC and MLC he taught Latin 1, 2, and 3, Virgil, Ecclesiastical Latin, Freshman Composition, Introduction to English Literature, and Introduction to Minority Cultures. In 2000 he was appointed Vice President for Enrolment Management.
The Seminary Board called Wendland to teach New Testament and Homiletics in 2001. When he accepted, he became one of four sons of seminary professors in the history of the school to become a member of the seminary faculty. He served as temporary director of the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) after that program was established following the recommendation of the faculty’s 2001-02 self-study. He was instrumental in writing that recommendation and outlining the PSI program.
In 2004 the Seminary Board called him to succeed David Valleskey as president. Wendland’s varied experience in the public ministry including serving as a world missionary and teaching Introduction to Minority Cultures prepared him to oversee many of the recent developments at the seminary. Although he never wanted to be in administration, he has shown himself to be a very capable administrator. The significant developments during his presidency included the establishment of the PSI, the calling of the World Mission Seminary Professor, curriculum review, the development of Grow in Grace—the Institute for Continuing Education, mission advancement as a vital arm in supporting the seminary’s mission, and the seminary’s efforts to support and suggest placement for vicars. Wendland’s presidency was also marked by increased personal contact with students including discipline and career counseling. In each case he demonstrated pastoral concern and an evangelical spirit. Unfortunately, as with other recent presidents, his teaching responsibilities were greatly reduced because of the press of administration. He taught hermeneutics to first year students and St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans to seniors.
His ministry to the synod at large included service as a circuit pastor (Western Range, Nebraska District), as a member of the committee that prepared Christian Worship Occasional Services, as a liaison to the Lutheran Church of Cameroon for the Administrative Committee for Africa, and as a member of the Commission on Inter-Church Relations, the Board for Ministerial Education, the Spiritual Growth Task Force, the Prep School Study Committee II, and the Translation Evaluation Committee.
He contributed to Forward in Christ and the Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly and served as an essayist for the synod in convention. He was the author of two volumes in The People’s Bible commentary series, 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles. His many articles and essays range from hermeneutics and cross cultural ministry to exegetical studies, Islam, and the function of the church and state in moral issues. He served as president of our seminary until 2019.
On June 10, 1979, Wendland was united in marriage with Margaret Berg, a Lutheran elementary school teacher and the daughter of Pastor and Mrs. Norman Berg. Paul and Margaret were blessed with three children, Miriam (Ryan) Rupprecht, Anne, and John.
For Further Reading
- James P. Tiefel, “Installation of Prof. Paul O. Wendland,” Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly 99, no. 1 (Winter 2002): 58-59.
- John M. Brenner, “Installation of Pres. Paul O. Wendland and Prof. E. Allen Sorum,” Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly 102, no. 1 (Winter 2005): 60-62.