In Memoriam: Richard H. Warneck
Editor’s note: this encomium for Concordia Seminary Professor Emeritus Richard Warneck, who died on June 8, 2021, also appears in the Summer 2021 issue of the Concordia Journal. A collection of resources by Dr. Warneck, including recordings of numerous sermons, is available at https://scholar.csl.edu.
Like others who answered God’s call to join the small remnant of the pre-walkout seminary faculty in the fall of 1974, Richard Warneck had quite unexpectedly left a very active and growing parish ministry at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Ellisville, Missouri, at that time primed for the transition from a predominantly rural congregation to one in the heart of the burgeoning west St. Louis suburbs, to come to the largely decimated seminary campus and serve the larger church. Thanks be to God, he played a major part in rebuilding the St. Louis seminary and restoring the important role that it has served so faithfully. His qualifications included a good decade of parish experience with a Master of Sacred Theology (STM) along the way, but most important was a pastoral heart combined with a deep care for our Lord’s church and his mission. Pastor Warneck’s almost legendary work ethic modeled and inculcated these key characteristics into the formation of future colleagues.
Those were difficult times. For students somewhat unsure of the future, Professor Warneck’s courses in practical, very pastoral theology were a bright light of both encouragement and realism. “Guys,” he would say with a love for ministry driven from his heart and dripping off his gesturing right hand, “here’s how it is out there. It can be tough; it will take your very best efforts, but you get to bring the word of God into people’s lives! There is no higher calling.”
Very best efforts, indeed. That phrase well summarizes both Pastor and Professor Warneck’s own high standards, whether it be classroom preparation or pulpit proclamation. Like everyone in those days, Professor Warneck wore several hats. He served also as director of resident field education and vicarage, taught more than a normal load of courses, was always ready to “talk shop” with students, and jumped in to help wherever needed, providing needed counsel and good insight from his well of pastoral wisdom and care.
As living proof of the ongoing connection between seminary and parish, Professor Warneck again became Pastor Warneck, providing his steady pastoral leadership at Village Lutheran Church in Ladue, where he had also been serving as vacancy pastor after division in the congregation in the wake of 1974, and then as senior pastor of Grace Lutheran Chapel in Bellefontaine Neighbors in north St. Louis county, an historically large congregation now transitioning on the other side of burgeoning suburban growth. Both positions left him close to the seminary, in proximity but also in his heart, with fruitful opportunities for shared service like my own occasional preaching opportunity, for which Dick was always so personally and graciously appreciative.
He returned to the seminary in 1992, now a seasoned veteran with even more experience and with new experiences to share. He always had a story about some joy or difficulty that reflected the realities of the ups and downs of parish ministry. But they were always seasoned with humility, good humor, and the high integrity of the office that he sought to honor in every aspect of his life. He was a living testimony that the call into the Office is dominical, apostolic, and serves both pastoral care for those within and the larger mission of our Lord’s kingdom to those without. He understood the importance of grounding pastoral theology and practice in God’s word as the only true source and applying it with uncompromising integrity but evangelical wisdom in explaining positions that often seem difficult in the face of contemporary culture.
This second round on the faculty included a decade of service as chairman of the department of practical theology, service to the church-at-large through various committees, boards, and special projects, and the completion of the PhD degree at age 65, for which Dr. Warneck received a standing ovation from his faculty peers at Commencement, 2000. He became one of the early graduates in the new “theology and culture” program that he himself had championed, modeling even after a lifetime of distinguished service the importance of keeping abreast of that intersection of an unchanging theology with the transient cultural world into which God’s word is applied. He would continue to engage such critical, contemporary issues right through his formal retirement in 2008 and continuing into the publication of his Pastoral Theology: Theology and Practice, published by Concordia Publishing House in 2018.
Richard Warneck has left a legacy of students into which he instilled his highest respect for the pastoral office and the highest integrity in the person who filled it 24/7. He was a model of the “pastor as person,” and his dear wife Marlene knew better than anyone what that could mean for keeping and adjusting schedules and home life. It has been a blessed privilege to come to know them both from my own perspective as both student and colleague. His sermons, preached and published, were consummate examples of the wedding of exegesis with proclamation and application, delivered with rhetorical care and polish, where every word seemed to be in just the right place. His class materials and parish-based resources became almost legendary as practical aids that complemented his pastoral theology, all of which culminated in the publication of his Pastoral Theology. His testimony to such truly pastoral theology will remain as a standard textbook, already being put to good use in seminary courses and pastors’ studies to impact generations to come.
“Well done, indeed, good and faithful servant.” Of Richard Warneck, it will well be said, “May they rest from their labors, and their works do follow them.”