By Stephanie Bolmer
After 20 years of building bridges between the Jewish and Christian – and more recently, Muslim – communities in the Lehigh Valley, the Rev. Dr. Peter Pettit has departed from his role as director of Muhlenberg College’s Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding (IJCU).
Under his decades of guidance, the IJCU has seen much growth, adding on from the simple beginnings of conversations in local living rooms in the 1980s to its current robust calendar of First Friday speakers, Youth and Prejudice workshops, annual Wallenburg tributes and more. Pettit said the college has affirmed its commitment to the future of the institute and the current staff there.
When asked what the highlight of his years spent at the IJCU was, Pettit said, “I think the single highlight is the openness of the Jewish community of the Lehigh Valley, the clergy and the lay leaders, to welcome a Lutheran minister and to develop a deeply trusting relationship. I could name half a dozen different moments over the 20 years that would be really singular moments of our work together with the Christian and the Jewish constituencies, but none of those moments happen if there isn’t the openness of the Jewish community to welcome the efforts and the goodwill of the Christian who happens to be leading it.”
Leaving the Valley after all this time is bittersweet for Pettit. Asked what he’d like to say to the Jewish community after reflecting on his time here, he responded with: “Thank you! Absolutely thank you. Everything is about relationships, and I have been privileged to enjoy and benefit from the most wonderful relationships with clergy and lay leaders in the Jewish community as well as the Christian community that I ever could possibly imagine. I will deeply miss those relationships as I move on.”
Pettit will be taking on a new position as teaching pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa, where he will have direct responsibility for adult and public education and oversight of the entire educational program of the congregation of 1,100 families.