Arthur L. Larson
The Arthur L. Larson Story
The Stewardship of Life Institute exists because of the vision, dedication and generosity of the late Arthur L. Larson, a Lutheran who worked tirelessly in his life to promote stewardship and whose financial bequest continues to advance the cause through the Institute. Here’s his story:
Art Larson was born into a family of recent Swedish immigrants in Muskegon, Michigan. Raised in a small mining town in western Pennsylvania, he graduated from Penn State University in 1929 with a degree in chemical engineering. For the next 43 years, he worked at Hercules Corporation of Wilmington, Delaware. Active at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Wilmington, Art soon developed a passion for stewardship. One consequence was that he joined the Lutheran Lay-men’s Movement in 1956.
In the 1960s, LLM pioneered and sponsored Lay Schools of Theology on college and seminary campuses. In 1971, Art began to attend the Lay School of Theology at Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary and attended for the next 19 years. The Lay School forever deepened Art’s commitment to seeing that stewardship was taught in seminaries. During the 1970s, Art also served on the Maryland Synod Committees on Stewardship, Volunteerism, and Aging.
From 1979 until 1983 he was a member of the Board of Directors of Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary.
After his term on the Board was completed. Art continued as a member of the Seminary’s Development Committee. In every church organization to which he belonged, Art was a passionate advocate of stewardship — not only financial stewardship, but also stewardship of all of life. Twenty years later, many former Gettysburg Seminary board members remember his impassioned speeches for stewardship.
Larson Stewardship Council
In 1983, Art created an endowment at Gettysburg Seminary to promote the cause of stewardship education. With the active help of Art, Gettysburg Seminary set up a Larson Stewardship Council to direct the use of income from the “Arthur Larson Stewardship Fund”.
The first project of the stewardship council was to establish an annual Stewardship Practicum for Senior Seminarians. Using the beautiful setting of Allenberry Playhouse and Retreat Center near Gettysburg, successive classes of senior seminarians would hear presentations on Stewardship and the Gospel, The Pastor’s Leadership Role in Stewardship, The Stewardship of Time, Personal Stewardship, and Stewardship in the Parish.
Art, who was living in Florida by this time, always attended these events and gave his own presentation on My Stewardship Triangle.
The Arthur L. Larson Professorship of Stewardship and Parish Ministry
In 1989 Art gave an extremely significant gift to Gettysburg Seminary to endow a chair in stewardship. On February 8, 1990, the Arthur L. Larson Professorship of Stewardship and Parish Ministry was formally established at Gettysburg when William 0. Avery was installed into that chair.
Four public lectures on stewardship accompanied the installation. To commemorate the historic occasion, the Commission for Financial Support of the ELCA (now the Division for Congregational Ministries) held its winter meeting and a continuing education event on the seminary campus.
Stewardship Education at the ELCA Seminaries
Among the deployed staff from the Commission for Financial Support who attended the installation was Thomas O’Brien, who was headquartered in Columbia, South Carolina. Tom also was an adjunct faculty member and stewardship lecturer at Southern Seminary. Tom asked Art if he might be interested in helping to start a stewardship council at Southern Seminary. Art said “yes” and very quickly he worked with Tom in setting up the Taproot Stewardship Council at Southern. In turn, other seminaries approached Art to help them set up stewardship efforts at their seminaries. Eventually, Art worked with seven ELCA seminaries to enhance stewardship education. Today the agencies he helped pioneer continue to provide financial support for the stewardship programs at Lutheran seminaries.
Stewardship of Life Institute
In 1994, Art decided to give the residue of his estate at the time of his death to stewardship education by establishing the Stewardship of Life Institute. Although intimately connected to the ELCA and its seminaries, the Institute has been established as an independent organization with planned gift.
The purpose of the Institute is to serve stewardship in the ELCA through its constituent seminaries. The Institute is headquartered in Gettysburg because, in accordance with the by-laws, the Executive Director of the Institute is the Larson Professor of Stewardship and Parish Ministry. The Rev. Dr. Marty Stevens is the current holder of that professorship, and thus she serves as the Institute’s Executive Director.
The Institute’s first project was entitled, “Cutting Edge Conversations,” which gathers people in similar occupations together with a skilled facilitator to work toward connecting their faith and their workplace. Groups were formed from Washington, D.C. to Kansas!
Art’s Gifts Continue
Upon Larson’s death in 2000, the Stewardship of Life Institute received a final bequest to carry on his lifelong commitment to helping Christians see themselves as caretakers, rather than possessors, of what belongs to God. While primarily funded by Larson’s generosity, SOLI also has received grants from Lutheran Brotherhood and the Lutheran Laity Movement.
The Institute continues today to serve as a resource for stewardship education, inspiration and training for the church. In doing so, it keeps alive the vision and passion of its founder, Arthur L. Larson.