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Lutheran chaplain returns to MIT

Rev. Constance F. Parvey was formally installed as MIT's Lutheran chaplain late last month-for the second time in her career.

She takes the place of Rev. Susan Thomas, who left to serve an English-speaking parish in Vienna.

From 1972-77, Rev. Parvey was the Lutheran chaplain at the Institute while also serving in the same capacity at Harvard and as associate pastor for the University Lutheran Church in Cambridge. She was just the fifth woman ordained as a Lutheran pastor in the United States and the first ever ordained in Harvard's Memorial Church.

"MIT was a very different place then," Rev. Parvey said while reflecting on the changes that have taken place at MIT since her first tenure here. For one thing, there were only about 15 percent women, 15 percent foreign students and few minorities among the student body 20 years ago.

Now the population is much more diverse, and perhaps as a result, "I noticed right away how much more social the Institute is," she said. "You don't see as many people eating alone, you see people walking in groups, there are more smiles. There's just a lot more interaction."

Another change Rev. Parvey remarked upon is a much greater religious pluralism. "We're so lucky at MIT to have this, to be able to share our religious diversity," she said. "We have to build the future not only technically and scientifically, but also between religions and cultures and people." For students exposed to this disparate environment, "it makes a big difference in how they'll communicate later on."

There are other reminders of her past life at MIT. "I often feel like I'm walking through an Ingmar Bergman film with all the flashbacks," she commented. One day recently, she saw a student walking ahead of her in the 77 Massachusetts Ave. crosswalk, oblivious to an oncoming truck. She called to the student, who looked up and stopped when he saw his danger. Afterwards she reminisced with him about her first installation at MIT, when she was awoken the day after by a phone call telling her that a Lutheran student and his girlfriend had been hit in the same crosswalk. The woman was killed and the man was in the hospital for several months, where she visited him during his stay.

Upon leaving Cambridge in 1977, Rev. Parvey served as director of the Community for Men and Women in the Church for the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland, from 1978-83. She later taught and did research at Bryn Mawr, the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and Wellesley College, and she was pastor for the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Jericho, VT, from 1989 until last summer.

Rev. Parvey holds the BA (1952) from the University of Minnesota, the MDiv (1962) from Harvard and the DD from the University of Redlands. She subsequently served in university ministries at Duke, UCLA and the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She is the author of three books and more than 100 articles in books, magazines and newspapers. In 1990 she received the Confessor of Christ Award from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 6, 1996.

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