John Arthur’s career as a Lutheran pastor began in the traditional way: serving as a parish pastor. Then he spent ten years in various aspects of campus ministry. His growing interest in liturgy then led to a position for three years at the Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago. Finally, he returned to the parish of First Lutheran, Palo Alto, for the last six years of his career. However, that was not the first time he had been affiliated with First Lutheran, so let’s begin at the beginning.
John William Alden Arthur was born March 25 1922 in Mankato, Minnesota. He was the son of Rev. Oscar J. Arthur and Agda Johnsen. He graduated from high school in 1940, and graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, in 1944 with a bachelor of arts degree and a bachelor of music degree.
His graduate studies included a year at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, and a bachelor of divinity degree from Augsburg Seminary, Rock Island, Illinois in 1946.
The previous year, on September 4, 1945, he and Mary E. Huslander had been married in St. Peter, Minnesota. Following his graduation from Augsburg in June 1946, he was ordained in Duluth, Minnesota.
Pastor Arthur’s first call was to Zion Lutheran in Duquesne, Pennsylvania. He served there from 1946–1949, and the first two Arthur children were born: David in December of 1946, and Jacqueline in January of 1949. Pastor Arthur was then called to establish a new congregation, St. Paul Lutheran, in Glen Oaks, Queens, Long Island, New York. During this period, the Arthurs completed their family with the births of Candace in July of 1951, and Ryk in January of 1954. It was also here that Pastor Arthur began to experiment with various forms of worship. He wrote:
“Through the interest and desire of members, a variety of worship traditions were used in the congregation. Out of the daily, Sunday, and Holy Day services came the first mimeographed version of non-eucharistic orders of worship, out of which in 1963 came “Oremus: A Book of Worship for Corporate and Private Prayer.”
Holy Trinity Greensburg, Pennsylvania, 1955-1957, was Pastor Arthur’s next parish after which he transitioned to campus work. From 1957–1960 he was the campus pastor at Stanford University and San Jose State University. The family was received into membership at First Lutheran Church. As a member of the congregation, Pastor Arthur also volunteered his pastoral services.
In 1960 John Arthur was appointed to the position of Western Secretary, Division of College and University Work, of the National Lutheran Campus Ministry. During this time the family continued to live in Palo Alto, and maintained their membership at First Lutheran. From March to June 1967, Pastor Arthur served as interim pastor at First Lutheran between the pastorates of Johnstone and Herhold.
In his work with campus ministries, John Arthur felt the need to re-write parts of the traditional liturgy in language more meaningful to young adults. Many years later, in a tribute to Arthur at the time of his death, Joel Lundeen wrote:
“He planned many significant worship occasions for local, regional, and national student groups and compiled and edited a number of worship manuals and guides. In this process, he became very much alive to the concerns and needs of the Church’s future leaders, developing his skills in adapting language to express their contemporary feelings, aspirations, and understandings.”
John Arthur’s interest in the language of the liturgy led him to membership in the subcommittee on liturgical texts of the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship, which produced the green Lutheran Book of Worship, published in 1978. In the acknowledgments at the back of the hymnal, John W. Arthur is listed at the author/translator of “Worthy is Christ” and “Let the Vineyards be Fruitful”, as the author of canticles 7 through 12 and 14, and as author of the text for hymn 387 in the LBW, “Spirit of God, Unleashed on Earth”. This hymn was written for the confirmation of Arthur’s son, Ryk.
In the red hymnal, “Worship”, published in 2006. John Arthur is credited for the words to “This is the Feast”, “Let the Vineyards be Fruitful”, and “Thankful Hearts and Voices Raise”.
The period 1967–1970 found John Arthur as an Assistant Professor of Liturgics at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. During this time he became president of the Lutheran Society for Worship, Music and the Arts.
But the lure of the California climate and his memories of Palo Alto brought John Arthur back to First Lutheran when he was called in 1970. He was installed on October 18, 1970. During his time at First Lutheran, John Arthur was elected dean of the North Coast Lutheran District from 1972–1974.
It didn’t take long for Pastor Arthur to introduce new liturgies to the First Lutheran congregation. A newspaper article dated September 26, 1970 (before Pastor Arthur had been officially installed) described the new “Folk” liturgy adopted by the congregation. The account goes on to report that the musical settings had been composed by professional musicians, and the first one to be used was composed by John Ylvisaker, a professional folk singer. Pastor Arthur announced that the new liturgy would be used every Sunday from then on in the early service, accompanied by six guitars, a flute, piano, and organ. Pastor Arthur felt that such new liturgies would result in increased participation by the laity and would have a strong emphasis on joy, victory, and celebration.
John Arthur’s pastorate at First Lutheran ended on February 8, 1976. By then he had been disabled by Pick’s Disease, a rare form of presenile dementia. He and his family transferred their membership temporarily to University Lutheran, but returned to First Lutheran in 1977. Pastor Arthur died August 15, 1980 at the age of 58 and his funeral was held at First Lutheran. But his contributions to the liturgy have lived on. There were many tributes to his intensity and creativity at the time of his death. And friends and colleagues remembered the parties he and his wife, Mary, held. David Lundberg wrote:
“John and Mary’s parties were never obligations; they were always events. And as I try to recall why that was so, I have become convinced that it had something to do with the way guests were drawn into an encounter with John and with each other.”