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Eugene "Gene" Jaberg

Memorial Service
Wednesday, November 13
2:00 PM
Bigelow Chapel

All are welcome to attend.

Please see "In Memoriam," below, for more about Gene and his life, work and legacy.


In Memoriam

In Memory of Eugene Jaberg
by Wilson Yates

On Friday, October 25, the United community said good-bye to Eugene "Gene" Jaberg,
beloved teacher, friend and colleague, and a founding member of United's faculty. 
Wilson Yates, professor emeritus and former seminary president, shares the following tribute: 

Eugene Jaberg, professor emeritus, died on October 25th of this year. He was 86 years old--a life that spanned 2/3s of the 20th century and more than a decade of the 21st. He helped create United Seminary as one of the founding faculty of the school, and he embodied the heart of what this institution is today. We will miss him as a colleague and friend, and we abide in sympathy with his family who miss him so deeply: his family, Miriam, David, Beth and Scott, who travelled with him to foreign ports, who listened to him talk about the world of theatre and film and art, who lived with him in the everydayness and surprises of their world, and who knew the amazing goodness, gentleness and loving presence that he brought to their lives.

Gene Jaberg created United's earliest work with the arts and taught us how to make them a part of theological learning. He established a summer religious drama program in the 1960s and the early 1970s, producing and directing the plays of Tennessee Williams, T. S. Eliot and Lillian Hellman. His was the first interracial theatre in the Twin Cities, and one of his actors was Lou Bellamy, who would later found the Penumbra Theatre. Through drama and through the films of Bergman and Fellini, he explored the darker side of our world manifest in the brokenness of the human community and the moral failings that litter our personal and social landscapes. But he also taught us to see the human possibilities for redemption, for new life, or, perhaps better said, the possibilities of knowing God in the midst of the compromised, ambiguous world that threads the life of us all. For Gene, the Jewish theologian Martin Buber held an important key. For it was from Buber that he took the concept of dialogue. Gene taught preaching and media. He taught about communication--deep and abiding communication that opens us up to Being Itself. He taught us how to listen and how to speak in response, such that the ensuing dialogue would invite a unity with the other and with the Divine.

He was a filmmaker. His film The Present, which starred his children; his work with Henry Gustafson, who taught New Testament, on ancient baptismal fonts; his production of a video with Gayle Graham Yates about the Bigelow Chapel; his contribution to the 50th Anniversary video; his creations of programs with CTV Television; his leading involvement with Channel Two's Town Hall Meetings in the 1980s, which he helped create and participate in; and there were more. But of all of them the central work was his film Buber. Travelling to Israel and Switzerland, he recreated the life of Martin Buber and probed Buber's theology and his importance to all who seek to understand God.

We know the sadness of Gene Jaberg's death. But we also know the fullness of the life he gave to his family and to this school. He was a good man, and through his life and his influence in shaping the spirit of United, all of us have been touched richly by his creativity, his goodness and his invitation to the dialogue.

~ Wilson Yates

United friends and faculty remember Gene

Gene graduated from Mission House in 1954 and joined the faculty there as professor of homiletics in 1958. With the merger of Mission House and Yankton College, Gene became a founding faculty member of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities and served as professor of communication from 1962 until 1991, and then as professor emeritus. The following memories of Gene are excerpts taken from email messages shared with United faculty, emeriti faculty and staff upon learning of Gene's passing.

"I can't think of anyone who incarnated the seminary's mission to the world more than Gene did. His theater productions always involved the wider community. Even more, in his imaginative and engaging teaching, in his interactions with students and faculty colleagues, I felt that he consistently put flesh to the seminary's theological intent: to do theology in dialogue with the world." ~ James B. Nelson, professor emeritus of Christian ethics

"Gene Jaberg was a cutting edge person before there was even a cutting edge! I remember his summer theater program in the library court in the sixties, featuring plays addressing tough issues like race and war. ... More recently, in Gene's continuing involvement with north suburban television, Gene played a key role in the fiftieth-anniversary DVD celebrating the life and times of United. He stayed with that project even as he faced mounting health challenges." ~ Clyde J. Steckel, professor emeritus of theology

"I only overlapped with Gene for one year [at United]... We got to connect a bit more after Sue Ebbers and I joined UCCNB, where Gene was a member. We enjoyed connections Gene had with both the Ebbers and the Presslers. He played on the Mission House basketball team with Sue's dad, and his uncle 'Jay' was my mom's teacher way back in the 1920s. Not only I but the whole congregation will miss his warmth." 
~ Carolyn Pressler, Harry C. Piper Jr. professor of biblical interpretation

"When I came to UTS in 1976, I really was a stranger in a strange land. ... Gene was among those who welcomed me and gave me some clues about what it was like to teach at UTS. He was a lovely guy--gracious and warm and eloquent and we used to have interesting conversations about our 'secular' PhDs. Early on I sat in on some of his classes on the theological interpretation of film and realized, 'I will never watch a movie the same way again.'" ~ Mary Farrell Bednarowski, professor emerita of religious studies

"When I remember Gene, I think about his vision in bringing to awareness among the faculty and students the role of electronic media in ministry. Remember, this was back in the late sixties, seventies, and eighties. I can still envision the studio he put together with equipment sort of 'cobbled' together. He empowered students to look toward the future of new methods and technologies to enhance religious education, preaching, and other areas of the church's ministries. It wasn't just about communication generally. It was about the Gospel. I was blessed to have him as a mentor, friend, and colleague." 
~ Lance Barker, professor emeritus of church and economic life

"I am deeply saddened by Gene's passing. He is a dear friend, mentor, and colleague, and though we saw each other only a few times over the past decade, we remained in touch by telephone. He was a gentle man who genuinely liked everyone he met ..." ~ Ed Martin, professor emeritus of contextual and historical studies

"[Gene] was my preaching professor and I was terrified of public speaking. He was so completely affirming and supportive that I was actually able to preach in front of the class -something I was sure would be beyond me. He was a good, kind man as others have said - a wonderful representative of the ethos that was so transformative for students. Remembering him in these ways helps us to continue to offer that sort of kindness to each other and to the students." ~ Christie Neuger, distinguished senior scholar in pastoral care

A full article about Gene will appear in the next issue of News from United.

Gene's Obituary

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