‘Joy of Giving’: Businessman, retired pastor, and 50th reunion co-chair cites YDS as helping him recognize other peoples’ gifts

By Pressley Peters

The Rev. Rufus S. Lusk III ’74 M.Div. is co-chairing planning for the 50th reunion of the Class of 1974 and raising funds for the Class of 1974 Endowed Scholarship. He recalls being attracted to YDS for its broad ecumenical environment. He served on the Dean’s Advisory Committee in the 1990s and continues to enjoy YDS offerings including recent online classes in Judaism, Jonathan Edwards, Scripture, and Sacred Music. Currently, Lusk lives in Baltimore, Md., and is a long-time commercial real estate investor and retired pastor. He is married to artist Jessica Damen, who partners with him in charitable giving through their family foundation. The couple has three children: Rebekah, Rufus, and Joanna, and four grandchildren: Charlotte, Henry, Mirabelle, and Logan.

How did your time at YDS impact your life and career?

I feel very fortunate to have had a lifetime association with YDS. One of the wonderful things about YDS is that graduates go in many different directions and make significant leadership contributions to the church, academia, non-profits, and politics. Also, YDS gave me some of my deepest life-long friendships. To name just one: Rev. Robert M. Stowe, also of the class of the YDS Class of 1974, was a very gifted UCC pastor in Western Massachusetts and dear friend. He died way too early in 2005. Among other things we shared a common love for the theology of Karl Barth, which had been informed by studying with Barth scholar Robert R. Wilson. I will be making my gift to our Class of 1974 Endowed Scholarship in his memory.

As a student, I was fortunate to work and study with Father Henri J.M. Nouwen, a renowned Dutch Roman Catholic priest and still extremely popular spiritual writer today even though he passed away in 1996. Father Nouwen’s academic training was as a psychologist and pastoral counselor. Influenced by him my concentration became pastoral counseling. At YDS, I worked at an ecumenical pastoral counseling center and was a student chaplain in a local hospital for two years. Later, I was a pastor in four churches: two United Church of Christ churches in Connecticut and New York and two Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Maryland. Going to YDS allowed me to appreciate dedicated and thoughtful Christians from many diverse traditions. This understanding graced me to serve both UCC and Lutheran churches.

As a YDS volunteer, I served on the Dean’s Advisory Board with Deans Thomas W. Ogletree and Richard J. Wood in the mid-90s when the YDS campus was showing its age and effects of deferred maintenance. A proposal was being discussed to move YDS downtown and shrink its space. I was gratified to have been part of the very active Advisory Board that was successful in securing financial support from Yale so that the historic Sterling Divinity Quadrangle could stay in place and be renovated. The Divinity School today has wonderful state-of-the-art spaces in which to learn, worship and congregate. And maintenance is no longer deferred!

While I was both a clergyman and a businessman, I never took any business classes in college. My college major at Georgetown was philosophy. I did a lot of on the job learning in business, but I have always felt that my pastoral counseling emphasis was incredibly helpful in allowing me to understand people and build teams. Recognizing the gifts of others and learning to see everyone as a beloved child of God, endowed with divine light and truth, is a solid HR foundation for any church, business or non-profit.

What part of YDS’s current work most appeals to you?

YDS is solidly rooted in the teachings of Jesus and the historic Christian faith. It provides a deep theological understanding of the Way of Jesus over the centuries and today.

Over the last half century, the school has blossomed. In my first year in 1971, the Episcopal Berkeley Divinity School became formally affiliated with YDS, bringing very significant new resources to a common mission. More recently, YDS was masterful in partnering with Andover Newton, with its Baptist heritage and deep UCC ties. Now, with the new Living Village residential complex and its sustainable construction, YDS is combining building arts and stewardship of the environment. Dean Sterling is both a thoughtful theologian and masterful leader. Moreover, he is very engaged in the critical questions of how YDS can meaningfully serve the church, academia, and the world in our time. He also seems to be a wonder worker in crafting new alliances such as the Center for Public Theology, which broadens YDS’ voice.

How has giving has been joyful to you?

Giving back is a big part of my life, and YDS is at the top of the list. Our family foundation is proud to support various charities with the overarching mission of spreading in small significant ways God’s great Light and Truth. A person’s legacy is, of course, their friends and family and the loving deeds in life, but it can also extend beyond their immediate circle. It gives me tremendous personal satisfaction to think that I’ll be making some contribution after I’m gone through my giving. I can’t think of a better cause or institution to support than YDS as it does God’s work on so many different levels.

What excites you about the future of YDS?

In the 50 years I’ve known the Divinity School, it has always been blessed by diverse leaders from many Christian backgrounds but unified in their dedication and competence. When I was a student the dean was Australian Methodist Colin W. Williams, who crafted the Berkeley Divinity School affiliation. Today, Dean Gregory E. Sterling, a Churches of Christ minister and Hellenistic Judaism scholar, has picked up the leadership baton. Among other initiatives under Dean Sterling, YDS has been able to give full tuition to all qualified students. That’s tremendous and allows talented students to not be burdened by grad school debts as they are just commencing their careers! The school’s leadership gives me confidence that my charitable contributions to YDS will be used well in the years ahead and allow it to continue its historic mission of serving the church, academia, and the world beyond. To God be the Glory!

April 7, 2024