Friday, May 07, 2010
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Daughter of Reinhold Niebuhr to speak at St. John UCC May 16

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[May 07, 2010]  Elisabeth Sifton, daughter of famed theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, will speak at the 10:30 a.m. service on May 16 at St. John United Church of Christ in Lincoln. In 2003 Sifton published a book on her father's authorship of the Serenity Prayer.

The speech is part of St. John's 150th birthday celebration this year. On the third Sunday of each month through September, the founding month, the church is holding a special event.

Reinhold Niebuhr was confirmed at St. John in 1906 and ordained at the church in 1913; his father, Gustav Niebuhr, served as pastor of the Lincoln church and administrator of St. John's Evangelical Home and Hospital, now Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital, from 1902 to 1913.

Mrs. Sifton has had a distinguished career in book publishing. From 1993 to 2008 she was senior vice president of Farrar, Straus and Giroux and editor-at-large of its subsidiary Hill and Wang. She began her career at Frederick A. Praeger in 1962, became an editor at The Viking Press in 1968 and was named its editor-in-chief in 1980. In 1983 she became publisher of Elisabeth Sifton Books and vice president of Viking Penguin; her imprint won the Carey-Thomas Award for Creative Publishing in 1986. In 1987-92 she was the executive vice president of Alfred A. Knopf, then joined Farrar Straus, with which she is still affiliated, although not full time. In her work she has edited a number of nonfiction authors, novelists, poets and critics.

A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Harvard University Press board of directors and the Freedom to Read Committee of the Association of American Publishers, she has also served on the board of directors of Union Theological Seminary and the French-American Foundation and the board of advisers to the Beacon Press.

She is the author of several articles in The Nation and other periodicals.

Her book, "The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in Peace and War," explores her father's work, friendships and the historical context of the Serenity Prayer. The prayer, written in 1943, has been distributed to military personnel and is used by 12-step organizations. In its original form it reads, "God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other."

Sifton suggests that her father accepted relatively few circumstances as "things that cannot be changed." He was a social activist who worked tirelessly to alert the United States and Europe to the danger posed by Hitler in the years leading up to World War II, to the plight of Jews during and after the war, and to many other injustices.

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A magna cum laude graduate of Radcliffe College, Sifton also studied at the University of Paris. The mother of three sons -- Sam, Tobias and John Sifton -- she is now married to historian Fritz Stern, who will accompany her. His work focuses on the complex relationships between Germans and Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries and on the rise of National Socialism in Germany during the first half of the 20th century.

On May 16, Sifton will speak during the regular worship service, which begins at 10:30 a.m. Following the service the music committee of the church will host a salad luncheon. Both events are open to the public. St. John United Church of Christ is located at the corner of Seventh and Maple streets in Lincoln.

The 150th birthday committee at St. John, which has planned the sequence of nine events, consists of Lynn Spellman, chair; Lois Leonard; the Rev. Wallace Reifsteck, former pastor of the church; Tonita Reifsteck; the Rev. Richard Reinwald, pastor of the church; Cathy Sanders; Marita Schneider; Dr. James Wilmert; and Robert Wilmert.

[Text from file received from Lynn Spellman]


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