Tag Archives: call

THE TIMING JUST DIDN’T WORK OUT… By Paul Johnson, Final Year M.Div. Student

In the past, I have been honored to participate in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) both as a youth as well as an adult leader. I earned the rank of Eagle while a member, fully knowing that the rank could be taken from me if the BSA found out I was an openly gay individual.

With recent discussion in the BSA on homosexuality, I held hope that they would allow openly gay youth and adults to participate as much as their heterosexual members. I was on internship when the latest decision to allow gay youth but not adults was passed. Having been approached several times from local troops, I tried, nicely, to decline requests to serve in a leadership role. Usually I gave other reasons, such as having an already full schedule or time conflicts with meetings.

Then I was approached by a Council member back home, asking if I would lead a worship service for an upcoming Jamboree. Since this gentleman knew me and my orientation, I told him that the BSA wouldn’t let me lead as an openly gay individual. “Then don’t lead as a gay man,” came his reply. “Lead as a child of God.”

I told him I would get back to him on the worship service, needing time to process what he had said. Could I separate my identity as a child of God from the rest of who I am? It wasn’t a question of whether I could lead without incorporating rainbows and glitter, or if I could go a weekend without mentioning my orientation. I appreciate rainbows and glitter about as much as (perhaps less than) my heterosexual male friends. My call story and identity as a child of God have been influenced by my sexual orientation and struggles with my identity as such.

Still, in my future ministry I don’t want to be the “gay pastor” or the pastor of a “gay church.” I just want to be a pastor who happens to be gay, and hopefully lead a congregation who is welcoming to their neighbors, some of whom happen to be LGBT individuals. I am more than my sexual orientation, and identify as gay among a myriad of other attributes and qualities.

But could I, a child of God and future pastor in the ELCA, regardless of my orientation, lead a worship service for scouts who may be struggling with the same issues, all while representing an organization that clearly rejects me as being fit to lead? Could I share the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection for ALL while standing for an organization that only accepts SOME?

In the end, the timing of the event just didn’t work out with my schedule. Still, it leaves the question in my mind of what I might do. Would I claim my identity, my full identity, and decline the offer based on the BSA’s policies, possibly resulting in someone more conservative taking the position? Or do I accept, preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection for all, staying silent on my orientation? I don’t have an easy answer, and likely won’t know unless the situation arises again. My hope is that I will be asked again, and soon. An even greater hope is that the policies of the BSA will have expanded by then.

BEFORE GLASS CEILINGS By Susan Anderson, 1st year M.Div. Distributed Learning Student

How far the Lutheran church has come and how far we have yet to go! Not quite 50 years ago I was entering college for the first time. I was not sure where God was leading me. I felt called to enter the pastoral ministry, but the Lutheran church, like most other denominations, was not yet ordaining women. I talked with my pastor, but, as a traditional conservative minister, he did not encourage me. He directed me toward the occupations he thought more appropriate for women, but they did not appeal to me. As a young woman with an intellectual bent, I wanted to study theology and serve as a leader in the church. I saw young men in my congregation preparing to enter the pastoral ministry and wondered what it was that they possessed but I lacked.

I entered Wartburg College, which had a strong pre-seminary program. I wanted to take theology courses, but my advisor would not approve and suggested that I enroll in the social work or education curriculum instead. But that was not what I wanted. After exploring several possible majors as diverse as German and biology, I eventually ended up with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and went on to graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in psychology.

You might ask why, if I felt such a strong calling to ministry, I did not pursue it anyway. Surely there were roles I could have played in the church that I would have found fulfilling. To understand my response, it’s important to be aware of the mindset of the times. I grew up in a conservative Midwestern town, in a conservative home, a conservative church. The women’s liberation movement was barely beginning when I entered high school and it would be many years before we would feel much effect from it in small town America. Young women, especially those raised in church-going families, were taught to respect authority, not to question the status quo. We didn’t have role models to follow who were breaking down barriers. We were expected to become wives and mothers. If we had to work, we could be a secretary, a nurse, or a teacher. So pursuing pastoral ministry was just not an option.

During my four years of college I gradually became more and more disillusioned by the church.   Attending a church college, there were religion courses that I was required to take. These were taught entirely by males, many of them ordained ministers. And what I heard learned from these professors was disappointing. Women were not encouraged to become involved in leadership roles; it wasn’t proper. The rhetoric was sexist and misogynistic. I quit going to the campus church and went to an off-campus church. The rhetoric was the same, just less intellectual. So I quit going to church entirely for a number of years. I graduated from college in 1970, the same year that the Lutheran church approved the ordination of women. But I no longer cared.

A number of years later I found my way back to the Lutheran church. I had been feeling that something was lacking in my life, but I still wasn’t sure that I could be comfortable in a church that was strongly dominated by males. A few years later, my congregation called a younger minister who was fairly progressive. Through conversations with him, my faith in God was gradually restored only to be nearly destroyed again later by an older, domineering and manipulative male minister. But the embers were not totally put out and my faith has slowly been rekindled and grown stronger. It is a far different faith than I had in high school, scarred and battered, but more resilient. My beliefs are not so tied to conservative church dogma. I focus on loving God and loving my neighbor. And once again, I feel called to serve. I am not yet sure where that call will take me, but I find that I have come full circle. I am enrolled once again at Wartburg, the seminary this time rather than the college, and I am finally getting to take those theology courses that I was interested in so long ago. My goal of obtaining an M.Div. degree and becoming ordained seems possible after all, God willing.

How far the church has come in the last 50 years! The seminary is no longer a closed male society. There are female faculty and about half the seminarians are female. Many females serve in pastoral ministry. But the leadership at the synod level and above is still predominantly male. The election of Elizabeth Eaton as presiding bishop of the ELCA last year marks another milestone in opening the church to women. The church is changing.

I welcome the fresh breezes blowing in the church. I pray that new generations of young people will be encouraged to find a place in the church where they can use their talents to lead and serve regardless of gender or other artificial barriers. “Come, Holy Spirit.”

WHEN I AM HERE, MY HEART LONGS FOR HOME, a poem and photo by Tammy Barthels, Final Year M.Div. Student

Photo of sun reflecting and meeting water

Photo captured by Tammy Barthels as a reflection of two worlds meeting.

Broken pieces

Shards of glass

Pierce my heart

Make me bleed.

Souls united

Now torn apart

Distance separates

                              Broken hearts.

Identity lost

      Among the chaos of classes.

                  Role of wife, mother, grandmother

                              Crashes.

Joyful sounds of baby’s laughter

      Now replaced with

                  Slamming doors

                              And that of cantors.

Commuter, Student, Theologian

      I’ve become.

                  Once whole at home

                              Here, reduced to half.

The only hope that I may have

      Holding on to the One

                  Who eternally

                              Calls me home.

You promise hope, grace, and mercy.

      Please give me peace.

                  When I am here

                              And my heart longs for home.

“REFLECTIONS ON INTERNSHIP, WEEK 2: I AM PETER” By Carina Schiltz, M.Div Intern, Milwaukee, WI

Sitting in my white-walled office,
there is always a bustle outside
in the hallway, yet
I still feel safe here.
It’s home base.
Galilee.
I’m with the seemingly popular
and victorious Jesus, who
teaches and feeds and heals.
I know who he is–The Messiah
The Son of the Living God.

But then he told me that
we’re going to Jerusalem.

And that I have to leave my office.

He talked about death and a cross,
and naturally I said, “No.”
But we’re going. Crosses as our yokes,
slogging one foot in front of the other toward…something.

Next week we’re doing a neighborhood
clean-up, and today
in the church parking lot there were
wrappers, and
used
condoms
snaking along the pavement.
Someone will have to pick those up.
What will they say to their children
who will inevitably ask, “Mommy, Daddy,
what’s that?”

What does this have to do with following you, Jesus?
I walk past the filthy parking lot,
carefully avoiding the empty Magnum wrappers
and snaky plastic,
and I listen to sad stories
and frumpy individuals who have everything wrong
with their lives, and I drive to the next,
almost-closed-up church
on this road to Jerusalem, and the cross.

As powerless as I feel
I am pulled like a magnet toward
peoples’ sorrows, and they tell me,
and I can’t fix it.

Sometimes I deny you, Jesus, and
I do try to fix it by myself. Sometimes
I doubt that you know what you’re doing.

I mean, look around.
It’s bleak here.
But you say to follow, so I do:
out of the office and into the neighborhoods
where I sometimes lock my purse in the trunk,
my brain making judgments until I am
paralyzed with fear,
but people live here everyday
and you are there among them.

The ugly and the beautiful all
wrapped up into one.
And sometimes I am unwilling to see you in it.

Pessimistic.
Judgmental.
Glass not even half-empty.
But here I am.
The rooster is about to
crow again, isn’t it?

ANSWERING YOUR CALL by Donna Runge, WTS Final Year, M.Div

Answering Your Call

Today I’m answering Your call –
To preach Your word and tend to all;
My gifts I bring, to serve Your church,
To speak of hope to those on earth.

Give me strength my foes to meet –
Your words of truth and not defeat;
To calm my fears and hurts unknown,
Both through Your peace and mercy shown.

Show me Your will through truth and love –
Blessed by Your Spirit from above;
Help me to serve with courage Lord,
With mind and heart in one accord.

I seek Your guidance in my task –
Through counsel, prayers, and tears I ask;
Grant me Your grace each day to lead,
Those who gather, those in need.

With joy I come, my life outpour –
A broken vessel, open door;
Grant me Your grace to walk each day,
Each through Your words, Your truth, Your Way.

THE IN-BETWEENS OF CALL by Jealaine Marple, WTS, 2011, Dubuque, Iowa

In our Baptism we are sealed with the cross of Christ forever and given the most important vocation of our lives: child of God.  As we grow, become educated, and gain life experience, we discover, thanks to the Holy Spirit, that we are destined for several, if not many, roles in life.  We should think about these as a vocation as well.  Perhaps we are called to be a spouse or partner, maybe a parent, an aunt or uncle, a sibling, a grandparent, a friend, a confidant.  This list could go on and on and on.  The most important thing for us to remember is that no vocation is more important  than the other.  

When we are doing what God created us to do we are living into the fullness of life that God has created and planned for us.  The same can be said for our vocations that provide a service for others beyond our families.  Perhaps it is a societal “normal” job of Monday thru Friday, 8-5; maybe it is shift work. It may be working out of the home or in the home.  

 But what happens when one vocation seems to supersede another?  What happens when what God has created you to be (mother, father, spouse, partner, sister, etc…) interferes, intersects, interrupts  what  you feel God has called you to be beyond your immediate relationships?  What happens when we find ourselves in the “in between?”  

This is a common, although not always voiced, struggle in which many in the church find themselves.  We get those “heart tugs” of God calling us, beckoning us to serve God and people beyond our present lives.  Yet, we get the tugs of family (however that may be defined by you) also tugging at our hearts.  Perhaps it is the tug to become a parent again, or for the first time.  Maybe it is the tug to become a spouse or partner.  Or it may even be the tug to become a caretaker for an aging parent, grandparent, or older adult in one’s life.  It is situations like these, when we try and balance our various calls to vocations by God, that we may find ourselves in the “in between.”  

 If we answer God’s call to whatever God has in store for us, we may feel we do so at the risk of damaging the relationships in which we now exist.  For example, let’s say someone is offered a higher position at a company they love as well as a hefty pay raise.  However, accepting this new position means hours on the weekend which equals time away from friends and family.  Or perhaps a couple wants to add a child or children to their family.  However, by doing this, one partner or the other would have to leave their profession.  These conundrums may even lead to “wilderness” periods,  those times when we may feel further away from God than usual; further away from God than we thought possible.  There is no clear cut answer.  There is no magic formula for how to navigate the “in between.”

 In order to persevere through the “in-between,”  you may want to do the following: 1) pray.  This seems like an elementary suggestion, but even if your discernment and in between period has turned into a wilderness period, continue your prayer life.  Even if you’re mad at God, it’s okay.  Continue to talk and more importantly, continue to listen; 2) Engage the wisdom of others.  This person could be a pastor, diaconal minister, a spiritual director, or dear trusted friend.  While the correct decision will ultimately be stirred up by the Holy Spirit, it can help to have companions on the journey.  These companions can pray for you too; 3)  Dare to trust in God. Remember your Baptismal identity: Child of God.  God will not leave you, abandon or forsake you.  You are washed in the promises of God’s grace.  We are justified by grace through faith.  We are not justified through titles, positions, accolades, achievements, or salary.  At the end of the day, only God’s grace can justify us.  God’s grace, unlike everything else in our lives, will never fail us.  Lastly, remember that the “in-between” doesn’t last forever.  God will show you a way through the “in-between” and God will accompany you the entire time as you navigate your “in-betweens.”