Tag Archives: church

“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?

TOWARDS FULL PARTNERSHIP: ELIZABETH EATON ELECTED PRESIDING BISHOP OF ELCA by Norma Cook Everist, WTS Professor of Church and Ministry

In January, 1990, The Persistent Voice began publication. At that time, just two years after the formation of the “New” Lutheran church in January of 1988, there were no women Lutheran bishops. Through the years, The Persistent Voice traced the progress not only of the full inclusion of women in public ministry but also towards the full partnership of women and men in the church. (PV Mission Statement for many years)

The ELCA saw a fulfillment of that mission statement August 14, 2013 at the biennial churchwide assembly with the presence together of Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson and Presiding Bishop Elect Elizabeth Eaton after her election and in their statements immediately following and when Bishop Hanson introduced Bishop Eaton at her news conference later that day.

Wartburg is represented at the churchwide assembly by President Stan Olson, faculty member Prof. Sam Giere and by a significant number of students who are voting members as well as by alumni and friends.  President Olson immediately informed the Wartburg community electronically of the election: “Pr. Elizabeth Eaton, Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod, is the Presiding Bishop Elect for the ELCA. Let us give thanks for her servant leadership to come and give thanks for the servant leadership of Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson.”

Elected on the fifth ballot, Eaton received 600 votes, Hanson 287; 445 votes were needed of the 889 cast. Dr. Giere commented: “The final ballot went decidedly in her favor (approx. 2/3) It hasn’t gone unobserved among us at the seminary representatives’ table that the theme ‘Always Being Made New’ is being blown into reality by the Spirit.  In her acceptance she acknowledged the witness and work of those women who came before her including in particular April Ulring Larson as the first female bishop in the ELCA. . . . It is important to note the image of the assembly’s work since the preparation for the third ballot when candidates began to address the gathering: three women and one man.  Not to suggest that all things are equal in this church, but there is a profound symbolism in the final four candidates for presiding bishop standing together with the names Ann, Mark, Jessica, and Elizabeth.  Last (for now) but not least, ELCA vice-president, Carlos Peña, announced the election of our new presiding bishop.”

Presiding Bishop Elect Elizabeth A. Eaton said, “We are a church that is overwhelmingly European in a culture that is increasingly pluralistic. We need to welcome the gifts of those who come from different places, that is a conversation we need to have as a church.”

Prior to becoming a bishop. Eaton served as pastor in Ohio. She has a M.Div. degree from Harvard Divinity School.

When The Persistent Voice began publishing in 1990, the ELCA was celebrating the 20th anniversary of the ordination of women in the ELCA and predecessor bodies. Representational principles adopted at the time the ELCA began in 1988 (25 years ago) assured equal representation of women and men on boards and commissions and at synodical and churchwide assemblies, changing the nature of such gatherings tremendously. But the conference of bishops began as an all-male group.

Things had already changed at Wartburg Seminary. In the first issue of The Persistent Voice there was an article about Professor Elizabeth Leeper being installed as Assistant Professor of Church History, bringing the number of women professors at Wartburg to four (the other three being Norma Cook Everist, Anne Marie Neuchterlein, and Patti Jung), plus two more serving as instructors in biblical language (May Persaud and Cindy Smith).

Spring 1992 The Persistent Voice (PV): “Marie Jesper, 47-year-old minister in Hamburg, Germany has become the first woman ever elected a Lutheran bishop. When she was consecrated as spiritual leader of the 950,000 Lutherans who make up 60% of the population of Hamburg and more than 90% of the Protestants, she said, “I read and interpret the Bible with my experience as a woman. I want to be a sister among sisters and brothers.”

Summer 1992 PV: “Bishop-Elect April Ulring Larson will be installed October 11 in LaCrosse, WI, as bishop of the LaCrosse Area Synod of the ELCA. Rev. Larson, a 1977 graduate of Wartburg Seminary, was elected June 12 on the fifth ballot, the first woman elected bishop in the ELCA.” PV: “She will bring to the office a quiet wisdom, compassion and ability to listen. She has a strong commitment to justice and good skills in helping congregations resolve conflict.”

Summer 1995 PV: “The Rev. Andrea DeGroot-Nesdahl will be installed as bishop of the South Dakota Synod of the ELCA Sept. 24 on the campus of Augustana College. She was elected June 2 on the third ballot. In a phone interview she said, ‘God has worked such a miracle in my heart and life by this experience.’” Although she had been a candidate in Western North Dakota before, this was the first time South Dakota had a woman as a candidate. She is a 1977 graduate of Wartburg Seminary.

One might have thought the rate of change would then increase; however according to The Lutheran (August 2013) from 1988-2012, the total number of female bishops among all the 65 synods over the 25 years had been only 12.

Spring, 2008 PV covered the story of the election of Rev. Susan Johnson as the new National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), September 29, 2007, in Winnipeg. Because two of the five synodical bishops at that time were women, that brought the total to ½ male and ½ female. Bishop Johnson said in an interview with PV, “I think we take a fair amount of pride in that accomplishment.  Does it mean we have conquered all gender issues? No, but it’s a visible witness to people that we are committed to full equality in the church.”

(One thing National Bishop Johnson and Bishop Eaton have in common, besides their gender? Susan was a high school music teacher before she entered seminary and Elizabeth’s undergraduate degree is in music education.)

At the press conference, following the churchwide election August 14 Bishop Hanson introduced Bishop Eaton as “My Colleague,” and Bishop Eaton said that all of Bishop Hanson’s work toward making the ELCA a more inclusive church had led to this moment of her election. She gave thanks for his leadership over the past 12 tumultuous years in the ELCA, referring in part to the 2009 churchwide decision on sexuality, noting also that no bishop resigned after that decision.

Bishop Eaton emphasized that the ELCA is a place where people hear the Gospel, “upon which we can all agree,” which has made this an inclusive church.

Ann Rogers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette asked, “During your remarks you stated the importance of including the voices of those who had difficulty with 2009 decisions. How do you propose going about this?” Bp. Eaton: “This is one of the geniuses of the Lutheran movement—we thrive on paradox. As long as we agree on the cross of Christ, we can live together. If people believe they are being heard and there is a place for them, we will be OK.”

She was questioned by another reporter about the relationship going forward with the two break-away new Lutheran church groups. (NALC and LCMC) Bishop Eaton responded, “In baptism we are brothers and sisters in Christ,” but added that much work will need to be done before we can have a dialog because there has been much pain. “We will do what we can through God’s grace.”

With wisdom and wit, Bishop Eaton gave brief, clear answers to the questions of reporters both in the room in Pittsburgh and connected on the web. A reporter from the Chicago Tribune, who had covered the papal election, posed a question relating Eaton’s election to the election of the new pope in Rome, asking if she had a “room of tears” as the new pope had. Eaton said with a slight smile on her face, “Oh, this was just like that.”  She went on, “We have nothing like that, no frescoes. I did weep at worship this morning.” The reporter had asked about her family. Bishop Eaton noted the presence of her husband, the Rev. Conrad Selnick, an Episcopalian priest, and spoke of their two daughters, now in their 20’s.

Asked what she thought the ELCA would look like in 5 or 6 years, she answered, “God only knows,” adding that we need to make space for those coming in while continuing to honor our heritage. She ended the press conference eloquently speaking about the need for the distinctive voice of the ELCA and Lutheranism in the current American religious landscape, not to be subsumed under Christian Protestantism or deism or the religion of popular culture, but a faith of the cross and resurrection in which true joy and freedom can be found.

 

SUNITHA MORTHA: MISSION AND ACCOMPANIMENT by Carina Schiltz, second year M.Div.

SUNITHA MORTHA: MISSION AND ACCOMPANIMENT by Carina Schiltz, second year M.Div.

Sunitha Mortha, Director of Mission Formation in the Global Mission Unit of the ELCA, visited Wartburg this Spring and talked about our calling as followers of Christ and learning what it means to accompany others in a diverse world.

If you’ve attended a “Glocal Gathering” you might have heard Sunitha’s humorous, direct, and compassionate words. She highlighted the importance of going “back to the basics” and relating “God’s story, my story, and your story.” First of all, how do we understand God’s story? Based on this understanding, how do we place ourselves in this story? How do we view the “other” in relation to our understanding of the story? Sunitha said, “Now, try doing all this reflecting without putting yourself in God’s place.”

She went on to ask, “Where are the other Lutherans in the world?” Countries with more than five million include the usual answers: Germany, the United States and Sweden. But one also needs to include in that number, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Indonesia!

Sunitha asked the audience, “How does your church understand its place in God’s story? Are churches looking only inward? Do they think about what’s happening on synodical levels? Community levels? National levels? International levels? People, congregations, seminaries, synods are not separate: they work together. How does your congregation/seminary partner with other people and organizations? In other words…how does this relate to ‘mission’?”

One way people view mission is through their culture’s, community’s, or congregation’s narrative about origin and destination. This narrative informs how mission is understood and the purpose of mission. For an example, Sunitha explained that if the dominant destination narrative of a community is heaven/hell, there is a certain way one understands oneself and the “other” and where they belong. When there is a separating line between “us” and “them,” it is not difficult to see which place we’ll designate for “them”.

Those we categorize as “them” or “other” could be for any number of reasons, but the number one reason is that, somehow, they are “different” from us.

Diversity sometimes causes fight or flight because we are socialized to learn that the way we do things is the good/right/normal/true way. If “we” do things the “normal” way, what “the other” does is considered “abnormal.” Unfortunately, the history of missions has included the transfer of cultural and national values, which has been very damaging to the “receiving” culture. Those in the dominant culture see others as needing to “evolve” in order to “catch up.”

Hopefully, our communities and congregations can understand that the defining question in mission is not, “How does one categorize/define/change the other to be like us?”  but rather, “How does one engage the other?” First, we have to take out the barriers between “my” story and “your” story. There is much that informs a person’s being that is deeper than meets the eye.

Sunitha offered a very relevant caution: a danger in the ELCA, and in many facets of life, is to surround ourselves only with like-minded people, ideologies, theologies, and thereby focus only on ourselves, rather than resting in justification. While we cannot hold all our differences, uniqueness, cultures, sub-cultures, and everything in one’s being in tension with another’s, God can.

She asked, “What if your community doesn’t look diverse, or what if it has no ‘others’? There is plenty of diversity, whether it be invisible to the eye or visible; there are others, outsiders, and many people who need to hear the liberating proclamation of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If one’s congregation is not visibly diverse, one can think cross-generationally. “Start with what diversity is present,” she said. Accompaniment happens every day! Mission isn’t always about going “over there.”It’s about engagement, wherever one is.

If you want more information, visit the ELCA’s website on Glocal Gatherings near you.

http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Global-Mission/Engage-in-Global-Mission/Global-Events/Glocal-Mission-Gatherings.aspx

ENGAGING COMMUNITY, NARRATING CHANGE By Tammy Barthels, Second Year M.Div.

I had the awesome opportunity to hear Walter Brueggeman, Peter Block, John McKnight and Barbara McAfee speak in Cedar Rapids, IA on April 4 and 5, 2013. Their topic: “Engaging Community and Narrating Change.” People from several states were invited into a conversation that would offer new and inspiring possibilities for the 21st Century. Following is a summary of thoughts and challenges from the day:

We were called forth to connect people with people in service of something greater than ourselves. Our goal, to transform what currently exist! We were called to embody a culture that cares vs. a culture of consumerism.

How will we go about creating an alternative culture for the future? We begin by having conversations with one another, by forming meaningful relationships! Sustainable, abundant community conversations shift the context from retribution to restoration; from problems to possibility; from fear and fault to gifts, generosity and abundance; from law and oversight to choice and accountability; from corporation and systems to relational life!

We begin by having a shift in our consciousness and acting on a vision of what the world might become. We change the narrative of not having enough to living in a world of plenty. We cannot process ambiguity alone, we need each other. We need our brothers and sisters to live us into freedom. We need to leave the scarcity story and enter the narrative of abundance. We need to enter the story of cooperation vs. living in the story of competition.

THE FUTURE IS PRESENT TODAY! – Change your thinking and you change your life! All transformation happens through linguistics.

Building community is about returning to the common good; Earth, Water, Air. We need to create space to become alive, with song, poetry and art. We need to change our mind thought MINDSET? from a business perspective of efficiency, speed, ease and cost to a communal perspective; returning to neighborliness, walking with each other, restoring peace, intimacy, relationships and uniqueness.

WHAT IF WE SAID AND BELIEVED THAT WHAT WE HAVE IS ENOUGH? How would that change our world, our perspective? What would happen if we focused our attention on who we are vs. what we do? What if we focused our attention on walking with one another, vs. trying to fix one another? What would happen if we created a space for light and breath to enter a room?

The central power of forming communities is connecting the gifts of each other. What are our communities built on? What gifts do we have to offer each other? The truth is if we focus on our gifts vs. our deficiencies we have enough! The answer is caring for one another, freely giving from the heart from one person to another. Care cannot be managed or produced; care can only be given freely.

We build community by embracing our God-given gifts. Most days would be filled with joy if we could use the gifts that God has given us 90% of the time. Imagine if we could use our gifts, skills and passion and form community! The least used gift is the one most needed in our world today. What is your gift, passion or skill? Using those, what could you teach? When our gifts come together our gifts become powerful; our collective gifts empower each other. We are walking in darkness until we can express our gifts and passions.

God has given us our unique gifts and talents. How will we use them? Remember that ‘Nothing is Impossible for God.’  It is possible for ‘ordinary’ people like ourselves, to step outside the business perspective and make a life within the communal perspective. It begins with us, one person at a time. “What is the promise you are willing to make that constitutes a risk or major shift in your life. What is the change you want to see in the world?” Will you be willing to step out and share your gifts with one another? Change begins with relationships, listening, caring and encouraging our neighbors. Can we shift our consciousness and act on a vision of what the world might become? I believe we can, because there are no impossibilities with God. If God is for us, who can be against us?

LECTURE BY DR. KAREN BLOOMQUIST, Wartburg Theological Seminary

Dr. Karen Bloomquist spoke November 14, at Wartburg Theological Seminary on “Seeing, Remembering, Connecting that Transforms Us, the Church and the World.

To view the lecture in another window: Click here.

SUMMARY OF LECTURE MAIN POINTS
She laid out some premises:

  • We face huge economic, political, environmental, and cultural crises today.
  • These are manifest locally and globally, in often interconnected ways.
  •  There are countless examples throughout the Bible and church history where the call is clear to stand and work against all kinds of systemic injustices, from out of the heart of who we are as the baptized, redeemed people of God.
  • These crises are not just ethical issues that the church is called to address “out there,” but they deeply infect the church itself — how it views itself, how it operates, and how the church itself is in bondage.
  • Through the power of the Spirit, we, the church, and the world, are transformed by God and through those, who across time, space and life situations are most different from us.   

Bloomquist invited the audience to re-envision what it means to be church.  “Being formed as church necessarily involves being with those who are different from ‘us.’ Further, having our perspectives transformed,  we ourselves are being transformed by those who are different. They help us see what we would not otherwise see, when bound in by our own subjective-based readings of what is occurring. Being open to how others see, experience, interpret really does matter.”

She suggested that we begin with the world. “This is a significant methodological shift in theology: rather than beginning by focusing on the faith, the church, and from there to ‘the world,’ I am proposing that we begin with the world — what is going on there becomes a ‘wake up’ call to the church. The world is ‘in our face’ as a church, because the world is very much in us, whether we realize it or not.  Churches that assume they are set apart from the world often operate with assumptions and practices that are more affected/shaped by the world than by biblical/theological perspectives, particularly in their quest to be ‘successful.’ It’s not that the world tells the church how to be the church, but opens up challenges that the church must engage if it is to be faithful to who it is called to be, the bearer of news that really is good today,  i.e., liberating, healing, transformative of what holds us and all of creation in bondage.”  She described the need to “exegete our context.”

Bloomquist continued, “An especially urgent calling of churches and religious folk is to open the space, point to the evidence and pose the critical questions.  People are feeling acutely betrayed by the promises they have bought into…[provided] by large corporate interests determined to keep the market as ‘free’ as possible.   Matters of basic meaning, hope and values are at stake, which should be the forte of the church.  This false idolatry is exposed not primarily from top-down pronouncements, but from out of the actual contradictions as people have experienced them. The urgent pastoral task is to stand aside and open up ways for people to name, lament and rage about the contradictions between what they have been promised by this distinctly American faith and what they are actually experiencing — inviting them to lament, and rage, even outrageously so.”

Bloomquist invited the audience to engage in theological practices of subversive remembering.We are reminded of how countercultural and even subversive were the communities gathered around Jesus…Truth telling emerges through the subversive remembering (a) of who/whose we are in relation to God, (b) of what has come before us, and (c) of the realities of our neighbors globally as well as locally. Empowered through the Holy Spirit, this has the potential to transform what is occurring in light of God’s in-breaking new reality.  Subversive remembering is a theologically-empowered social practice of expressing ‘when/who/what’ has been forgotten or overlooked.  It exposes our illusions, false gods and the domination (empire) and injustices they perpetuate, and impels truth-telling and organized action (resistance) for the sake of God’s world.”  She added, “This occurs especially through those two practices that are central to what it means to be the church.”

 Bloomquist went on to describeecclesial practices of connecting. “This implies a more communio[1] understanding of ecclesia:  a worldview of relationality instead of individualism; instead of aspiring to be self-sufficient churches, our interrelatedness; instead of our strength or know-how, our vulnerability; openness to listen and learn from others, and even be transformed by those different from ourselves;  shifting from the arrogance of empire and theologies of success to attitudes of humility that are shaped by a theology of the cross, and by living out the virtues advocated throughout the New Testament.”

She concluded by saying, “Seeing, remembering, connecting are simultaneously an interactive set of practices distinctive to the church, but also publically discernible to those who don’t identify with the church; therefore this might even be meaningful, persuasive to those ‘in the world,’ where they, too, join in these practices of seeing, remembering, connecting with different eyes, experiences, approaches…even through different faith lenses…and together participating in the transformation of the world.”


[1] These multi-lateral relationships and understandings have been developed, for example, through various statements and publications of the Lutheran World Federation: A Communion of Churches.

SINGLE CHURCH: A CONVERSATION ABOUT SINGLENESS IN CHURCH AND SOCIETY by Jenn Collins, WTS, 2012

A confession:  The article I wrote for the fall edition of The Persistent Voice titled, Issues of Justice, Family, and the Single Person was written out of that traditional Lutheran category that gets the better of us from time to time, angfechtungen!  A senior in seminary knows that the journey from internship back to “life together” is an odd journey filled not only with the grief of losing people that you served and that sustained you for a year, but also homework, and call paperwork, and resumed relationships, and the like.  Contextual theologian that I am, I wanted to ask the question, what does this journey look like in my own embodiment as a single person?

Something else was happening out in society while I was over in my corner of the church contemplating all of this.  The Pew Research Center came out with a study on marriage trends at the end of 2011.[1]  The study results were published under the headline, Barely Half of U.S. Adults are Married—Record Low.  The study gathered results in four categories: Married, Never Married, Divorced or Separated, Widowed.  The study reports, “In 1960, 72% of all adults ages 18 and older were married; today just 51% are.”[2]  The study also shows that the median age for entering into marriage is on the rise with women on average marrying at 26.5 years of age and men marrying at 28.7.[3]

This study made it in the headlines of major news outlets once it broke.  Kari Haus wrote an article for MSNBC.com, Where is Mr. or Mrs. Right? Matrimony Suffers Slump—Report Shows.[4]  NPR jumped in the conversation too with a report titled, When it Comes to Marriage, May Say Don’t.[5]

Café, on on-line publication of the ELCA had an article written by the Rev. Kelly K. Faulstich in February of 2012 titled, Not Better, Not Worse, Different. Not Harder, Not Easier, Different.[6]  The Café article beautifully articulated the source of my angst.  Faulstich writes about “singleness” in scripture (Moses goes up the mountain, Jesus goes to pray).  She writes about the freedom of choice a single person has over even the smallest decisions in their lives.  She ends by recognizing what is true of us in our baptism: “We are complete.”[7]

In January of this year I took time to gather my own thoughts on the subject of singleness in the church.  I dug into scripture, looking at the way that the two creation stories address the relationship between men and women.  I read back in history of monasticism studying the companionship of Jerome and Paula.  I studied Luther’s view on marriage and read through blogs that talked about singleness in more evangelical communities.  I studied the marriage rite in Evangelical Lutheran Worship and read the work of professor and social scientist, Bella Depaulo.[8]

Here is what I came to find regarding my initial angst:  It is about vocational dignity.  The LWF Chicago Statement on Worship and Culture so eloquently reminds us that our baptisms, experienced within a community, verify our “dignity” and our “vocations in Christ.”[9]  I found the exercise of this study to be powerful in my own understanding of singleness and marriage—not only the ritual moment—but also marriage, the vocation.  Never before had I considered my own singleness to be part of my current vocation.  Singleness and marriage are two vocations among many given to the baptized. 

 I appreciate how the rite of marriage found in the ELW points to the commitment the couple makes one to another, the faithfulness of God, and the support of the assembly.   Even in my singleness, I experience the community of the church similarly: there is support of my vocation, the faithfulness of God is likewise for me, and the support of the assembly is graciously given.