Tag Archives: disabilities

WARTBURG SEMINARY INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY CONVOCATION 2014

Rev. Dr. Troy Troftgruben, WTS Assistant Professor of New Testament:

Welcome to our first convocation of the academic year. “Convocations” happen here at Wartburg at various times on topics that require—not simply disseminating information—but face-to-face conversation. These topics are typically not cut-and-dry issues, but matters of evolving, ongoing, dynamic conversation.

For many years Wartburg has hosted a convocation on “inclusive language.” This convocation is similar, but broader in focus. It entails not only concerns pertinent to inclusive language but also concerns pertinent to behavior and actions that foster genuine inclusion of “the other.”

Our language and our behavior do things, especially in community: by our words and actions, we consciously and unconsciously assume certain norms, characterize ourselves and our community ethos, and establish what is “normal,” acceptable, and appreciated. Sometimes we are deliberate about our words and actions, sometimes not so much.

This morning we have 6 individuals who will each speak for about 2 minutes on a particular issue that pertains to becoming an inclusive community.

- Hannah Benedict (concerning gender)
– Norma Cook Everist (concerning disabilities)
– Mack Patrick (concerning transgender)
– Stan Olson (concerning inclusive language for God)
– Gus Barnes (concerning race and sexual orientation)
– Susan Ebertz (concerning denominational backgrounds)

Afterward, we will dialogue with each other at our tables.

Hannah Benedict, Final Year M.Div. Student: 

I don’t think much about my gender. I don’t have a constant internal track going, “I-am-a-woman-I-am-a-woman-I-am-a-woman.” I say this fully aware that as I say that, I wear a particular piece of attire typically attributed to one gender–yep, high heels, those tortuous devices woman can wear. But I don’t wear high heels because of my gender. I wear them because of my 5’3″ height. It’s logistics folks! I truly don’t pay attention to my gender much, until a moment about which I’m going to tell you:

At the end of internship, a congregation member came up to me with what she thought would be a compliment. She said, “At first we didn’t know how a lady intern would do, but you did great, honey!” Her pleasant surprise was my harsh realization. Not only might I need to consider my gender, but that others could see my gender as a detriment.

She wasn’t the first to share such reactions. Others, mostly women and women my age, shared similar reactions, “You wanna be a what? Sweetie, don’t you know you’re a lady?”

It’s not that I don’t know my gender. I am fully aware of it and others of my kind. I’m one of three sisters, (an aunt two nieces; women outnumber men in my family). I attended a women’s college—go Suzies—and chaired the feminist group. I got that I was a woman, through and through. But what I didn’t get was how this somehow made me any less effective or valuable.

Being a woman never stopped me from doing all that God called me to do. Being a woman never stopped me from being compassionate, courageous, strong, determined, and dedicated. Instead, being a woman, surrounded and supported by them, taught me how to be all these and more. My gender provides a particular perspective, one no less important than any other. From this vantage point, I can see who God makes me through the Holy Spirit in Christ.

In Christ, we are no longer male/female, gentile/Jewish, enslaved/free. We are God’s.  Gender may be part of my identity but it is not all of it. Yes, I’m a lady—and a wife, mother, sister, aunt, daughter, and, occasionally I wear heels.  But I am first and foremost a child of God.

Rev. Dr. Norma Cook Everist, Professor of Church Administration and Educational Ministry: 

I’m Norma Cook Everist, addressing living together with our abilities and disabilities. We are all differently abled. Wartburg is a caring community where people try to live thoughtfully, respectfully and in solidarity with people with disabilities.

How can we do this even better?

By really seeing each person, rather than pretending not to notice. By asking, rather than presuming a person’s need: “What is helpful to you?”

By using person-first language: Not “a blind person” but a “person who is blind.” I have a disability; I am not my disability.

And by using inclusive language in worship. Our ELW does not say, “Please stand,” words hard to hear for those who cannot. Thomas Schattauer and Melissa Waterman encourage us to motion with our hands when the congregation is to stand. People with disabilities who were on the hymnal planning committee encouraged, “The Assembly stands,” an inclusive phrase which means the congregation stands for those who cannot. We’ve been doing pretty well this fall. It is important we remember as we are formed as leaders for an inclusive church.

Inclusive language matters: So we motion, or we say, “The assembly stands,” or we say, “Please stand as you are able.”

Nicholas Rohde and I conferred, discovering we’ve both been tempted to respond when we hear, “Please stand”: “No thank you, I can’t.” Let’s try that. I’ll say, “Please stand,” and you respond, “No thank you. I can’t.” [The people at tables did.] Now say after me: “The Assembly stands.” [“The Assembly stands.”] “Please stand as you are able”   [“Please stand as you are able.”]

Thank you very much.

Mack Patrick, 1st Year M.Div. Student:

To start this conversation off, one must understand a few basic things about transgender. The first is that transgender is commonly spelled as trans*; this is an important piece in the trans* experience. The asterisk represents that trans* is a spectrum covering a wide variety of experiences. Some are a bit more clear-cut than others. There is the complete change over: Female to Male or Male to Female, but there is also the non-conforming, non-identifying side of gender.

Along with recognizing that trans* is a spectrum—and you may not always know how someone fully identifies—it is important to realize trans* are still people. Asking if they have surgery, or inquiring more about their chosen gender, is not cool and rather offensive. No one cares about your private parts. You should not ask those questions of those who are trans*. That is a private matter.

Pronouns identify who we are on a paper form, but correct use of pronouns is also a good way to show someone that you care about them and want them to be included in a community. While society has focused on the popular pronouns of male and female, there are yet two other known sets of pronouns that someone may identify with. One of those other sets is the gender neutral set. It is commonly used with individuals who do not identify with a specific gender. [This set includes:] Ze (zee) commonly referred to as the subject, Hir (here) known as the object and possessive adjective, and Hirs (heres) for the possessive pronoun. While these are not commonly known and used, as the popularity and acknowledgment of the gender-neutral pronoun grows, they will be used more often. It is completely acceptable to ask people what pronouns they prefer.

For someone who identifies as trans*, asking about pronouns is a great first step. Admitting that you have no clue what to do or say is good, but first and foremost ignore their gender and focus on the person. I know that hearing the correct pronouns being used when talking about me, is huge, as acceptance is growing. Even though I identify as trans*, I feel full included and accepted in the Wartburg Community. Inclusion starts with the ability to recognize you may encounter individuals in your community that are different from you. Take the first step and get to know them as a person.

Rev. Dr. Stan Olson, WTS President:

My privilege today is to talk with you a little about language for God. The topic of this convocation is inclusive language. I could talk about inclusive language for God, pointing to the importance of speaking of God in ways that allow all to be included.

I’ve given that talk. However, over the years I’ve concluded that it’s far better to speak of expansive language for God or, simply, appropriate language for God. Speaking appropriately of God is an expression of faithfulness.

Sixty years ago, J. B. Philipps wrote a book titled, Your God Is Too Small. He challenges the reader to think more expansively about God as made known in Jesus Christ, to embrace the depth of meaning. The book was very important in shaping my early thinking. I recently reread it and can’t now say that I commend the book to you. I do, however, commend the title. Let that title push you firmly as you do theology, preach, teach, counsel, write, and pray—your God is too small.

To embed this push in your thoughts, I invite you to shift from the second person pronoun and use this as a response: Our God is too small. Say it with me now, Our God is too small, and then in response.

If we speak of God using only a few of the words and images available, Our God is too small.

If we use only the language of the New Testament, Our God is too small.

If we use only the language of the Hebrew Bible, Our God is too small.

If our talk of God uses only masculine images and pronouns, or only feminine images and pronouns, or only combinations, Our God is too small.

If we limit our language for God only to words actually used in the Bible and neglect the church’s rich history of devotion and thought, Our God is too small.

If we casually and carelessly use familiar hymnic and devotional language that conveys limited or false images of God, Our God is too small.

If the God we convey seems distant and unknowable for any to whom we speak, Our God is too small.

If we think that God is ours alone, Our God is too small.

If we ever allow ourselves to think that we have arrived at language that is finally and completely appropriate, Our God is too small.

God is not too small!

Gus Barnes, 3rd Year M.Div. Student: 

I am Gus Barnes Jr. I am one of a kind, created by God and my parents. I am a fifty-three year old man in seminary. I am a tax-payer. I am a product of the sixties. Here is the shocker surprise: I am an openly Gay African American man. In my time in this temporal place we call earth, I have had many doors shut in my face because of the things that describes who Gus is. Here at Wartburg Seminary I assume when people speak of Gus being Gay, it’s because often I am happy as Gus; I am welcomed here as Gus.

I am thrilled to have lived a lifetime to see a Black President in office, and this week I met the ELCA’s first openly Gay Bishop. The ELCA has struggled with sexuality issues. And after its decision in 2009 to be more open to gays and lesbians serving in ministerial leadership, it has lost many congregations. Sadly I am reminded daily when I look in the mirror as I prepare my day that I need to ask,”What doors will be opened, and which doors will be shut because of who Gus is?” Spend some time to get to know me and others. I promise if you stay out of my closet, I’ll stay out of yours!

Susan Ebertz, Director of the Reu Memorial Library and Assistant Professor of Bibliography and Academic Research:

I’m speaking on inclusion of a variety of denominational backgrounds. I think that there is only one student here who is not Lutheran and she is a TEEM student. I think I am the only faculty member who is not Lutheran. There are a number of the staff who are not Lutheran. I mention this because sometimes it is easy for some of us to forget that not all of us are Lutheran.

At one time we had more non-Lutherans here. The other faculty member and the students would talk with me about some of their experiences. I’m not at liberty to share those stories. It wasn’t a secret club but it did create a bond between us.

I don’t think that the difference in denominational backgrounds is as hurtful as other sorts of discriminations. If we all realize that not everyone speaks Lutheranese and not all of us believe Lutheran theology, we go a long way into including those of other denominations.

I know that some of you grew up in a different denomination and the transition to Lutheran theology may be difficult. I think it is important for you to know and understand Lutheran theology and to live into that. That is okay. That is not what I’m talking about.

Many of you will be ministering in communities where you will need to work with ecumenical partners. Understanding what they believe or how they “do worship” can be an important learning experience while you are in seminary. Figure out ways to experience that.

If you want to talk more, I welcome conversation with you.

Table Question for Communal Conversation:

  1. When have you experienced “exclusion” in a community or church setting?
  2. What practices have you observed to be some of the most helpful for facilitating authentic inclusion and openness in faith communities? How have they worked?
  3. As leaders, how can we go about being allies or advocates in the communities we serve for inclusion concerning some of the issues named this morning?
  4. As leaders, what do you think will be some of the most pressing issues of inclusion for which we will need to be advocates in our unfolding ministries?

You may also appreciate the following previously published posts:


LIVING IN COMMUNITY WITH OUR ABILITIES AND DISABILITIES

The following comments were perspectives presented at a Wartburg Seminary Convocation on November 8, 2012. Following the presentations was an extended time of table conversation for students, faculty and staff.  The questions for conversation and additional resources are included here in a .doc format: Convocation Resources – Nov 2012.

Norma Cook Everist, Wartburg Faculty: It was a November evening, 1982, while my husband, Burton, and I were delivering Thanksgiving baskets in downtown Dubuque when I suddenly felt overwhelming fatigue. I became ill with what at first seemed like flu but from which I never recovered. The illness, later diagnosed as myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS), has many physiological and neurological complications. Today, still with no known cause and no known cure, it affects hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.

I have a disease; I am not my disease. How do I mark the 30th anniversary of living with a chronic illness?  With sadness or celebration? A good way is to have this convocation on “Living in community with Our Abilities and Disabilities.” Many people with CFS become homebound, isolated, but supported by this caring and respectful Wartburg community, I have been able to continue fully serving here and in the broader church and world.

Lisa Heffernan, WTS M.Div. Senior: As we gather this morning to talk about this topic, I want to introduce a few pieces that will be part of the discussion. Our student speakers today are people who have some sort of disability, or who have a friendship with a person who has a disability of some kind. We share these stories and perspectives to encourage the community to think about how we all live together in this community as people with and without disabilities. Our definition is broad: we will be talking about disabilities in terms of physical and visible disabilities (like mine), physical disabilities that are unseen, and disabilities or conditions that can either be considered mental, cognitive, or emotional. Not only that, but we will be also talking about specific issues that come along with different disabilities and how we might view them within our life together at WTS. The question we might consider is: How do we as a student body, staff, and faculty live together faithfully in this place, with our gifts and limitations, recognizing each person as a child of God and a vital part of the body of Christ?

My own experience and view as a person with a physical and visible disability has greatly changed and improved since coming to seminary. In this place, I am accepted and valued as the person God created me to be—completely and fully. Before coming here, I never had the experience of being in a community where people would seek to have me involved in all aspects of life, no matter how tricky doing so might be. The best brief examples I can give are the time that my class was having a gathering at Pulpit Rock our middler year…on the 2nd floor. Without me even having to ask them to do so, 4 of the guys in my class lifted me up those steps, just so I could be there with my class.  I was scared, but they wanted me there, and I wanted to be there. So they helped me out. The other side of this is that these same friends challenge me to be more fearless and independent. This is the same thing I hope I do for them. We care for and challenge one another. And we include one another in all areas of life here. There are things that are difficult to make that happen sometimes, but I’m finally in a place where my disability doesn’t feel like a barrier to having an active life.

Aleese Kenitzer, WTS M.Div. Junior:  I have a significant hearing loss in my right ear. It has been my responsibility to assure that my disability does not affect me in school or in ministry, but it is extremely helpful when people are aware of the fact that I do not hear well, and make an effort to improve communication. But often, I have either witnessed how people do not understand how an impairment affects one’s lifestyle, or have witnessed the response of “well, people need must scream for you to be able to hear.” Neither one is true, and both of these actions exclude those who cannot hear well. It is common for those with hearing impairments to be excluded because they cannot hear and understand what is happening around them, or excluded because of those who overcompensate.

Dave Fier, WTS M.Div. Junior: I have a genetic learning difference called Soto’s syndrome. I was blessed to be my current height of 6ft 4inches in fifth grade I haven’t grown since. One of my many challenges is it takes me along time to process information.  “Fear not,” I say. This difference has also affected my coordination and some of my physical abilities. “Fear not,” I say.  Another difference I have been blessed with is to have a heightened emotional and artistic sense.  “Fear not,” I say.  God blessed me with this difference and I wouldn’t have life any other way. Most importantly I am child God. I am a brother in this community of many. The real question is how can we all learn and grow together.

Tami Groth, WTS 2nd year M.A. Diacaonl Ministry: My medical history includes both clinical depression–a chemical imbalance which impacts both your emotions and your ability to think correctly–and celiac disease, an auto-immune disorder where gluten, found in wheat, rye, and barley, attacks my body. These conditions are not related, but their effects can compound one another. When you cannot automatically join in something as basic as sharing bread with others, it is easy to feel isolated, and isolation can make you wonder if depression is returning.

I fight these issues by creating inclusive community however I can: by making food I can eat to share with others, by meeting others in their own needs, and by sharing what I have learned as I have educated myself about my conditions. Sometimes accommodating everyone’s needs seems like more than we can cope with–the list feels endless. But the joy of seeing someone feel like they can now be a part of a community is boundless, and it always makes me determined never to assume that what works for me works for all.

Lee Gable, WTS M.Div. Senior: My friend lives with multiple chemical sensitivity related to fibromyalgia plus complications.  The air she breathes and any surfaces or fabrics she is in contact with are potential sources of pain.  Even your hand lotion can affect her.  She must be aware of what is around her.  She uses air purifiers to hold back the multiplicity of scents and carefully researches and uses products to help her environment not be a source of pain.

If you don’t see her in church, ask about what is going on or send a card.  Ask the her if she wants to be on the prayer list.  Please don’t be offended if she has to get up and move away from unseen conditions that cause unseen pain.  As a child of God living with conditions she would not have chosen for herself, my friend only asks, “Don’t define me by my illness.”

So how can we be compassionate, accommodating others, without being exclusive?

Megan Reedstrom, WTS M.Div. Senior: I have been asked to talk about friendship because I have the pleasure of calling Lisa Heffernan one of my very best friends. Through our friendship I have become much more cognizant of accessibility and its importance and how frustrating it is when people abuse or misuse things like accessible parking. And through two road trips we have taken together, I’ve learned that traveling with someone who uses a wheelchair is not that different than traveling with someone who doesn’t. We just allow a little extra time for travel, and do a little extra planning to make sure the places we are headed are accessible. The most important thing I have learned in all we have done together as friends is that we are far more alike than we are different.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Cor. 12:27)

Some WTS Alumni who live with disabilities and serve in the church and world:

Rev. Phil Wangberg, who uses a wheelchair due to cancer of the spine, is pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church, Albuquerque, NM.

Diaconal Minister Rich Mohr-Kelly, who is visually impaired, serves in Pittsburgh, PA neighborhood ministry and at Stewart Avenue Lutheran and Birmingham UCC Congregational Churches.

Rev. Kathryn Bielfeldt, who is blind, served for over 21 years as pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church of Campbell Hill, IL and added on part-time service to 2 other congregations in the Wartburg Parish of Southern Illinois. She recently retired.

Rev. Chris Kinney, who has quadriplegia due to MS, Oakdale, MN, currently does supply preaching, advocacy, mentoring, and short-term counseling

and many more alums who have served and now serve throughout the church in the world …