Tag Archives: inclusivity

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:


ME & MY COLLAR

Submitted to The Persistent Voice by Rebecca Crystal, Unitarian Universalist MDiv Intern, written by one of the women clergy with whom she works in Houston, TX.

You may run into me on a Friday, in my neighborhood, so it’s time I let you know what you might see.

When I was doing my required unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), my supervisor suggested that any of us who came from traditions where a clerical collar was an option, take one “collar week,” to see how we were treated, as opposed to wearing regular professional clothes.

After a couple of days, I joked to the Catholic priest, “How do you manage the power?”

In regular clothes, I would walk into a patient’s room, and it would take about 5 or so minutes of introductions and pleasantries before we could really get down to talking about their feelings, their fears, the deep stuff.

With most people, as soon as that clerical collar walked in the room, with me attached, they began pouring out all the heavy stuff they were carrying.

I was riding the bus back and forth every day, and though not quite so dramatic, the collar effect was alive there, too. More people would chat with me, and they’d get “real” faster. Rarely was “How’s it going?” answered with a polite, “Fine,” as normally happened. People spoke about having a stressful time at work, or how they couldn’t find their cat, or their joy because someone special was coming in town.

It was great … and it was exhausting. At the end of the week, I confided to my CPE team that I was glad to take off the collar. As long as it was on, I was “on.”

I never expected to wear one as a Unitarian Universalist minister, unless I was doing social witness.

That’s the norm. We wear it in those situations because it’s important to give a message that religious professionals are there, especially when so many times, (LGBTQ issues, reproductive health), the impression is that religion is only on the conservative side.

A few of my colleagues wear it, though, especially my good friend Rev. Ron Robinson, who wears it around Turley, where he runs a missional community. And the Humiliati wore it as part of their practice.

It Started As an Experiment.

There’s a lot of “conventional wisdom” about the collar, among UU ministers. One that I heard many times is that it will turn people off, it will be a barrier. So after I was ordained, I decided to experiment. I would wear it out in my neighborhood, and keep a log of my interactions. I was just curious.

The first two or three times, I noticed some small things — it seemed that people, especially among the more economically or otherwise marginalized communities — were a little friendlier, a little more open to talking. But the collar has its effect on me, too, and perhaps I was just being friendlier myself?

The more definable result were the conversations I had with other women — especially younger women — about the collar. Was I a priest? No, a minister? A woman … how did that work? What did people call me?

Well, I do live in the Bible Belt.

And Became An Act of Social Witness.

I wasn’t doing it on any regular basis, I must admit. In regular clothes, I have the privilege of being invisible. But these questions, about being a women and a minister, prompted me to occasionally go out in my collar, in the community.

One day, I had to run several errands, including a trip to the post office. I kicked my rear (not literally, I’m not that flexible), put on the collar, and went about them.

At the post office, I futzed around awkwardly, looking for the right size box. The clerk at the counter waved me over, asked if he could assist me. He advised me on a cheaper way to ship, and helped me assemble the package. His co-worker joked, asking if I could give him holy water. The clerk said, “I don’t need that, but would you pray for me?” I smiled and said, Yes, and asked his name. His co-worker said to pray for her, too. I asked her name. When I left, I said, “Thank you, Ray.” And came home and prayed for Ray and Naomi.

So, It Developed Into A Spiritual Practice.

The spirit was willing, but the self-consciousness made me weak. It’s just so much easier to be invisible. I’d go out sporadically,  have an experience that made me mentally promise to be more regular about it … but life just keeps happening, busy schedules, things to make happen, ministry to do …

And then I heard about a teen in my area, who was gradually coming out as gay, exploring trans*. Hadn’t told their parents, don’t know how they’ll react. Someone told this teen about Unitarian Universalism – they went online, read about it, and were blown away that not all faiths are anti-gay.

In some places, this is still a shockingly new idea that people have never heard of.

There is a Starbucks across the street from my kids’ high school, where they often congregate after school. I decided I’d collar up with a rainbow flag pin on my shirt. I didn’t expect any teen would talk to me — I’m still an adult, after all. But I figured I could sit by the door, just taking care of some work on my computer, and maybe, just maybe, the juxtaposition of the collar and the pin might introduce the idea into some teen’s head that “Hey, maybe religion and gay aren’t enemies.” Maybe even, “Hey. Maybe Goddoesn’t hate me.”

So, I didn’t expect any confirmation. But sometimes we do things, even aware we’ll never know if it made a difference. That’s faith, I guess.

I was waiting for my lime refresher when the girl standing next to me said, “I like your flag pin.”

She said it, but her face looked doubtful. It was one of those rare times when I’m pretty sure I could read her thoughts. Does she know what that pin she’s wearing actually means?

I smiled at her. “I think it’s important, especially in this area, to send a message.”

I watched her eyes bounce back and forth between the pin and my collar.

“Are you a priest?”

“I’m a minister, a Unitarian minister. We’re an LGBT-friendly church.” I rethought the words. “Mmm, LGBT-welcoming?”

“LGBT-friendly is a good term,” she said. She squinted at me. “You mean, your church is okay with gay people?”

“Mmm-hmm. Some of our ministers are gay, too.”

She blinked and it seemed apparent this was a brand new idea. We had a conversation of a couple of minutes as she clarified that yes, I really meant it, it was fine to be gay at a Unitarian Universalist church.

“What’s the name of your church? My mom has been wanting to go to a church.”

I told her, and mentioned another in the area.

She repeated that her mom wanted to find a church. “We’ve been to a couple of churches … but the kids were mean to me. Because I’m gay.”

Deep breath.

I told her that I was so sorry. That that should never happen at a church. That it would not be tolerated at one of our churches. Not at my church, I emphasized, conscious of the collar I wore, conscious that it represented, to her, an authority far beyond me.

She asked if I could write down the name of my church. I handed her a business card. She read it slowly, standing there.

“I’m Joanna,” I said, shaking her hand.

“I’m —-,” she said, shaking my hand, looking me straight in the eyes.

That’s When it Became a Discipline. 

Every Friday afternoon, that’s where I am. I take my ipad, catch up on emails and whatnot.

What makes that a spiritual discipline? my mentor asked.

Presence.

Awareness.

As I mentioned, when I started my St. Arbucks ministry, my only thought was about presence. And I still think that’s important. It’s not about me being there. I am merely representing something — church, God, religion, spirit. With a message of inclusion.

But my experiences have taught me that it’s not just enough for my body to be present, I have to be fully aware. Which frankly, is not always one of my strengths, especially if I’m working on something else. I can have deep conversations with someone and after they leave, if you ask me whether they were wearing glasses, or wearing a red shirt, I’ll look at you blankly. Not very observant.

It’s like an exercise in spiritual peripheral vision. Being casual, certainly not staring at people as they walk in … yet being aware, so that if someone wants to begin a conversation, I’m open and willing. It’s not easy. My own teen was sitting near me one Friday and hissed, “MOM! That guy just said he liked your pin!”

I missed it.

And that’s usually how the conversation begins. “I like your pin,” they say. Sometimes, that’s the end of the conversation. Sometimes not. “I like your pin,” said a boy the other day. “Thank you,” I said. He turned to a girl sitting by him. “She’s a minister, but she likes gays.” The girl smiled at me, and with a British accent told me that in her country, gay marriage was legal now. We talked a bit, the three of us.

I often wear the pin on regular clothes. I get smiles, but it’s not the same.

It’s the collar and the pin. Religion and inclusiveness. God and gay.

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 …

INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE: INTRODUCTION by Rev. Dr. Gwen Sayler, Professor of Bible

This post and the three that follow it are articles derived from the 2012 Inclusive Language Convocation at Wartburg Theological Seminary. The convocation was introduced by the Rev. Dr. Gwen Sayler, Professor of Bible with the following words.

Words have incredible power to shape our self-identity and behavior. Today, focusing on inclusive language/inclusive community, we’ll hear Alan speaking about the language we use for God/humanity. Kate will speak to the language we use within the church to talk about “family” and “singleness”. And Patty will speak from the perspective of a parent of one who is homosexual, about the power of words used/left unsaid to include or exclude persons whose sexual orientation is other than heterosexual.

INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE: IMAGES FOR GOD AND HUMANITY by Alan Dreyer, M.Div. Senior

As I think about inclusive language, particularly as it pertains to God and humanity, I think of my own journey as I have come to understand God and humanity, particularly in relation to gender. In the not so distant past, I would have argued that to use mother to refer to God instead of father would amount to a type of blasphemy. In one sense, if scripture uses [male]language, even [male] pronouns with regard to God, and the language of “mankind” along with male pronouns in regard to humanity, who are we to tamper? Yet as I have come to talk about and even debate the merits of maintaining or expanding language one thing comes to mind; I have a wonderful relationship with my father. And in this sentence there is another truth. Some people have very difficult relationships with their fathers, or their mothers, or they don’t have one or the other or both parents altogether. What is their image of God compared to mine? Now this brings up the question, will my dogmatism to maintain the use of patristic language, because that’s how it was originally written, cause others to draw away from God because the images used for God reflect a broken reality in their own lives?

And this brings up another question. If there are images that are not particularly helpful for people to use when thinking about God, are there alternative images that expand the understanding of God? Are there alternative images that allow for a greater inclusivity of humanity? Of course! The bible overflows with ways to speak of humanity, of God, of Christ.

Inclusive language to me is about being able to proclaim God and the gospel of Jesus Christ in such a way that no one will feel that they are excluded. Or to put it another way, in such a way that everyone may have not one, but multiple images that help them to know God and the gospel.

Gender inclusivity is one area where this takes form. When and where we can use humanity instead of mankind, or persons instead of men, or sisters and brothers instead of simply brothers, we are opening up our message to a wider array of hearers and readers. When we use pronouns beyond “he” and “him” we speak in a different way to all, both women and men. What step could we take then, if we even embrace our transgendered kin by using the pronouns “ze” in conjunction with he and she and “per” alongside of him and her?

Of course, our language demands that we must use pronouns to refer to God. It becomes redundant when I say God multiple times in one sentence. Yet, to favor one gender in the pronouns excludes the other two. An incorporation of all three is one way to speak to a multitude of hearers.

Yet, to speak of God having gender at all is to define God in our own image. Any time we speak of God and create an image in our mind or language we run the risk of forgetting that God is transcendent to the creation. Rather, imagery and language used to describe God should not be to describe God, but rather God’s attributes. Metaphor and simile are useful to describe how we have known God to act throughout history, and in our personal histories.

The use of inclusive language in regard to both humanity and God is not a restriction or a law. Rather it offers freedom to proclaim welcome to all of us who have our own broken realities and freedom to experience the multifaceted attributes of God in new and meaningful ways.

INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE: SINGLENESS by Katherine Woolf, M.Div. Senior

(Presented as part of the 2012 Inclusive Language Convocation at Wartburg Theological Seminary)

As I begin, I would like to say a word about faith formation and families. Faith formation for parents and children together and separately is a good and important task of the church. In speaking about single people in the church I do not wish, in any way, to devalue that. Rather, the purpose of this presentation is to make visible some of the unique struggles and considerations regarding language and worldview about single people in the church. That being said, this part of the “inclusive language” convocation will focus less on language and more on attitude or worldview, which comes through in our language.

Single people may find themselves in many different places in life. One might be single by choice or by circumstance. One might be previously married or partnered and now divorced, separated or widowed. One might never have been married or partnered. Each of these circumstances carries its own unique concerns, sensitivities and needs.

As with any situation where one person is speaking for a whole category of people, there are many voices that I will not represent well. The group I can most readily represent is the one from which my own perspective emerges which is: young, female, single and heterosexual. (And relevant to some parts of the conversation, a candidate for the ordained roster.) However, even within that group of people there are many diverse stories and experiences, which is why our ongoing conversations are so important. (Indeed ongoing mutual conversation about all of today’s issues is critical so that we can hear and learn from the perspectives of one another.)

In preparing for this, I spoke with several single people on campus. Below are the things that emerged most clearly from those conversations.

1. Please treat me like a whole person! The fact that I am not partnered does not make me less, and doesn’t necessarily mean I’m just waiting for someone else. Sometimes I think that people hear the common wedding text about two becoming one flesh and therefore assume that if you aren’t partnered then you’re just ½ flesh… somehow less than a whole person. This is neither true nor helpful. So, I suggest identifying people by what is, not what isn’t.
Similarly, well intentioned people sometimes approach those who are single and try to “help them” by setting them up with someone. Or by telling them, “It’s okay that you’re single because they have a career”, as though trying to justify their place in life.

People need/want community not pity! Value them and help give support when needed. There are some circumstances, like when one is new to an area where one doesn’t know people, where extra support may be useful particularly from colleagues. Just think about how you do this.

Please don’t make assumptions about my sexuality based on whether or not I’m in a relationship with someone.

On the whole, it is best to see anyone as a person: created imago Dei, claimed by God in baptism, and one for whom Christ died, rather than viewing them primarily by their relationship status (or any other particular attribute).

2. Men and women both have this problem I have heard about this more from women than men, and as a woman will speak from that perspective myself, but please understand that many of these things go both ways.

3. Don’t create dialectics. Yes, Lutherans really like them, but they can be problematic when applied to people. One problem faced by young women is that if you aren’t married, or well on your way, people assume you will be an “old maid”. However, if you are dating someone, but not yet married, especially for those who are candidates for rostered ministry in the church, people react as though something sexually immoral must be going on. (Such assumptions probably also affect unmarried men, but there seems to be more stigma for the women about being unmarried as they approach age 30 and beyond.)

In light of this, particularly with Visions and Expectations for rostered leaders, it is important to curb assumptions and rumors. In small communities like this, where we know so much about one another, it’s easy for stories to get started, and before the facts can be checked almost everyone knows. If you have a question or concern about someone’s behavior, please ask them before you talk about it.

A couple of helpful things to keep in mind. Sometimes men have friends who are women and women have friends who are men, in whom they have no romantic interest. This is good. However, many times assumptions are made that something is going on between those people. Again, please don’t assume. As colleagues in the parish, you can help support those who are single by not creating or exacerbating situations where there are rumors about conduct. If you have concerns, speak to the persons involved.

Some helpful things to think about as we minister in congregations (and other public contexts):

Culturally, being single can be alienating, particularly when most of your friends are married and have children or are getting married and having children. As the church it is great to create an environment that does not mirror this or enhance it.

Consider that relationship status may not be the single person’s favorite thing to talk about. In fact it almost certainly isn’t. Navigating this cultural issue can be tricky because, as I learned it, one of the five “safe” things to ask someone about is their family. However, you can probably imagine a whole host of reasons, beyond just this one, why that might not be the case.

Please consider that being in groups of all couples may be uncomfortable, particularly if congregational social events are consistently structured around pairs of people. Or have names like “Pairs and Spares”.

Let’s strive for worship that can include everyone intergenerationally, so that families are welcome and kids are able to participate, and so that people who come to worship alone are also included. A couple situations to consider: I was in a worship service geared toward kids’ participation and families were sitting together at tables sized to fit one family. This made coming alone very awkward. It was a good attempt to meet the need of the children. But it separated the worshiping community rather than finding a place for all of us. Similarly, some churches end up with a “widow’s pew” where those whose spouses have died find themselves awkwardly set apart in worship. Things like this are a good challenge for us to continue to think seriously about!

One task of our life together as church is to mark life passages. However, our life passages primarily mark out transitions in one’s life related to family relationships and traditional passages – like marriage. Otherwise for adults there are few markers of significant moments in one’s life unless they are about one’s children. So, how might we honor life passages of those whose lives are transitioning from one state to another that do not fall into those “traditional” categories? (Including transitions such as divorce or the death of a spouse that move someone from a state of being married to one where they no longer are.)

How we think about, and honor, primary life relationships is also important.
→ How do we honor and value people’s primary and important relationships as primary and important regardless of whether they are with parents, spouse, children, or friends?
→ How do we value people’s friends and pets as significant life companions and how can these be honored and taken seriously? For example, taking as seriously a person’s grief at their deaths as we do the death of another life partner.

There are a few considerations related to ministry in the church, singleness and particular age groups.

Young adults
Unmarried young adults can be invisible in the church. Please don’t treat us like we’re invisible.

Also, we do not typically view church as a dating service. Don’t make it one. We are here for God and to participate in the body of Christ, not to find a life partner. Please help others to understand this as well.

For older adults there are also unique challenges and concerns, particularly as spouses and life partners begin to die. Suddenly people find themselves in groups of couples, but now they are the odd one out which can exacerbate feelings of aloneness. The aforementioned “widow’s pew” can also be an unfortunate result. It is worth thinking about how these folks can be supported without being singled out in an awkward way.

Finally, how do we conceive of the church as a place where we come together to worship God and are viewed in light of our identity in Christ?  A community that takes seriously baptismal promises and creates a place for faith formation of people in all walks of life, so that the contributions of all to that journey are valued and each one has a place.