Tag Archives: relationships

A CONGREGATION BETRAYED: BOOK RESPONSE by Jennifer Dahle, Final Year M.Div. Student

As I read When a Congregation is Betrayed: Responding to Clergy Misconduct (Alban, 2006), a series of essays edited by Beth Ann Gaeide, I was struck by the extensive work that needs to be done in churches before any kind of misconduct possibly occurs. It really forced me to think about how I could help a church to prepare for an eventuality like misconduct, but it pushed me even more to think about my theology surrounding misconduct and the office of pastor. On page 26, the essay author, Patricia Liberty, suggests thinking about the far-reaching extent of damage that accompanies sexual misconduct in particular by envisioning the following exercise. “Think of your favorite hymn, your favorite Bible verse, your favorite sacred space. Are they written down? Now, look at the hymn you chose. Your pastor hummed that tune while he/she had sex with you; cross it off your list. The favorite verse you wrote down? You pastor quoted that verse to you when he/she was justifying your actions together; cross it off your list. That sacred space was entered by the pastor while you were there and you had sex; cross it off your list.” The extent of damage is astounding when framed by this exercise.

The essays I read invited me to think about sexual misconduct not as an “affair” but as an abuse of power within the pastoral office. “Clergy sexual abuse is often referred to as ‘sexual sin’ or ‘adultery’…these terms are too narrow to name the damage done to the entire congregation…Further, they encourage a privatization of the behavior that keeps the focus on the sexual activity of two individuals rather than on the betrayal of the sacred trust of the office and the pain caused an entire congregation.” (Patricia Liberty, 16-17)  Trying to heal from a misconduct case needs to involve re-examining how we define sin and evil.

Theologically, clergy misconduct violates trust and poses a potential stumbling block to faith for those involved. It is vital to have clear, open communication around the event and to support the victims and the rest of the congregation. No church that finds itself in the midst of a case of clergy misconduct is going to have an easy time of it, but the more the procedures are in place for such an event, the more potentially effective the healing.

I have much thinking left to do around this topic. Having met someone who is still feeling the effects of clergy misconduct 20 years later has made me feel particularly drawn to trying to actually being prepared should something like this occur near or where I am serving. My thoughts are still racing, but this is a starting point at least.

BELONGING AND COMMUNITY by Tami Groth, 2nd Year M.A. Diaconal

This past November I had the opportunity to return to my home congregation and preach during the Sunday worship services. Unfortunately with my seminary schedule and family commitments I do not frequently have the opportunity to return home and spend time with my home congregation community. I have frequently thought about how I belong to that community even though I am now mostly absent from it while I am present in my seminary community here at Wartburg Theological Seminary. The gospel text for the day was John 18.33-37, ending with “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” brought me to that questioning place again as I pondered what it means to belong to the truth.

As I contemplated what word I was called to share that morning, the word “belonging” echoed through my mind. What does it mean to belong? Many of us know it when we experience belonging. The experience of belonging is felt in the depths of our being. There are moments when we know for certain “yes, I belong here.” There are also moments we know without doubt when another belongs. It seems more of a feeling than an objective description.

When I witness a strong sense of belonging in others I reflect on what communities I belong to. Who knows me and loves me anyway? What communities count me as their own? How do I contribute to the sense of belonging within those communities.

It is often during reunion moments that the sense of belonging to a community is strongest. When you return to a place and it feels like home, or if not home, then a comfort away from home. Those times hearts and eyes light up as individuals are reunited.

Or, we feel the pain of not belonging. The pain and longing of wanting to belong or possibly wondering if you belong to a group or a place — as humans, we know what that feels like in the very depths of our being.

As Christians we belong to Christ. And we are called to work within and belong to specific communities within the body of Christ.

Each community exists in the midst of constant transition. Some communities, such as a seminary community where students are being called and sent to new places each year, transition in predictable ways while other communities experience change in more unpredictable ways. Yet, through our shared relationships we belong to each other. Our stories are entwined.

We also are called to actively write some of the story of a community that belongs to Christ and to each other. In our relationships with each other we are invited to share in relationship with one another, we are also invited (dared?) to share in the truth as experienced in Jesus Christ.

Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice

Indeed we need to actively listen — to seek, to understand. To live our lives in community with one another, to belong to one another is a gift best actively received. Together we actively seek to understand as we belong to each other and not of this world. These shared communities are not limited by the observed boundaries of the world — All are welcome.

We look to our loving God to begin to understand this gift of belonging as part of reconciled relationships lived out in response to the new reality created in Christ as we are restored to right relationship with God and humanity. Faith gives us the vision for this new reality as we act differently. We listen. We seek to understand. We acknowledge and live out relationships with God and each other. We act differently because God’s love frees us and restores us to love in right relationship with God and others — to belong.

TO MY DAD by Anna Johnson, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem

Anna Johnson, 23, finished a B.A. last year and now lives and works on the Mount of Olives in the office of the Lutheran World Federation in Jerusalem.  She is the daughter of Andrew Johnson, Executive Assistant to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, and Kathy Gerking, an ELCA Pastor and Wartburg Seminary graduate.  In her Father’s Day note to Andy, she reflects on some aspects of being a Pastor’s Kid when it’s your mom who is the pastor.  She tells her dad:

…how awesome I think YOU are for supporting her. Since entering the “real” world, I have realized that there are still a lot of discrepancies and prejudices in how our world treats men and women. Even amongst couples I have a great deal of respect for, I have noticed that not only do traditional “gender” roles hold fast, but power disparity often does as well. Funny thing is that I really thought this stuff was probably a thing of the past growing up, and I have you and Mom to thank for that.

I am not sure I ever told you about a moment in one of my classes last year when someone was talking about how there are men out there who take care of things in the household and take care of the kids, etc – and we were all talking about this as some sort of novel concept – until a lightbulb went off in my head and I realized that “hey! my dad did those things when I was growing up, too! that’s not weird!… is it??” Kind of like hearing Uncle Paul talk about seeing a one-armed man and feeling sorry for him before it hit him “hey! my dad only has one arm!” Except that the “weird” thing about my dad is that he is a feminist rather than that he is missing any limbs.

In other words, I have loved learning more about the parts of your relationship (from engagement, to wedding, and beyond!) that other people might find “quirky” or too progressive, but that I grew up thinking were normal. I am proud to have a dad who was a strong enough man to marry a woman who did not change her name and who has always supported her career opportunities. Patriarchy is alive and well in our society and in our churches (and at times, in our family), and while this angers me on countless levels, I think in some way I feel less personally wounded by it than many others because at least I grew up in a household that shows hope for how more relationships might be in the future – and society can only change when we change how we ourselves act in relationship with one another….

I love you!
Anna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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