CROSS-CULTURAL EXPERIENCES CONVOCATION By Karen Ressel, Final Year M.Div. Student

The Wartburg community has been blessed by the presence of some of our Iceland Flagbrothers and sisters from Iceland this October who are attending the CGT Pastors’ Continuing Education Academy. At the convocation on October 23rd, they shared some of their observations and insights as a way of entering conversation on the impact of being submerged in a culture that is not your own.

Rev. Gunnar Sigurjónsson: Gunnar visited WTS for the first time in 2006. “We came as strangers and left as friends. It is a home away from home.” Gunnar partners with Wartburg professor Dr. Sam Giere to provide students with an opportunity to visit Iceland for a cross-cultural J-term.

Ms. Þóra Margrét Þórarinsdóttir: As a CEO for a non-governmental agency, Þóra serves people with various disabilities and helps to link them with services they need in their daily lives and pastoral care. She shared that they “love them all and serve them all” every day. The church of Iceland partners with the organization in caring for people, especially in times of distress.

Rev. Bryndis Valbjarnardóttir: “The welcome has been overwhelming! It feels like you are living the faith. It is very precious.” Bryndis was a funeral director before becoming a pastor, and she shared an Icelandic tradition of gathering when a loved one dies. Those closest to the deceased gather before the funeral and there is a feeling of close friendship. It is a time of thanksgiving and reconciliation. She has had the same feeling of closeness during her visit.

Rev. Jón Ragnarsson: The people of Iceland are surrounded by danger from the environment. They experience earthquakes and avalanches as a result of volcanic activity. As a pastor, crisis management is part of the ministry they do for and with the communities they serve.

Rev. Ingólfur Hartvigsson: Ingólfur was ordained in 2006 and works in the southeast of Iceland. The community that he serves was impacted by a volcanic eruption and earthquake in 2010. There was a foot of ash covering everything and people were in crisis. “First you need to find your inner calm. Once you find that calm, you establish contact with the people that are in your parish. You ask, ‘How are you coping? Do you need help?’ If you can’t find your inner calm you can’t help people.”

Rev. Magnús Björn Björnsson: Magnús spoke about the “overwhelming hospitality” that he has experienced during his visit to WTS. “What I have experienced here [illustrates] what we mean when we confess ‘I believe in the holy catholic church.’ I can see how the students are formed by the community here at Wartburg.”

The assembly enjoyed table conversation together about their own cross-cultural experiences and how these experiences opened their horizons. The theme of hospitality seemed to be the common thread of the stories shared at the table where I was seated. Intentional hospitality and what that means as we see the image of God in ourselves and those we come into contact. We need to consider how we present ourselves, as the guest and as the host/hostess, remembering that we are all acceptable to God as we learn to participate in the discipline of intentional hospitality. As we each shared around the table it was clear that no matter where we found ourselves, we were welcomed. I think each of us would agree with Gunnar, “We came as strangers and left as friends. It is a home away from home.”

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