Monthly Archives: November 2014

THRESHOLD OF LIVING By Tami Groth, final year MA Diaconal Ministry

Standing in front of the strips of paper I read the directions again: write the names of the saints in your life. The names of the saints that have died and gone before us on the white paper. Use the strips of colored paper to write the names of the saints in your life that are still with us. I began writing.

I wanted it to be something I did quickly before the next thing on my growing “to-do” list that day. I could not. Here in the space between Chapel and the refectory, and on my hurried way to the library, this request moved me outside of the carefully accounted for and scheduled moments of my day. I lost track of the slips. Name after name. Moment after moment.

I put down the marker, and held time still with my breath as I remembered standing in deafening silence surrounded by life and yet alone with death — unable to move out of the between and back into time.

I am standing in front of her fresh grave. We buried her exactly a week after I birthed her still body. In all respects it was a glorious sunny mild November day. I was told later that an eagle flew overhead right as the silence fell. The silence that deepened my numbness.

The moments I had not been able to imagine had come to pass  — the awful processional out into the world Emily wouldn’t know. First she was carried by her father in that tiny casket step-by-step down the church aisle, then the drive to the cemetery. We survived watching that tiny pink casket go into the ground next to her great-grandparents. We listened numbly to prayers.

In the first second of quiet we put single roses on top of that casket before it was1117_close buried in earth. Emily’s older sister, Megan, gave me the gift of being her 4-year-old self when nobody could convince her to give up the rose she was holding. In that moment I wanted to take her and gather her in my arms and twirl her around and around until we were both dizzy. I wanted to be in her moment of joy in the beauty of the rose.

Instead I continued to stare at her sister’s fresh grave–the still green grass, the black dirt, and pink. An eternity of quiet; holding my breath on the threshold of living into a reality of “forever changed.”

Just mere hours ago I had been encouraging the stream of people entering the church to look at her: “she’s so beautiful.” My heart ached to hold onto that beauty like a 4-year-old with her hands on a rose stem.

“I can’t do this anymore” I said not realizing my thoughts had broken the silence.

“Then don’t,” my mom said as she took my arm and gently guided me across that threshold.

I wiped my wet eyes and gulped in deep breaths of fresh air as I made my way from one Wartburg building to the next attempting to return to place and time — 13 years of living later — on my way to the library and the life of to-do lists. A glance at my watch claimed the moments connected in minutes.

The next week in chapel names were read, candles were lit, Gospel was spoken, and those slips of paper — white and colored — hung together in sunlit windows and air stirred them as if with the dance of eternal life.

ALL SAINTS DAY REMEMBERED by Josh Johnson, final year M.Div.

Homily given at Wartburg Seminary Chapel November 3, 2014

Today is All Saints Day, a day in which we remember and honor the saints of our lives. Saints are far and near, and both living and dead. As part of preparing for today’s message, I reflected upon experiences of this day since coming to Wartburg.

My first All Saints day here at the castle was the type of day that I had grown accustomed to. We celebrated those who had gone before us with familiar hymns, the reading of the names of the recently deceased, and the lighting of candles. It was a celebration of all those who had touched us throughout the years.

The following year was quite the opposite. As some of you know, my second year here on campus was marked by the death of our son Josiah. Shannon and I found out 2 weeks prior to school starting that his heart had stopped beating. Josiah was stillborn at 37 weeks.

All Saints took on a much different meaning for me. I remember yearning to hear his name read with the other saints.

This wasn’t the planned path; baby’s names are to be read at baptisms and other celebrations, but this was it for me.

Death gave us this one the last milestone.

This past All Saints service was also marked with a death in my life. Last summer my grandfather died at 80 years of age. He lived a long, fruitful life and was very special to me.

All Saints Day was a day of fond memories as I remembered my special relationship with him.

This is how I imagined All Saints Day to go, a sad, yet joyous commemoration.

Today’s gospel lesson comes from Jesus’ familiar teaching from the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes. I don’t know about you, but there’s something about these blessings that doesn’t settle with me.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, the hungry, and so on. How are the people who experience these blessed?

There’s no way Jesus is telling us that some of the most challenging and miserable situations in life are blessings. It has to be a problem in translation.

So let’s try out some alternative meanings for this Greek word:

How about, favored are the poor in spirit… no that’s not it.

Oh, fortunate are those who mourn… that’s not any better, fortunate is the last word that comes to mind when I think about the death of a loved one.

Ok, how about this one: privileged are the meek, or happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… no, those don’t work either

So, if blessed is the right word here, what is Jesus trying to tell his disciples?

The next question that begs to be asked from the text, is about the “wills” in the second half of the statement. They will be comforted; they will inherit the earth; they will be filled; and so on. So, when will this take place? When will those who mourn be comforted?

Death is an unavoidable reality of our world. Death sneaks in and takes away a loved one out of nowhere; death also comes for those for whom we expect it to come.

Nevertheless, death separates us from those we love. It stings. It hurts. It’s unfair. You know this. I know this.

When Josiah died and every hope and dream was dashed away in an instant, I was beyond crushed. I had nothing.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Sisters and brothers, I am here today to tell you that Jesus’ words are true. No, it’s not because Shannon and I were the “lucky” recipients ofa new angel baby watching over us in heaven.” Moreover, it’s definitely not because we were young enough to try to have more children. I love Noah beyond measure, but he is not God’s comforting answer.

God’s comfort came to us by other means.

God’s comfort came to us through two friends that showed up at a moment’s notice when we found out this dreadful news.

God’s comfort came to us through a supportive community that was present in our time of need.

God’s comfort came through the ones who finally treated us as a human beings rather than as a pity case.

God’s comfort continues to come through supportive friends who continues to be there.

In our time of desperation, we were blessed by the loving presence of those that God sent to comfort us. In our deep grief, in our most vulnerable state, we were blessed because all we had was God, and God was there.

The hurt and pain did not go away, and its memory still resides. Nevertheless, it is not to be borne alone.

We bear it in one another and we bear it in the one who experienced great agony on the cross.

This is the promise of our text today. No matter how crappy life feels, and no matter how far life beats you down.

God promises stand the test of time.

Christ is there when you are stripped of everything else.

The Spirit surrounds you with a witness of saints.

God is with you. Amen

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION By Allie Hjerpe, first year M.Div.

3 AllSaints_1 photo

Candles lit surrounding the baptismal font by the community in remembrance during the service.

Prayers of Intercession given in Wartburg Chapel worship November 3, 2014 during All Saints Week.







For those who are poor in spirit, those searching and yearning for the redemption of Immanuel, God with Us, that theirs is the Kingdom of God.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those who mourn, those wounded reeling from anxiety, anger and grief, that they will be comforted in Christ walking with them and bearing their pain.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those who are gentle, those caretakers and nurturers of our vulnerable resources, that they may bestow their loving protection on our earthly inheritance.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those aching to live according to God’s will, that they may be filled with an abundance of God’s satiating grace and love.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those who are merciful, those practicing compassion and forgiveness in the most challenging times, that they will experience God’s merciful presence.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those who are pure in heart, those open and curious in their faith maturation, that they may ask enough questions to grow, but trust God in the challenge of their journey for sight.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those who are the peacemakers, the advocates for peace and justice in the nations of the world, that they may be filled with authority and passion, and be known by their actions as children of God.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For those who are persecuted because of righteousness, those who are oppressed, rejected and injured in Christ’s name, that theirs is God’s peace and the kingdom of heaven.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Into your mercy we commend ourselves, and for peace we pray, that all your creation may give you praise and worship, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Rev. Ralph SmithThe following are excerpts from Ralph Smith’s two final homilies. Dr. Smith was Professor of Liturgics and Dean of the Chapel for ten years (1984-1994), a pastor, teacher and hymn writer. This November, twenty years after his death, the Wartburg Seminary community is actively remembering Ralph Smith and the important and lasting impact he has had on this community.

Homily Wartburg Chapel, Oct 26, 1994 [Text: Luke l0:38-42]

Hold Him Close, Hold Him Lightly

“My good friend in graduate school and liturgical study, Paul Nelson, may be dying. My daughter had a baby three weeks ago and made me a grandfather a bit earlier in my life than I expected. These two seemingly unrelated incidents prompted my remembering words spoken to me years ago during a health issue of my own, ‘Ralph, you need to understand that we do not have all the time in the world’. . .

We do not have, you or I, all the time in the world. Neither did Mary nor Martha, nor even Jesus. . . Yet no matter how much our head and our heart tell us that we do not have all the time in the world . . .

to write that letter of thanks,

to take that meal to an ill friend,

to clean up the environment,

to finish those few important projects

to tell spouse, children, parents, friends that we love them, and show it,

No matter how much our head and our heart tell us that we do not have all the time in the world . . .

to spend a quiet moment with someone dear to us,

to sing a song,

to pray a prayer,

to gaze at the glowing embers of a fire,

to see the sun rise and set,

to listen to the cry of someone in need,

to ask for strength and courage to face an uncertain future.

No matter how much our head and our heart tell us that we do not have all the time in the world . . . we so often live as though we do. Now that could be the most oppressive and debilitating word I could possibly speak to you today . . .

Ah, but you see, in Luke’s and our post-resurrection perspective it is already too late . . . and it is never too late.

We do not have all the time in the world, but we do have time.

When I lamented not knowing how to react to my grandson, Norma Everist wisely advised me to hold him close and to hold him lightly. It was a liberating word, without sentimentality, and it frees me to do both. To not be distracted . . . one thing is needful . . .

Hold Jesus close, and hold him lightly.

We are invited to love Jesus, but we cannot possess him. Luke understood that… so did Mary… so did Martha… so do you.”

Homily Wartburg Seminary Chapel November 21, Monday morning of Thanksgiving Week. [Text: Luke 15:1-10]
Eucharist Means Thanksgiving
The homily was on the missing sheep and coin, on being lost or found, on cause for rejoicing and thanksgiving. After his death four days later, the Bible on his office desk remained open to the Luke text along with his notes for the service. Here is the conclusion to his homily:

“There are only a few days of classes left until the Thanksgiving holiday. It is a week for Thanksgiving, for celebrations; and even in the midst of sorrow of those alone, separated from family and friends there is still thanksgiving for what the missing relationships have meant.

Thanksgiving is the heart of the Christian gathering; eucharist means thanksgiving . . . Paul said in Colossians, ‘Keep you roots deep in Jesus, build your lives on him, become stronger in your faith, and be filled with Thanksgiving.’”


Read more about Rev. Dr. Ralph F. Smith, as shared by the Wartburg Seminary community




Another season of giving thanks for the blessings in our lives calls to mind an old adage: “Don’t count your blessings; share them.” We reject a “me-first” ethic of scarcity in favor of an ethic of abundance, an outlook anchored in an attitude of gratitude. This outlook on life is reflected in the psalmist’s confidence in God’s abundance: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1), a deeply intimate and comforting expression of God’s abundant blessings, abundant love, goodness, and mercy that overflows into every area of our lives. This renders powerless the things of this world that we fear the most: death, enemies, and scarcity.

Robert Ketchum writes about this in his book, I Shall Not Want (a story recounted by Tim Hansel in Stories for the Family’s Heart). An ethic of abundance is succinctly communicated through a perceptive child: A young girl confidently responded to her Sunday school teacher’s invitation to recite Psalm 23 from memory. Although the teacher doubted the child’s ability to recite the entire psalm, the teacher encouraged the brave young student to come forward. After she had made her way to the front of the classroom, she proclaimed: “The Lord is my shepherd, that’s all I want.”

This ethic of abundance serves as a powerful antidote to the constant barrage of messages crafted to tell us the things we want: glitzy gadgets and newfangled gizmos seductively marketed to deceive us into believing they will satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart. Yet, like the prophetic four-year-old, individuals who approach life with an ethic of abundance gladly share their blessings with others. Individuals who cultivate the habit of giving thanks for the blessings in their lives are givers. They are able to look beyond themselves and to respond in gracious giving to neighbors in need; sharing gifts of their time, talents, and resources to organizations in need of donations and volunteers.

“Don’t count your blessings, share them” challenges us to approach life with an abundance mentality, an approach to thankful living in which practitioners generously give of their time, talents, and energies for the building up of Christ’s church on earth. This outlook is grounded in the belief, “The Lord is my Shepherd, that’s all I want.”

Rev. Dr. Ralph Smith Remembered

Rev. Ralph SmithDuring three weeks in November 2014 the Wartburg Seminary community remembered the Reverend Dr. Ralph Smith, former Dean of the Chapel, by singing many of the hymns Ralph wrote as well as sharing memories of their time with Ralph or moments of inspiration connected to Ralph and his work. The following is an edited collection of thoughts shared during this time honoring Ralph and remembering him on the twenty-year anniversary of his death.

His Words Live On: A Student’s Encounter With The Works Of Ralph F. Smith By Shawn Brooks, final year M.Div.

I first encountered the works of Professor Ralph F. Smith when looking for a Gathering Hymn for my Senior Preaching service. The phrase “glad anxious hearts” in his hymn “We Come Now Assembled” seemed to me to capture perfectly the normal emotional state of a seminarian. I was preaching on “the peace of God that passes all understanding,” and as I wrote about exchanging the peace during worship, I gratefully used Smith’s words from that same hymn about encountering and greeting Christ in everyone we meet.

While reading Professor Smith’s sermons while preparing my own it was evident that he had a keen understanding of, and deep appreciation for, the seminary experience and seminarians. His words capture the nuances of life at the unique place that is seminary. They also proclaim Christ crucified and resurrected in a powerful yet deeply moving way. The straightforward simplicity of Smith’s language makes his images all the stronger, and the fact that he loved his calling and Wartburg runs through everything I saw. Smith’s preaching is a model to which I now aspire. His gentle love for Christ and for those around him is an ever-present reminder of what it means to be pastoral.

In Remembrance of Ralph Smith By Norma Cook Everist, Professor of Church and Ministry

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.” This saying, which was on the door of Professor Ralph Smith’s office at Wartburg Seminary, spoke quietly, powerfully, to all who entered. Dr. Smith was Professor of Liturgics and Dean of the Chapel for ten years (1984-1994), a pastor, teacher and hymn writer. His walk was brisk. There were things to do.

He had no idea how many lives he touched so deeply, to naturally, so gently and with such strength that his life in Christ lives on. He lived so fully among us, seeing, listening, laughing, praying, knowing, remembering each person.

Ralph Frederick Smith, born July 29, 1950 in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. He received his BA from Gettysburg College as an English major, Summa Cum Laude. He received his M.Div degree from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg and was ordained in 1977. Pastor Smith served St. Martin’s Lutheran Church, Annapolis, MD, as Associate Pastor from 1977 to 1981. His Ph.D. was in the Department of Theology, the University of Notre Dame.

Ralph Smith married Cindy May 25, 1974 and they became parents to two RSmith3daughters, Erin and Kirsten. Ralph at the age of 44, and his grandson, Isaac Ralph Smith, son of Erin, were killed in a two-car, head-on collision on Highway 20, east of Galena, Illinois, the day after Thanksgiving, Friday morning, November, 25, 1994, 20 years ago. They were buried together at St. John’s Cemetery in Dubuque. Ralph’s wife, Cindy, as well as a student, Julie Higgs, and Wartburg’s Director of Admissions then, Gloria Kaiser, survived.

During three weeks in November this year Wartburg remembered him through singing some of the hymns he wrote while teaching here at Wartburg. The hymns were published in the book, Gentle Strength: Homilies and Hymns of Ralph F. Smith, in time for graduation that next spring after his death. He was followed in his Wartburg position by his dear friend from graduate school at Notre Dame, Prof. Thomas Schattauer.

Ralph wrote hymns to be sung in worshiping communities. He was sensitive to the relationship between text and tune. He carefully placed action verbs on strong beats, drawing our attention to them. Ralph frequently wrote poetry to commemorate an occasion or in gratitude for a relationship.

Ralph was called to Wartburg Seminary in the fall of 1984 having been elected as Professor of Liturgics and Dean of the Chapel. He began teaching Spring term, 1985, and was installed as a tenured professor on Reformation Day, 1990. He helped St Mark’s Lutheran Church in downtown Dubuque create St. Mark’s Community Center for Ministry. Ralph served as Coordinator for Churchwide Assembly Worship for the ELCA 1993 Assembly in Kansas City. A baptismal font commissioned for that assembly remains as Wartburg’s baptismal font.

Professor Smith published a number of articles, worship guides, preaching helps and professional papers. Together with Dr. Patricia Beatti Jung, he co-authored the book, Heterosexism: An Ethical Challenge (SUNY, 1994). Three days before his death he completed the final revision of his book, Luther, Ministry and Ordination, which was published in 1995 by Peter Lang.

The Smith Seminar Room at Wartburg Seminary is named in honor of Ralph F. Smith.

One Story By Thomas Schattauer, Professor of Liturgics and Dean of the Chapel

In this season remembrance for all the saints of God, I join with you in remembering Ralph Smith, who was my friend, my colleague in the study of liturgy, and my predecessor as professor of liturgics and dean of the chapel. His tragic death and that of his newborn grandson twenty years ago was a terrible shock to many of us, and his absence remains a great loss. Even that sense of loss, however, does not compare to the joy of remembering his great and generous spirit, his energy for life, and his readiness to give himself to us in each moment, all of which brings a smile to my face, yet a tear to my eye, as I write this.

One story. When I was beginning my dissertation research at the University of Notre Dame on Wilhelm Loehe’s liturgical work, I wanted to make a trip to Wartburg Seminary to take a look at the library resources for the study of Loehe and to confer with Gordon Lathrop, then professor of liturgics and dean of the chapel, about the direction of my research. I believe it was the fall of 1983. One day talking to Ralph, probably at lunch, which we often shared with other graduate student friends, I was trying to figure out how I would get to Dubuque. Ralph jumped in and without any hesitation said, “You can take my car.” So, my first trip to Dubuque and the seminary, I drove Ralph’s car. In fact, I drove through that very beautiful, but dangerous stretch of road where he was killed a little more than ten years later. When I drive that road today, I take note of the place where Ralph died, but even more I remember Ralph’s spontaneous generosity and enduring friendship.

It is good to remember Ralph together with you through these November days and to give thanks to God for his rich life and his witness to our common faith in Jesus Christ, the savior of the world. May he continue his rest in God’s peace among all the saints.

My Voice By Donnita Moeller, MDiv, STM, WTS Alum

Professor Ralph Smith helped me find my voice. I spoke with him one day about my frustration that my comments in classes would often be overlooked and then a male student would later say the same thing and the class would respond. After that day, when I would raise my hand in his class, Ralph would lift up my comment for further thought. He always said my name as the author of the thought but added his male voice and authority to give it weight in class. Over time the class began to hear me when I spoke. They began to think that I had something to say. But even more importantly, so did I. Ralph, thank you. I haven’t quit talking yet!

We‘re Still Singing By Roy Carroll, Cantor and Instructor of Organ and Church Music

I was encouraged to find words that I could use to recall my memories of Ralph RSmith2as well.  Here are a few. . . .a fully attentive listener, . . . a loving and caring pastor, . . . a husband and a parent; a quiet, contemplative, robust, humorous, compassionate, patient, grateful, welcoming, inclusive, gentle, direct, and deeply musical child of God, . . . one who was in tune with the rhythm of life, and who loved to sing.

I was privileged to collaborate with Ralph at WTS on a part time basis from the mid 1980’s until late November of 1994.  The endeavors and ministry he and I shared in those few brief years marked a critical stage in my own faith journey and formation as a musician in the service of the Church.

Echoes of various shared collaborative experiences from our time together at WTS resound in my memory to this day.  When we – the current WTS community, sing with full intention and expression, I can hear Ralph commenting on the incarnate beauty of such occasions.  Regardless of who is playing it, when the Dobson organ in Loehe Chapel helps to facilitate and enrich the song of the assembly and our shared musical life together at WTS, I give thanks to God for Ralph’s persistently patient pastoral leadership and guidance throughout the extensive process that led to the acquisition of that instrument and much of the chapel furnishings that we use so effectively today.  And then there are Ralph’s hymn texts . . . to know them is to know him.

While preparing my own reflective comments, I came across the following lines – I’m pretty sure Ralph is the author – in the opening pages of the dedication service for the Dobson pipe organ, which was celebrated on Sunday, December 3, 1989 – early in Advent.  Ever faithful to context and mission, Ralph wrote:

“Advent summons us to the source of our life in faith. We are invited to attend once more to the mystery of the Word made flesh. In the unfolding of the story we find assurance that

God is God with us. We hear the promise that in the midst of daily living, shaped by word and sacrament, we encounter Christ. We are offered a Gift, and our common hope stems from

from the wondrous possibility that through us this Gift transforms the world.”

The remainder of that dedication program proceeded in the Advent Lessons and Carols format which we still share as a community at WTS to this present time; a series of scripture and non-scriptural readings, prayer and of course, music – vocal and instrumental, for both rehearsed musicians AND the assembly,  . . the whole people of God.

One more “reflection.” Ralph helped me grow an appreciation for short, concise texts that can open a world of possibility.  Here’s one of those ‘short’ texts that he especially enjoyed sharing with me.  Again, think Advent. . .

“That man say we can’t have as much rights as a man ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman.  Where did your Christ come from?  From God and a woman.  Man had nothing to do with it.” –Sojourner Truth – nineteenth century.

Indeed.  Thanks, Ralph; we’re still singing.

VIGIL FOR A HOMICIDE VICTIM poem by Carina Schiltz, Intern, Milwaukee, WI

Just up the street from the old
stone Norwegian Lutheran church
sits a dozen candles set in a cross

a few beer cans and tomatoes at the
makeshift altar where a small group huddles
in the cold, the wind whipping the ladies’ skirts,
words coating the watchers and wonderers:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ “

Blood and ugliness has been erased,
washed from the street,
but the pavement will never be fully cleansed
or innocent again.

Perhaps the group is standing on the very place that he died.

His body on the pavement, unable to sustain the beating.

And somewhere in this city a wife
and two children sift through grief.

The produce company where he worked
has a newly sharp vacancy.

The unassuming neighborhood,
houses with sagging porches,
windows covered in shades and shutters
looks on.

A few curious cars creep by,
wondering at the group of church-goers
who look at the ground,
anywhere but each other,
because death is just too close right now.

The Bible-reader feels like giving up,
but something bubbles up in her voice,
pushing back despair and helplessness
so that the words continue to drift over the

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The pastor prays for God
to embrace the victim, the human, with mercy and peace.
“I’ve been waiting for him to come home,” the victim’s neighbor stutters
as the pastor pulls her into an embrace.

A breath, a pause, and the people
walk back down the
cracked sidewalks that have seen more violence
than they ever should.