Monthly Archives: May 2017

FINAL ISSUE OF THE PERSISTENT VOICE, BUT CHALLENGES GO ON by Dr. Norma Cook Everist, WTS Professor

It all began in the fall of 1989 with a knock on my seminary office door and the voice of one woman, Rhonda Hanisch, waiting for a call to pastoral ministry. She said, “We need a networking newsletter to keep connected –the women are waiting much longer for calls than men. It should have the word ‘Voice’ in it.” The next day she came back and added: “Persistent.” I said, “Let’s do it.”

If Rhonda named what was to be born, Rev. Juel Pierce, Wartburg graduate, financed the birthing expenses. She happened to come into my office a few days later and said, “I would like to donate my honorarium for being chaplain at Wartburg’s WELCA Bible Study event to helping women.” I said, “Thank you. I have just the thing. . . “

In January, 1990, Rebecca Ellenson and I published the first issue  of The Persistent Voice. In those early years our mission was, “The full inclusion of women in the ministry of the church and the full partnership of women and men.” The figures told the story: “Update on Wartburg Seminary M.Div graduates from previous years waiting for call: nine, including seven women and two men. Most are available for call anywhere .” (March/April 1990 Issue)

Issues regularly carried stories of WTS M.A. graduates. The first issue highlighted Rebecca Grothe, Senior Editor for Leadership Education at Augsburg Fortress and Wartburg’s first “Associate in Ministry in Residence .”

From the very beginning men as well as women were part of The Persistent Voice, with Ray Blank writing poetry on “Freedom” for the first issue. Many other men wrote poetry as well as articles, including Rev. Peter Heide and  David Weiss, M.A. graduate who since graduation has published several books.

By year 20 our mission had broadened to “Addressing issues of gender and justice across the globe and working towards the full partnership of women and men in ministry.” We had a policy to let each writer speak his or her own voice, to provide editorial assistance, and to not let any article go to publication without collaboration with the author on the final version

For twenty years we published a familiar goldenrod 11 x 14 print copy. Readership grew way beyond Wartburg to people around the world; printing and mailing was financed by the readers. Each issue contained “Feature Articles”, “Signs of the Times,” “The Global Scene,” “Book Review,” “Poetry,” “Challenge,” “Spirited Action,” and original artwork.  Broad topics; familiar format! (In the fourth year the staff suggested for variation we change the color, printing an issue in light blue. We heard an earful: “We want our goldenrod back! We see it in the mail and read every article!”)

Print it was; however, already by the end of the first year, Nov/Dec, 1990, the Rev. Earl Janssen, a WTS grad, began to put The Persistent Voice on the Lutherlink  computer network. It spread immediately, for example to the Center for Women in Religion in Berkeley, part of the Graduate Theological Union.  In those days students at many seminaries were amazed we could publish our newsletter openly and independently with the trust of the Wartburg administration.

Spring 2009 was our final print issue and Chris Deforest facilitated the complete transition to our place on the web under “Resources” and then “Student Voices” on the Wartburg Seminary home page. From print to Web page to email to Facebook to…

Each fall for 27 years we announced an open meeting and asked, “Is The Persistent Voice still needed?” The answer was always a resounding, “Yes!” The collection has become a history, including: news of the first female Lutheran bishop in the world, Maria Jesper, in Germany; the first female bishop in the ELCA, April Ulring Larson; the second, Andrea DeGroot Nesdahl, (both WTS grads).  Women were ordained in more countries in Africa, but not in Australia. Men and women were serving as diaconal ministers. Men and women were shaping new forms of collaborative leadership. A woman became a Lutheran seminary president in Canada, and then two in the ELCA, Phyllis Anderson and Louise Johnson (both WTS grads).

The longevity and quality of this publication has been noted so that the Archives of both the University of Iowa and Iowa State University asked for the complete set of issues to become part of their women’s history collection.

Our mission this year has been, “Addressing with Compassion and Courage Issues of Equality, Power, and Justice Across the Globe” This networking newsletter publishes its final issue, but the challenges persist. I give thanks to all of you, particularly to Amy Heinz , for her partnership this final year. Hundreds of students have been part of this adventure as reporters, writers, editors, and artists, carrying their persistent voices to this seminary and into the broader church and world.  Thousands more have been readers and actors in Christ’s call to vocations of justice.  Thanks be to God.

INVITATION TO LISTEN by Marlow Carrels, Final-year M. Div.

I am a white male who tries my best to be an ally for those who do not have a voice in our society. I am also a raconteur, a weaver of stories, and have enough anecdotes to fill many conversations. By contributing to The Persistent Voice, I have hoped to bring light to some issues that I have seen in my military career. This article is to remind all readers that there is still work to do, and a white male can help or hinder the voices of others.

It is important to remember the very beginnings of The Persistent Voice. In its first issue, the voices of female theological seminary graduates having to wait a long time for first call due to societal and ecclesial hesitancy were heard loud and clear. There was also a “Sign of Hope” about a seminary intern ministering to the Roman Catholic woman in the hospital. The woman said to the hospital’s priest, “Father, I want you to tell your sisters that they can do this [work] too!” A poem spoke to the oppression that challenges us and the liberation we can experience together. In its second issue, one article lifted up questions asked of a female candidate at a call committee interview: “How do you reconcile what the Bible says about a woman being subordinate to a man?” and “Are you concerned about legitimate social justice issues, or that silly women’s lib stuff?”

Some people think these issues no longer exist. No person has an issue with their voice being silenced; never would a call committee ask a candidate about their gender, race, sexual orientation, or immigration status. In other words, there is an existing illusion of a church in which every voice is heard and no person is afraid.

My friends, these problems still exist, and sadly they will likely persist. So how can I, a white male with military participation and a penchant for storytelling help the church? Perhaps I can interweave my stories with discussions that I have had with people of color, those in the LGBTQ+ community, and immigrants. Even better though, I could invite those whose stories I know to speak for themselves in my context. I could do my best to give them a space where their voice can be heard and where barriers can be broken down, walls can be destroyed, and bridges can be built. I have no specific answers; I simply hope that I am able to continue to use—and silence—my voice so that others may be heard.

SAFE SPACES FOR CHILDREN CONVOCATION by Kirsten Lee, Second-year M. Div.

The Wartburg Seminary community recently met for a convocation entitled “Creating and Maintaining Safe Spaces for Children” in our congregations, communities, and homes. Victor Vieth, Senior Director & Founder of the National Child Protection Training Center at Gundersen Health System lead the convocation. Victor is also a current Wartburg Seminary student expecting to graduate with a Master of Arts this spring.

The convocation addressed the impact abuse can have on a survivor’s spirituality during and after the childhood abuse. A study of 527 child abuse victims reported having “significant spiritual injury”, but also reported praying more frequently and having a “spiritual experience” (Lawson, et al, Child Abuse & Neglect (1998)).  Every child is impacted spiritually; questions of faith, love, and forgiveness remain long after abuse ends. Questions, such as, “How is God present in my abuse,” or “What does this say about God or me” remain long after the abuse occurs.  As church leaders, we are encouraged to find similar questions in scripture as we help survivors find their own words through scripture. Religious and spiritual forms of coping “contribute to decreased symptoms, greater self-esteem, and overall greater life satisfaction.” (Bryant-Davis 2012).

Tragically, clergy may sometimes use a “religious cover” to justify the abuse (i.e. their “good works” overshadow the abuse; God gave this child to me).  Clergy often communicate this cover to the victims, which leads to a greater impact on spirituality. Offenders often seek churches because of weak policies, unconditional love and forgiveness, and as a safe place to have access to children.  This demands a need for churches to create and regularly update policies to protect children from abuse (click here for more information) and provide educational opportunities for both clergy and parishioners.

Vieth also shared insight on how church leaders might address the spiritual needs of both survivors and offenders. He offered practical tips for providing pastoral care to both groups of people based on their unique needs, including the need to stay within the pastoral field of expertise and coordinate with law professionals, mental health therapists, and community leaders.

The following are quotes from students who attended this convocation. Students were asked to reflect further on how they were impacted as church leaders by this convocation. Several students responded with comments on how their own experience with child abuse has impacted their spiritual growth and their growth as a church leader.

“It is a great tragedy that these abuses happen not only at home but also in churches, as the media has been opening our eyes to in recent years. I feel all church leaders should be aware of this and for their own sake take courses on boundaries. Once leaders know their boundaries, it is crucial to become informed on how to spot abuses happening and how to respond. The church should never have and can never again ignore abuse or use Scripture to keep people in abusive situations. In my opinion, the worst thing to happen is for leaders to say to themselves in retrospect, ‘How did I not see this? All the clues were right in front of me and I missed it.’ The Church’s business IS the well-being of the lives of humans.”

“Aside from leaders being educated on the signs of abuse and what to do, churches need to also educate others. We need to offer educational events that are free and open to all to come and learn. Churches can also make it a part of their constitution/mission to safeguard children and all who are abused. In cases of caring for the abused, it takes a village. Churches and their members can offer safe spaces, food, basic needs, resources in the community, and someone to talk to. The worst thing the church can do in any situation of such grief is to ignore or deny the problem/situation. If the cross is truly part of the Church’s identity, we must be ready and willing to enter into the death and darkness of this world.”

“I have attended two ‘Safe-guarding God’s Children’ workshops through the ELCA.  I highly encourage that we students attend one of these training sessions.  After having done so, I saw that my home congregation was very negligent in having safety policies and screenings of volunteers working with children.  We immediately worked on implementing policies and guidelines, as well as background checking all volunteers. This convocation affirmed the necessity for continual reevaluation of policies and training.  I had not previously thought of the abuse that occurs with religion used as part of the abuse.  This was very eye opening to me.”

“My heart is broken, and also uplifted. I was hurt as a child, so it hit particularly close to home. The convocation shows a stark reality of the church’s failure, yet it offers hope because a room full of church leaders were similarly heartbroken. We will go into the church shaped by what we learned, protecting children, and perhaps leading predators to get the help they need. I also see the enormity of the work we have to do. There is no excuse for the church to have let itself become a place where predators go because it’s easy. The church has failed in this. And I hope we can make it succeed.”

“The subject of child abuse of all kinds is often taboo. This convocation brought the language to light. Child abuse must be talked about. The stigma towards admitting the church has a problem must be overcome. The Church can host community forums and offer training, or at least, a location for another organization to do trainings for their volunteers. Churches need a policy with an annual review. Volunteers must be trained. For the sake of children, complacency isn’t good enough. The topic needs to be brought out into the open.”

THE POWER CYCLE AND IMMIGRANTS IN THE U.S. by Nicole Garcia, Second-year M.A. Diaconal Ministry

The power cycle, as referenced in the book, Transforming Leadership (Fortress: Everist and Nessan 2008), shows how those in power maintain power over the powerless, and how that cycle can be interrupted at different stages so that people can experience new relationships of  healthy partnership and community. At first the powerful ignore the powerless and the powerless may internalize this deprecation. But when the powerless make their presence known (“Here I am”), or increase in numbers, the powerful notice and may feel threatened. In the power cycle, the powerful systemically move from ignoring to trivializing. If the powerless refuse to accept such trivialization and claim their voice, the power cycle may escalate to ridicule and finally to eliminating the powerless through dismissal, exclusion or even annihilation. Here we will see how this power cycle is currently in use in the United States in regard to immigrants and particularly undocumented immigrants.

People come to the United States from other countries seeking better lives and work to provide for their families. Most of the time these people are completely ignored. Unless one is an immigrant or is directly impacted by their presence in one’s life, one wouldn’t even be aware of them. These are the people picking tomatoes, strawberries, oranges, grapefruit, grapes, and probably just about any other fruit or vegetable that is mass produced in this country. How many people who eat these things actually think about where they come from or who was involved in providing them with that food? Many refugees and immigrants are also able to find work cleaning in hotels or working in restaurants. How many people acknowledge those who clean their rooms? When was the last time any of us thought about who was actually doing the cooking or washing the dishes? These are not glamorous jobs, but the United States would be a very different country without them.

When ignoring the thousands of immigrants who are here is no longer enough, people with power trivialize the powerless. Even the system currently in place to make judgments in immigration trials trivializes people. Often people petitioning to remain in this country are granted 6 more months here without deportation until their next court date, but no work visa. What kind of work can one obtain without a work visa or citizenship? Work that most people born in this country are unable and/or unwilling to do.

When ignoring or trivializing the thousands of immigrants who are here is no longer enough the powerful begin to ridicule them by blaming them for all the problems in our society, such as drugs, murder, and gangs. These things are “all the fault of people born outside of this country.”

In the power cycle, at any point there is opportunity for the powerful to welcome the powerless and to form new healthy relationships. Unfortunately, if that does not happen, fear of the immigrant increases, especially if their numbers grow. Right now, this country is in the midst of an elimination of immigrants. People are being deported and separated from their families every day. Many in this country do not even realize this is happening, but it is. When U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detains people, the agents do not even have to tell families where the individuals are being taken. If a name is misspelled when ICE agents enter it into the system, the family may never be able to find their loved one, especially if they do not know the individual’s Alien Registration Number. In 2008, agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security raided a slaughterhouse and meat packing plant in Postville, Iowa. Some of the children rounded up in this raid were taken to California, and today there are still parents looking for their children.

It terrifies me to think about the many times in history when similar things have happened. No one wants to think that such a thing is possible in their own country, until it happens. At that point, so much damage may have been done that there appears there is nothing one can do to stop it. In the midst of a fearful time such as this, the call to walk with those being oppressed is a challenge—a persistent challenge.

“OTHER” LABELS by Paris Comentino, Second-year M.Div.

Citizens of the United States of America have a propensity to use labels. The assumption seems to be that white people are the only ‘true’ Americans. If one is not white, one is African-American, Asian-American, Native American, Latino-American, and the list goes on and on. In fact, US citizens often don’t recognize that there are many other “Americans” in the countries of North and South America.

People have spent decades coming up with the most appropriate label to place on people of color, especially black citizens, regardless of the fact that all are American. For example, if Euro-American is not a commonly used label in the United States, why is the label African-American so commonly used? Many African-Americans have as many ties to Africa as I, a Caucasian woman, have to Europe – none! White privilege and racism are still alive and well in America today and none of us can afford to deny it any longer.

Over the last few years the Black Lives Matter Movement has emerged and made waves all throughout America. This movement started from the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on Twitter after the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, was not held accountable for his murder, even though he had no reason for shooting Martin except for the fact that he was a young black male walking around at night in a hooded sweatshirt. Zimmerman claims he thought Martin had a gun, but all he had was some candy and tea. This is just one more tragic story of a black life lost in recent history. Alicia Garza, one creator of the movement, says this movement is “…rooted in the experiences of Black people in this country who actively resist … dehumanization. #BlackLivesMatter  is a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society.” blacklivesmatter.com/about/

Some media sources portray this movement as starting riots and causing more harm to neighborhoods than good. Many individuals portray this movement as anti-police and insist on picking sides; either one favors the Black Lives Matter movement or the local police force. This is fed through the historical lens of white privilege and the drive to label all non-European-whites as scary, violent, and harmful to society.

Besides the division the media has made between this movement and the police, another counter-argument that has emerged is that all lives matter. Ah, yes. This is beautiful and so very true. But the sad truth is that not all lives have mattered and all lives cannot matter until BLACK lives matter. How long is this country going to deny history, facts, and lived reality? Denial allows people of white privilege to live comfortably in a dream world where nothing is wrong, but this same denial that makes some people comfortable is killing black people. How long, O Lord, can people sit by in silence? How long, O Lord, can people keep these problems out of sight, out of mind?

Christians are called to insure all lives do matter. The Gospel places all of us in the midst of what is broken in this world. As Christ descended into the brokenness of humanity, we, too, are called to these places to walk with each other as brothers and sisters, and to bring the healing and hope of Christ to the world.

“In these trying circumstances, the black revolution is much more than a struggle for the rights of Negroes. It is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws – racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism. It is exposing the evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

WHEN PEOPLE SAY, “I DON’T SEE YOUR WHEELCHAIR” by Rev. Lisa Heffernan, M. Div., WTS 2013

This might surprise a lot of people, but it bothers me when someone says they don’t “see my wheelchair” or my disability. It’s taken me a number of years to figure out why this bothers me so much. Of course, I want people to recognize my humanity first, right? Of course, I want my friends and family to see me – the weird, “Lord of the Rings” loving, occasionally overly-emotional, funny, theology nerd they’ve known for 30 years — first, right? Right!

But here’s the thing: having been born with spina bifida and being a full-time wheelchair user has shaped me and who I am in the world. The fact that I have a disability is a part of my reality I want others to see! That’s because, along with the wheelchair, they will see a young woman whose father’s death due to complications of multiple sclerosis has driven her to continue his work of advocating for people with disabilities. They will see a sister and daughter who would not have completed college or seminary without the encouragement, pushing, and support of her mother and brother. They will see a disability theologian and pastor who would not have been open to the work of the Holy Spirit in her life without friends who said, “You’ll become a pastor. Just wait.” or “The Church needs to hear your voice.”

In the end, “the thing” is that I would not be the person I am without my disability. Sure, I have bad or “down” days (sometimes weeks) because of the physical and relational struggles that have come along with it. It would be foolish or dishonest to say that I don’t sometimes wish I hadn’t been born with spina bifida when I have one of those bad days. As I get older and have begun to own who I am and all I’ve been through, though, those days don’t come as often as they did when I was a child. Today’s struggles are like those of a lot of women who are my age: trying to discern what comes next in my early 30’s as I look ahead to my future in ministry and academia, and figuring out where future relationships and family fit into that. I just get to navigate those things sitting down, rather than standing up!

As I navigate this life from my wheelchair, my hope and prayer is that the “-abled” world around me can understand this: When you tell me (and perhaps others like me) that you don’t see my disability, we may hear it in a way other than you intend. For my part, I hear you saying: “Having a disability is bad, and something to be pitied or unwanted. You’re more than this negative thing in your life.” The message that comes across is that others believe I hate my disability, so I must want it to be forgotten about so I can be viewed as a whole person by others.

Newsflash: I am a whole person. All persons with disabilities are “whole.” Our realities don’t match up with a world that looks to ridiculous standards of beauty, wealth, and physical and mental perfection in order to be seen as a whole person — as fully human. And you know what? That’s OK! People with disabilities have the same range of emotions, desires, and aspirations as those without disabilities. The problem is that attitudes and structures exist which limit how we can participate in the world. That is maddening and heartbreaking for me, not just because of my own life experiences, but because I know so many people with disabilities who could live into the fullness of who I believe God created them to be if the “-abled” world would open up even just a little bit more.

Great strides have been made with that since the ADA was passed, but we are still far, far from true equality and inclusion in this world. I don’t know how to fix it or make it better, but I feel called to help do that someday. I’ve made a start or two to “get my wheel in the door,” so to speak, but I’ve got a long way to go. So, when you see me or someone like me, please don’t assume I need you to validate my humanity by downplaying my disability. Nor do I need you to start believing the negative stereotypes that make people with disabilities seem helpless. Just get to know me — spina bifida, wheelchair, nerdiness, and all — and see that my life is not to be pitied – or something “inspiring” either! It’s just my life, one I want to live as freely and interdependently as I can. It hasn’t all been bad so far, and it wouldn’t be what it has been or will be down the road, if it weren’t for this speedster that helps me down that road — my wheelchair.

First published at: https://themighty.com/2017/04/my-disability-is-part-of-who-i-am/

Rev. Lisa Heffernan is pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, Chamberlain, SD.

NCE by Dr. Craig Nessan, Academic Dean, WTS

One persistent voice
Beckons others to bold speech
Hear our choir sing