Category Archives: Interview


Wartburg’s campus has been enriched by the presence of international students for decades. Second year Michaelo Abasori, who is from Ethiopia, shares his passion about God’s work in the world and his own call to ministry.

“I am called to serve everybody,” Michaelo asserts. “I’ve been in ministry since I was young; I serve every people in every culture. God has called us to serve every people in every culture, the big, the small, the rich, the poor.”

Michaelo’s gifts and passion for ministry were recognized by others at an early age. At fourteen he began to take on leadership roles in his church, which was Lutheran. He lead choir, Bible studies, prayer, ministered to people, heard their stories, and worked on building community, bringing people together from different backgrounds, cultures, and languages.

As a child, his foundation of faith was built through attending church, Sunday school, confirmation, and hearing the pastors’ teachings. “I started to have faith in God, learning about people around me, [and] how to love people. That’s the foundation,” recalls Michaelo.

Did he always know one hundred per cent that he was called to being a pastor? He answers, “When I was young I had mixed feelings. I knew that I lived to serve the community [and] the church, but [at] the same time, I didn’t know that it was the right thing for me, so I struggled with that feeling. That’s how it starts. People liked what I did in the church, how I prayed with them, how I led worship or Bible study, and they said this is your gift, you’re going to make a good pastor, but I didn’t like it! I think everybody has that kind of feeling, right?” Michaelo laughs.

“Through time, through my struggle, I came to know that [this] is what God’s calling me to do, because I’ve seen that the ministry that we do in the church and in the community has great impact in the community and world [and it] is changing lives. So I decided there’s nothing better than this to do in my life. I committed myself to the call.” Michaelo was around 20 years old.

Michaelo’s commitment and call has led him to Wartburg Seminary. “When I came to United States, I was looking for a way in which I could serve the church of Christ,” recalls Michaelo. “Through prayers and through time, I knew God was guiding me through the Northeast Minnesota synod, by the support of brothers and sisters there.” Now, Michaelo is in his second year of seminary at Wartburg “to learn more and engage the gospel in the context of the culture.”

From Ethiopia to the US and beyond, Michaelo sees God at work and finds much hope in that. “God is not only working in this century; God is working from the beginning in every culture, in every society, all over the world. The hunger [and] the hope the church has right now—it’s great. There is hope for the church. God is working through them, through us, you know,” he nods.

Michaelo is encouraged by people’s response to the gospel. “God is working in people’s lives—in everybody’s life, that’s what I’ve seen. God is doing great things here in the US and other parts of the world.”


As representatives of the ELCA journey to South Sudan to break ground for a Lutheran Center in Juba, they join representatives who are already witnessing to hope of peace and reconciliation in a war-torn area. Of those working in South Sudan is Bishop Samuel Peni, bishop of the Nzara Diocese in the Episcopalian Church of South Sudan (ECS). As a part of his travel to the U.S, Bishop Peni joined Wartburg students and faculty on Nov. 2 during a luncheon sponsored by the Center for Global Theologies to share his perspective on the intersection of the ECS and the current situation of South Sudan. A 2009 graduate of Wartburg Theological Seminary, he noted that his study here helped enhance his ability to live out his call in the ECS. While at Wartburg, he knew full well that he would be returning to a country ravaged by violence. But what he did not know, however, is that the level and character of the violence in South Sudan would change in the time that he was studying in the U.S.

As Bishop Peni spoke of continued dissension and conflict in his home country, he continually returned to themes of power, religion and tribal differences. Though Sudan has a long history of violence resulting from various power struggles, the region has most recently been negatively affected by two civil wars. Following a brief period of peace after the first civil war, the second civil war began after President of the Republic of Sudan, Gaafar Nimeiry, declared Sudan an Islamic state in 1983. The civil war continued until 2005 when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in Nairobi. Though this document was signed, Bishop Peni attested to the continued violence even after 2005. By July 2011, South Sudan declared its independence from the Republic of Sudan.

However, since South Sudan gained its independence, conflict surrounding the availability of oil resources and tribal differences has continued. During the civil war, the Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army/Movement committed violence against many villages in an attempt to disarm rebellions. As a result, inter-ethnic fighting has intensified. Bishop Peni spoke to this reality, noting that people often look at each other first in light of their tribal association.

In an attempt to help foster an environment of peace and reconciliation among tribes, Bishop Peni helped organize leaders of different church bodies to work together against the effects of continued violence and discrimination in their country. He took this group of leaders to Rwanda where they learned about the effects of the Rwandan genocide and how Rwanda has healed from its past and embraced new beginnings. From there, these leaders engaged in conversation and training, helping them embrace a future of peace and reconciliation in South Sudan.

Now, Bishop Peni notes that he, along with other church leaders, are integral in the effort to unite tribes and influence government on the county and state levels. Bishop Peni explained that while the church’s connection with legislative bodies has changed over time, that he and other church leaders have been invited to offer prayer at government meetings. In doing this, Peni stated that this gives him – and other church leaders – an opportunity to state their voice in the midst of discussion.

As the church continues its work in South Sudan, Bishop Peni stressed the need for theological education of church leaders, asking numerous times for students, pastors and professors to come to South Sudan to teach. He spoke very highly of his education at both Wartburg Theological Seminary and of his short time at the University of Dubuque Theology Seminary and stated that the future of the ECS is intrinsically related to its continued education. Additionally, he stressed the ECS’s continued role in systems of government to advocate for peace and reconciliation. Finally, Peni noted that the ECS has a good working relationship with the Catholic Church, helping to foster more relationships in pursuit of peace. With a connection of both education and work for justice, Peni witnessed to a hope for a new day in South Sudan.

As Bishop Peni continues his work, he noted that he must often consider his and his family’s safety. He noted that often needs to sleep in different homes throughout the journey of a trip in South Sudan to protect himself. He spoke of how his bodyguards protect him so that he can continue to do his work, and he shared that his family is temporarily living in Uganda based on the volatile situation in South Sudan. But even in light of this, Peni spoke with hope concerning his work and the work of the ECS. He openly asked for prayer and for people to learn the story of the Sudanese, imploring us to embrace a vision of peace and reconciliation for all peoples as a part of God’s good creation. As people united in Christ, we join Bishop Peni’s quest for peace and give voice to the continued story of struggle in South Sudan.


Serving as a pastor for twelve years in rural villages of Namibia, Naambo has now begun a two-year Masters of Theology at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, IA. One might be surprised at the deep connection between these two places, but Naambo’s presence on campus is a testament to deeply-rooted relationships between Wartburg Seminary and Lutherans in Namibia. When she considered doing a Masters of Theology, other Namibian pastors encouraged her to come to Wartburg. “They convince you to come here! It’s the best [they say]! I don’t know how they know it’s the best seminary, because they only know Wartburg!” Naambo laughs.

Beyond prompting from other pastors, how did Naambo’s journey lead her to Dubuque? We must return to her childhood. She is the oldest of five and grew up in the Lutheran church. Her grandparents on both sides and her parents are Lutheran. “When I grew up, my parents were usually churchgoers, especially my mom,” Naambo remembers. “She sang in the choir. When I was little I followed her and started singing [in the choir, too]. It shaped me to who I am now.”

While Naambo went to church and Sunday school throughout childhood, it was difficult for her because she was not accepted by society in general. Naambo was born with albinism. In a crowd of Namibians, she stands out because her skin and hair are light-colored. Albinism is characterized by little pigment, or color, in skin and hair, and is caused by a gene mutation which affects production and distribution of melanin. Albinism runs in her family, and one of her brothers was also born with it. Of Namibia’s 2 million people, about one in every 3,000 is born with Albinism. [1]

“I wasn’t accepted,” said Naambo. People understood albinism as a curse. “Maybe you did something to someone or to God—that was the understanding.” In the past, it was dangerous to be born with albinism, and some argue that it still is, because, “If parents gave birth to albino children, they would kill them at birth,” recalls Naambo. This is not the case all the time, but albinism still carries huge stigmatism.

Albinism was isolating. Children and even adults would single out Naambo, ignore her, or make fun of her. “She’s not part of us, she’s not like us,” were the sentiments that Naambo heard and felt since she was very young.

“Sometimes I cursed God. Why did God create me different from others? Why am I like this? If God is there, why do I have to suffer like this?”

It was not until eighth grade that Naambo had a true friend. “She was strong enough to defend herself,” said Naambo, speaking of the teasing that her friend endured because she shared friendship with Naambo. While the friendship was real, true, and encouraging, it ended in high school when the girls went to different schools. After that, it was back to life with no friends and no acceptance. Naambo did not go to her first week of high school because of the ridicule she received from classmates.

Thankfully, this is not the current situation in which Naambo finds herself. “I have many friends now who accept me as a person,” she says. During that first week of high school, one pastor in the local church took her for counseling and she learned to begin to understand herself and accept herself. “Even though I am different from others I am still in the image of God.” There is still a fear, though, when Naambo goes to a new place. “Am I going to be accepted?” she wonders.

Despite social isolation, Naambo was a passionate student, devoted to studying medicine. She wanted to be a doctor, and her favorite subjects were biology and physical science. However, there was a struggle within her. “One voice was saying go, one was saying don’t go,” she reflects, remembering her process of discernment to ordained ministry. Growing up she’d always thought she’d be a doctor, but then, “It was a call for me, a voice, like Isaiah, saying ‘Whom shall I send’?”

Naambo contemplated this call for three years. Throughout that time she had doubt and questions. Though women had been ordained in Namibian Lutheran churches since the 70s, she still remembered a Bible verse that said women were to remain silent in the church. Her understanding of scripture was very literal at that time in her life; however, she still heard another voice, the call to ministry. She talked to her pastor, thinking, “Maybe this is where God wants me to go” and then began seminary. “After that, everything went smoothly,” she smiles.

Naambo attended Paulinium Seminary, which is Namibia’s Lutheran seminary. Though there are three Lutheran bodies, separated mostly because of language, the churches have one seminary. While at seminary, Naambo was transformed. Her relationship with God, others, and herself changed. She understood who she was and what she was called to do. Her theology was changed and her understanding of the Bible was changed. She “learned to read the Bible with the eyes of the culture” of those who were writing and to whom they were writing. Not only was she educated academically, but the social interactions in which she found herself were different from her childhood. People accepted Naambo as a person.

After four years in seminary, Naambo was ordained. At her ordination, she remembers thinking, “Here, as a pastor, I feel like, yes, this is where I’m supposed to be.” Naambo loves being a pastor. “I do my work freely,” she smiles. “I love my work, especially to walk among people.” Her favorite people to serve are children in Sunday school and the elders.

The congregations she has served for the past twelve years are in rural villages. Her current congregation is in a village of two hundred people, but serves a total of four villages. There are over 4,700 members of the church, and about 500 people attend worship on a regular Sunday. Because of weather during the rainy season and flooded roads, the church has several posts throughout the countryside that are accessible.

When Naambo preaches, she hopes that people hear good news. “Love for yourself, love for others, love for God,” she says. “The main thing is that you want people to connect with God.” Naambo hears the gospel for herself, too, knowing that she is made in the image of God. “If God is God of all, that means…we are all the image of God, even though I was born [different], I am accepted by God as I am.” Regarding albinism, Naambo understands it now this way: “Even though we are different in colors, colors cannot divide us. We are all equal before God.”

Being a pastor in Namibia has challenges and joys. Poverty and unemployment are the roots of many problems, including robbery. There are also many killings of women. Naambo says it is “worse than ever” both in cities and rural villages. Men kill the women, usually women they were or are in a relationship with, due to jealousy or some other cause. As a pastor, Naambo is called upon to counsel the families of both the victim and the perpetrator, who is usually in jail. These two families are brought together in hopes that there would be unity. “It’s really difficult to help them. You have to unite those families, but it doesn’t always work,” Naambo explains. Other difficulties of being a pastor in Namibia is the prevalence of alcohol abuse and the violence it causes.

While the issues are deep, Naambo sees hope. “I see hope in everything we are doing because God is there. God can work to bring change. As a pastor I can do what I can, but I cannot change the people. Only God can change them.”

Being a pastor in Namibia is joyful for Naambo. “People are really helpful!” The people are unified, caring for their pastor, for one another, and even for strangers. “The spirit of ‘serve one another’ is there in my church,” Naambo says proudly. For instance, if there is a death in someone’s family, “You don’t need to worry—people come with everything to help, even though they’re not related, just the people of God from your church!” In all cases, people come “to offer every help they have, even with the little he or she has.”

The spirit of “ubuntu”, or togetherness, is real in Naambo’s congregation. “I need you, you need me, even though we are not related,” she explains. “Everyone is there for the other.”

Naambo embodies that gracious spirit of “ubuntu” on Wartburg’s campus. The connection of Wartburg and Namibia is still alive. God is at work, inspiring in us, as Naambo says, “togetherness.”

“You are not there for your own, but for each other.”


For more information, please visit the following:

Albinism in Namibia:

“Albinism: Rising above the odds” article from The Namibian 6/16/15

Namibian Lutheran Church:

The three church bodies are known as ELCRN, ELCIN, and GELC. World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation websites offer overview information.

Wartburg Seminary is home to extensive archives about the history of Namibia’s independence and the Namibia Concerns Committee. Students have written their theses on the Wartburg-Namibia connection, and these theses can be found in Reu Memorial Library.


Dr. Ann Fritschel Shares Part of Her Story

Originally shared by the Global Advocacy Committee, these powerful stories of women faculty are shared in the hopes of encouraging women to live more boldly and to give a better understanding of the female experience through recent history in theological education. 

While I was a pioneer in attending the Military Academy at West Point, I was not a pioneer as a woman attending seminary. I am extremely grateful for those who went before me and bore pain, prejudice and sorrow. I was among the first 100 women at Wartburg, but the way had been paved well before I came. It was still a time of transition though. I had classmates who did not believe women could be pastors. Professors made biblical and theological arguments supporting women’s right and privilege to be ordained. It was still enough of a time of transition that we needed space in the community for us to gather separately as women to discuss our lives, experiences and what was happening in the church. For a while there was even a women’s room for us to use. Some of the men always wondered what the women were “plotting”, but most were gracious to give us space. We also benefited greatly from the wisdom and modeling of Norma Cook Everist as a faculty member.

For internship I was sent to Tulsa, Oklahoma. The congregation had asked specifically for a woman intern. Several families took the year off and went to a different Lutheran church because I was there. Actually, they had to take two years off because after I left the congregation asked for another woman intern. Not because I had done such a good job, but so I was not the standard by which future women pastors would be judged. They understood women pastors, as well as men, would be very different and offer different gifts. I often heard at that time, “We had a woman pastor and she did a horrible job.  We’ll never have another one.” And yet I wondered if the congregation had a bad male pastor, would the same thinking apply?

Dr. Ann L. Fritschel, Professor of Hebrew Bible, The Rev. Dr. Frank L. & Joyce S. Benz Professor in Scripture, Director of the Center for Theology and Land, Wartburg Theological Seminary

Dr. Ann L. Fritschel,
Professor of Hebrew Bible, The Rev. Dr. Frank L. & Joyce S. Benz Professor in Scripture, Director of the Center for Theology and Land,
Wartburg Theological Seminary

When seeking a second call, there was one congregation that refused to interview me or look at my paperwork because I was a woman. At my first sermon at my second call, some people kept waiting for God to strike the church with lightning. I can see the harm of stereotyping and prejudice the isms produce and unfortunately many types of prejudice are still active in the church today. Fortunately as more people got to know me, they relaxed and pondered how God might be at work in the world. Yet all of this was not possible without many people standing up for women’s ordination and willing to change the system.​

FROM FERGUSON: TWO INTERVIEWS WITH REV. RICK BRENTON, WTS GRADUATE, by Norma Cook Everist, WTS Professor of Church and Ministry

December, 2014:

Rev. Richard Brenton, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Ferguson, Mo, (WTS 2010) in a telephone interview, said, “People are in need of ministry and are asking difficult questions. My calling is to walk with them.” He reported then that he was just beginning to feel how tired he was. “It’s been like living in a fish bowl” since August 15, 2014 when Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

After the shooting, Pastor Brenton along with other clergy marched with the protestors. Thousands of people marched. The clergy took toiletries and food with them for the protestors who came not only from the area but from across the country. In late November, after the release of the Grand Jury decision, Zion provided safe Sanctuary. Rick said he stayed at the church and kept the doors open. This sanctuary also provided legal observers and medical help. Many people came through, engaging also in important conversation.

Zion Lutheran, is “quite conservative,” with many white members now over 65 or 75, said Pastor Brenton. “Most of them think all of this will ‘go away’ when ‘things quiet down.’ The congregation is 25% African American, most in their middle adult years. Their children and grandchildren make up the youth in the congregation. They see things differently.” Rick tries to help the people see that “change is among us.” He knows his calling is to minister to the entire congregation and that this is a challenge. “It creates a delicate tension, a fine line.” The people within the congregation love one another. Rick said, “Loving care is central.”

Rick added, “There is not division or conflict within the congregation. We have strong relationships. Everyone knows everyone in the congregation.” It’s the people that the white folks don’t know that causes generalizations from the old white guard. We hear words such as “those people” and “those protestors.” And “those blacks.”

Rick has completed four years as pastor at Zion and trust has grown over those years. He has long been part of the Ferguson Ministerial Alliance.

March, 2015:

With the release of the U.S. Justice Department’s report on Ferguson, there is “renewed angst and denial,” said Pastor Brenton, in another phone call interview. “People don’t want to face the truth. Over the years they have allowed this to happen, have become used to it, and don’t want to admit that it’s real.” The evening of the interview Rick was going to ask the Church Council to provide some open forums for the congregation. “We need an atmosphere of trust,” said Rick, “because the issues are very polarizing. It’s like going through stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, blaming and depression.” They say, “We’ve read all about it and we don’t want to talk about it anymore.” They are shutting down. It has been overwhelming all these months. Overload. With the spotlight of the nation on them again, Rick said, “We have to interpret the events in the light of the Gospel.”

They need to know that systemic racism is everywhere, not just in Ferguson, so that they can feel not just shame, but Christ’s suffering for all on the cross. This has been especially important when headlines lately have compared the shooting of an unarmed young black man in Wisconsin to them, saying, “Madison handled it better than Ferguson.” Comparisons are not the point. There is justice work to do in every community. Religious leadership is important wherever one receives a call.

When asked how he was doing personally, Rick said, “Some days are fine; others are a real struggle. It’s a challenge to say the least.” He added, “It is important to stay close to Christ and to Christ’s journey.”

Now well into his 5th year he knows the congregation and the community and understands that people hold on to their old ways of adapting to injustices around them. Now feeling judged by the Justice Department Report and the nation, the issues are not being dispelled, but amplified. There is both shame and sentiments of, “You are running down our town.” Pastor Brenton said, “The African Americans at Zion are much in tune with the Gospel, very understanding and forgiving. But how much longer are they going to feel comfortable attending Zion?”

Rick is trying to minister to the white members of the congregation and to support the African American members (He also feels support from them.) We referenced the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, which thousands walked over recently marking the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. In some ways, Rick is also a bridge himself. He added, “And I feel the footprints on my back.” He gave thanks for the support of his bishop and for many friends through Facebook. He added that his education at Wartburg had been one of God’s deepest blessings to him.

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.

INTERVIEW WITH NICHOLAS ROHDE By Michelle Kanzaki, Final Year MDiv

People are viewed in so many different ways in today’s world. Every Christian is called to reveal Christ’s love in how they see people in this world. I am focusing on inclusion for people who live with disabilities.  We automatically know that someone who wears glasses, a hearing aid, uses a cane, crutches, or wheelchair requires some consideration. But there are also invisible disabilities such as a heart condition, cancer, colitis and migraines. Yet, none of these conditions make a difference in who the person is on the inside.

My disability happens to be a Muscle Disease called Myasthenia Gravis. I try not to let it slow me down, but for me to play basketball, run a race, or even jog is an impossible challenge. During class, sometimes my eyes will cross and it will be difficult to see even with my glasses. If I am writing or typing for an extended period of time my hand will lose it’s grip or my fingers will stiffen leaving me unable to continue. Having fallen down a flight of fifteen stairs to a cement floor more than once, I avoid stairs at all costs. So today, I will clarify some important ways you can view me and another Wartburg student, Nicholas Rohde a little more inclusively.

Michelle: What brought you to Wartburg?

Nicholas:  “Here is the first place where I have lived where my disability is not a significant portion of who I am…yes it is still part of me, but I am accepted for who I am and not for who I appear to be. People at Wartburg see the essence of who I am. I’m 99% sure that they describe me as Nikolas Rohde, MDiv First year student from Rochester, Minnesota. My disability would not be a necessary part in their description of me. It would be more like an afterthought or at the most one of the last things people here would say about me. I like that the people of Wartburg talk about my personality and how they see me as a whole person.”

Nicholas went on to say that the most important thing is the way you respect him. “Treat me the same way you would treat anyone else. Don’t placate me. Be authentic and genuine with me. I can tell the difference. Be natural, it’s ok if you do something for me, like open a door if you have a free hand and I will help you when I can. Sometimes people on campus will forget that I have a disability and it becomes invisible to them. Then they say something or ask me to do something and all of the sudden they are embarrassed because they forgot.

Michelle: So do you appreciate it when people forget that you have a disability?

Nicholas: “It is not a simple yes or no answer. I want people to forget about my disability, but the reality is that it is still there and I still need help at times. I might require something different from 99% of the people in the room but, in that moment, do what is necessary to assist me as you would any other human being. Don’t make a big deal of it, just do it. In all the other moments when my disability doesn’t matter, then IT DOESN’T MATTER!”

Michelle: Is it all right with you if someone asks questions about how to be authentic and respectful of you?

Nicholas: “Yes, if you don’t know then ask, otherwise, if you assume the wrong thing you may appear to be disrespectful. This does not mean that you need to ask me about every little thing that comes up, but be authentic. If I don’t like what you are asking or implying by the question, trust me you will know. (He says with a wry smile.)

Michelle: How do you feel about people asking you about your disability?

Nicholas: I don’t have a problem with people asking about my disability, but I do struggle when a child might ask their parent about my disability and their response is shhhhhbe quiet, that’s not nice. This reaction makes the subject of disability a taboo. It’s interesting, I have two nephews who just know me as Uncle Nicholas. They are really young but they haven’t seemed to notice that I am different from them. So I wonder when they will realize our differences are more significant than my being just Uncle Nicholas. I wonder if it will change our relationship in any way.

Michelle: What else would you like people who read this know about you and other people with disabilities?

Nicholas: First, let me give you my disclaimer. (Perhaps this should have gone at the beginning of this interview) How people treat me is how I want to be included. I cannot speak for every person with a disability, I am just one of many. People have their own ways of viewing what is inclusive and respectful. Now on to my answer to your question. It is important for people to know that a person with a disability is not just taker but is also a giver. I believe all of us have needs. Some needs are physical, some emotional, some are mental, whatever. A relationship is something in which two people give and receive from one another, whatever it might be. In what I consider a friendship there is no I.O.U. involved! It is not a relationship where it is assumed that you do something for me. PERIOD. I do something for you. PERIOD. Friendship, relationship is built on mutual respect and trust and that is what I want in a relationship/friendship. Maybe just in an acquaintance/passerby that is not even a relationship. I just want to be seen as who I am Nicholas Rohde. Jesus sacrificed everything for us. Period. If there is a because, it is because of the wanting for a relationship, which all humans have and this could be the same thing, but a different word because of love.

Michelle: Thank you so much for your time Nicholas. I am looking forward to many more conversations with you.

For further information on how to include people with disabilities into your life check out these websites. or