Category Archives: Issues and Challenges

Dr. Norma Cook Everist 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. 

Consecrated as a deaconess in 1960, I served Ascension Lutheran Church in St. Louis for 4 years (Before 1959 deaconesses had to choose between service to the church and marriage) In the early 60’s Concordia Seminary opened its doors to Lutheran teachers (which included women). I went over and enrolled, 1 woman among 800 men, and received an MA in Religion in 1964. However, that very year, when Burton and I adopted our son, Mark, I received a letter saying, “Thank you for your service.” I was removed from the roster because I had become a mother.

 For twelve years my call to ministry was as a community organizer in the inner cities of Detroit, MI, and New Haven, CT, as a bridge between church and world. Yale Divinity School is in New Haven. One day I went up the hill and enrolled. Yale welcomed me and Concordia’s degree.  After receiving an M.Div in 1976, Yale invited me to teach there as a lecturer in the Area of Ministry. Meanwhile women in our deaconess community took on leadership, and passed a resolution that all consecrated deaconesses were still deaconesses.  I became the first woman president of the LDA Board of Directors. In the early 70’s the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod went through a schism. I became a member of the Board of Directors of Seminex in the AELC.

 The ALC and LCA began ordaining women in 1970; my deaconess community area conference encouraged me to seek ordination, particularly since I was now teaching women and men who were studying at Yale to become pastors. The path to ordination was difficult, however.  I was approved for ordination by Wartburg Seminary. An LCA pastor tried to stop the ALC from ordaining me.  Dr. Roger Fjeld, prevailed, and I was ordained at Yale Divinity School in 1977. I believed if a door opened a crack, I should walk through and open the doors wider for others to walk through, too. I continued to be part of my deaconess community.

Dr. Norma Cook Everist, Professor of Church Administration & Educational Ministry, Wartburg Theological Seminary

Dr. Norma Cook Everist,
Professor of Church Administration & Educational Ministry,
Wartburg Theological Seminary

 In 1979 I received a call to Wartburg Seminary, becoming the first woman to teach in a tenured position in a seminary of the American Lutheran Church. I received my Ph.D. from The Iliff School of Theology and Denver University.  Even though other opportunities presented themselves later, I have been blessed and privileged to continue to serve Wartburg, and through Wartburg, the larger church and world.  I believe in collaborative ministry and the partnership of women and men, ministries based, not on gender, but on gifts. Thanks be to God.

Dr. Gwen Sayler 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. 

I remember… being told as a child that for a woman to become a pastor would be a sin while at the same time relishing access to Luther’s Works;

I remember… the excitement of being allowed full access with the boys to university theology classes even while realizing we girls were allowed in them on the assumption we’d never really use the theology we were being taught;

I remember… the male students who mocked me every time I raised my hand to speak at Seminary as well as the male students and faculty who bravely welcomed and incorporated me;

I remember… being told as the first woman theology instructor at Valparaiso University that the Dean was counting to see if I could attract male students and that I could neither counsel students nor lead in chapel worship as well as the male and female students who filled my classrooms and the brave colleague who invited me to preach in his chapel week;

I remember… the sheer joy of graduate school at the University of Iowa, where gender counted not at all;

I remember… as newly ordained in 1982 some parishioners leaving church when they saw I was preaching that day as well as developing a relationship with them and and later officiating at their funerals at their request;


Dr. Gwen Sayler, Professor of Bible, The William A. & John E. Wagner Professor of Biblical Theology, Director of Lifelong Learning, Wartburg Theological Seminary

I remember… the hostility of some male students when I first came to teach at Wartburg as well as the many men and women who warmly received me;

I remember… as I celebrate how far we have come and begin to prepare to let go to the female and male leaders who will take the next steps toward full partnership in the 21st century.

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.​

Dr. Kris Stache 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. 

The year is 2002 (yes, this century). I was just finishing up a master’s in lay ministry when I felt a call to continue my education and earn a PhD. Like any discerning student, I did my research and sought out conversations with the administration of potential academic institutions of study. At one particular place I was advised by the Dean of the Graduate programs not to apply. He stated, very bluntly, that a PhD program was not the place for a woman with four children. Clearly I would not be able to find the time needed for doctoral level work. (I was so shocked and appalled by his comment that I didn’t have the courage to ask if he had ever said that to a male parent.)

Dr. Kristine Stache, Associate Professor of Missional Leadership & Director of Learning for Life, Wartburg Theological Seminary

Dr. Kristine Stache,
Associate Professor of Missional Leadership & Director of Learning for Life,
Wartburg Theological Seminary

In some respects, that comment sealed the deal for me. I knew then and there that if female parents were not encouraged to study, there must be a desperate need for me and other women like me (and different than me) to have a presence in these learning environments. As much as I had to learn, I felt then that others might need to learn from me. We need the voices of different people, with different commitments, and different experiences and backgrounds present at the table, to learn and challenge one another.

I did finally earn my PhD, within five years of starting the program. Not too bad for a mother of four children, if I do say so myself.

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.

MY ENCOUNTER WITH THE UNDOCUMENTED CHRIST by Jon Brudvig, WTS Intern Prairie Faith Shared Ministry, WaKeeney, KS

Until I visited the border, saw with my own eyes what was happening, and listened to people recount their own experiences, I had no idea of the magnitude of the crisis of the large numbers of teenagers from Latin and Central America making their way north into the United States. Perhaps it was just easier for me not to know.

Last summer I had the opportunity to participate in a Hispanic Ministry practicum hosted by the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest. The cross-cultural immersion experience included a visit to Eagle Pass, TX, a town located on the US-Mexican border, during a time when local, state, and federal officials argued about what to do. Many of the unaccompanied minors were fleeing drug-infested communities, horrific violence, and extreme poverty in search of a better life. Even churches were overwhelmed by the sheer scope and magnitude of the crisis that was unfolding all along the border.

The story of the “undocumented Christ” began in 2004 when US Border Patrol agents retrieved “a package” (code word for a lifeless body) from the Rio Grande River, the border separating Mexico and the USA. To their surprise, agents discovered that “the package” was a well-preserved life-sized statue of the crucified Jesus (minus the cross). Since no one stepped forward to claim the statue, border patrol agents seized the statue as unclaimed property. No one, it seemed, wanted to claim Jesus.

In time, the mysterious discovery of the “undocumented Christ,” particularly in a location where so many immigrants have died, prompted people on both sides of the border to embrace the statue as a message from God. Eventually the statue found a permanent home at Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church in Eagle Pass.

Looking back, something happened to me the day I encountered the “undocumented Christ.” A time in my life when I could no longer ignore the geo-political, religious, and humanitarian realities of what was unfolding before me at the border.

An encounter with the border crossing Jesus challenged me, then and now in this Lenten Season, to look for Christ in the least, the lost, and the broken, sisters and brothers created in the image and likeness of God. And though I fail to live this reality, time and time again, Jesus the border-crosser transcends the boundaries we make, compromises with evil that try to separate us from God and from one another. The “undocumented Christ” comes to us time and time again, lifting up the broken, joining the despised, comforting the ones who mourn, and standing with those being crushed, crossing every boundary — even death itself — that tries to separate us from the love of God.


VIOLENCE, PRIVILEGE AND FOOD WEALTH by Alexandra Hjerpe, first year M.Div.

A seminarian reflects on her journey towards humility, health, and faithful community living

Ignoring my body, and my relationship with food, was my supposedly faithful response to a superficial, commercially-consumed world. However, this focus led me not only into the murky bog of self-justification theology and hypocrisy, and to a deficit of poor physical health, but also into what I would call a state of abusive relationship with my fellow, living community.

By refusing to pluck my eyebrow arches, to wear the latest skinny jeans and to fast- myself-thin with salads, I believed that I could withdraw myself from the beauty pageant in which many of my young, female peers obsessively competed. I knew that the earthly values emphasizing physical beauty were transient, narrow and market-driven, and so I decided to separate myself by interacting casually and robustly with food in my physical body.

Through this narrowed and self-justifying perspective, I believed that denying attention to my external body would correspondingly mold me internally as a more mindful Christian individual: I would not be prey to the system of body glorification like the others. And so, while my college friends carefully examined the carbohydrates in their salad dressing before an evening out, I would instead confidently order a cheeseburger and fries, and eat it with great satisfaction (and zero humility). However, in this action, I did not recognize the inherent violence I was inflicting not just on myself, but to countless others, with this personal crusade of so-called faithful eating!

In the absence of attentiveness to my relationship with my body, I was actually turning my face away from the reality of my food privilege, and was denying own part in a system of wealth and individualism. What I thought was a spiritual habit of mindfulness was in fact a neglect of my responsibility and Christian deputyship—not to mention disrespect for the priceless, irreplaceable gift of my physical body.

Eating is a kind of measurable privilege; unlike race or age, it is one of few environmental privileges that I could personally–but did not–temper. Growing up in white, middle-class, Midwest America, I had luxurious privilege because of food availability. My parents were able to abundantly provide calorie-rich and nutritious foods, and not just as fuel for survival: the decoration of holiday eating, the social dynamic of family table fellowship, and the entertainment of experimenting with a variety of ingredients were all blessings to which I grew accustomed.

Unfortunately, I assumed that my patterns of casual and pleasure-oriented eating were “normal” for everyone—which is perhaps the most dangerous possible state of existence. On the contrary, my eating habits and health expressed a limited and privileged position of food wealth—one that participated in a cycle of power and appropriation unaware that it was at the expense of others.

Rather than attentiveness to each bite of food, I gulped and swallowed rapidly, hardly chewing, my snacks in front of the television. I ate food for myself. I ate food out of boredom. I ate food for a buzz. I ate food to cover up my own problems and distractions—and none of which were any fault of the food. My orientation around food was not about physical vanity, yet it was vain; it was focused entirely on myself and individual desires, without regard or gratitude for the significant amount of sacrifice in its production. I did not consider the amount of land and rain the earth had consumed in order to nurture this food in my hand; the amount of energy and sacrifice by laborers who received low wages in order to grow and harvest it; the amount of smog and gasoline burnt into the receding layer of sky in order to transport it; the amount of toxins and garbage that would accumulate in order to package it. I had no awareness, no relationship with this food, and my eating habits communicated that same disrespect. I abused my food privilege. In a word: I consumed violently.

And so it happened that gradually, in this micro-environment of passively receiving food wealth, I grew just as much a drone to consumerism as the next mascara-laden, Cosmo-reading teen girl I was so mercilessly judging. I was a privilege-hypocrite, accepting the marketing of the food industry, and marching to the beat. I was not living up to my “faithful” standard at all.

To be a bit more gentle with myself, I was not intentionally trying to be violent with my food wealth. My habitually practiced calorie survival skills also functioned to patch up deeper hungers that arose from creeping depression and low self-esteem: I regulated my profound anxiety and mood swings with hormone-blunting, feel-good food chemicals. And yet, the continued use of chocolate to take the edge off of my sadness was still an appropriation of a life-giving, communal phenomenon—food—and covering up my mental illness with accessible calories was an expression of my privilege. I was still engaging in a system that violently swallowed up the resources and gifts of others for the sake of sustaining myself, rather than seeking alternative, healthy sources that could truly help me correct and prevent these deficits.

At seminary, after a process of education and exposure to the most subtle levels of power and control embedded in my culture, I have gradually became aware of, identified and named much of my food privilege. Claiming and naming my power, I have begun the process of taking ownership of my wealth and responsibility, and have decided to change how I interact with the generous world around me.

Focusing more on a model of accompaniment with creation than a model of appropriation, I feel called to an awareness of my time and place in history as one that is saturated in the privilege of accessible, high-calorie, nutritious food. With this contextual awareness, I can begin to accept my civic duty as a steward of creation by responding in a healthy, generous and life-giving way to this environment in which I have been placed. Instead of passively and ignorantly allowing an unhealthy, violent food system to determine my behavior, I am choosing mindfulness, and seeking a counter-cultural relationship of reconciliation with my sources of food energy, my food-providing community, and my body.

So now, when I decide what I am going to eat, I take the time to slowly and deliberately savor every morsel of food. I praise God and offer thanks before, during and after my meal, to honor the high cost to the earth and to others to bring this food to my plate. But perhaps most significantly, I have re-oriented my relationship with food towards an open-system model of energy usage rather than an inward-system. Intentionally using the glucose-energy derived from the nutrients of food in the most God-glorifying, life-giving ways discernable, I am devoting myself to listening to and participating in God’s active mission of love, grace, mercy, justice, compassion, hope and reconciliation in this world by serving the needs of others before myself. And with each day, my head and my heart become more active; my body and my lungs become more healthy; and my soul becomes more awed and grateful to the mercy, and communal nature, of God.