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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.

“THE PERSISTENT VOICE” TO CONCLUDE PUBLICATION

The April/May 2017 post will be the final issue of The Persistent Voice. In its 27-year history, many writers have addressed relevant information and challenging topics.  Perhaps you were one of those writers, a faithful reader over the years, or a new reader.  Thank you—all of you—for your persistent voices. In the forthcoming final issue, we would like to print some comments, memories, and reflections from you.  Please send them to ncookeverist@wartburgseminary.edu before April 15.

 

CHURCH LEADERSHIP AT THE INTERFACE OF CHURCH AND STATE by WTS Prof. Norma Cook Everist

Excerpts from comments given February 2, 2017 at a meeting of the Wartburg Theological Seminary community.

We are called to be leaders of the church in the world at such a time as this.

To speak or not to speak? Not to speak also speaks loudly.

To march, to network, to organize?  In the name of the congregation or agency I serve? In my own name? To not act is also an action.

The ELCA’s approach to church and state is institutional separation and functional interaction.   This is important in a pluralistic society.

Note the First Amendment of U.S. Constitution, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” We are free to interact politically.  It is part of our religious calling.

So many issues. The tweet versions, the executive orders, the consequences, and the broader, global implications.

“Alternative facts” of inauguration attendance, sets the stage for justification of even more voter restrictions.

Walls, borders “make a nation.” America always and only first.  The Idolatry of nationhood.

Cabinet nominations. Listen and question, “Does the right of ‘my family’ over-ride concern for my neighbor’s child and public schools?

Climate change. Do we lead the world to save the planet or again deny?

Immigration.  Refugees. What is our theology of sanctuary? Even the “We all came from somewhere else” misses the facts and faces of first peoples.

Affordable health care. Changes that have real life and death consequences here and globally.

People say, “You can’t mix religion and politics.”  We cannot separate them.

My political commitments were formed in confirmation class and in public high school; later shaped through engagement on the streets of inner cities.

So, what do we, as resurrection people inspired by the Spirit, do?

  1. Five million of us gathered for the Women’s March. No guns fired. No one arrested. No one hurt. We moved from despair into action.
  2. Create communities of trust, conversation circles, like this one tonight. Learn to listen to each other so we have the courage to act.
  3. What if we work on different issues? Fine. There are more than enough right now. What if we walk in different directions? We may. But when we return to the Eucharist, we are one.
  4. What if we don’t know enough.  No excuse!  Find out what’s really going on.
  5. What if I get into trouble? You will. I have. When you do, make sure it’s for the sake of the Gospel.
  6. Have a Persistent voice. Those we think are not concerned may find their voices too.
  7. Be wise, centered, in the Word and prayer. Seek strength, support; strategize. God is at work through you.

I was theologically formed by being a community organizer so I quote from a speech by another former community organizer given in Chicago earlier in January. He said, “It was in neighborhoods not far from here where I began working with church groups. There I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.  This is where I learned that change happens only when ordinary people get involved, get engaged.”

He concluded, “Our democracy needs you.  If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try to talk with one in real life.  If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing.  Grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.  Show up.  Dive in.  Persevere.”