Tag Archives: acceptance

“THESE WOMEN ARE JUST LIKE ME, ONLY MORE SO” by Rebecca Goche, Final-year M. Div.

“These women are just like everyone else, only more so.” These are the words that Pastor Paul Witmer, Minister of Congregational Care for Women at the Well told a group of us on the “outside” while at a gathering of people who support Iowan women prisoners. I really had no idea what he meant by these words at the time until I went “inside” and experienced the Women at the Well, a United Methodist congregation located with the walls of the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women, in Mitchellville, Iowa.

I first heard of Women at the Well when Pastor Lee Schott spoke at the ELCA Southeastern Iowa Synod Assembly about what it is like to pastor a congregation within a prison. I remember her passion and I knew then that I wanted to learn more about ministry with incarcerated persons. I took a group of 10 people from my internship congregation to worship with the Women at the Well congregation. I had no idea of what to expect. I was shocked at how full the Sacred Space (chapel) was with about 70 women worshipping with us that night. I was amazed at what I can only describe as “freedom” which I felt and saw as these incarcerated women worshipped. My brain wondered, “How can this be?” as I had not experienced such a freedom in a congregation outside prison walls. It was my wonderment over this freedom that urged me to go through the prison’s mandatory volunteer training and set up an independent study during J-term 2017 to delve deeper into the ministry of the pastoral staff with the Women at the Well and witness how God is moving in the women within the walls of the prison.

Some of my friends and family were concerned for my safety when they found out that I was going into the prison to work with the women. I had more than one person tell me that prison is “full of bad people.” After watching Pastor Schott interact with the women on my first day in prison, I realized that if I let others’ and my own fears get the best of me, I would be closing myself off to the women and to God’s work in them. As I opened myself up to the women and listened to their stories, I found most to be warm and caring despite what they had been through or what they had done. I still find myself wondering how any of them can be warm and caring knowing some of the statistics of the women who are incarcerated in Mitchellville: 60 percent suffer from mental illness, 80 percent have some type of addiction, and 90 percent have experienced some type of abuse whether domestic violence or sexual assault. For most of these women, the deck was stacked against them long before they ever entered prison. I find it deplorable that for many of these women, it seems that prison is Iowa’s mental health system.

With Pastor Witmer’s words, “These women are just like everyone else, only more so,” echoing inside my head, I quickly learned that pastoral care in prison is much like what I have experienced outside its walls, only the women’s issues seem to be magnified partly because of where they are. The women want someone who will listen to them and not judge them. They want to be able to share their joys and their sorrows just like the people I visited while on internship. Many of the women feel guilty for not being with their families, especially their children. Often times this guilt manifests itself in depression or acting out in an inappropriate manner. I had the opportunity to accompany Pastor Witmer on a visit with a woman who was on suicide watch. She was alone in a solitary cell wearing what I can only describe as a moving blanket-type gown. There was another offender outside her heavy glass and metal door whose sole job was to watch her in the event she tried to hurt herself. There were no moveable chairs near her cell, so both Pastor Witmer and I kneeled on the cold, concrete floor to talk with the woman through the small, 3 ½ inch by 10-inch tray opening in the cell’s door. It was uncomfortable and not ideal for holding a conversation. The woman was highly agitated and her mind and words jumped from one topic to another. She spoke about her mental illness and the difficulties she has had with various medications not working anymore because she has built up a tolerance to them. She talked about the abuse she has experienced from former partners and how she thought that was normal until she met and married her current partner who will not hit her even though she wants him to do so. The woman told us about having to relinquish her parental rights and had found out a few days earlier that her child had been adopted – the “final straw” that caused her to be transferred to the suicide watch unit. We spent just over 10 minutes with her simply listening. As we were walking back to the Sacred Space from her unit, Pastor Witmer said that he is still trying to figure out how to do better pastoral care with the women, especially in situations like we had just experienced.

Women at the Well tries to address some of the women’s needs by offering various pastoral care-type groups. I had an opportunity to sit in on a grief group led by two Methodist pastors/counselors. I listened with an aching heart as a woman in her late twenties shared her story. This woman had been raped at the age of 13 by a relative, became pregnant and gave birth to a baby. Five days later, she watched this same relative smother her child and then place the dead child into a garbage bag to throw away. Her child would have been 16 years old. The woman continues to feel guilty about not stopping her relative from killing her baby and grieves the loss of her child. In an effort to numb her pain, she began using drugs and did whatever she had to do in order to get them. I wanted to give the woman a hug, but touch is not allowed inside the prison. I watched as the other women in the group, who also could not hug the woman, enveloped her with their words of love and comfort. I listened to other women’s stories during the hour-long session. I cannot imagine the grief that many of these women must carry, buried deep inside of them because if they let it show especially in prison, they will be preyed upon by others for being weak. Women at the Well offers these women a safe space to share their grief in a community.

Roughly 10 percent of the population or about 70 women are released from the prison every month. Women at the Well offers a voluntary, faith-based re-entry program to the women for one year after they are released from prison. Volunteers from various denominations make up the re-entry teams located in communities around the state. These teams serve as an important resource to help the women move back into society. I had an opportunity to be a part of two sessions of the women’s preparation course for the re-entry program. Thirty-two women attended the four-week course. Many were looking for resources to help them once they got out of prison. Some were looking for a deeper connection with God. Others were looking for help in finding a church home once they are released. I heard much hope in their discussions sprinkled with a heavy dose of their current realities.

While participating in worship with the Women at the Well congregation, I found it surreal to look out the windows of the Sacred Space and see the orange glow from the security lights reflecting off of the razor wire atop the fence that surrounds the prison grounds. Once again I was mesmerized by the sense of freedom that I felt within the space, worshiping God with these women who could not be on the other side of that fence until society through the courts said they could, if ever (there are currently 39 women who will never get out and will die in prison). I sensed a palpable hope and a strong desire to serve their neighbors outside the walls of prison as evidenced by the congregation’s support of a different organization/charity each month. These women earn anywhere from $0.27 to just over one dollar an hour at their prison jobs which can be used at the prison commissary to buy phone cards to call loved ones, toiletries, and so on. I was humbled by their acts of stewardship as they eagerly shared their money with neighbors whom they may never meet.

Today, prison is big business and many in our society would rather spend money on building more prisons to house more people rather than spending money to help prevent people from being incarcerated or rehabilitate those already incarcerated so that they are not repeat offenders. I was naïve about how racially biased our criminal justice system is, but my eyes have been opened wide after reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and seeing the disproportionately high numbers of people of color within the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women when compared to the population for the state as a whole. I find hope in the ELCA’s Social Statement on The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries, but I wonder how many of our pastors and congregations actually read it and apply it to their lives. After my experience with Women at the Well within the prison walls, I can no longer close my eyes and block my ears to the cries of those who are behind bars and to those who must forever live with the label of criminal, as less than that of a second-class citizen. These women truly are just like you and me – they are beloved children of God.

SILENCING OUR HEROES by Marlow Carrels, Final year M. Div.

I am a veteran who is currently interviewing veterans for my Senior Thesis dealing with the Just War Tradition. From my research one statement resounded clearly from a former Staff Sergeant in the US Army: “I am not a hero and I didn’t fight for your rights to anything, stop calling me a hero and a savior. I did my job and that is all there is.” This sentiment was echoed by many I have interviewed.

So, this begs the question: Why do we call service members heroes? Certainly they are a small segment of the population, less than one percent, who leave family ties and their geographic “home” to be stationed across the nation and the world and possibly enter into harm’s way during their career to do their part in wielding the might of the United States Military arm…

But does that make each and every service member a hero? There are many civilian jobs where people leave their family and home behind to move across the country or world for better pay or simply because of globalization. There are many civilian careers that also carry inherent risk. In fact one could argue that there is literally an equal civilian counterpart to nearly every Military Occupational Specialty (MOS).

There is an MOS for personnel management, financial services, hazmat cleanup, firefighters, police, carpenters, machining, and mechanics; further there are civilian counterparts to special tactic Infantry units (Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Teams) and even mortar platoons as there are certain ski resorts that mortar avalanche zones prior to opening their lifts. While I am sure that there are MOS’s that do not have a counterpart in the civilian world, yet through my career in the Army I have not run across one.

Yet, in this reality it still seems that service members are placed on a pedestal and separated from their civilian counterparts. When asked, many civilians on the street will call a service member a hero, and when they are pressed further one finds that, often, the reason is because “They have sacrificed so much, they fight for freedom… and that’s why the VA and the Military will take care of them.”

This last statement is, I think, the real reason that service members are called “hero.” It is a way of separating those who serve from the rest of “us,” effectively turning the service member into a “them” that does not need to be heard or cared for. If the service member becomes someone greater than me, someone who is a hero, then I can believe that they have the superhuman ability to deal with their issues, or, at the very least, I can pretend that I am not qualified to help them deal with their issues because I am nothing like them. I can go on thinking that they are different than me, that they are better than me, and most importantly I cannot relate to them because my life experience is different (read “less heroic”) than theirs.

There appears to be a thought that every story that a service member is going to share will be one of war and gore and death. The humble reality is that many veterans do not see combat. They travel to combat zones and do their jobs, the same job they would do in an office “back home.” And while they are gone they think about who and what they left behind, and when they come home they have the same issues everyone else has. They worry about work, their family, promotions, finances, political affairs, and the pain of losing their loved ones to suicide, car accidents, heart attacks, and strokes. But many of us don’t know their individual woes. We don’t hear them… because we won’t hear them… We call them a hero and send them to the VA; to those who are “qualified.”

None of this is to say that there are not service members who are not heroes. There are those who ran into the hell fire of combat and died for their sister and brother on their right and left. There are those who slogged through mire and pain and were sole survivors of battles. There are those who have had a medal pinned to them after their death and those who had a medal pinned to them or hung around their neck after enduring things that I, another service member, can imagine but have not seen. I mean to take nothing from these brave women and men; they deserve the accolades. They deserve the name hero. But I cannot call them a hero in an effort to silence them, and often when one speaks to these men and women who have their service cross or star or V device for valor they will tell you, simply and clearly, that “I was just doing my job” and that “the real heroes didn’t come home on their feet, but under a flag.”

Service Members are just like any civilian, and often we are just doing our jobs. I encourage anyone reading this to become acquainted with the Centurion Connection. This is a new program provided through the ELCA that tries to bridge the gap between civilians and veterans, between pastors and chaplains, between heroes and the rest of us…

So how do we lift up the voice of the veteran in our ministry? How can we help the hero speak?

  • Start with the Centurion Connection, an outreach of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
  • Find out who has a military connection. Don’t simply focus on the veteran or the spouse; focus on the whole family… kids, parents, kin, friends…
  • Start an education system in your church, first about the military and the ELCA’s feelings, not your own feelings, about the military. Invite veterans to speak at some Adult Education classes on the hard decisions that people are coping with, the reality of moving, mobilizing, and feeling at home in a congregation.
  • Start a military ministry. The military has become disenfranchised and marginalized because many think “they” will be taken care of by someone else.
  • Send out care packages on Veterans’ Day to members who have joined the military, rather than Memorial Day, through their entire career. This will allow the member to know that the church is keeping up with them and caring about them on a deeper level. It is nice to know that people are praying for you, but few things remind you of home like a batch of cookies and lefse from the bake sale, beautiful fall leaves preserved and sent to you, fresh wheat, or simply a snapshot of the congregation on Veterans’ Day.
  • Create a safe space and time where vets—all vets—are welcome and can speak to each other and provide wisdom to youth who think they want to join the military.
  • Finally, thank veterans for their service, but don’t let that be the end of the conversation. Engage them about their current lives, not just about their time in service.

WHY DOES “RIC” MATTER? By Luci Sesvold, Final Year M. Div.

Why does the designation “Reconciling In Christ” matter?  We often pride ourselves on the phrase “all are welcome,” so what’s the difference?

I was fortunate enough to work and serve in an RIC congregation for internship, and honestly, I didn’t understand what the big deal was.  I saw a congregation that really embodied the All Are Welcome motto, and that was cool.  And I went through the year hearing, “Oh, you work at THAT church.”  The RIC status seemed like just another identifier, that was, until the morning of June 12th when a congregation member informed the pastoral staff of the Orlando shooting.

I witnessed the ripple of that news throughout the congregation as they grieved, as they frantically checked on loved ones in the Orlando area, and as they sat overwhelmed in disbelief.

That Wednesday’s service was thoughtfully crafted as a healing service with an intentional focus on the heartbreaking reality of our world.  St. Stephen’s was the only church in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa area to publicly advertise a prayer service of this nature.  The welcome and invitation spread through the news and social media and it was stressed that all are really welcome.

At St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, each candle on the altar represented one life lost during the Orlando nightclub shooting on June 12

At St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, each candle on the altar represented one life lost during the Orlando nightclub shooting on June 12

I share some of the words from my supervisor, Pastor Ritva Williams’ reflection that evening:

“We live in a world where some people say that a person is not worthy of our love and acceptance, because they perceive him/her/them to be the wrong age, the wrong size, the wrong color, the wrong nationality, the wrong gender, they love the wrong people, hold the wrong economic, social or legal status, have the wrong disabilities, and so forth. We live in a world where some people seek to limit and prevent a person’s access to jobs, housing, medical care, and even restrooms for the same reasons. We live in a world where some people seek to justify opinions and actions like this by quoting biblical rules.

The good news, that Paul proclaims, is that Christ has put an end to all that. We do not need to spend our lives trying to prove to ourselves, or to anyone else, that we are worthy of love and acceptance by obeying rules, not even biblical rules. Our worth is not determined by how well we obey rules, or the work we do, or the groups we belong to. Our worth is based on the fact that each of us is created in the image of God.”

Candles in the corss represent the prayers of the members of St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa following the shooting in Orlando.

Candles in the cross represent the prayers of the members of St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa following the shooting in Orlando

And that is why RIC matters.  Because it’s more than saying All Are Welcome; it’s actually believing that every single person is created in the image of God.

DISCUSSION SUMMARY OF “INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE, INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY” CONVOCATION compiled by Kirsten Lee, Second Year M. Div.

Students, faculty, staff, and guests gathered in Von Schwartz Refectory this fall for the first convocation of the WTS 2016-2017 academic year, focusing on “Inclusive Language, Inclusive Community.” Hosted by Professor Nathan Frambach, Professor Thomas Schattauer spoke, and students Becky Goche and Chris Lee also shared personal experiences, all of which are included in this edition of The Persistent Voice.  Those who gathered discussed the following questions through many table conversations, and additional conversation was had via Zoom for off-site learners.  Second Year M. A. student Kathryn Kvamme gathered the discussion notes from each question.

Begin by allowing time for each person to share “where you are at” with regard to using inclusive and expansive language. What commitments do you bring to the conversation? Identify motivations for using inclusive and expansive language.

  • We recognize this is a theological issue.  Who is God? How does the image we use to describe God influence how we see God and think about God?
  • We recognize that this is an ‘old’ topic and while we have made progress there is still much growth that still needs to occur. At the same time, we realize that this is a new topic for some, one that may be confusing and even alarming.  Numerous examples were shared on how we can be more inclusive with our language and the challenges in doing so.  For example, repeating ‘rise if you are able’ serves as a reminder for some of something they know they cannot do. Another example was shared about a young girl who questioned “If Jesus tells his disciples to be fishers of men, does Jesus want women to follow him?”   Lastly, a question was raised of how we handle the often used “Father” language.
  • There is a commitment at WTS to bring more awareness to using inclusive language in our daily language.  We also commit to helping people become more aware, without coercion, as we educate, explore, struggle and rejoice together.

How can we best carry out our collective calling and commitment to live together in mutually respectful communities where all persons are honored? What specifically can we do? What is challenging to you in this calling and commitment?

  • There is a need to listen to the less dominant voices present in our communities so that a greater variety of voices are heard and considered.   Intentional, careful listening is necessary in order to hear everyone’s voices.
  • Inclusive language goes beyond the topic of gender.  Just as people are more than their gender, so too ought our conversations be broader and deeper.
  • Creativity and patience are necessary in having these discussions.  We practice respect and create safe learning environments to have these discussions. We strive to listen with open minds and hearts while being secure in our non-negotiable points.

The following questions were also offered for the table conversations, but due to time constraints, discussion was limited. Nevertheless, these are important questions to keep in mind as we continue to develop the practice of inclusive language.

Invite each person to share an expansive image of God that has been and/or is meaningful and important in your journey of faith.

How can we provide leadership that helps congregations embrace the practice of consistently using inclusive and expansive language in all aspects of our life together? Furthermore, how can we help re-frame predominant (and often stereotypical) views on what is “normal” to include all persons in the body of Christ, regardless of ability or any other “isms”?

As we go out into our communities away from Wartburg, these questions can act as springboards for future thought and dialogue.  We pray and ask God to guide us as we go about our work, joyfully spreading the Good News.

WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE FROM BEING IN THE ARMY By Marlow Carrels, Final Year M. Div., Captain, U.S. Army

For many this claim might be problematic, but for me it is true that the Army places no gender in one’s title. Now do not misconstrue my meaning here, yes the Army presents different restrooms, maternity clothes, and there are some occupations that are still “male only” (though that battle wages). Instead I am speaking of your title, your name, your identity. Upon entering the Army I stood in a little room surrounded by others and we all raised our right hands and took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. After that day we were no longer individuals, punks, hicks, popular kids, brains, geeks, freaks, music nerds, or kids from the wrong side of the tracks. Instead we were very much a body that went by one name; we were an Army of O.N.E. We were an Army of Officers, Non-commissioned Officers, and Enlisted personnel. But we were, all of us, soldiers first and foremost.

From that day forward we were no longer male or female, instead we were very much a body that went by one name. We never got our gender back in our titles, because it didn’t matter. For my entire career I have been a soldier, a warrior, a hero, a Sargeant, a Sar’int, a Cadet, an Officer, a Lieutenant, a Captain. Members of the Army have no gender when they are spoken to, when they are praised, when they are admonished. They are called their rank or their specialty. Their place in our ranks has nothing to do with their gender, but how well they do their job. Granted, I say all of this as an Army Officer who is male, Caucasian, and straight, who may not be fully privy to what many female service members experience. Challenges remain. Although much progress has been made since the days of exclusion or segregation because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity, people still face discrimination and sexual abuse. I speak here of inclusive language and its potential for working together.

With this in mind I look to God and cannot think of gender. The Officer Corps has no gender; the NCO Corps has no gender; the Lower Enlisted has no gender. Your gender does not matter to the Big Green Machine, nor does gender matter when we speak of the Godhead. The Godhead simply is. The Godhead, the Great I Am, the infinitely named and edified calls us to become one. When we are baptized we are baptized into the Body of Christ and our titles are not to be gendered. We are simply Christian, baptized, sinners, and saints, ministers of Christ. Called by the Holy Spirit, we come, regardless of our names, our titles, our very self-identity, and bow down before the God who cradles our lives.

 

THE TIMING JUST DIDN’T WORK OUT… By Paul Johnson, Final Year M.Div. Student

In the past, I have been honored to participate in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) both as a youth as well as an adult leader. I earned the rank of Eagle while a member, fully knowing that the rank could be taken from me if the BSA found out I was an openly gay individual.

With recent discussion in the BSA on homosexuality, I held hope that they would allow openly gay youth and adults to participate as much as their heterosexual members. I was on internship when the latest decision to allow gay youth but not adults was passed. Having been approached several times from local troops, I tried, nicely, to decline requests to serve in a leadership role. Usually I gave other reasons, such as having an already full schedule or time conflicts with meetings.

Then I was approached by a Council member back home, asking if I would lead a worship service for an upcoming Jamboree. Since this gentleman knew me and my orientation, I told him that the BSA wouldn’t let me lead as an openly gay individual. “Then don’t lead as a gay man,” came his reply. “Lead as a child of God.”

I told him I would get back to him on the worship service, needing time to process what he had said. Could I separate my identity as a child of God from the rest of who I am? It wasn’t a question of whether I could lead without incorporating rainbows and glitter, or if I could go a weekend without mentioning my orientation. I appreciate rainbows and glitter about as much as (perhaps less than) my heterosexual male friends. My call story and identity as a child of God have been influenced by my sexual orientation and struggles with my identity as such.

Still, in my future ministry I don’t want to be the “gay pastor” or the pastor of a “gay church.” I just want to be a pastor who happens to be gay, and hopefully lead a congregation who is welcoming to their neighbors, some of whom happen to be LGBT individuals. I am more than my sexual orientation, and identify as gay among a myriad of other attributes and qualities.

But could I, a child of God and future pastor in the ELCA, regardless of my orientation, lead a worship service for scouts who may be struggling with the same issues, all while representing an organization that clearly rejects me as being fit to lead? Could I share the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection for ALL while standing for an organization that only accepts SOME?

In the end, the timing of the event just didn’t work out with my schedule. Still, it leaves the question in my mind of what I might do. Would I claim my identity, my full identity, and decline the offer based on the BSA’s policies, possibly resulting in someone more conservative taking the position? Or do I accept, preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection for all, staying silent on my orientation? I don’t have an easy answer, and likely won’t know unless the situation arises again. My hope is that I will be asked again, and soon. An even greater hope is that the policies of the BSA will have expanded by then.

WARTBURG SEMINARY INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY CONVOCATION 2014

Rev. Dr. Troy Troftgruben, WTS Assistant Professor of New Testament:

Welcome to our first convocation of the academic year. “Convocations” happen here at Wartburg at various times on topics that require—not simply disseminating information—but face-to-face conversation. These topics are typically not cut-and-dry issues, but matters of evolving, ongoing, dynamic conversation.

For many years Wartburg has hosted a convocation on “inclusive language.” This convocation is similar, but broader in focus. It entails not only concerns pertinent to inclusive language but also concerns pertinent to behavior and actions that foster genuine inclusion of “the other.”

Our language and our behavior do things, especially in community: by our words and actions, we consciously and unconsciously assume certain norms, characterize ourselves and our community ethos, and establish what is “normal,” acceptable, and appreciated. Sometimes we are deliberate about our words and actions, sometimes not so much.

This morning we have 6 individuals who will each speak for about 2 minutes on a particular issue that pertains to becoming an inclusive community.

– Hannah Benedict (concerning gender)
– Norma Cook Everist (concerning disabilities)
– Mack Patrick (concerning transgender)
– Stan Olson (concerning inclusive language for God)
– Gus Barnes (concerning race and sexual orientation)
– Susan Ebertz (concerning denominational backgrounds)

Afterward, we will dialogue with each other at our tables.

Hannah Benedict, Final Year M.Div. Student: 

I don’t think much about my gender. I don’t have a constant internal track going, “I-am-a-woman-I-am-a-woman-I-am-a-woman.” I say this fully aware that as I say that, I wear a particular piece of attire typically attributed to one gender–yep, high heels, those tortuous devices woman can wear. But I don’t wear high heels because of my gender. I wear them because of my 5’3″ height. It’s logistics folks! I truly don’t pay attention to my gender much, until a moment about which I’m going to tell you:

At the end of internship, a congregation member came up to me with what she thought would be a compliment. She said, “At first we didn’t know how a lady intern would do, but you did great, honey!” Her pleasant surprise was my harsh realization. Not only might I need to consider my gender, but that others could see my gender as a detriment.

She wasn’t the first to share such reactions. Others, mostly women and women my age, shared similar reactions, “You wanna be a what? Sweetie, don’t you know you’re a lady?”

It’s not that I don’t know my gender. I am fully aware of it and others of my kind. I’m one of three sisters, (an aunt two nieces; women outnumber men in my family). I attended a women’s college—go Suzies—and chaired the feminist group. I got that I was a woman, through and through. But what I didn’t get was how this somehow made me any less effective or valuable.

Being a woman never stopped me from doing all that God called me to do. Being a woman never stopped me from being compassionate, courageous, strong, determined, and dedicated. Instead, being a woman, surrounded and supported by them, taught me how to be all these and more. My gender provides a particular perspective, one no less important than any other. From this vantage point, I can see who God makes me through the Holy Spirit in Christ.

In Christ, we are no longer male/female, gentile/Jewish, enslaved/free. We are God’s.  Gender may be part of my identity but it is not all of it. Yes, I’m a lady—and a wife, mother, sister, aunt, daughter, and, occasionally I wear heels.  But I am first and foremost a child of God.

Rev. Dr. Norma Cook Everist, Professor of Church Administration and Educational Ministry: 

I’m Norma Cook Everist, addressing living together with our abilities and disabilities. We are all differently abled. Wartburg is a caring community where people try to live thoughtfully, respectfully and in solidarity with people with disabilities.

How can we do this even better?

By really seeing each person, rather than pretending not to notice. By asking, rather than presuming a person’s need: “What is helpful to you?”

By using person-first language: Not “a blind person” but a “person who is blind.” I have a disability; I am not my disability.

And by using inclusive language in worship. Our ELW does not say, “Please stand,” words hard to hear for those who cannot. Thomas Schattauer and Melissa Waterman encourage us to motion with our hands when the congregation is to stand. People with disabilities who were on the hymnal planning committee encouraged, “The Assembly stands,” an inclusive phrase which means the congregation stands for those who cannot. We’ve been doing pretty well this fall. It is important we remember as we are formed as leaders for an inclusive church.

Inclusive language matters: So we motion, or we say, “The assembly stands,” or we say, “Please stand as you are able.”

Nicholas Rohde and I conferred, discovering we’ve both been tempted to respond when we hear, “Please stand”: “No thank you, I can’t.” Let’s try that. I’ll say, “Please stand,” and you respond, “No thank you. I can’t.” [The people at tables did.] Now say after me: “The Assembly stands.” [“The Assembly stands.”] “Please stand as you are able”   [“Please stand as you are able.”]

Thank you very much.

Mack Patrick, 1st Year M.Div. Student:

To start this conversation off, one must understand a few basic things about transgender. The first is that transgender is commonly spelled as trans*; this is an important piece in the trans* experience. The asterisk represents that trans* is a spectrum covering a wide variety of experiences. Some are a bit more clear-cut than others. There is the complete change over: Female to Male or Male to Female, but there is also the non-conforming, non-identifying side of gender.

Along with recognizing that trans* is a spectrum—and you may not always know how someone fully identifies—it is important to realize trans* are still people. Asking if they have surgery, or inquiring more about their chosen gender, is not cool and rather offensive. No one cares about your private parts. You should not ask those questions of those who are trans*. That is a private matter.

Pronouns identify who we are on a paper form, but correct use of pronouns is also a good way to show someone that you care about them and want them to be included in a community. While society has focused on the popular pronouns of male and female, there are yet two other known sets of pronouns that someone may identify with. One of those other sets is the gender neutral set. It is commonly used with individuals who do not identify with a specific gender. [This set includes:] Ze (zee) commonly referred to as the subject, Hir (here) known as the object and possessive adjective, and Hirs (heres) for the possessive pronoun. While these are not commonly known and used, as the popularity and acknowledgment of the gender-neutral pronoun grows, they will be used more often. It is completely acceptable to ask people what pronouns they prefer.

For someone who identifies as trans*, asking about pronouns is a great first step. Admitting that you have no clue what to do or say is good, but first and foremost ignore their gender and focus on the person. I know that hearing the correct pronouns being used when talking about me, is huge, as acceptance is growing. Even though I identify as trans*, I feel full included and accepted in the Wartburg Community. Inclusion starts with the ability to recognize you may encounter individuals in your community that are different from you. Take the first step and get to know them as a person.

Rev. Dr. Stan Olson, WTS President:

My privilege today is to talk with you a little about language for God. The topic of this convocation is inclusive language. I could talk about inclusive language for God, pointing to the importance of speaking of God in ways that allow all to be included.

I’ve given that talk. However, over the years I’ve concluded that it’s far better to speak of expansive language for God or, simply, appropriate language for God. Speaking appropriately of God is an expression of faithfulness.

Sixty years ago, J. B. Philipps wrote a book titled, Your God Is Too Small. He challenges the reader to think more expansively about God as made known in Jesus Christ, to embrace the depth of meaning. The book was very important in shaping my early thinking. I recently reread it and can’t now say that I commend the book to you. I do, however, commend the title. Let that title push you firmly as you do theology, preach, teach, counsel, write, and pray—your God is too small.

To embed this push in your thoughts, I invite you to shift from the second person pronoun and use this as a response: Our God is too small. Say it with me now, Our God is too small, and then in response.

If we speak of God using only a few of the words and images available, Our God is too small.

If we use only the language of the New Testament, Our God is too small.

If we use only the language of the Hebrew Bible, Our God is too small.

If our talk of God uses only masculine images and pronouns, or only feminine images and pronouns, or only combinations, Our God is too small.

If we limit our language for God only to words actually used in the Bible and neglect the church’s rich history of devotion and thought, Our God is too small.

If we casually and carelessly use familiar hymnic and devotional language that conveys limited or false images of God, Our God is too small.

If the God we convey seems distant and unknowable for any to whom we speak, Our God is too small.

If we think that God is ours alone, Our God is too small.

If we ever allow ourselves to think that we have arrived at language that is finally and completely appropriate, Our God is too small.

God is not too small!

Gus Barnes, 3rd Year M.Div. Student: 

I am Gus Barnes Jr. I am one of a kind, created by God and my parents. I am a fifty-three year old man in seminary. I am a tax-payer. I am a product of the sixties. Here is the shocker surprise: I am an openly Gay African American man. In my time in this temporal place we call earth, I have had many doors shut in my face because of the things that describes who Gus is. Here at Wartburg Seminary I assume when people speak of Gus being Gay, it’s because often I am happy as Gus; I am welcomed here as Gus.

I am thrilled to have lived a lifetime to see a Black President in office, and this week I met the ELCA’s first openly Gay Bishop. The ELCA has struggled with sexuality issues. And after its decision in 2009 to be more open to gays and lesbians serving in ministerial leadership, it has lost many congregations. Sadly I am reminded daily when I look in the mirror as I prepare my day that I need to ask,”What doors will be opened, and which doors will be shut because of who Gus is?” Spend some time to get to know me and others. I promise if you stay out of my closet, I’ll stay out of yours!

Susan Ebertz, Director of the Reu Memorial Library and Assistant Professor of Bibliography and Academic Research:

I’m speaking on inclusion of a variety of denominational backgrounds. I think that there is only one student here who is not Lutheran and she is a TEEM student. I think I am the only faculty member who is not Lutheran. There are a number of the staff who are not Lutheran. I mention this because sometimes it is easy for some of us to forget that not all of us are Lutheran.

At one time we had more non-Lutherans here. The other faculty member and the students would talk with me about some of their experiences. I’m not at liberty to share those stories. It wasn’t a secret club but it did create a bond between us.

I don’t think that the difference in denominational backgrounds is as hurtful as other sorts of discriminations. If we all realize that not everyone speaks Lutheranese and not all of us believe Lutheran theology, we go a long way into including those of other denominations.

I know that some of you grew up in a different denomination and the transition to Lutheran theology may be difficult. I think it is important for you to know and understand Lutheran theology and to live into that. That is okay. That is not what I’m talking about.

Many of you will be ministering in communities where you will need to work with ecumenical partners. Understanding what they believe or how they “do worship” can be an important learning experience while you are in seminary. Figure out ways to experience that.

If you want to talk more, I welcome conversation with you.

Table Question for Communal Conversation:

  1. When have you experienced “exclusion” in a community or church setting?
  2. What practices have you observed to be some of the most helpful for facilitating authentic inclusion and openness in faith communities? How have they worked?
  3. As leaders, how can we go about being allies or advocates in the communities we serve for inclusion concerning some of the issues named this morning?
  4. As leaders, what do you think will be some of the most pressing issues of inclusion for which we will need to be advocates in our unfolding ministries?

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