Tag Archives: Community

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.

THOUGHTS ON “BLACK LIVES MATTER” By Nathan Wicks, Second Year M. Div.

A few Sundays ago, people gathered and marched for the Black Lives Matter movement in Dubuque, Iowa not far from the neighborhood of Wartburg Seminary. About 200 gathered and walked a mile down Grandview Avenue. The majority of the gathering was white, as is the community in which we marched, but there was a good number of African Americans and representatives of groups such as the NAACP, Dubuque Area Congregations United, and the Children of Abraham interfaith group. Several seminarians and faculty members from Wartburg Seminary were among those who marched.

The strong turnout was a sign of the importance of this issue in the community. This movement began in order to raise awareness of the killings of African Americans by police officers, but has come to represent more than this single issue. It is also raising awareness of implicit racism which is becoming more shamelessly expressed in this season after the election. This is not a “post-racial” world.

As the organization and announcements for the Black Lives Matter march gained momentum through Facebook, discussion of a counter protest–to include the open carrying of firearms—arose under the guise of saying All Lives Matter. For myself, after I got over the shock and fear of that armed threat as a counter to affirming the worth of Black lives, I thought, “At least we are recognizing that this is a matter of life and death.” Amidst the fog of negative rhetoric in this disturbing exchange, however, important issues were obscured. The result of this kind of interaction is that we are unable to clarify our own identities enough to actually speak to each other. Instead, we use code words to speak against each other. This is only made worse in that talking to each other as a “community” comes from behind the safety of the screen in our individualized echo chambers like Facebook.

In the conversation between Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter, we forget how much we lose ourselves in losing our connection to each other. The farther our words get from our neighbors, the less we are able to say who we are anymore. We are unable to recognize the community in which we live, the simple community of proximity, of neighborhood, the people next door. What vast chasms of difference between us have opened up since we last saw each other face to face? Who are you anymore? Who am I? What are we saying when we say Black Lives Matter, or All Lives Matter?  The drive to a clear language with which we can actually speak to another human being takes something like the surprising radicalism of walking in the context of what we say. Walking the talk. To claim an identity and to walk it, open to what actual conversation might occur is very different than accepting the rhetoric of elections into our own mouths. The drive to a clear identity which is differentiated and knows why and how and what for takes something like an actual human being walking on a sidewalk in a neighborhood in the community in which they live.

And that was the interesting part of this march. We gathered based on this issue of Black Lives Matter amidst a vague but announced threat of a counter protest of All Lives Matter. I confess I imagined there would be more of a confrontation, perhaps people on opposite sides of the street shouting passionately at each other. I didn’t bring my son out of fear of this. I really did want to see who these people were who consider openly carrying guns a major issue, because I don’t understand it. And then there wasn’t much of a counter protest at all. We didn’t get to see the people who say All Lives Matter and the confrontation didn’t happen. The cohesion of the group uniting on this issue was there; it was exciting to do this. One esteemed professor said she hadn’t done something like this since marching out of her seminary in protest in the 70’s. There was a striving for that exuberant hopefulness of a common cause and a real fight, but in the absence of the open conflict we were left with ourselves much as we were before the march. We stuck to our own little groups and didn’t talk too much. There were hesitant starts of chants like “White silence equals violence,” but none acquired the inertia and sustaining energy to last more than a minute or two. When I look back, there was an air of grief to the march. The community embodied itself as it is and instead of a fight there was sadness, a kind of election PTSD stumbling along, a husk of a former self. Or perhaps it was a steeling of oneself in expectation of the cold of winter to come. Or maybe it was more a funeral march than anything else.

For public conversations to happen a community needs a foothold on its identity. The act of walking is a powerful way that words can finally find purchase in bodies, in earthen vessels full of hope and disappointment, lament and praise. A march gives our hope a chance to become who we are in this place as we find a common ground. Walking shows a way that commonalities overcome differences in the same way that hopes live in the midst of disappointments, friendship happens in relation to the love mustered for enemies, and lives are lived in the fearful human reality of death. These commonalities worked through the political arenas of life rarely make it to the ground of conversation in the actual ground of neighborhood that the soles of our feet walk upon.

Words are powerful things. Words are promises which create worlds. To say “’Peace, peace’ when there is no peace” (Jer 6:14), is to use words carelessly in treating the wound in our public conversation. To say “All Lives Matter” is akin to saying “All men are created equal.” It partakes of the self-fulfilling prophetic language of the Constitution, the ideals upon which the United States was founded. To be plain, this prophetic utterance of “All Lives Matter” is a way of pointing out sin, as all prophets do. It partakes of the pervasiveness of this nation’s sin, a mirror on the ways all lives do not matter, the way the grand claim of a country founded on the belief that “all men are created equal” left out so many and in fact created this world in which persons are violently kept from being who they are created to be. It is a statement of the oppression and frustration of equality parading openly under its opposite. It is a cross-shaped word seeking redemption and reconciliation for what it says to be true.

We can come home to ourselves, to our communities and neighborhoods, only when we recognize the ways we are not at home, the ways we are exiled in this place we call home. To deny the exile from self, neighbor, and community is to ignore reality itself. The purpose of speech is to evoke a reality in which we would actually like to participate. Words, even words like “exile,” are for a community to talk to each other, not only to describe a reality in which no one is relatable any longer. Words create those relationships in the words themselves. Conversation is an act of faith which imagines a future together where exile is not the primary experience of reality.

If we read the words of Isaiah 55 in this place we can trust that a word which will “accomplish that for which (it is) purposed” (v. 11) is speaking. Perhaps the best thing that happened in the midst of our gathering and marching, our hope and disappointment graciously brought to earth in our walking, was the words shared between police officers and African Americans. Of all the failed conversation, the words left unspoken, the community unrealized yet united in unspoken grief, those most caricatured as enemies were the ones speaking to each other. The officers who helped us cross the street and kept off to the margins of the gathering, keeping a protective eye on us and what might come from outside were the ones to whom many African Americans went for a real conversation.

There are words spoken that cut through the illusion of the rhetoric and create new and transformed worlds in which we walk every day. There are words spoken plainly, promises in the midst of what seems like a reality which contradicts them. The Word is free in ways we are not and in fact freeing us is Its work among us. In the barrenness of words our emptiness was filled in this gathering as the words of conversation will continue to bear fruit in ways we cannot expect.

Students and faculty from Wartburg Theological Seminary attending the Black Lives Matter march in Dubuque, Iowa

Students and faculty from Wartburg Theological Seminary attending the Black Lives Matter march in Dubuque, Iowa

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.

A WITNESS: THE HAITI EARTHQUAKE, A SONG, DEATH, AND RESURRECTION Book Review by WTS Professor Norma Cook Everist

Print

Renee Splichal Larson, A Witness: The Haiti Earthquake, A Song, Death, and Resurrection (Eugene. OR: Resource Publications, 2016), 264 pp.

This book could have been titled so many different ways: A Love Story; Tragedy in Haiti; Loss and Grief. But I think A Witness is just right. Renee Splichal Larson is a participant witness to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed her husband, Ben, and left her a widow at age 27. A Witness is a very personal and also a very global book. In telling her painful yet hopeful story, Renee invites us to enter, from wherever we are; to see, to feel, to question, and to understand more deeply the power, grace, and love of God. This is a communal story. It is about accompaniment and relationship, about Ben, Renee, and Jon, all Wartburg Seminary seniors, who went to Haiti to be with the people there, and who became part of the shaking of the earth with them.

This book is about a few minutes in history and about the years that surround them. It is not a short book, but you won’t want to put it down. The book is intimate, deep, and profound, but not heavy.  We laugh as well as cry. We see people who go to amazing lengths to care for each other. Care across boundaries!

As the book begins, we meet these three young people and enjoy setting out on life’s journey with each of them. Ben and Jon are cousins who are closer than brothers. We hear Renee’s own story about her early years. I have witnessed in Renee an incredible woman. You will discover this, too, as you come to know her and see how she views life and the people whom she comes to cherish. We see Christ in people, because Renee is a witness to Christ in their lives and to Christ at work in the midst of tragedy, care, connection, and the renewal of resurrection.

The story’s focus is on one very gifted young man who died too soon. But the story is also about two people, and three, and about the families of Renee, Ben, and Jon. This is a book about family. Yet we also meet strangers, and we learn from them, and learn what it means to be served by them as much as serving among them. We see, really see, the people of Haiti: Bellinda, Livenson, Kez, Louis, Mytch, and more. Soon we are a witness to hundreds and yes, thousands. This story is about the global church. It is about faith and what it means to be church together in life and death, and in new life.

We see the Haitian people, who have suffered so much and continue to care for the outsider. We hear their faith and song in the midst of despair. We see their resilience, but dare not romanticize the complex issues. In our own ignorance and arrogance, we who live in affluent countries benefit from countries that remain poor and dependent. These are the causes and ramifications of poverty. The call of A Witness is to community and justice.

Poetry from fellow witnesses (friends and classmates) comforts us as well as the author as we walk and weep with each step from earthquake to resting place. This is a book for all who have suffered trauma, sudden tragedy, or the sadness of long suffering.

Renee is a theologian—of the best sort—who lives life fully, and is forever asking questions. (So the title could also have been A Theology.) Her reflections are existential and challenging, and she invites her readers to reflect theologically with her. She also knows that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is true, and that new life in Christ is real. But this new life comes only after lamentation and loneliness and deep grief.

Together with Renee, we become witnesses to the importance of pastoral care and of a worshipping and caring community. Friends carry a body out of Haiti, and all are carried by the body of Christ. This is a theology of grace, of the cross and resurrection, of Christ with people in their dying as much as with the living. This power of God, God’s own commitment to us, empowers us for commitments to all of God’s global family.

There are more ministry opportunities for this now-ordained pastor and for us all. Renee goes where God leads, including to the people of Heart River, North Dakota. I believe this work is and will be a blessing to all who read it, to all for whom she is a witness to Christ and to his cross and resurrection.

Renee

RENEE SPLICHAL LARSON

is a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Born and raised in North Dakota, Renee is a graduate of Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota, and Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa. She is married to Jonathan Splichal Larson, who is also a pastor in the ELCA, and their son is named Gabriel. Renee and Jon are both survivors of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. A Witness is Renee’s first book.

FOOD, FAMILY AND FELLOWSHIP FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NONE Excerpts from “Stories of Hope” ELCA Central States Synod

 

Childrens Memorial - Lunch Line lr

In the midst of a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Kansas City is a tiny church community where a pastor, outside volunteers and highly-engaged church members have come together to create a sense of hope and joy. . .in spite of their surroundings. The church has been through some very rough times as the surrounding neighborhood has declined. But Pastor Ann Rundquist sees hope. While Ann was at Wartburg Seminary she was asked to do part of her fieldwork at Children’s Memorial. “I bit,” said Ann, “and then I didn’t want to leave.” The church is under synodical administration with an oversight board consisting of the community and synod representatives. “We really are the synod’s church. . .a mission outpost. . .with nontraditional ways,” Ann remarked.

Children’s Memorial Lutheran Church is an ELCA congregation in northeast Kansas City, Missouri that was established in 1884. The church’s name describes the story of its origination. Back in 1882 a capital campaign was conducted where children across the U.S. sent money to the congregation so they could buy land and build a new church. The church and neighborhood prospered into the 1950’s and then declined as its families moved to the suburbs.

Childrens Memorial - Earl Tony Ann lr

Ann was consecrated as a diaconal minister and installed as pastoral leader on May 9, 2013. Because of the needs of the people and as an expression of her diaconal service in this unique ministry setting, she completed additional classes and was ordained and installed as pastor on March 14, 2015. “I am so thankful that ELCA congregations’ support our unique ministry in what many think is an ‘undesirable’ location. Isn’t that where Jesus lived?” Though she serves only part-time, she is breathing new life into an area that is comprised mostly of people who are homeless or living in extreme poverty. “One of my roles is to develop leaders who love to spread the good news of Jesus Christ, welcome others, and serve one another. Our consistent message is ‘come and see.'”

Even in such a poor area, where the total weekly offering might average $5, God is doing something extraordinary. When the plate passed by me during Sunday morning worship, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the story of the widow’s mite:

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” ~ Luke 21: 1–4

“Gone are the days of just a handful worshiping and serving on Sundays. Thirty faithful disciples come together consistently as a Christ driven community,” Ann said. Retired pastor and church member Bill Pape suggested a Saturday morning worship, which gathered 30 people to word, sacrament, service and lots of singing. And the church’s street corner worship on Fridays attracts about 10 people. Bible studies are on Tuesday and Fridays. Two hundred hot nutritious meals are prepared and served each week. Holiday diners (Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas) number about 300.

ThriftStore

The church also has a volunteer-run Thrift Store chock full of clothing bargains that helps offset the church’s expenses, and a Clothes Closet that provides free clothing for those in dire need. Pastor Ann is hoping to add a licensed Food Pantry in the near future to meet people’s requests for food to take home. Food can be bought from Harvesters at a discount, but the Pantry needs funding.

Thirteen synod congregations partner with CMLC to serve lunch, donate clothing, provide financial support and prayer. Generosity USA, a local nonprofit agency, funds all the food expenses and in 2015 MLM volunteers donated Christmas gifts. “It is amazing how adults and students come to serve lunch and before long they match their talents with our needs. An Eagle Scout built shelving units and a Girl Scout just brought us twenty Easter baskets. The Chamber of Commerce and Northeast High School partner with us, too. And we look forward to Youthworks volunteering, again, this summer,” Pastor Ann commented.

Childrens Memorial - Earl and Freezer lr

“I’m spoiled rotten!” said Earl the Church Caretaker.
Earl has served as Church Caretaker for three months now. Before that, he lived under a bridge on I-70 and Truman Road. Earlier this year, Children’s Memorial had several robberies of items used in church services, one being the altar cross. The members of the community were quite upset and organized a search. One night they found the cross in the middle of an abandoned lot, shining in the light of the moon.

“It’s a pleasure to volunteer here at the church,” said Earl. “It’s amazing and I’m still getting used to it. I get to help people who have needs most people can’t imagine. I get to use my skills around the church and make dinner for people. I get to sit in a pew and pray early in the morning and late in the day. It’s so peaceful. I’m spoiled rotten! The only thing I don’t like is having food for the kitchen but not being able to hand it out to people to take home. But we are working on setting up a Food Pantry so I won’t have to turn people away any more.”

Pastor Ann found a creative solution to two problems by asking Earl to volunteer at the church. Caretaker Earl makes use of his handyman skills and has fixed long-neglected problems with plumbing and electrical, as well as an issue with the gutters that resulted in water pouring down the stairs of the main entrance people use for the Community Kitchen and Chapel services whenever it rained. He also serves as a cook in the kitchen and is proud of his homemade spaghetti sauce.

“Our ministry is word, sacrament, fellowship, meals, and clothing. Most of the people who come here learn about us from a friend on the street. Creating a safe, family environment has been key in welcoming others as many don’t have families. So we visit, eat, work, and pray like a family. Nutritious meals, which include fruits and vegetables, are often a luxury to our diners. Travel with us from the dinner table to the Lord’s table,” said the determined pastor.

Because of the support from other congregations and God’s grace and abundance, a growing church ministry has been created here at the corner of Independence and Brighton, right in the midst of poverty. Instead of children across the U.S. sending their pennies here to build a new church, local congregations and volunteers are making contributions and driving a short distance to rebuild what was once a thriving congregation.

childrens_memorial_worship_x800

“There certainly are other churches in our neighborhood,” Pastor Ann said, “yet, people tell me they worship and eat at Children’s Memorial because they feel respected, listened to, understand worship, seek forgiveness of sins, like the food, and have opportunities to participate and lead.”

“The tremendous, collaborative ministry that’s happening at Children’s is a vivid example of what God’s people can do when we work together,” said Roger Gustafson, Central States Synod bishop. “The overall theme we’re exploring as a synod is HOPE, and all of those who are lending a hand at Children’s are showing that in the midst of difficult and challenging circumstances, hope springs to life when we focus on sharing our abundance.”

“As you may guess, we have few ‘frills,’ such as a telephone, janitor, secretary, or musician. However, our followers of Jesus pitch in and take leadership roles to maintain the building, sing solos, prepare meals, and spread the good news of Jesus Christ,” said Pastor Ann. “The majority originally came for a ‘sloppy joe’ meal and stayed for the Lord’s meal. . .over and over again. Jesus instructed us that ‘when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. . .you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

Childrens Memorial - Chapel Service lr
Quick Look at Children’s Memorial Congregation
A recent survey of 53 adults at Saturday lunch found:
64% Have disabilities
42% Receive Social Security disability
17% No income
41% Intermittent jobs: scrap metal, clean parking lots, move furniture
3% Full-time employment
38% No permanent shelter
21% Live outside
21% Have transportation
55% High school diploma or GED
30% Addictions
43% Receive food stamps
34% Former felony convictions
96% Come to Children’s Memorial for food, clothing, and to socialize
87% Attend worship weekly
62% Volunteer at church

Read the article by Rick Moser in it’s entirety here.

CONNECTING THE CONGREGATION AND THE COMMUNITY By Sarah Wicks, 1st Year Diaconal Ministry

 

Sarah Wicks is pursuing an M.A. in Social Work and an M.A. in Diaconal Ministry. She writes this article describing her joint degree work.

I’ve spent a lot of time this school year at the Almost Home shelter located at St. John’s Lutheran Church in downtown Dubuque. In my role as a social work field placement student at Project Concern, I’ve had the privilege of being a part of the work at St. John’s and am involved with the lives of the shelter residents. St. John’s Lutheran is such a beautiful example of the powerful relationship that can exist between the worlds of social work and diaconal ministry.

One of my former social work professors told me once that, “social work is not just about understanding who the people are that we serve, but to more deeply understand what is happening in their lives and in their community that influences their lives and brings them to seek your services.” Social work is about seeing the visible and invisible social systems of power, poverty, racism, classism, and privilege at work and applying that understanding to the work we do with people. In my own understanding of diaconal ministry, I also see it as essential that we can identify and incorporate those visible and invisible systems into the work we do on behalf of congregations within the community.

St. John’s Lutheran is a powerful example of a congregation that saw those systems at play in their community and sought to build a bridge between the congregation and the people in the wider community. The shelter provides overflow beds for the Dubuque Rescue Mission and can shelter up to 12 men at a time. They offer showers, laundry services, social supports, and work with Project Concern and people like me to connect the shelter residents to rehousing programs. As someone who has training in social work and is also learning the fine art of diaconal ministry, I can speak both languages and that has been a critical resource. I understand the mission of the church and the history of downtown, urban churches that are declining in membership and have a need to fill their unused spaces.

I also understand the needs of the community, which I learn from the people I serve, and the programs in we participate. I can serve as a case manager for the shelter residents to get them back into permanent housing and connect them to supportive services. It is a really wild and exhilarating position to be in! I’m so grateful for congregations like St. John’s that have taken on this diaconal work and are doing it so well in their communities. I pray that we all continue to listen to the callings in our own lives, and to be creative in considering ways that we can continue to bridge these experiences and backgrounds with congregations and communities we will serve in the future.

THE GAIN OF THE LOSS — HONEST ADVOCACY by Alexandra Hjerpe, 2nd Year MDiv Student

I have the choice to walk away from here: That is part of why I keep returning.

Cars, people and crumbling autumn leaves bluster on by the windows of the shelter, not minding the world around them, unaware that the lives of the people inside have lurched to a sudden stop. I hear the tick of a clock as I pass my mop over the creaking, wooden stairs. This sound is the evidence that time is indeed moving; otherwise, it is as if the whole shelter, as well as the women and children who take refuge here, have been crystallized in amber.

Time passes slowly, and does not heal all wounds.

I’m here at the shelter for my weekend shift as an advocate for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. It’s a part-time, paid job that involves tasks of maintaining a safe-house shelter and current residents, as well as responding to a crisis hotline for future residents. It’s also is a full-time, costly job that requires a certain sacrifice of trust, and loss of control, in humanity.

Trust often requires a kind of the will to not notice.

As a shelter advocate, I often find myself struggling to balance in a tension between practical restraint and compassionate openness when interacting with residents. On one hand, these individuals are highly resourceful, frequently dishonest, and every bit the survivors forged from the worst of experiences. On the other hand, these residents are persons who deserve the greatest attentiveness, honor and empathy of any God has created, and each were formed of, and will return to, the same dust to which I shall also return.

It could be me, living in this house. It could be Christ, bearing these open wounds.

Many of the people who take refuge at the safe-house would otherwise be homeless. Supported by donations of local community organizations, the shelter provides basic health supplies to these individuals that have been otherwise denied. I never knew it could be empowering to allow a woman to choose the color and size of her pajamas and slippers. I did not realize that it was a privilege of personhood for a child to have his own fresh toothbrush and toothpaste.

There are so many small, ordinary pieces of personhood that we do not know we own until we experience someone with impoverished autonomy.

Once in a while I have the opportunity to sit down with a resident in my office, offer him or her a cup of water, and listen to their story. Never offered an objective ear prior to the shelter, these persons may be long overdue for a time to express feelings, and become emotionally explosive: shivering with tremors of anxiety, churning with long-suppressed anger, or flowing with open facets of grief.

While these moments are a privilege, I cannot say they are a gentle blessing, inspirational, or personally intimate; they are frightening, painful, and very difficult to hear. I cannot underscore this loss enough, and urge you to not glamorize advocacy as you imagine the scene. Instead, I can feel my own Self and soul stirring, desiring to provide, as I listen—and then, compassion takes the form of an objective, silent listener, who will provide a tissue or a hand, upon request.

Part of advocating for the powerless means an intentional release of your own power and need.

I find this submission of my desire to comfort, provide advice, and to generally “fix” things to be the most challenging part of my work as a shelter advocate. The recognition of my innate privilege–and the loss that comes with realizing that others do not share this privilege!–conjures in me a mixture of guilt, shame, sadness and anger. Yet, feelings are messengers. Yet, this emotional energy is signaling my Soul to work: it is transformed into action, in which I engage the reality of privilege, and put it to work, per the context. With these persons who have been traumatized by the violence of physical – and truly, a deeply spiritual– abuse, the task required of an advocate is a release of his or her own choice, own need, and own power in a situation. Then, one may watch in wonder as a space opens up for bruised people to breathe on their own.

It is a marvel to help others realize that they indeed have a voice, and a choice, and a Soul that is precious, and worth holding on to.

This is the gain of the loss for the shelter advocate: that you pause, so that others may become.