Tag Archives: diversity

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.

 

25TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE PERSISTENT VOICE: Articles from the First Issue

The Persistent Voice began as a networking newsletter January/February 1990, and has continuously published for the past 25 years, becoming an on-line newsletter in 2008. A woman graduate waiting months for a call, initiated the idea of a newsletter to keep those graduates in touch and supported. At that time there were 8 women and 2 men waiting call. Over the years the mission of The Persistent Voice has expanded to include many issues of “Gender and Justice across the Globe.”

Some articles from the first issue:

EXCERPTS FROM A MESSAGE FROM WARTBURG SEMINARY PRESIDENT ROGER FJELD

It is a commentary on our church that we are simultaneously preparing to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the decision of our churches to welcome women into ordained ministry and at the same time seeing the beginning of a newsletter which has a concern for the lack of welcome. More than l000 women are now part of the clergy roster of the ELCA and uncounted thousands participate in various forms of professional lay ministry in the church. Their ministries have been overwhelmingly positive. Their contribution is undeniable. Yet there are those who deny women the opportunity to serve—either in first calls or in succeeding calls. Together we need to address this. In the meantime, this newsletter will be one link. . .  . I lament its necessity and I support its mission.

 

ELIZABETH LEEPER INSTALLED

Elizabeth (Beth) Leeper was installed as Assistant Professor of Church History November 10, 1989, bringing the number of women professors at Wartburg to four: Dr. Norma Cook Everist, Educational Ministry and Church Administration; Dr. Anne Marie Neuchterlein, Contextual Education and Pastor Care; Dr. Patricia (Patti) Beattie Jung, Social Ethics. Two women teach part-time in the Biblical division: May Persuad and Cindy Smith.

 

THE GLOBAL SCENE

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Zimbabwe is planning to ordain its first two women pastors when they complete seminary this year. In Tanzania the faculty of Makumira Lutheran Seminary is urging the church to ordain women.

 

ASSOCIATE IN MINISTRY IN RESIDENCE

Rebecca Grothe, a 1981 MA graduate of Wartburg, was recently Wartburg’s first “Associate in Ministry in Residence,” spending a week on campus, addressing classes, preaching in chapel and speaking informally with students. Becky is Senior Editor for Leadership Education at Augsburg Fortress in Minneapolis. She previously served as Director of Christian Education at Bethel Lutheran in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, and at Zion Lutheran in Luckey, Ohio.

 

MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR MONTREAL

The Wartburg Community held a Memorial Service for the 14 women killed Dec 6 at the University of Montreal’s engineering school by a man walking into a classroom yelling, “You’re all a bunch of feminists!” Wartburg’s “Liturgy for Women” was planned and held the evening the news was released. The Homily was entitled “The Extravagance of Violence.”

 

POEM BY Ray Blank

FREEDOM
Freedom to be,
All that you can be
Unless that offends me.
All that I allow you to be,
Is what you can be,
Says ME.
OPPRESSION.

FREEDOM
Free to be,
All that you can be.
You challenge growth within me.
To reach to be able to see,
All that I can be.
Together WE.
LIBERATION

(Written in WTS Feminist Theology and Ministry Class, 1989)

 

FAILURE AS AN UNDERLYING NARRATIVE by Christa Fisher, 3rd year M.Div. Student

“Your son is at a high risk for failure.” The school principal’s words settled on my chest like a leaden mantle. Unprepared for this phone call, I stammered a confused response. “What? Why? You must be mistaken.” My three-year old son was sitting at the kitchen island coloring, his small fingers gripping a fat red crayon. The principal assured me the call was not an error – she was speaking about my son, about Jacob. A week prior Jacob had participated in a 60-minute early-childhood education readiness assessment and according to the principal, Jacob’s test results warranted the phone call.

In the days following the call I was consumed with the need to understand how Jacob could be at a “high-risk for failure.” After Jacob was born I left my career to stay home and care for him. Needing order and predictability in my life, I created a schedule of activities to fill our days. We attended play groups, visited museums, hiked in the woods, baked cookies, made blanket forts, painted self-portraits, learned the alphabet, numbers, shapes and colors, and spent hours upon hours reading. As Jacob became older and craved more time with other children I enrolled him in a highly respected preschool program. His preschool teachers were perplexed by the school district’s assessment. Not only was Jacob doing fine in preschool, they assured me his skills were age appropriate, he came from a safe, loving home, with two devoted parents, who were both college educated. I shared my confusion with a neighbor, a professor of early childhood education. According to her, there was nothing about Jacob which suggested he was at a “high risk for failure.” My husband and I did not enroll Jacob in the specialized program the school district had created for “kids like him.” Instead, we continued to do what we were already doing and hoped this label would not follow him into kindergarten.

After much thought I deduced the school district’s assessment was colored by racism. You see, Jacob is biracial. My husband is black and I am white.

I should not have been surprised by the school district’s assumptions about Jacob. I grew up in a community of people who showcased their racism with pride and am therefore keenly aware of the assumptions we white people make about people of color. As a young mother I worked hard to ensure people had no reason to make such assumptions about our family.  As I focused on maintaining our image, however, I worried my efforts to shield my children from racism were actually depriving them the opportunity to claim their true character. I also worried that my actions were born, at some level, out of my own racism.

My mother-in-law once told me that by marrying her son I was black by association. At the time I didn’t take her seriously. Andre, my soon to be husband, and I were in our early 20’s and living in Berkeley, California. As a biracial couple in the San Francisco Bay Area we were in the norm. Surrounded by the appearance of racial unity I speculated within a generation or two racism would cease to exist. It was easy for me to be so hopeful. I had not yet experienced racism.

When Andre and I moved to Wisconsin I became acutely aware of the differences between the ways people treated us as compared to my previous relationships with white men. When the waitress escorted Andre to one table and me to another, we pitied her for her ignorance. When the mechanic refused to service our vehicle, we moved our business elsewhere. When Andre was defamed at work and offered no recourse, we swallowed our anger and bemoaned small town life. But when our children were born we could no longer simply joke about ignorant behaviors or tolerate inequality at work. Our precious children deserve better than that.

Shortly after Jacob started kindergarten we began receiving notes from his teacher, all assuming parental incompetence. In addition to urging us to read to Jacob for “just 5 minutes each night,” we were also cautioned to limit Jacob’s exposure to television, and to provide him a healthy diet, among other things. Though she did not know us, the teacher assumed our parenting skills were inadequate.

I met with the school principal to discuss the notes, which she quickly dismissed. The teacher was acting out of concern, the principal insisted, and I was over-reacting. In retrospect I should not have expected her to understand – she was the one who informed us Jacob was at a “high risk for failure.” Unprepared to fight this battle, we chose to ignore the teacher’s notes and continue parenting Jacob as we always had.

Andre and I are now more proactive regarding our children’s educations. At the start of the year we meet each of our children’s teachers to tell our story, beginning in the Bay Area where we received our educations and continuing to our present situation in Madison, Wisconsin. By the time we finish, the teachers know us well enough to refrain from applying stereotypical ideologies to our children or making uninformed assumptions about us as parents. Thankfully, both of our children are thriving in school – academically and socially.

Though I am concerned our children will suffer for having a white mother, I recognize that my race can work to their advantage. We are welcomed into places and conversations and afforded greater choices and opportunities due to my whiteness. Teachers and doctors, people who hold critical information, are generally more comfortable communicating with me than with my black husband. I am the primary driver in our family and do not fear racial profiling on the road. As long as our children are with me, I do not worry they will be attacked, physically or verbally.

Yet my whiteness will only benefit our children as long as they are dependent upon and near me. Eventually they will be functionally independent. Then when people look at Jacob with suspicion, whether a police officer, a college professor, or a vigilante citizen, Jacob will have to fend for himself. Under great pressure and amidst intense emotions, Jacob will be responsible for diffusing their anger by demonstrating that he does not warrant fear and is someone worth befriending rather than attacking.

While I still disagree with the school district’s assessment of Jacob, I now recognize a truth in their conclusion. Jacob is at a “high risk for failure” though not for anything he or we have done or failed to do. Jacob will likely experience failure in his life – we all do. Unlike Jacob’s white peers, however, his failure will be inseparable from an underlying narrative of antagonistic racial bias. This insidious evil, which began sabotaging Jacob’s potential before he could even write his entire name, will never just disappear. It is embedded in our institutions and communities, increasing peoples’ risk of failure by limiting their opportunities and choices. Racism, the underlying cause of racial disparities in incarceration, unemployment, poverty, and serious health conditions, justifies racial profiling and minimizes hate crimes. Whether or not Jacob recognizes it, he is in an abusive relationship with racism, from which there is no escape. Unprepared to battle this exhausting, humiliating, and dangerous intruder, we can only hope we are providing him the skills he needs to manage this relationship, so it is unable to consume his life, robbing him his true character and potential and ultimately rendering him a failure.

SERMON SEGMENT By Cynthia Robles, Final Year MA Diaconal Ministry Student

From a sermon preached by Cynthia Robles at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Dubuque, IA using the gospel text Matt. 25:31-46 

In a Seminary class on Ethics, we read a book called Lest Innocent Blood be Shed about a community in France during WWII that took in Jewish immigrants that were fleeing from Germany. The church in their town of Le Chambon had engraved over the door the words, “Love one another.” In watching a short clip from a movie about these people, when asked why they put themselves at risk by giving German immigrants refuge, they looked at the camera and said, “It’s what we do.” It was as if they wondered why one would ask such a strange question. The truth is, “Love one another” was not only written on their church, but also written on their hearts. It was woven into the fabric of their being.

As I thought about this, I began to see how this way of thinking is so similar to how I feel being called to a ministry of Word and Service. I cannot tell you how many times I am asked, “Why not become a Pastor?” I say, “I know it is not my call. My call is to Word and service.” When explaining this call to some of the men in the “Almost Home” shelter [At St. John’s] last week, one man said, “After all, it is about getting the word of God out there.” I said, “Through actions, right? And he nodded his head, yes.

As I have pondered my call to service, I wondered where it came from in my life. Was there something that happened that made me begin to think this way or is it just who I am? I tried to figure it out, because this sense of call is so strong for me. It came back to thinking about the great role models I had in my life. My Grandparents and my Dad. From the time I was small, I can remember going to church every Sunday, many times with my grandparents.

However, what I remember most about them was their home, only blocks from St. John’s here on Jackson Street. You could show up any time of the day or night and be welcomed. Not only would you be welcomed, but loved. They would give you something to eat or drink or even a warm bed in which to sleep. Their home was the place we gathered during the holidays, small, but filled with laughter and joy. If they knew they weren’t going to be home, we knew where the key was and we were still welcome to come in. If the light was on, you knew they were home and you were welcome. Although they did not have the words “Love one another” written on their home, it was certainly written on their hearts.

The Greatest Commandment written in the Gospel of Matthew is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

In today’s gospel the sheep depict God’s people. They participate in God’s mission. They have responded to Gods call and respond by expressing deeds that manifest God’s Kingdom in a sinful world. Jesus identifies with the poor and desperate. On the other hand, the goats, which have not welcomed the proclamation with positive response, are condemned. They have not “served” Jesus. Disciples live lives of service among those who are living on the margins. This is what is difficult about this text and what I think we all may wrestle with a bit. We know that we do not have to do good works to earn our salvation, but here God is condemning the ones who do not serve.

“Perhaps Jesus says in this parable what he has been saying all along through his teaching and actions and what he will soon say: that God loves us and all the world so much that God has decided to identify with us fully and completely. “We recognize God most easily in the face of our neighbor, meet God in the acts of mercy and service we offer and are offered to us, and live in the blessing of God as we seek to serve as Christ served.”[1]

Two years ago I was asked to resign from my job. I had been in management for over 25 years and for many years worked at making a difference in a community as a Parks and Recreation Director. Once I resigned, I did not know who I was, because I found all my value in my job. It was who I thought I was. Once that was gone, I thought I had nothing. This was a very dark place. I felt like I had no worth, like I was powerless. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life.

Each night there are men who walk through the church doors of “Almost Home,” many who have no job, many who fight addictions and come hungry and thirsty and cold. Many of you may have been through something in your life that has brought you to a dark place, and if you think back, this is where you may have seen Jesus. In this darkness and in this powerlessness we find power, not in ourselves, but in Jesus, the one who has given us this gift of Grace, by living and dying on a cross for you and for me. Because God did this for us, we are justified by Grace through our Faith and because we are given this gift of salvation we are free to serve our neighbor. I know this is true, because I have felt suffering in this life and I am here today to preach the Gospel as a broken, but saved Child of God. I am claiming my baptism, I am living out my Christian Vocation, and I no longer find value in what I am doing, but I find value in what has been done for me. All of you have value too, because this Grace is for you, saints and sinners. I look in the eyes of the men who walk through these doors each night and see Jesus, because Jesus says when you feed the ones who are hungry and you give the ones who are thirsty something to drink, clothe them and give shelter to the ones who need it, you have done this for Jesus. So, I ask, what do you have to give? You have what has been given to you….LOVE. You can love one another, just as God loves you.

And, just as important is a community that loves. When we love one another it spreads. You can see it here in the ministry that is connected to this building that you steward so well. I have seen volunteers from the community who have come forward to open the doors and show hospitality to the men in the shelter, and the neighbors who come to find clothes for the winter months to keep from freezing in their homes where many cannot afford heat. The men from the Shelter help those neighbors and I heard them bless one another over and over. Students from Wartburg made winter hats for the men. The young lady who we heard from at the beginning of the service has a mission in this life to make this community a better place by loving others. She has coordinated with several families to bring food for the men who are hungry, “And God said, let the Children lead,” This is the gospel in action; we have God’s love woven into the fabric of our being, in St. John’s and in this neighborhood community that God has given to us as a gift. Pure gift.

So, let us share this gift with others, tell the story of what has been done in the name of the one who loves us. We are sent out to tell this story to ones who may not ever hear it. “Mission itself becomes redefined when we consider the move outwards as a move towards God!” [2]”The community is sent out from the Lord’s Supper as body of Christ only to discover that the body of Christ is already waiting for the community in those suffering in the world.”[3] This is what I call discipleship; this is what we do. You can do this here or like my grandparents, in your own home, or in your work, or on the playground, in whatever you do. Let us etch the words over our door: “Love one another” and imagine then, that it will be etched in our hearts.

“I know that I want to have a door in the depths of my being, a door that is not locked against the faces of all other human beings. I know that I want to be able to say, from those depths, “Naturally, come in, and come in.””[4]

 

[1] “Christ the King A: The Unexpected God | …In the Meantime,” n.d., accessed December 4, 2014, http://www.davidlose.net/2014/11/christ-the-king-a/.

[2] “Commentary on Matthew 25:31-46 by Dirk G. Lange,” accessed December 4, 2014, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=173.

[3] “Christ the King A.”

[4] Philip P. Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There, 1st edition. (New York: Harper Perennial, 1994), 287.

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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