Tag Archives: Hope

FINAL ISSUE OF THE PERSISTENT VOICE, BUT CHALLENGES GO ON by Dr. Norma Cook Everist, WTS Professor

It all began in the fall of 1989 with a knock on my seminary office door and the voice of one woman, Rhonda Hanisch, waiting for a call to pastoral ministry. She said, “We need a networking newsletter to keep connected –the women are waiting much longer for calls than men. It should have the word ‘Voice’ in it.” The next day she came back and added: “Persistent.” I said, “Let’s do it.”

If Rhonda named what was to be born, Rev. Juel Pierce, Wartburg graduate, financed the birthing expenses. She happened to come into my office a few days later and said, “I would like to donate my honorarium for being chaplain at Wartburg’s WELCA Bible Study event to helping women.” I said, “Thank you. I have just the thing. . . “

In January, 1990, Rebecca Ellenson and I published the first issue  of The Persistent Voice. In those early years our mission was, “The full inclusion of women in the ministry of the church and the full partnership of women and men.” The figures told the story: “Update on Wartburg Seminary M.Div graduates from previous years waiting for call: nine, including seven women and two men. Most are available for call anywhere .” (March/April 1990 Issue)

Issues regularly carried stories of WTS M.A. graduates. The first issue highlighted Rebecca Grothe, Senior Editor for Leadership Education at Augsburg Fortress and Wartburg’s first “Associate in Ministry in Residence .”

From the very beginning men as well as women were part of The Persistent Voice, with Ray Blank writing poetry on “Freedom” for the first issue. Many other men wrote poetry as well as articles, including Rev. Peter Heide and  David Weiss, M.A. graduate who since graduation has published several books.

By year 20 our mission had broadened to “Addressing issues of gender and justice across the globe and working towards the full partnership of women and men in ministry.” We had a policy to let each writer speak his or her own voice, to provide editorial assistance, and to not let any article go to publication without collaboration with the author on the final version

For twenty years we published a familiar goldenrod 11 x 14 print copy. Readership grew way beyond Wartburg to people around the world; printing and mailing was financed by the readers. Each issue contained “Feature Articles”, “Signs of the Times,” “The Global Scene,” “Book Review,” “Poetry,” “Challenge,” “Spirited Action,” and original artwork.  Broad topics; familiar format! (In the fourth year the staff suggested for variation we change the color, printing an issue in light blue. We heard an earful: “We want our goldenrod back! We see it in the mail and read every article!”)

Print it was; however, already by the end of the first year, Nov/Dec, 1990, the Rev. Earl Janssen, a WTS grad, began to put The Persistent Voice on the Lutherlink  computer network. It spread immediately, for example to the Center for Women in Religion in Berkeley, part of the Graduate Theological Union.  In those days students at many seminaries were amazed we could publish our newsletter openly and independently with the trust of the Wartburg administration.

Spring 2009 was our final print issue and Chris Deforest facilitated the complete transition to our place on the web under “Resources” and then “Student Voices” on the Wartburg Seminary home page. From print to Web page to email to Facebook to…

Each fall for 27 years we announced an open meeting and asked, “Is The Persistent Voice still needed?” The answer was always a resounding, “Yes!” The collection has become a history, including: news of the first female Lutheran bishop in the world, Maria Jesper, in Germany; the first female bishop in the ELCA, April Ulring Larson; the second, Andrea DeGroot Nesdahl, (both WTS grads).  Women were ordained in more countries in Africa, but not in Australia. Men and women were serving as diaconal ministers. Men and women were shaping new forms of collaborative leadership. A woman became a Lutheran seminary president in Canada, and then two in the ELCA, Phyllis Anderson and Louise Johnson (both WTS grads).

The longevity and quality of this publication has been noted so that the Archives of both the University of Iowa and Iowa State University asked for the complete set of issues to become part of their women’s history collection.

Our mission this year has been, “Addressing with Compassion and Courage Issues of Equality, Power, and Justice Across the Globe” This networking newsletter publishes its final issue, but the challenges persist. I give thanks to all of you, particularly to Amy Heinz , for her partnership this final year. Hundreds of students have been part of this adventure as reporters, writers, editors, and artists, carrying their persistent voices to this seminary and into the broader church and world.  Thousands more have been readers and actors in Christ’s call to vocations of justice.  Thanks be to God.

SAFE SPACES FOR CHILDREN CONVOCATION by Kirsten Lee, Second-year M. Div.

The Wartburg Seminary community recently met for a convocation entitled “Creating and Maintaining Safe Spaces for Children” in our congregations, communities, and homes. Victor Vieth, Senior Director & Founder of the National Child Protection Training Center at Gundersen Health System lead the convocation. Victor is also a current Wartburg Seminary student expecting to graduate with a Master of Arts this spring.

The convocation addressed the impact abuse can have on a survivor’s spirituality during and after the childhood abuse. A study of 527 child abuse victims reported having “significant spiritual injury”, but also reported praying more frequently and having a “spiritual experience” (Lawson, et al, Child Abuse & Neglect (1998)).  Every child is impacted spiritually; questions of faith, love, and forgiveness remain long after abuse ends. Questions, such as, “How is God present in my abuse,” or “What does this say about God or me” remain long after the abuse occurs.  As church leaders, we are encouraged to find similar questions in scripture as we help survivors find their own words through scripture. Religious and spiritual forms of coping “contribute to decreased symptoms, greater self-esteem, and overall greater life satisfaction.” (Bryant-Davis 2012).

Tragically, clergy may sometimes use a “religious cover” to justify the abuse (i.e. their “good works” overshadow the abuse; God gave this child to me).  Clergy often communicate this cover to the victims, which leads to a greater impact on spirituality. Offenders often seek churches because of weak policies, unconditional love and forgiveness, and as a safe place to have access to children.  This demands a need for churches to create and regularly update policies to protect children from abuse (click here for more information) and provide educational opportunities for both clergy and parishioners.

Vieth also shared insight on how church leaders might address the spiritual needs of both survivors and offenders. He offered practical tips for providing pastoral care to both groups of people based on their unique needs, including the need to stay within the pastoral field of expertise and coordinate with law professionals, mental health therapists, and community leaders.

The following are quotes from students who attended this convocation. Students were asked to reflect further on how they were impacted as church leaders by this convocation. Several students responded with comments on how their own experience with child abuse has impacted their spiritual growth and their growth as a church leader.

“It is a great tragedy that these abuses happen not only at home but also in churches, as the media has been opening our eyes to in recent years. I feel all church leaders should be aware of this and for their own sake take courses on boundaries. Once leaders know their boundaries, it is crucial to become informed on how to spot abuses happening and how to respond. The church should never have and can never again ignore abuse or use Scripture to keep people in abusive situations. In my opinion, the worst thing to happen is for leaders to say to themselves in retrospect, ‘How did I not see this? All the clues were right in front of me and I missed it.’ The Church’s business IS the well-being of the lives of humans.”

“Aside from leaders being educated on the signs of abuse and what to do, churches need to also educate others. We need to offer educational events that are free and open to all to come and learn. Churches can also make it a part of their constitution/mission to safeguard children and all who are abused. In cases of caring for the abused, it takes a village. Churches and their members can offer safe spaces, food, basic needs, resources in the community, and someone to talk to. The worst thing the church can do in any situation of such grief is to ignore or deny the problem/situation. If the cross is truly part of the Church’s identity, we must be ready and willing to enter into the death and darkness of this world.”

“I have attended two ‘Safe-guarding God’s Children’ workshops through the ELCA.  I highly encourage that we students attend one of these training sessions.  After having done so, I saw that my home congregation was very negligent in having safety policies and screenings of volunteers working with children.  We immediately worked on implementing policies and guidelines, as well as background checking all volunteers. This convocation affirmed the necessity for continual reevaluation of policies and training.  I had not previously thought of the abuse that occurs with religion used as part of the abuse.  This was very eye opening to me.”

“My heart is broken, and also uplifted. I was hurt as a child, so it hit particularly close to home. The convocation shows a stark reality of the church’s failure, yet it offers hope because a room full of church leaders were similarly heartbroken. We will go into the church shaped by what we learned, protecting children, and perhaps leading predators to get the help they need. I also see the enormity of the work we have to do. There is no excuse for the church to have let itself become a place where predators go because it’s easy. The church has failed in this. And I hope we can make it succeed.”

“The subject of child abuse of all kinds is often taboo. This convocation brought the language to light. Child abuse must be talked about. The stigma towards admitting the church has a problem must be overcome. The Church can host community forums and offer training, or at least, a location for another organization to do trainings for their volunteers. Churches need a policy with an annual review. Volunteers must be trained. For the sake of children, complacency isn’t good enough. The topic needs to be brought out into the open.”

“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.

CONFRONTING RACISM: CONTINUING THE CONVERSATION By Derek Rosenstiel, 1st Year M.Div.

“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body” (Col. 3:14-15, NRSV).

The Wartburg community gathered together on campus as brothers and sisters March 4th in love and fellowship for the specific purpose of participating in God’s mission (mission Dei).  Individuals entered into conversation with their own past experiences of racism and the division that it causes.  Some entered desperately seeking ways in which to participate in God’s work of reconciliation and the healing of wounds caused by racism.  People were guided by the power of the Holy Spirit to struggle together with questions of what to do about racism within our Church, our communities, and even within our own selves.

Through the teaching, sharing, and practice of some skills on how to go about carrying out a conversation surrounding the topic of racism, the night progressed quite quickly.  As I observed the group with which I shared conversation and also looked around at other groups, I felt a strong sense of passion and emotion flowing among participants.  At the end, when the entire group gathered together for a sharing of final reflections, many ideas and emotions reverberated throughout the narthex: Heartache, Hope, Determination, Acceptance, Love, Pain, Resolve… These words along with the stories and shared experiences I heard that night will stay with me forever.

My hope is that others left that night with a sense of purpose and hope for the future just as I did. A strong mix of emotions flowed through my very being but one thought stuck with me:  the conversation continues because it must.  The Church has everything to lose if it does not continue to address racism through conversation and action.  We must realize that we, as the Body of Christ, are not whole when certain voices are being ignored or silenced.  My hope is that the Holy Spirit will continue to stir within us all, not only just in the Wartburg community, but in the whole world.  Let us not be content with the state of the Church right now.  Let the Word of God continue to unsettle us when we hear it and look around us at the walls that separate us.  Let the reconciling work of Christ work in and through us all, and let us come to the fullness of glory because of it. May almighty God give us God’s own peace.

 

A MICRO-MANAGER FINDS FREEDOM IN ADVENT by Alexandra Hjerpe, 2nd Year MDiv Student

If it were up to me, I wouldn’t have picked a place that smelled like donkey—
but then again, God chooses to make beautiful things
out of stuff like dust, and wet nose-breath.

Personally, I like to imagine that there were velvet-nosed cattle, lowing a lullaby;
Stars dazzling a midnight-blue sky;
a sleeping, baby, white guy.

But, thankfully!, God is bigger, and better, and bolder, beyond anything
That I can comprehend with my own particular culture, and image, and mind.
God has a way of illuminating what I see as the stagnant, smelly, unwanted places—
and turning them into pools of healing and rivers of life:
into leaves for the healing of the nations.

With God’s mud on my eyes, I am allowed the clarity see created things as they always were meant to be seen— and not what I just couldn’t see them as, before.

Maybe it did involve rough blankets, and callous hands, and flies buzzing around and landing on a blanket mid-swaddle. But, all of it’s beautiful—
in the context of God.

Hope has been born. And now,
All of creation will be held together.

What could be more worthy, more beautiful, more perfectly perfect than that?

This, overwhelmingly, is God’s way: it is a springing forth, a pouring out, a blazing into new life.
it sweeps away the cobwebs and danglies of the old, dead soul, and cries, “Light em’ up!”
as green bursts from the earth in a sweaty tangle of love.

Can you imagine how fresh, and how free,
the soul was on that night God when came in person—
all straw, and placenta, and dust from here to Bethlehem?

ADVENT, A CYNIC PSALM  by Alexandra Hjerpe, 2nd Year MDiv Student

Hope is not a posture with which I am familiar; or maybe, even, comfortable.
And yet, I cannot forget the call that comes to me, commandingly:
“Listen! You shall be more than this.”

This! What, this human life—this human death! that spasms with violence, and pain—
That cracks with gunshots upon school children—
That refuses to take in drowning refugees—
That plunges my faith into darkness?

God.
The weight of the world is pounding in my ears:
My heart races from a mortality
that shall never be outrun.

And yet.
And yet. You promise me: “It shall be more than this.”

It will involve, as some tell it, thundering clouds—which birth golden fruit!—that pour out juices and leaves for the healing of the nations.

It will look something like, as I have heard, radiant beams of light—driving out death!—which banish every shadow of despair from our hearts.

It will taste, as I have read it, cool and sweet—a fountain of the purest water, gushing down from the rock that is your cornerstone—removing the tang of grief, forever.

It will feel, as I have known it, like velvet cattle and bristling hay—the bed of a god, among us, wrapped up in a manger.