Remembering the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation

Bishop Mike Rinehart 

I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you,
may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
– John 17:20-21

I think then that the one goal of all who are really and truly serving the Lord
ought to be to bring back to union the churches, which have at different times
and in diverse manners divided from one another.
– St. Basil the great (330 – 379), Epistle CX Ivete

martin-lutherMartin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the eve of All Saints in 1517, sparking what is now known as The Reformation, a period of history that reordered the church, and to a great extent, European society. Next year, 2017, will be the 500th anniversary of this watershed moment in history. How shall we mark this milestone?

In the past Lutherans and Catholics have told the story of the Reformation in very different ways. Children on one side of the Protestant/Catholic divide grew up suspicious of the other side. Both tellings of the story were filled with truths, but which truths we choose to tell and which we choose to omit, can convey a bias. The way we tell the “facts” also matters.

Since Vatican II, Lutherans and Catholics have been in various bilateral dialogs. Dialogs began in 1965 and continue to this day. We have made significant progress along the way.

For example, in 1999, Lutherans and Catholics signed The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in Augsburg. This document stated that Lutherans and Catholics now share a common understanding of the doctrine of justification, something that was a stumbling block in the years following the Reformation. Lutherans and Catholics agreed that their respective mutual condemnations do not apply to today’s churches. While not all Lutheran Church bodies in the world signed on, the agreement is a significant milestone.

Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry, and Eucharist is a helpful summary of some of the agreements from the last 50+ years of dialogs. This document gathers together 32 agreements of understanding, compiled from the last 50 years of Lutheran-Catholic dialogs. Pages 9-15 give a short list of those 32 agreements. The rest of the book offers deeper commentary on these understandings.

How do we commemorate the Reformation in a way that recognizes these huge strides? How do we retell the story of the Reformation that does not rehash old polemics and set us back decades?

From Conflict to Communion is an effort to move us in the right direction. Prepared by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), this document lays out a vision for commemorating the Reformation in 2017. This may be the first centenary that takes place in the ecumenical age, and the first to have an eye towards evangelism.

How do we commemorate in a way that promotes the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world, in this global and secular context?

If you read nothing else in this book, read the third chapter. This chapter retells the story of the Reformation in a way that both Catholic and Lutheran theologians have crafted. Use it to retrain yourself to tell the story in a way that does not promote your tribe, but proclaims the hope of the world.

Here in the Gulf Coast…

In the Gulf Coast Synod we are commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in several ways.

Serving
$500K by the 500th is an appeal to raise half a million dollars to alleviate world hunger by the 500th anniversary, October 31, 2017.

Worship
Lutherans and Catholics have agreed to commemorate the 500th by praying together in a spirit of confession and repentance. Common Prayer was prepared by Lutherans and Catholics for this 500th commemoration. It is the only common liturgy I know of prepared for and approved by both churches. Protestant and Catholic congregations will gather together for prayer on various occasions over the next year. Also, two large events have been planned:

  • A prayer service will be held on Monday, October 23, 2017 at 7:00 p.m. at the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis in New Orleans, with Archbishop Gregory Aymond and Bishop Michael Rinehart presiding.
  • A prayer service will be held on Wednesday, October 25, 2017 at 5:00 p.m. at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston, with Archbishop Daniel Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Michael Rinehart presiding.

Both events will be a time of prayer for Protestants and Catholics together, open to the public.

Collaboration
In Houston, Catholic and Lutheran clergy gathered recently to listen to and learn from one another. Hosted by Cardinal DiNardo, this will hopefully be the first of many opportunities to discover how much we have in common. As Pope John Paul II said, “What unites us is greater than what divides us.”

Other Possibilities
Other possibilities such as lectures and service projects are being considered. The important thing is that we move forward in a spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation. We pray, as Jesus did, that the church might be one, so that the world may know the love of Christ.

We are grateful to Pastor David Roschke in Houston and Pastor Ron Unger in New Orleans for their work coordinating these efforts alongside their ecumenical counterparts.

Giving Tuesday: Until All Are Fed

We’ve all heard of the shopping frenzy of “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday.” November 29 is Giving Tuesday, an opportunity for us to give back and to give thanks. This year we join the global celebration of generosity.

Many of us have been incredibly fortunate to never have to experience some of the difficulties of the world – going hungry or not having access to clean drinking water.

Through our generosity and support, we can see how people’s lives are touched by the gospel, how their lives are transformed and renewed, and how their communities live in hope.

giving-tuesday-ideas

Choose your gift:

  • donate-atsBackpack– stock a backpack with food – $10 per backpack
    • More than 30 million children in the U.S. depend on school meal programs to keep them full and focused each weekday. But on weekends, many students have no choice but to go hungry.
  • Soup Kitchen– warm meals at a soup kitchen – $20 feeds 10 people
    • Millions of people in the U.S. struggle to get enough to eat. Whether people are looking for a refuge from the streets or a little extra help to get by, a warm meal and a seat at the table can go a long way. [$100 feeds 50 people]
  • Food for a Child– feed a child orphaned by HIV and AIDS – $21 feeds a child for a month
    • Nutritious food is an important part of caring for children who have lost one or both parents to HIV and AIDS, many of whom are HIV-positive themselves. [$250 feeds a child for a year]
  • Cook Stove– energy saving – $50
    • Help a cook shave hours off their to-do list. Finding fuel for cooking is no easy task. People endure long walks to gather firewood. And what’s more, the destruction of trees leads to deforestation and burning wood in the home exposes a family to deadly fumes. Energy-saving cook stoves get the job done with half as much wood, providing dozens of timesaving, environmental, and health benefits. [$500 for each Biogas stove– uses clean, renewable energy]
  • Food for a Refugee Family– $50 feeds a refugee family for a week
    • For the first time in the post-World War II era, the number of refugees exceeds 50 million people worldwide. After a long and dangerous journey to safety, food and water are critical to help families recover their strength and prepare for a fresh start. [$200 feeds a refugee family for a month]
  • Community Vegetable Garden– $200
    • Start with a common plot of land and good soil, add drought-resistant seeds and top it off with tools and training. The result? Plenty of peas, carrots, cabbage, beans, cassava, and other vegetables to go around. Extra produce can be sold and the profits shared by the members of the cooperative to provide a great combination of food and income.

Ways to Give:

  • Online
  • Check
    • Write your check to “TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod” with “Giving Tuesday” written in the memo line. Mail it to the synod office.
  • Text
    • Send a text to 738.2165 with the amount you would like to contribute. Make sure to include the dollar sign ($) before the amount. Example: $25. Within a few minutes, you’ll be sent a text with a link to register. Click on that link and enter your cardholder name and credit/debit card information. Once your registration is complete, you will receive a text verification and a receipt via email. For future giving, simply send a text with the amount you wish to give, and it will process automatically.

Resources:

2016 ELCA Youth Leadership Summit

Deacon Ben Remmert

summit-1Grace and peace from our Lord and Savior. On November 3, two youth from our synod and myself traveled to Lutheridge in North Carolina for the annual ELCA Youth Leadership summit. I was privileged and honored to represent our synod, accompanying Katherine Willcockson from Christ the King in Houston and Ismael Danforth from Living Word in Katy. This year’s event provided our youth a unique opportunity to gather with other youth across our nation, grow in their faith, and develop as leaders in the ELCA, discussing issues of hunger, prejudice, and justice.

The following paragraphs are from Katherine and Ismael sharing their experiences and how it has impacted them:

Katherine Willcockson
Through the crisp, maple leaves, unashamed singing, and deep evening conversations, North Carolina was filled with the ever-nourishing presence of God.

summit-2At least once a day, a speaker would step onto the stage and look up to face a room of shining youth. Little did us, the youth, know that each time we looked up at one another, we would be changed by the end.

These people taught us that we make 1.5 times the food it takes to feed the world, that advocacy can make a difference far away even if we do it within our own communities, that immigrants are stuck in an ever-changing look of government and poverty, and, most of all, that we need to bring all of this back to our churches and back to our communities.

In between talks of faith and global community, though, we took advantage of the fact that we were at camp. There was a stack of hammocks 6 feet high. Some ran down to a field by the lake to play ultimate frisbee and others kicked up dust in the gaga ball pit. The North Carolina’s synod band played songs while everyone danced in the middle.

summit-3The whole trip was a mix of eye-opening discussions and liberating breaths of cold air by the lake. The experiences that I had will turn into memories that I’ll have forever; the friends I made through God are ones that I’ll always come back to in the years to come.

Ismael Danforth
During the leadership summit, what I enjoyed most was the relationships I was able to form. In the last 72 hours, I have met so many great and amazing people, who all were welcoming and open-minded. For the time I have been here at the summit, I’ve learned what an impact the youth can make to the Lutheran community and elsewhere. Whether it’s as big as helping kids who don’t even have clean water to simply loving someone who is angry. God’s presence was seen and felt throughout the entire trip.

Through the smiles and laughter of others or the deep meaningful conversations in our group, what I will bring back to my congregation and synod is that we as a community must open up and allow other to be welcomed, instead of closing in on just ourselves. We can have events that allow us to meet other people and see other religions.

summit-4The church leadership summit I attended was the most amazing event I have ever been to; it taught me that our focus must be to help those who need it most. Thank you so much for this opportunity and amazing experience. I enjoyed every second and moment of it.

Deacon Ben Remmert
As you can see, both youth were deeply impacted by this opportunity. It was amazing to see Katherine and Ismael grow as leaders in just a few days. Katherine and Ishmael have been wonderful witnesses and leaders of the church, and I am hopeful that they will bring back a call to serve their home congregation and our synod.

I want to thank the synod for this great opportunity, and I look forward to sharing my experiences with anyone else in the future. The next ELCA Leadership Summit will be in Houston, Texas on November 2-5, 2017. God Bless!

Help Fund a Church Roof in the Central African Republic  

During the recent visit of Rev. Samuel Ndanga-Toué, the president (bishop) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic (EEL-RCA), he shared of the many church buildings which have been constructed by congregations, but which lack a roof. The cost of a roof is prohibitive for church members. At the moment there are a number of churches with walls but no roof.  Here is an excerpt from an email from former missionary Jim Noss, who visited CAR in September:

car-church

Church roofs…this is a wonderful way to support the local congregations! When they build, it must be out of permanent type materials for the walls, either cement blocks, stones, or burned brick, laid in cement mortar. The roof is then something that is provided through the church [EEL-RCA]. The lumber is available in many cases locally, but the aluminum roofing and special washers, screws, and nails are imported from Cameroon.

Even as I traveled there, I noticed two large churches, ready for the roofs. And there are many more.

During one recent gathering to celebrate the completion of the church’s roof, as is usually the case, there is a special word of thanks to the overseas partners who made the roof possible.

 

The cost of a roof depends on the size of the congregation and its distance from Cameroon, from where materials are transported. $8,000 is a typical figure. The synod’s CAR Team invites our congregations to consider contributions for church roofs for our companion synod in CAR.

I was a stranger

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton

I was a stranger and you welcomed me ….
-Matthew 25:35

elizabeth-eaton
Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

Today there are more than 60 million displaced people in the world, more than at any time since World War II. From Syria, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Somalia, Afghanistan and Colombia, people are fleeing for their lives from war, famine, gang violence, crushing poverty, drought and floods. Parents make the wrenching choice to send their children away with the hope that the possibility of a better life in a new country outweighs the violence of their home countries and the perils of the journey.

It seems the whole world is on the move.

Migration has been part of the story of the people of God from the beginning. Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden, and God sent Abram and Sarai from their homeland to a new land. Joseph’s brothers and father were refugees in Egypt. Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years after God liberated them from oppression and infanticide. The people of God suffered bitter exile in Babylon after they were forced from Judah by war and ethnic cleansing.

The memory of migration, forced exile, of being the stranger stayed with the people of God through the centuries and became part of their confession of faith: “… you shall make this response before the Lord your God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien …” (Deuteronomy 26:5).

The experience of God’s people compelled Israel to give special care to the stranger. “When
an alien resides with you in your land, you shall
not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34).

Jesus also experienced forced migration. We read in Matthew 2:13-15 that the holy family fled for their lives from Israel into Egypt. And during the years of his earthly ministry Jesus had no permanent home. “And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ ” (Matthew 8:20).

Our Lord not only commended us to welcome the stranger, Jesus made it clear that when we welcome the stranger we welcome him.

Lately in our country there is a lot of anxiety about migrants and strangers. They are too often portrayed as a threat. They are the others. They need to be monitored. They don’t belong here. This is our home. This is our country. We belong here.

When we look at the world in this way it isn’t possible to see that we, too, are on a journey; we, too, were once no people; we, too, are only passing through. The author of Hebrews recounting the history of salvation makes this clear when speaking about our ancestors in faith:

“All these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

We don’t have a continuing home on earth. We are all migrants. Let us welcome the stranger, seeing him or her as a fellow traveler, a companion on the way.

And here’s a song for the road:

I fear in the dark and the doubt of my journey;
but courage will come with the sound
of your steps by my side.

And with all of the family you saved by your love,
we’ll sing to your dawn at the end of our journey

-Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 808

 

 

A monthly message from the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This article originally appeared in Living Lutheran’s November 2016 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Why bother updating your constitution?

Bishop Mike Rinehart

I get it. In some senses, a constitution is not going to move the ball down the field. Confession: In two decades of parish ministry, I didn’t care much about our congregation’s constitution. I paid attention to what it said, so we were in order, but I never understood that we needed to update it after every Churchwide Assembly or why it mattered.

I also felt, for most of my pastoral life, that constitutions were irrelevant to the health and growth of the congregation. A constitutional change would not garner one more new member, nor would it deepen my congregation’s spiritual life. Preaching the Word with fire and equipping people for ministry, these were the things that would grow a congregation deep and wide. I still believe this.

But I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. The constitution sets up the leadership structure and mission of your congregation. Here’s why it matters:

  1. You won’t always lead this congregation. What embedded leadership structures and governance will you leave behind? How do you set high levels of accountability for those who lead when you’re gone?
  2. At one point in a former congregation, it became clear that our committee reports to the whole governance was not working for us. But it was built into our constitution. Instead of a council of committee chairs protecting their turf, we created a council, somewhat smaller, that managed vision and set policy. This allowed us to attract leaders by their gifts, rather than a political process and election.
  3. Changes to the model constitution often reflect these shifts in helpful governance structures by offering different models. It’s worth observing these and considering them.
  4. Required provisions (those with asterisks, *) are legally in effect for your congregation whether you acknowledge them or not, so it’s better to be aware. If you’re working from a 1990 constitution, you might be making decisions based on requirements that are no longer in effect or missing new ones that are.
  5. Because required provisions are in effect, if legal matters arise (we hope they never do), having outdated information in your constitution will only confuse those who brandish that constitution and wave it in front of your face. It’s best to have an updated constitution when things go crazy. I have noticed that congregations understandably ignore their constitution during the good times. But when the bad times come, people dig it up and quote it chapter and verse. How do we make this decision? Who decides? Congregation meeting? Who can attend? Who can speak? Who can vote? Who is a member? Who are these people at our meeting? If they haven’t worshipped in a year but haven’t been formally removed, can they vote? How do we get rid of a dysfunctional member? Pastor? What is our relationship with the rest of this church? How do we raise up leaders?
  6. Good governance is good leadership. It’s important to have clarity on how we get things done. Who decides what? What requires a congregational vote? What requires a council vote? What requires no vote? How can we organize in such a way that we have maximum accountability and also maximum flexibility for a rapidly changing mission context? Why are some things a 2/3 vote and some things are a majority? How much spending authority does the council have over a budget approved by the congregation? How much debt can we acquire as a congregation without a congregational vote? It seems none of this matters until the roof caves in, literally or figuratively. People don’t care when all is well. But good leaders know better. They look ahead to the future.
  7. Your constitution establishes the non-negotiables. What is non-negotiable in the church? For example, the paragraph on the Trinity is a required provision. You cannot be an ELCA congregation without it. This speaks of what is central to the church.
  8. Finally, updating your constitution keeps your leaders up on what is going on in the church. What’s all this stuff about deacons? Why must we consult with the bishop before we can vote to “fire” our pastor? What do these asterisks mean?

The model constitution offers lots of options and freedom.

Interfaith Statement of Support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

September 19, 2016

We, a coalition of diverse faith traditions, are united across theological lines by a common moral call to affirm and support the dignity of all people and to care for all of God’s creation. We therefore join with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their efforts to protect their sovereignty, water, culture, lifeways, and sacred sites. They, with so many leaders and peoples of other tribal nations and other supporters, are blocking the proposed route of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline would send as much as 570,000 barrels per day of Bakken crude oil across the tribe’s ancestral lands and the Missouri River, the tribe’s major source of water.

flags-standing-rock-siouxWe applaud the decision on September 9th by the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior, not to authorize construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until the Corps determines whether its previous decisions should be reconsidered at the site under applicable federal laws. We are also grateful for the Administration’s commitment to formal consultation with the tribal nations on measures to ensure meaningful tribal input into infrastructure-related reviews and decisions and the protection of tribal lands, resources, and treaty rights. We too urge peaceful relations between the peoples at the site that leads to a satisfactory resolution.

We hope that the Corps’ review of all applicable laws includes environmental as well as cultural and historical impacts upon affected tribal nations. We hope the written concerns expressed to the Corps prior to its permit approval of the pipeline, by the Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency and American Council on Historic Preservation are duly considered.

We call upon all parties to recognize and account for significant overarching factors within this controversy, including the degree of adequacy of tribal consultation in the past and present of US-tribal relations. We note for example that a central location in this defense of tribal lands and waters – Lake Oahe – did not even exist until the 1960s, when the federal government created the Oahe dam without the consent of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. The dam flooded over 200,000 acres of the tribes’ lands, forcing peoples from their homes, submerging towns, critical natural resources, burial sites, and sacred places.

Further, no pipeline is immune to leaks. In May 2016, an estimated 120,000 gallons of oil & wastewater leaked from a pipeline near the city of Marmarth, North Dakota. 300 oil pipeline breaks occurred in the state in 2012–2013 alone. In January 2015, over 50,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil spilled into the Yellowstone River in Montana. Even with new pipeline construction technology, this could happen across the 1,172 miles of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Finally, our faith traditions call for action to address the urgent challenge of climate change. The well-being and future of all peoples depend upon our willingness to transition justly and quickly away from fossil fuels and towards carbon free alternatives.

Therefore, we stand with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, other tribal nations and indigenous peoples in support of their children, their tribal sovereignty, natural resources, cultural heritage and sacred places. We applaud the federal government’s decision to halt pipeline construction on Corps land until more thorough reviews of applicable laws and adequacy of tribal consultation are conducted. We pray for a peaceful resolution that brings forth a new and more equitable chapter for tribal nations, and a just transition towards a carbon-free future.

With hope and prayers for our shared future,

Christian Reformed Church in North America, Office of Social Justice
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Disciples Peace Fellowship
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Franciscan Action Network
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Green Chalice, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Interfaith Power & Light
InterReligious Task Force on Central America
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas’ Extended Justice Team
Sojourners
Young Evangelicals for Climate Action

#DecolonizeLutheranism: What it’s all about

Francisco Herrera, Ph.D. student, LSTC

rev-dr-linda-e-thomas
Rev. Dr. Linda E Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, chair of LSTC;s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”

Every so often the church gets so stagnant, and human beings so ornery, that the Holy Spirit can’t help but step up and raise some mischief. Inspired by a series of internet memes and only six months old, the #decolonizeLutheranism movement is quickly becoming a national force in the efforts of countless Lutherans to make their churches truly accepting and loving of everyone. One of #decolonizeLutheranism’s early adopters, Francisco Herrera, shares not only a brief take on the theology of #decolonizeLutheranism, but even a simple overview of the movement’s first revival, #decolonize16, completed this past Saturday. It is a simple, eloquent, and inspiring read. So take it in, comment, and share, friends.

“So what is this #decolonizeLutheranism thing about, anyway?”

I get this a lot.

My first response is usually, “It’s about creating a Christian community where no one has to prove to anyone else that they’re a human being, let alone a child of God.” Because, really, at bottom, that is what this is about. So many of us are through with being “issues” or “problems” or “too much/too soon/too fast” and not children of God.

you-might-be-lutheran-ifBecause if you’re a seminarian of color who has heard things like…

 “You’re not a real Lutheran.”
“You black people may clap in church, but not us!”
“That wasn’t a Lutheran ordination. People were talking while the pastor was preaching!”

…When ethnocentric comments like these are made you are precisely being told that you’re not a human being, let alone a child of God.

Or if you’re a pastor or lay leader, who is LGBTQ and you hear…

 “How can a gay pastor marry a straight couple?”
“They’re calling us ‘the gay church’!”
“We didn’t have financial problems before our church accepted the gays.”

…at some point you start to believe the lies and the devil rubs hands with fiendish glee as cracks deepen and spread through your once-solid faith.

And women pastors and seminarians?

“All women pastors are just lesbians who want to be men.”
“Your husband approves?!”
“You can’t wear a dress like that – it’s too risque for a seminarian.”
“What does your husband think?”

audience
@TrybalPastor, aka Rev. Kwame Pitts, welcoming in a capacity crowd of 204 people.

So in order to purge themselves of so much filth and ick, while all-the-same moved by the Holy Spirit and hopeful for the future of Lutheranism in the United States, 203 beautiful souls from all over the United States converged here in Chicago (on the campus of the Lutheran School for Theology at Chicago) for one glorious day of challenge and refreshment, sharing the theologies and melodies of Lutheran voices known by a precious few.

And they stayed in this familiar, but ever-modulating choir all day long.

All day long.

We had songs from Mexico and Pakistan and the United States and Germany. We had piñatas – decked in the fullest of Roy G. Bivs – to teach us that, though pleasant to the eye, that sin needs to be destroyed – and that sin’s destruction is sweet to the taste. There were drums – oh yes – there were lots of drums, and maracas, and a cajon – and a poet who mourned that her mocha-brown skin seemed only to be a magnet for bullets for many people.

Then there were stories.

My goodness were there stories! Each of the main presenters told their own stories – about how the church doesn’t really see them, how so many Lutherans revere the Augsburg Confession as if it is Scripture although they don’t do anything it really says or teaches. One of the presenters talked about the day he learned that he was black, another lead a conversation on the Doctrine of Justification accompanied by the song ‘Amazing Grace.’ There were over 30 small groups that shared their stories, talked about what Grace meant to them, what sins they wanted to smash upon the paper skin of that piñata, and an entire assembly sang songs in Urdu and Xhosa as they lamented the ways their own church, that each of them personally, were complicit in racism and violence.

because-everyone-has-to-pee
Because everyone has to pee

And as I myself stood there – posing the self-same deceptively simple question “What is this?” – I began to realize something. As we came together to ask what this day was all about, with little surprise and boundless joy I realized that, as we were dreaming of what Lutheranism could be and could become, all of us assembled truly and surely became the very church for which we sought. We were a church where a queer woman of color had her call recognized by the community and wasn’t gas-lighted into oblivion. It was a place where a black man could talk about Black Lives Matter – accompanied by loud hoots of acclimation as his face streamed tears of relief. Gender Non-Conforming and Trans folk had all the harassment-free bathrooms they needed and no one ever asked anyone if they were really Lutheran. No one. Not once. And in that wonderful, wonderful day a special clemency, a fresh conviction, and – yes – an amazing Grace – filled every space of the seminary.

preaching-in-red-dress
“I did not feel like preaching in an alb.” Rev. Tuhina Rasche

Because those of us that don’t fit the default white, cis-het, sexist, racist profile of greater Luther-dumb suffer much and suffer long – yes. But, too, we know about justification, Augsburg Confession Article IV, about Grace. Because many of us were forced to walk a different walk, to straighten our hair, our teeth, go on a diet, to swap-out Public Enemy for Vanilla Ice – to do the this, the that, and EVERYTHING in between – only to be reminded once again that being forced to change how and what we do – to believe that we must DO things before we can be loved – only makes us despise ourselves.

But God still loved us as we hated ourselves and strove to conform. God loved us when we loved our rolls, let our hair kink, smiled at the bounce in our step, and raised a black-gloved fist next to ours as we shouted “Fight the power!” because God loves us in our pain, in our us-ness, even when we don’t love us – and ESPECIALLY when others turn our self-love into self-hate. Because Jesus, well, his blood washed away the default settings that Satan is always so keen to sculpt and keep. And through this wond’rous love Christ lifted us all up to eternal life.

And lots of Lutherans seem to have forgotten that.

So the Holy Spirit called #decolonizeLutheranism to remind everyone of this love, yet again. And that’s what we did this past Saturday. All. Day. Long.

All day long.

And it was glorious.

And that’s what we’re all about.

Growing in Christ through a Lutheran Church

Liz Johnson, Gift Planner

growing-in-christ
L to R:  Joanie Norden Dorothy Zander, Thomas Jackson, Wayne Norden, and Judy Hohne from Advent Lutheran Church.

When one meets Thomas Jackson, one senses immediately his energy, determination, and gratitude for his journey with the Lord, regardless of the obstacles in his path along the way. For Thomas, a military veteran, there have been many obstacles. The musical band Rascal Flatts sings a song called “Bless the Broken Road” that could be a line from Mr. Jackson’s testimony: “I got lost a time or two, wiped my brow and kept pushing through, I couldn’t see how every sign pointed straight to you.”

As a military veteran, he has experienced some hard times in finding his place back in a different environment. He has been determined to fulfill his God-given potential by using the initiative the Lord has planted in his heart to succeed. After many challenges, such as unemployment and a lack of a support system, God provided a conduit to help in a lost world.

It was a job fair sponsored by Near Northwest Management District in Houston in partnership with Advent Lutheran that lit a fire of hope in him. Remembering that new start, Thomas says, “I saw flyers announcing the job fair at Goodwill, Workforce Houston, and other places that made me think I needed to register for this opportunity.” At the job fair in early spring last year, he met several Advent business-people. He explains, “The job fair was the start of a change in my life, not just because of job opportunities, but because I met members of Advent who were genuinely concerned about me. They were caring human beings—Christ followers who reached out to me on a new level.” Thomas was invited to worship on Sunday morning and his relationship with Advent grew from there. He is in church on Sunday mornings ready to worship.

Between deliveries for businesses associated with members in the congregation and part-time work through congregation members, he gained confidence in his own abilities and began to earn trade certificates that demonstrated his skill for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning business.

As his confidence grew, so did his trust for the Lord. The congregation continued to reach out in a wide-variety of ways – each one a special blessing to Thomas.

Pastor Larry Beck of Advent wrote a character reference letter for his portfolio and the referrals continued to come. On December 22, 1915, Mr. Jackson took his boldest step yet and went before the Houston City Council to speak on behalf of those individuals committed to becoming gainfully employed. “I was prepared, yet anxious, but God gave me an inter-peace to represent myself. I wanted to plead my case and the case of others who need open doors to the work.”

Thomas now has a temporary job with the Houston Public Works Department. He works each day, living out his love for Christ by being there, on time and ready to work. “An approved worker is not afraid,” it says in 2 Timothy 2:15 “rightly dividing the word of truth.” And that is exactly what Thomas Jackson is doing. He is moving forward as the Lord opens doors, growing him spiritually while he grows as a productive employee ready for the next step. “I do not regret any of my trials because I know with each one I have become a stronger person of God for the future. God is blessing me each and every day; I am grateful for God’s hand upon me and for all the support I have received at Advent. I believe Advent to be an action-oriented church that lives out its calling on behalf of Christ, reaching out to others. I am so happy that they reached out to me.

If you know someone in need of employment and God lays on your heart a possible connection, please reach out with the love. Your efforts may make a tremendous difference in the life of an individual or family. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and “as Christ loves others” is a resounding theme we can all pursue.

RHW Consulting

Coach, Creator, Consultant

rhw-consultingFounded by Rozella Haydée White, RHW Consulting was born out of a deep desire to help others become aware of who God has created them to be and grow in their love, understanding and compassion of self in order to be in authentic relationship with others, and use their gifts to transform the world. We provide life and leadership coaching, consulting, speaking, preaching, and writing services all aimed at helping people live a meaningful life by embracing the fullness of who they are.

RHW Consulting seeks to walk with partners as they uncover their gifts and passions and how they intersect with the needs present in the world. RHW Consulting chooses to work with people, organizations and businesses that are outwardly focused and committed to change and transformation.

RHW Consulting is passionate about supporting individuals, congregations, and faith-based organizations, as they deepen their faith, uncover their identity, discern their vocation, and develop as justice seeking leaders. Our hope is to accompany others on their journeys as they seek healing, embrace growth, and experience transformation.