Lutheran Magazine

The Lutheran

The Lutheran magazine belongs to the people of the ELCA in all our diversity. The magazine nurtures awareness of Christ's presence in our lives and the world, shares stories of God's people living their faith, connects us with the global Christian community, provides an open forum for discussion and challenges us to bring God's grace and care to all.
  • Editor’s note: This series is intended to be a public conversation among teaching theologians of the ELCA on various themes of our faith and the challenging issues of our day. It invites readers to engage in dialogue by posting comments online at the end of each article at The series is edited by Michael Cooper-White, president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (Pa.), on behalf of the presidents of the eight ELCA seminaries. For more than three years, The Lutheran has offered readers a rich collection of articles by more than 50 of our church’s “teaching theologians.” Throughout that time, the series, which provides deeper understandings of key Christian beliefs and their implications for our lives of faith, was edited by Philip D. Krey. Until his retirement last fall as president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Krey was the senior veteran among the eight of us who are called as stewards of the ELCA’s theological seminaries. All of us readers owe him, along with the several dozen writers, a profound word of thanks. We seminary chief administrative officers (whose titles now include “dean” and “provost” as well as “president”) are also grateful to editor Daniel J. Lehmann for his eagerness to continue the articles. It’s my privilege to serve as the next series editor. While major changes in the nature of future articles aren’t anticipated, we will continue expanding the cadre of writers and take on new subjects as well as revisit previous topics. As has been the pattern, some articles will be co-authored and others will bear a single writer’s views on challenging issues of faith and life. Reader feedback is always welcome, along with suggestions of topics for upcoming issues. Such feedback and advice can be sent via letters to the editor ( or to my email ( In this issue I offer some perspectives on the work and ministries of those whose callings engage us in teaching and helping form the church’s future leaders, revisiting the theme of the first article in September 2011. A professor’s calling In the course of a joint faculty-board retreat some years ago at our school, several professors spoke on the “demands of an academic discipline.” They commented on the many tasks that compete for time in a faculty member’s weekly and yearly schedule. Most folks’ first thought when they hear “professor” is of the core ministry of classroom teaching. As all teachers know, one doesn’t simply walk into a classroom and start waxing eloquent. Hours of preparation — reading, crafting a syllabus or course outline, and determining books and other resources to be used — are required for each hour of instruction.   The very nature of teaching has changed dramatically since many of us were students in high school, college or graduate school. Beyond large introductory classes, where a great deal of information must be imparted to students unfamiliar with the basics, few professors these days engage in extended lectures. Rather, the format is more conversational, and students’ experiences and insights are invited. This shift was described some years ago by educator Allison King as the teacher’s move from being “sage on the stage” to being “a guide on the side” who accompanies students on their journey of learning. Effective teaching today also requires most professors to gain mastery of an array of technological tools to enhance students’ experiences by using course websites and online or “distance learning” delivery of content. At the same time, since preparation for ministry involves formation as well as education, there is no substitute for face-to-face contact. Many professors remain convinced that some subjects, like preaching and pastoral care, are best mastered in more traditional classroom settings. In our seminaries and colleges, as in all academic institutions, faculty members have administrative responsibilities beyond their teaching. A school functions through committee work and countless meetings to coordinate courses and ensure a rounded education for all students. Papers and exams must be evaluated — in undergraduate and graduate courses these tend to be lengthy essays that can’t be graded by a machine or simple review of true/false or fill-in-the-blank answers. Student advising is another demanding (and rewarding) aspect of a professor’s vocation as we seek to give attention to each future pastor’s or other minister’s vocational, personal and spiritual formation. For those who teach in higher education, ongoing scholarship is also expected. Typically this involves research and writing articles, chapters or complete books in a professor’s field of study. While some of this intensive academic work may be accomplished during sabbaticals (these aren’t work-free vacations!), professors must also squeeze in hours for study, keeping abreast of developments in their fields and writing amid their many other tasks.

  • Alice Howard is a 50-year-old world famous linguistics professor at Columbia University who has worked hard to achieve her goals. She is happily married to John, and they have three adult children. After noticing memory problems, she sees a neurologist and is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Having been a take-charge person all her life, Alice tries to figure out the best ways to cope with this progressive and debilitating disease. She wants John, a medical researcher, to take a sabbatical before she loses the self she has been. She worries about her children, especially her youngest Lydia, who has chosen an acting career over college. But Lydia turns out to be the one who becomes her caregiver and treats her like she is still Alice. Julianne Moore puts in an Academy Award caliber performance as this valiant woman, who describes herself as “struggling,” not “suffering.” Someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s every 68 seconds, and current estimates predict that 7.7 million people here will have the disease by 2030 (Sony Pictures Classics, PG-13 — mature thematic material, brief language including a sexual reference).

  • After the November elections, Lutherans on Capitol Hill increased from 23 to 27 members. Three ELCA members, Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D.; Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa; and Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., retired in 2014, while the other Lutheran incumbents won their respective elections.  Lutherans rejoining the U.S. Senate in January include ELCA members Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.; Sherrod Brown,  D-Ohio; Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.; and Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod member Ron Johnson, R-Wis. Newly elected senators include ELCA members Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Ben Sasse, R-Neb., along with Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod member Cory Gardner, R-Colo.  The 10 ELCA members serving in the U.S. House of Representatives are Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.; Lois Capps, D-Calif.;  Scott Peters, D-Calif.; Chellie Pingree, D-Maine; Tim Walz, D-Minn.; Collin Peterson, D-Minn.; Bill Shuster, R-Pa.; Diane Black, R-Tenn.; John Carter, R-Texas; and Denny Heck, D-Wash.   Re-elected LCMS representatives include John Shimkus, R-Ill.; Larry Bucshon, R-Ind.; Erik Paulsen, R-Minn.; Dave Reichert, R-Wash.; and Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo. WELS member Ron Kind, D-Wis., also will rejoin the House. Other self-described Lutherans elected to the House were Ryan Zinke, R-Mont.; Brad Ashford, D-Neb.; Donald Norcross, D-N.J.; and Glenn Grothman, R-Wis. As Congress reconvenes, the ELCA Advocacy Office helps connect Lutherans nationwide with their elected officials and works to create and influence public policies that embody biblical values of peacemaking, providing hospitality to strangers, caring for creation, and helping those who live in poverty and struggle with hunger or disease.

  • It was about 3 a.m. on Jan. 17, 2014, when Howard Coyle realized, from his window, that his beloved rural church near Langdon, N.D., was engulfed in flames. By dawn, all that was left was the basement. “By the time I saw the fire it was beyond saving. It must have started about an hour before because it was all on fire. There was no smoke, just flames,” said Coyle, who lives nearly 5 miles northwest of the church. Cause of the fire was undetermined, but since that devastating day the 45 members of Big Pembina Lutheran Church were determined to rebuild. Eager to preserve their group identity, on Jan. 17 they will dedicate their new structure on the same spot. The rebuilt church is a more modern design with fewer square feet. But it includes amenities that the previous building didn’t have — such as running water, restrooms and a kitchen. Big Pembina, which is named after the Pembina Gorge located only miles from the church, originally met in a member’s house — in 1885. During 2014, they were back in members’ homes while they rebuilt the church. The church that was built in 1908 had an old country charm, its welcoming exterior and tall steeple served as a home for generations of Lutherans. Losing it was like losing a family member.   “Most congregations, when something like this happens and they’re small and elderly, that’s kind of it,” said Don Swenson, pastor, shortly after the fire. “And then you’ll hear that Such-and-Such congregation closes. This one doesn’t; it revitalizes.”

  • No one foresaw the blooming of a rose when Living Water Lutheran Church’s courtyard fountain stopped flowing. For many years, the fountain’s refreshing sight and sound had welcomed the desert-dwelling faithful — snowbirds and visitors — to worship in Scottsdale, Ariz.  Despite repairs, the dry fountain presented a quandary, particularly for a church named Living Water.  But soon the removal of the fountain paved the way for a visual expression of Lutheran theology, a majestic tile mosaic of the Luther Rose. As Mark Rossman, pastor, explained to the congregation, Martin Luther used the rose to teach confirmation nearly five centuries ago. The rose expresses the theology and faith that inspired the Reformation, and the mosaic was dedicated on Reformation Sunday. The mosaic had taken on a life of its own as Rossman and the liturgical arts committee collaborated with local ceramist Scott Donars to replicate the color scheme prescribed by Luther. It consists of 3,193 handmade tiles of different shapes and sizes. Various hands, large and small, were involved in its creation. One Sunday morning, children and youth brushed glaze on hundreds of hand-cut pieces of clay for the sky-blue portion of the mosaic. Like snowflakes, no two shapes are identical. Several children made tracings of tiles they painted in order to search for them later in the completed mosaic.