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.
  • Whether it be caroling with the church choir, baking Christmas cookies for neighbors or making a day of selecting the perfect blue spruce to chop down and decorate, Christmas traditions are an important part of the holiday season for many.  Seven years ago, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church (Pleasant Valley), Coopersburg, Pa. (, started an activity that has become a favorite Christmas tradition among members. In 2008, Greg Shreaves, then pastor of Trinity, had the idea to have the Sunday school youth decorate the covers of the bulletins to be used for Christmas Eve worship.Jennifer Ritter, who has taught Sunday school at Trinity for “many, many years,” spearheads the majority of these bulletin projects. “The first year I started out very simple, very basic,” she said. “Each kid got a piece of paper, about 1 inch by 2 inches, and drew a picture that reminded them of Christmas.”  Ritter transferred the individual drawings to a piece of paper the size of the bulletin cover and created a collage, including drawings of a manger, angel, cross and Advent wreath. The artwork was a hit at that year’s Christmas Eve service, and the activity has continued since. In the years following, Ritter often chose designs that were inspired by pictures on Christmas cards that Trinity’s 18 to 20 Sunday school students could re-create. Some of the bulletin covers feature nativity scenes, with each character drawn by a child and then stenciled into the main scene by Ritter using a light box. One year showcases a drawing by an individual child from Trinity. Another year’s cover art features an angel walking through a forest, which was drawn by a youth who was taking art lessons at the time. The other youth drew pictures that added to the wooded scene. Last year’s covers included three designs that were mosaics of Christmas images: the star of Bethlehem and two depictions of Mary and child. Ritter created outlines of the images and then provided Christmas shopping advertisements for the youth to tear up and glue into the outlines to create the mosaic designs.

  • A stool is placed next to the lectern and an old-fashioned radio is set on top. A man wearing headphones pretends to turn on the radio and then speaks into a microphone: “Good morning, everyone, and thank you for tuning in to Trinity broadcasting. You’re listening to ‘Al in the morning,’ and I’m once again asking the question, ‘Where do we see God active in our lives today?’ Sit back and listen as one of our congregation members shares their own ‘True Tale from Trinity.'” Three years ago the stewardship committee at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Rhinelander, Wis., was looking for a way to help people share their faith during worship without having to feel like they are in the spotlight. Enter “True Tales from Trinity,” a mock radio show that invites members to share personal stories about when they’ve experienced God’s presence in their daily lives.  “It isn’t usually difficult to describe God’s presence in our lives when we’re talking with a friend or two, but standing in front of a congregation can be intimidating,” said Al Hofstetter, a member of the stewardship committee and the “radio” program’s announcer (“Al in the morning”). “Overall, the group wanted to remind people that we’re not Sunday-only people — that God, our faith and our stewardship are always present, always needed.” The mock-radio program format allows storytellers to be anonymous by using a microphone out of the congregation’s sight or having someone else read their story — something the committee hoped would drive interest in participating.

  • Lutherans begin the story of the Reformation on Oct. 31, 1517. On the eve of All Saints Day, a German monk and professor, Martin Luther, made his concerns for the injustices he witnessed known in the form of the 95 Theses. He knew the sorrows of people who suffered physically from inescapable plagues, the tortures of famine and poverty, the endless violence of wars, but also spirituality — Christians were afraid of God and unsure of God’s design for their lives on earth and thereafter. Firing up the engine of the word, Luther sought to return the church to its original mission. He led reforms of church practices and teachings that fueled people’s anxiety and put a price tag on forgiveness in the form of selling indulgences and required charitable contributions. The preaching-teaching theologian labored toreadjust people’s spiritual perspectives so they could confidently believe in a God of grace and experience God’s love as truly “theirs.” With his radical Jesus-based vision of Christian equality in grace-induced freedom, Luther taught that, in sin and in redemption, men and women are equal with different vocations. Luther’s proclamation of the liberating power of the gospel jump-started a movement for promoting equality. In gender matters, the quest for full equality of women remains an ongoing battle. Luther’s vision of grace generates the spark for an uncompromising reformation toward justice, a reformation where human lives take priority over doctrinal disputes. The Reformer and women Many women have found Luther’s message appealing and empowering. In 16th-century Wittenberg, women flocked to listen to the preacher and sought his pastoral counsel, especially mothers who had buried their unbaptized children, whose teenagers had eloped or whose husbands had left. For the empowerment of women in their vocations, Luther and fellow reformers established schooling for girls and secured a common chest that would have funds for widows, orphans and poor maidens. Luther even offered hospitality to women in need at his home. A most difficult houseguest (per his own words) was the eccentric noblewoman Elisabeth von Brandenburg (1485-1555), who was exiled because she confessed to the Lutheran faith. Luther’s teaching of marriage and motherhood as holy God-instituted vocations had an enormous impact on women’s self-worth. When he married (1525), Luther shared his ministry with his wife and had, in many ways, his theology tested with real life experiences. Through the women in his life, his view of God evolved. His last lectures on Genesis reveal his earnest fascination with all matters female and gender issues. His letters evidence his respect of the valiant reforming women who are “out there” in every community. Women take the wheel Women were central players in the Reformation drama. As mothers and wives, as daughters and friends, rulers and writers, visionaries and charity workers, and healers and weavers, women embraced reformation concerns and theologies on their terms.  With their hunger for meaningful spiritual direction and a desire to build a better world, women passionately responded to Luther’s novel preaching. Most famously, a young nun, Katharina von Bora (1499-1552), was so inspired by his sparkling pamphlets describing Christian freedom and responsibilities with a new tone that she left her safe convent. Little did she know that she would become the life partner of the most famous religious leader of the time and become a model for women taking control over their households as cradles of new Protestant faith. 

  • You have to be fast on your feet in airports these days. There is a quick shuffle in loading up those gray bins on the security conveyer belt. Passengers yank out their belts like they are drawing a sword. Wallets, keys and cellphones go flying as people try to avoid the wrath of the next passenger.  When the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) technician spotted something suspicious in my suitcase recently, he called for instant backup. Two colleagues swooped in and were all over my luggage. One would have thought there was a cache of dope inside or an assault rifle. All they found was a brand new can of shaving cream. I had forgotten the 3-ounce rule when deciding to carry my bag on board. They pitched the perfectly good can in the garbage. I knew that America was safe from terror again. There was more to the incident. The TSA worker who pulled me aside asked if I had anything else to declare. This wasn’t the customs line of an international flight, mind you. I was flying domestic. He fixed his eyes on me as if I was covering up contraband. Once he learned that I had nothing else in my possession half as exciting as shaving cream, he waved me on. “Have you anything to declare?” That’s a line over which TSA personnel and customs officials have no monopoly. It should be a regular part of our Christian self-examination. Imagine getting up in the morning, staring at your mug in the mirror, contemplating how you are going to astound the world with God’s grace oozing out of your pores like perfume that won’t quit. “Have I anything meaningful to declare or offer our hurting world on this fine day?” That’s a question all of us should be asking. It also probes deeply into the heart of “bearing witness.”  The word witness is both a noun and a verb in the New Testament. It is something we are and something we do. In each case, it has a very personal dimension. Think of a witness in a courtroom. One does not stand before the court and take an oath to speak as dispassionately as possible about some objective realities. No, a witness weighs in with personal perspective and firsthand encounter. The same is true in Christianity. Whereas evangelism is someone telling the story of who Jesus is for the world, witnessing is someone revealing her particular part in that important story.  Jesus tells a crazy and naked man, freshly healed of unclean spirits, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” Jesus is not asking the deranged man to describe the general goodness of God. He is appealing for him to disclose explicitly what God has done on his behalf. The reason many people shudder at the idea of bearing witness and sharing their inner faith commitments is not that they don’t believe in those commitments. It’s that they lack all kinds of confidence in articulating their experience of God. Sometimes we don’t have words to match our way of life. Other times we miss out on a way of life that evidences sufficient godliness.

  • Our presiding bishop offers insight into what it means to be a Lutheran today in her column (page 50), a timely reflection given observance of the Reformation each October and the 500th anniversary of the historic event in 2017. After good-naturedly casting out caricatures often used to describe Lutherans in the U.S., she concludes: “If culture and cuisine don’t define us, our theology must.” She then states the case for God’s grace and the transformational relationship it offers, binding us together and defining us as Lutherans. This is where The Lutheran comes in, with October being a significant month for the magazine. For October is also a time when many congregations prepare their budgets for the coming year, and those budgets impact The Lutheran. Leaders in every ELCA congregation will receive a letter this month from me asking congregations that subscribe to The Lutheran to renew and for those without a subscription plan to buy one. That letter and this column are the only means the magazine has to promote itself — there is no circulation sales team. Here’s the pitch: Relationships are vital to the health of congregations, the entirety of the ELCA andThe Lutheran. The magazine’s charge is to establish a connection with members to help them grow in faith and assist them in the mission efforts of their congregations and the larger church. The Lutheran is where members find news and views on faith, Scripture, mission, advocacy and more. The magazine is a resource for education, outreach and evangelism while providing a forum for discussion on issues of the day. Members of subscribing congregations know this. Their subscriptions to The Lutheran keep them informed of events and issues impacting Lutherans. They also have access online to more than 9,000 archived articles and 400 study guides, making subscription renewals a solid investment of congregational resources. Non-subscribing congregations can learn how affordable subscription plans to The Lutheran can be when purchased in sufficient number of copies. For more information about subscriptions, call 800-328-4648, visit or email Subscription revenue keeps the magazine’s doors open. Advertising sales help, but subscriptions drive operations. Leaders have the ability to increase their congregation members’ knowledge of the many ministries ELCA congregations, synods and the churchwide organization support. With a subscription to The Lutheran, we can walk alongside each other as we live out the ELCA’s tagline “God’s work. Our hands.” Here ends the marketing effort, maybe not inspiring but it’s necessary work. Thanks for your patience. I pray we deepen our relationship in 2016.