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.
  • I headed to the grocery store, not because of the impending storm but because I’d just been set free after weeks of captivity in my home. I was granted permission to drive again after my partial knee replacement surgery five weeks prior and felt as excited as a newly licensed driver to give my freedom a trial run. At the store I hung my cane on the shopping cart and headed off on my grocery adventure. What I hadn’t anticipated was how crowded the store would be and how exhausted I’d become after just 30 minutes.  After finishing, I was thankful for the cart to hold me up as I trudged back to the far end of the parking lot to my car. A younger couple parked next to me began loading their groceries into their car as I loaded mine. When I finished, the woman pointed at my cart and said: “I’ll take that for you when I return ours.” “Stay safe,” she said as I lifted the cane off the cart. It was a benediction for my travels. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I sat quietly in the car to celebrate the moment. A stranger paid attention to her surroundings and noticed me limping back to the car with my cane dangling off the side of the cart. She blessed me with her presence, her assistance and her words. Captivity comes in many different ways. For five weeks I’d felt captive because I couldn’t leave the house. But how often do I experience spiritual captivity because I’m enmeshed in my personal thoughts and agenda and don’t even notice those around me? More often than I’d like to admit. God is fully present in each moment of our lives in various ways. Real freedom from my captivity turned out not to be the ability to leave my house and drive again, but the fact that my eyes were opened and I saw God’s presence anew, receiving an unexpected blessing for my journey from a stranger.

  • As Dan Bollerud visited with young adults from his Alaska congregation, he noticed one thing: they have a strong connection to church, to faith, but just aren’t often in the pews. Over coffee he asked them: “Why doesn’t this church, this format, work? If you threw out everything you know about church and redesigned it, what would church look like to you?” “The common story was that they like church, it’s important to them,” Bollerud said. “But time-wise, their lives are humming along on high. On weekends they’re camping, fishing, skiing, kayaking. They’re in the car with their friends. Yet they want to stay connected.” As a result, Bollerud created 10w (www.10worship.blogspot.com), a 10-minute recording “worshipers” can listen to on the Web or on a smartphone.  A few years ago parishioners from Christ our Savior Lutheran Church in Anchorage asked Bollerud for “a mini service” to take with them camping. That service was on paper, but it served as inspiration for this concept that was expanded, refined and moved into the digital audio world. “I realized that for people on the go we need to reidentify church from communities gathered around a ‘place’ to communities gathered around the ‘word,’ ” said Bollerud, who called his choice of 10 minutes “a deep, scientific study” or “that’s how long it takes my wife to drive to work.” 10w is also called commuter worship, with folks using it to center their day on the way to work. The service includes an introduction, a portion of a song, prayer, Gospel or focus reading, homily, prayers of the people (leaving pauses for listeners to offer specific names and needs), the Lord’s Prayer, benediction and the remainder of the song. There’s no virtual offering; the service is free. Musicians, such as Dakota Road, John Michael Talbot, Jay Beech, Hans Peterson, Andra Moran and Bryan Sirchio, granted permission for their music to be used. 10w is also a place to showcase good contemporary church musicians, Bollerud said. Early on Bollerud burned CDs and made them available at church, but that seemed more for people who were entering the doors. Cellphones and Bluetooth technology have shifted distribution from CDs to online. Though difficult to track the use, 10w is sent to about 240 people on Constant Contact, with about 50 opening the email each week. It’s also shared on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.  Julia Seymour, pastor of Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, and Martin Eldred, pastor of Joy Lutheran in Eagle River, are also involved. They take turns putting together two services a week, based on both the Revised Common Lectionary and the Narrative Lectionary.  Occasionally they get emails from listeners. A favorite was from someone stationed at a naval base on an island in the Atlantic who was able to access it and make it his “church.”  This isn’t Bollerud’s only foray into the marriage of church and technology. The church provides Wi-Fi, with the bulletin suggesting that worshipers leave cellphones on but turn ringers off: “We tell people to text, tweet or post on Facebook. Let your friends know where you are and to join you next Sunday.” People also have texted Bollerud with prayer requests just in time for prayers during worship. Bollerud sees 10w as a ministry that allows people to connect with, and stay connected to, the texts and the faith community — even if they’re not in the pews.

  • Socially responsible shopping or investing — it’s an awkward term for an idea as old as Earth Day. Many Lutherans practice it consciously while others ask, “Is that a thing?” In your personal or congregational life do you: Buy fairly traded coffee, chocolate or olive oil? Bring reusable bags to the grocery store? Request that your pension be invested in “social purpose” funds? Avoid buying clothing made in sweatshops? If yes, then you are doing it — that socially responsible thing.  “I try to really think about whether or not I need that new article of clothing or that new piece of technology,” said Elly McHan, a campus pastor at Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn. “There’s privilege involved in that I have the financial ability and time to think about where I shop; to pay attention to packaging and how far the food has traveled; and whether a less-packaged, more local option might suffice.” To Lura Groen, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Houston, “it’s about how we can ‘love our neighbors as ourselves’ with the things we buy. Is my neighbor helped or harmed by what I buy? And then I take into account the neighbors who make the product, the neighbors around where the product is made, all my neighbors on the earth, and the way I’ll be a better or worse person to my neighbors when I use this product.” Vanessa Young is director of youth and family ministry at St. Paul Lutheran, Wheaton, Ill., where the earth ministry team encourages members to “bring a bowl” for soup suppers and use the church’s cloth napkins to avoid buying disposable products. The youth also use reusable bowls and cups for their weekly activities.  Young also suggests shopping options for her sisters and friends. “They know I have a list in my head of stores and companies that treat their employees well, that recycle, use resources wisely and exhibit ethical practices,” she said, adding, “A dollar spent is a vote cast” for the earth and the human family.  Young believes people want to know how to be responsible consumers. “They will go out of their way if you make it very easy for them,” she said, noting that word about corporate practices spreads fast on social media. Fair trade products are often a starting point for ELCA congregations. These products assure that small-scale farmers are given a fair and dependable price for their goods (coffee, chocolate, olive oil and others) on the world market.  At First Lutheran Church, Little Falls, Minn., the hospitality crew serves fair trade coffee and tea to about 250 worshipers each week. Susan Gustner, office manager and lay visitation coordinator, said, “We also have the products available for purchase at cost. We believe it is important to support our brothers and sisters in developing countries in this way.” Is being “socially responsible” a thing? “Absolutely!” Gustner said. “Anything a person does will have an impact. … If we don’t believe that our world will suffer for it. Our neighbors aren’t just the people in the next house over but [people] on the other side of the world. God calls us to care for one another and for creation.”  When serving only fair trade coffee was suggested, there was no real resistance. Some members even contribute to a fund for buying fair trade products. “Our members are supportive of giving a hand to people around the globe. Some have gone on mission trips and see buying fair trade as something they can do on a daily basis,” Gustner said. “We all buy coffee anyway — why not be helping a small farmer while we do it? “We spend a little more, but it is something we think is worth doing as a mission.”  The women of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Aberdeen, Md., have their own kiosk on wheels. Made by two men of the congregation, the kiosk goes wherever fair trade items can be displayed — in the narthex on a Sunday morning or in the fellowship hall for a special event. Lutheran World Relief is an important ELCA partner in making fair trade products available to congregations. The organization cites Martin Luther’s explanation to the Seventh Commandment: “We should fear and love God that we may … help [our neighbor] to improve and protect his property and business.”  During a trip to Honduras, David Lose, president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, wrote in a blog: “Knowing a little more about where chocolate comes from and the farmers who work so hard to produce it, as well as seeing firsthand the difference it makes to buy fair trade, I don’t think I’ll ever eat chocolate that doesn’t have the fair trade label on it again. “Typically farmers receive about 4 cents for every dollar you and I pay for a chocolate bar. Fair trade groups … are able to raise this to 6 to 7 cents on the dollar. While that is still a small amount, that additional 50 percent or more makes an incredible difference to farmers.”  Immanuel Lutheran Church, Seattle, combines a monthly “Fair Trade Marketplace” with an “Advocacy Day,” said member Stacy Kitahata. In addition to fair trade chocolate and Palestinian olive oil and soap, the market sells art cards made by a member to benefit the church’s community services. “Immanuel Fair Trade Marketplace demonstrates our congregation’s commitment to economies that invest in local people and communities,” Kitahata said. The proceeds support Immanuel’s Community Services hygiene center, recovery program and food ministries. Nativity Lutheran Church in Reading, Pa., serves fair trade coffee for social occasions, and its women’s group sells fairly traded Divine Chocolate at cost, said Eileen Smith LeVan, its pastor. LeVan, who encourages members to give ELCA Good Gifts, was delighted when “at Christmas our members ‘gifted’ me [with] a microloan for women in developing countries and support for a program for pregnant teens.” Part of her role as a pastor, she said, is to encourage parishioners to consider the impact of their spending. She doesn’t stop there. LeVan’s entire ELCA pension is invested in social purpose funds through Portico Benefit Services, which manages the church’s retirement program. Twenty-nine percent of all ELCA retirement dollars are in these funds. “I know [the funds] have been scrutinized to include companies that are environmentally responsible and don’t exploit workers,” she said. “I know my money will be invested in ways compatible with my values.” Investing with purpose The eight social purpose funds strive to invest in ways consistent with the values of the ELCA. Portico screens thousands of potential companies and typically finds about 10 percent to be unsuitable based on screening out alcohol, environmental issues, gambling, military weapons, pornography and tobacco. In 2014 the ELCA Church Council approved a new screen for privately owned prisons. In addition to screened funds, Portico works with expert partners to invest in community development, affordable housing, sustainable forestry, clean energy options, and women- and minority-owned businesses.  “As one called to preach the gospel, including justice, concern for the neighbor and caring for the common good, where my pension funds were invested was a faith issue and not simply a financial question,” said Luther Wayne Kendrick, a retired ELCA pastorin Comstock, Wis. “I gladly invested my funds in those socially responsible options. I saw it as faithfulness and common sense. The returns of these socially responsible funds were nearly identical to the unscreened funds in the plan [and sometimes higher], so there was no financial downside.”

  • When Joseph and Magdalen Richter are older, they’ll have quite a birth story to tell. That story will also be one of faith and deep friendship. “These are our miracle babies,” said Anne Richter as she pushed the stroller carrying the 1-year-old twins into a local bakery. Babies conceived by in vitro fertilization — often after years of emotional pain and struggle — aren’t unusual. But this story is.  Anne married Philip Richter at age 33, and they started trying to have a baby. Unsuccessful, her doctor suggested fertility testing. Five years of struggle and failure resulted in a pregnancy with twins, but Anne miscarried at 21 weeks. Recovering from a massive hemorrhage that nearly killed her, she told her doctor, “I don’t ever want to be pregnant again.” She wasn’t pregnant again, but she did try. Then one day, after she and her mother returned from shopping, Anne announced to her parents with resignation, “I’m done trying to get pregnant.” Her mother responded: “Hallelujah!”   Throughout their attempts to have a baby, people tried to comfort the couple by saying, “Everything happens for a reason” — words Anne found painful and began to detest. Her husband assured her they would think of something else to do. They discussed both adoption and surrogacy (two embryos remained from in vitro three years earlier). Anne began to research surrogacy, inspired by a friend whose twins had been born through this method. After contacting an agency in Madison, Wis., Anne began the surrogacy process with Jamie Diestelhorst of Merrill, Wis. Jamie, who wasn’t going to have more children with her husband Steve, was inspired to help by an aunt who had been a surrogate. “I like the whole concept of it. Being able to see someone else have what I consider my greatest gifts was my motivation,” she said, looking at daughters Liana, 5, and Kira, 4.  So Jamie went to her pastor with the idea. Yes, the pastor. Jamie is youth and family director of Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Merrill, and what she wanted to do was no small thing. The pastor at the time encouraged her to keep it on “the down low,” but that becomes tricky when a youth group is following your pregnancy.  While Jamie was considering surrogacy, Anne and Philip were looking for a person of faith to carry their embryos. “We didn’t care who carried the babies, but we wanted her to have some connection to faith,” said Anne, a hospice nurse. “Jewish, Christian … that didn’t matter, but faith that provided a moral compass was important to us.” What neither couple imagined was an ELCA connection. Anne and Philip attendLutheran Church of the Ascension, Northfield, Ill. What they received was a faith connection and a lifelong friendship. Pregnancy, friendship grow Jamie knows about the struggle to conceive: “At one point I had failed test after failed test. I know what it was like.” She is also aware that her struggle ended earlier than it does for many women. The couples, especially the women, underwent psychological scrutiny in which every motive was tested, every situation examined. From the beginning of their relationship, Anne and Jamie “clicked,” their senses of humor a testament to their friendship. They talked and texted so frequently that Philip asked his wife with amazement, “Do you two talk every day?” Yes. Anne credits Jamie with being “the driver of this whole thing. She was solid, she was perfect for us.”  Still, because of her history of heartache and the vulnerability of twin A (Magdalen) during the pregnancy, Anne didn’t want to get too close. She put off buying anything for the babies because “it wasn’t going to be real until they were out and healthy.” ‘God moments’ Along the way, Jamie experienced what she called “God moments” that told her she was doing the right thing and all would be well. It started when the embryos were implanted. A good friend had died that morning, but embryos of hope were making a home in her body. “I felt like it’s going to be OK,” she said.  Jamie proceeded with that same optimism throughout, perhaps buoyed by her go-to Scripture verse: “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future” (Proverbs 31:25, New Living Testament).  At nine weeks there was some bleeding. At 15 to 16 weeks while on a youth group mission trip, she told her “story” to a stranger, who assured her that she would be protected, that everything was “going to be fine.” She said an uncanny calm came over her.

  • A man went to court held in a homeless shelter. The judge allowed him to work off his fines by playing piano at centers for the homeless and disadvantaged.  Nearby, God’s Kitchen and Guiding Light Ministries merged their weekday meals. An educational campaign addresses panhandling and offers another way to give. This is what collaboration looks like in the Heartside area of Grand Rapids, Mich., thanks in large part to a local church’s ministry. About 40 social service providers meet monthly at Bethlehem Lutheran Church as part of the Heartside Neighborhood Collaboration Project (www.hncp.net). HNCP is a 5-year-old ministry of Bethlehem, a small church with a big focus on social justice.  “We want to pull people in,” said Kate O’Keefe, who was HNCP’s program coordinator and project assistant until March. “We exist to be a catalyst for collaboration in the Heartside downtown neighborhood.”  Bethlehem (www.bethlehemchurchgr.org) played a role in the formation of three initiatives that launched last year:  Community Outreach Court is a first-of-its-kind program in West Michigan. The court helps the homeless and near-homeless gain free legal help and resolve warrants, fines and other hurdles. Court is held at Mel Trotter Ministries, a homeless shelter near Bethlehem (see page 29). Helpful Charity is a bid to educate volunteers, businesses and churches about Heartside’s needs and discuss how best to meet them. It is HNCP’s response to Robert Lupton’s Toxic Charity (HarperOne, 2011), a book about how good intentions can go awry. Real Change, Not Spare Change suggests donations go to a Heartside fund instead of panhandlers. The fund helps with prescription co-pays, bus tickets and more. Donations can be made at www.realchangegr.org. This effort ties churches, social service agencies, businesses and Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.  Rooted in ‘crisis’ But HNCP didn’t happen overnight. “The genesis of HNCP goes back to the identity crisis of Bethlehem Church,” said Jay Schrimpf, one of its pastors.   As the 21st century dawned, Bethlehem’s aging, neo-Gothic building near downtown needed $2 million in repairs and remodeling. The congregation faced questions: To stay or move? What’s the church’s mission?  “The congregation went through several years of discernment,” Schrimpf said. “In the end a majority of the congregation decided that our mission would be ministry in the world.” So in 2007 the congregation that was founded in 1873 moved. Bethlehem bought and renovated a vacant building in an area long known for aid agencies and urban decay. But the Heartside neighborhood was changing. Now construction cranes, apartments and new enterprises have joined the mix.  So, too, has the HNCP. It was born in 2010 amid a perceived lack of collaboration among well-regarded agencies. Funding came from the Dyer-Ives Foundation, the church in society committee of the North/West Lower Michigan Synod and other sources. Primary funding comes from Bethlehem’s 200-member congregation.