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.
  • All Saints Lutheran Church in Novato, Calif., has been on a mission this year to make sure neighbors know about the ELCA Malaria Campaign. In fact, members made it their own, calling it the “Novato Malaria Campaign” and attempting to raise $53,301 — $1 for everyone in town. “These folks aren’t going to stop until they’ve carried the message of malaria prevention and control to every one of their neighbors,” said Jessica Nipp Hacker, coordinator for the ELCA Malaria Campaign, who visited All Saints last November. The 12 “apostles” (as they call themselves) on the church steering committee wrapped up their campaign on July 4 when they marched with a spruced up flatbed truck in the city’s parade. They fell short of their goal, making only about one-fifth of what they had hoped, but the money is still trickling in.  Peter Quam chairs the apostles, who combined have belonged to All Saints for more than 150 years — from 37 (Brian Mattson) to 12 years (Donna Sanders). Some of them have taken a turn as council president, with Sanders currently holding the gavel. The ELCA’s inaugural “God’s work. Our hands.” Sunday of service in September 2013 was a turning point for All Saints. Instead of the usual 70 to 80 at worship, attendance tipped the scales at more than 90 who served their community. Since their pastor, Annemarie Burke, arrived 1 1/2 years before that, they’ve felt revitalized. “Maybe not growth yet, but new life, new energy,” they told Hacker. Members set out to analyze their community and research emerging generations and how best to reach out to them. Part of their repurposing campaign was to dream big about malaria awareness and fundraising (www.novatomalariacampaign.org). All Saints began by hosting a community dinner attended by some 50 people, who learned about malaria research and parasites.  From that dinner, the Novato Malaria Campaign moved into the community to educate, gain partners and raise money. Knowing they couldn’t raise funds alone, they engaged schools, churches and organizations such as the Rotary Club and Soroptomists (an organzation that improves the lives of women and girls).  For eight weeks, they had a booth at the farmers market, sharing information on how to contribute to the campaign that would eventually give its money to four international malaria programs, including the ELCA Malaria Campaign.

  • It’s appropriate that in this issue we focus on matters associated with September: the start of the Sunday school year and an examination of work in recognition of Labor Day. Sunday school isn’t what it used to be for a host of reasons (page 16). Attendance at such programs in ELCA congregations dropped 60 percent from 1990 to 2010. The world has changed enormously since the beginning of modern Sunday school in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and then the post-World War II era. For those yearning for a return of those days, it’s time to move on. Circumstances have changed — and the clock can’t be turned back. Rest assured, however, that incredible work is being done across this church and beyond to make faith formation among our youth a relevant, meaningful process. Labor Day holds a special place for me. The world I grew up in stressed responsibility for your own behavior as well as personal actions that benefited the community (pages 28 and 30). The dignity of a person’s work — whether shoveling manure from barns with half a million hens or operating a successful fuel oil and gasoline business — was unquestioned. And the intrinsic value of that labor was equal to the capital it generated. Extreme individualism and its excesses had yet to muscle aside humility, moral character and collective responsibility. Where did this thinking come from? Martin Luther said it better than I can. Consider this, from Luther’s Works (expand his 16th century tools to those of ours today — computers, robots, consumer services and the like): “If you are a manual laborer, you find that the Bible has been put into the workshop, into your hand, into your heart. It teaches and preaches how you should treat your neighbor. Just look at your tools — at your needle or thimble, your beer barrel, your goods, your scales or your yardstick or measure — and you will read this statement inscribed on them. Everywhere you look, it stares at you. Nothing that you handle every day is so tiny that it does not continually tell you this, if you will only listen. Indeed, there is no shortage of preaching. You have as many preachers as you have transactions, goods, tools, and other equipment in your house and home. All this is continually crying out to you: ‘Friend, use me in your relations with your neighbor just as you would want your neighbor to use this property in his relations with you.’ ” The Golden Rule in our workplaces. Finally, it’s humbling indeed to be in the publishing business. Our mistakes are there for all to see — forever (page 12). Yes, the editor has an editor, three of them in fact. There is no shortage of eyes reviewing every word that appears in this magazine. Still, we’re human, all too human.

  • It’s Sunday evening at St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Bangui, Central African Republic, and the main gate to the stone-walled compound is locked. Inside, under dim lighting, children run and play, young people gather under tarpaulin tents and a woman stokes an open fire while preparing a family meal. A few people engage St. Timothy’s pastor, Paul Denou, in a lively discussion about the differences between an internally displaced person (IDP) and a refugee. “Does it matter in the end, whether you are here or outside the country?” asked Jean Georges Haman, 65, a retired police commissioner. “The fact is, you have been driven out of your home.”  Haman and six family members have lived at the church (a parish of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Central African Republic or EELRCA) since December 2013, when armed groups raided their home in the capital’s Fondo neighborhood. They are among 120 displaced people living at St. Timothy and among some 142,000 people in Bangui who have taken shelter in churches, mosques, open fields and other sites.   “We fled with nothing but the clothes on our back,” Haman said. The attack displaced 17 members of his family, none of whom have been able to return. Many houses have been destroyed and looted. The continuing violence between armed militia groups includes kidnappings, torture and killings. Denou said St. Timothy’s compound and tents held as many as 1,800 people “at the height of the crisis in December.” The church wasn’t even spared. The pastor points at a bullet hole left after an armed group scaled the compound wall in February. They “took away money, TV screen, church motorcycle, a child’s bicycle … anything they could carry,” he said. “But luckily, no one was killed.” Living in the sanctuary Those who remain at St. Timothy are creating a positive living environment despite struggling to provide for themselves and their families. “There is very little help coming in nowadays,” Denou said, explaining that assistance from local and international nongovernmental organizations has dwindled since many displaced people have fled to neighboring countries. Organizing themselves into teams has helped the displaced “make the parish compound function in an orderly manner,” he added.  Angèle Vanguéré volunteers with the hygiene and sanitation team. “As the person in charge of displaced women, I make sure the little water available is distributed well, that the latrines are clean. [I] look out for those who are sick and refer them to [the] hospital, and support the others in keeping the place clean,” she said. Inside the church, Armelle Kagale spreads out a sleeping mat and pushes aside a big basin packed with small plastic bags, each containing about 500 grams of charcoal. She buys in bulk and sells them for about $1.50 a bag. Kagale, diagnosed with tuberculosis, can’t afford medication and struggles to feed herself with what she earns.

  • In the concrete jungle, an hour-long downpour can cause an all-day headache. Rain gushing from streets and sidewalks, parking lots, roofs and other impermeable surfaces quickly overwhelms a city’s sewer system. The results: flooded basements, backed-up sewers, and decreased water quality in lakes and rivers inundated with untreated wastewater and pollutants. St. Paul Lutheran Church, Jersey City, N.J., knows this problem well. “Tremendous problems with water” have included basement flooding and Hurricane Sandy, which affected many parts of Jersey City and Hoboken, said Jessica Lambert, pastor.  The Environmental Protection Agency has ordered Jersey City to upgrade its aging, dilapidated sewer system, which sends storm water directly into the Hudson River. In the meantime, St. Paul installed a rain garden in May to try to keep the water out of its building and the sewer system. Rain gardens mimic nature in places where pavement gets in the way. Constructed with porous, absorbent material and filled with plants that can withstand flooding, these gardens slowly percolate water through layers of roots and soil. By the time storm water reaches a lake or river, pollutants such as gasoline, oil and fertilizers have been greatly reduced. St. Paul’s 5-by-25-foot rain garden runs between the church and its driveway. Compacted clay soil was dug out and replaced with three different layers of more absorbent soil, followed by mulch and native plants. Designed by the New Jersey Tree Foundation and installed with the help of parishioners, the rain garden catches water from the 6,000-foot parking lot. Water from the 4,000-square-foot roof is captured in underground tanks and released slowly into the sewer system. The project is part of the congregation’s post-Sandy emphasis on building community resiliency and disaster preparedness. “Our rain garden, our community dinners, food pantry and garden are proof that even small changes can affect the community and make a real difference,” Lambert said.   Grants offset costs Jersey City has eight years to upgrade its sanitary system. Rain gardens tackle the storm water problem much faster. To help the idea spread, agencies like Sustainable Jersey City, which funded the St. Paul project, are paying churches and other nonprofits to create demonstration rain gardens. Large roofs and parking lots make churches ideal candidates. When an inch of rain falls, a 1,000-square-foot roof can send 600 gallons of water into a storm system.  Municipalities are taking notice and funding water system upgrades by assessing storm water management fees based on square footage (about $900 a year for a church with 10,000 square feet of roof and parking).  Grants, discounts and waivers available for rain gardens and mediation steps are one reason churches are building them. Theology is another reason.   “We celebrate the importance of water in our lives, in our faith story, in our worship life,” said Jay Carlson, a pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Minneapolis. “A rain garden is an opportunity to celebrate God’s gifts of creation and the gift of living with and caring for the natural world.”  Holy Trinity needed to comply with a Minneapolis regulation that required thousands of buildings to disconnect their roof drains from the city storm water system. “We could have diverted it to the street or alley, but we decided to keep it on the property,” Carlson said.  A grant helped build a courtyard with “pervious” pavement—which water can penetrate — and three rainwater gardens that can hold 2,108 cubic feet of runoff.   “Many people from the community use our ‘Rainwater Discovery Courtyard’ as a way to go between 31st Street and Lake Street, or just to sit and enjoy the surroundings,” Carlson said.

  • Here we are at the end of summer. For the past three months, many of us began lazy days with a cold breakfast, maybe cereal with milk. The blueberries peeking through the cornflakes in September probably were grown in New Jersey or Michigan. As early as April, they likely came from North Carolina; in June, from Washington or Oregon; and in July and August, from Indiana. My pint of antioxidant rich blueberries cost about $4. And it probably was harvested by children. Children are short — just the right height to spot and pluck out the gorgeous dark berries. Their hands are small enough to reach between branches and not suffer too many abrasions. And when 8-year-olds are properly trained, they are nimble and quick. The more buckets they help their parents pick, the more money the family earns. They are paid not by the hour but by volume.  In the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 19:28–20:16), a landowner negotiates wages with local fruit pickers who seek the work of harvesting his crop. He hires them. Throughout the day he continues his search, hiring more workers at 9 a.m., more at noon, and more again at 3 p.m. and even at 5 p.m. When the harvest is finished, he pays everyone the same amount. “Hey!” assert disgruntled fruit harvesters who spent the entire day in the vineyard. “We sweated all day for you and they didn’t. How come they get paid the same? They didn’t earn it!” Underlying their complaint is the essential message: This isn’t fair! The early workers’ problem is not that they were cheated out of the amount they negotiated. Their protest is that latecomers should have received less. Everyone belongs In the context of the first century when Jesus told this parable, mention of a vine or vineyard was understood to be a reference to God’s people. When Jesus invites the “last” to enter the vineyard, he is welcoming everyone to enter the kingdom, including poor people excluded from participating in the life of the community. Because everyone belongs.  The parable challenges our assumptions that human dignity and worth are based on a system of merit or what we do. While we may assume that what we earn is owed to us, that it’s ours because we did it, the larger truth is that God did it — on the cross. Just so, Jesus’ message is quite clear: “I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” (Matthew 20:14-15). God decides who is included. God invites all into the kingdom and treats all equally.  U.S. labor laws don’t protect migrant agricultural workers, whether they are children or adults. If we purchase our blueberries at Wal-Mart, Kroger, Meijer or other grocery corporations, we support — perhaps inadvertently — a food system subsidized through immigrant labor. Our grocery chains are doing what we ask them to do: deliver the best products at the lowest prices.