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.
  • Recently I was talking with a friend about one of the huge global problems that confronted us this past summer in stunning succession. Millions of people are involved. For those most closely connected, their livelihoods, their very lives, are at risk. The situation is dire. Urgency is high. My friend and I are both privileged people with access to a range of resources and opportunities for action. We wondered: What shall we do? How shall we act? I’m a preacher. I use words to do my daily work. I’m not the only person who responds with words, of course. Broadcasts and online discussions, print media and coffee conversations continue to be intense. Advocates are passionately making their cases for their causes.  As I listened and shared my thoughts, I felt a familiar tug. It pulls most insistently when I’m anxious about an outcome or when I’m exasperated, frustrated with others, at the end of my rope, weary, resigned. It’s the tug to employ heavy-handed words — the ones that stoke indignant anger. These are the words that sharpen contrasts and drive people to choose between mutually exclusive alternatives — the words that shame the indifferent and hector those seemingly hesitant to respond, as if it were our job to scold people into becoming better people. Fiery warnings from the prophets and stern, unyielding demands from the saints make convenient scripts for such heavy-handed rhetoric. The Scriptures have long been used as a club in partisan crusades. That midsummer conversation with my friend, however, reminded me that the Scriptures have something much better to say, and that I can use my voice to say it. Mercy. Mercies flow every day from God’s abundant love. The rising sun and falling rain give tangible witness that even in the midst of the troubles humankind has brought upon itself, God daily renews the face of the earth. In that daily mercy is a wealth of resources for us. We have the means. There is more than enough to meet the challenges that concern us all as one human family.

  • This documentary, produced by Presbyterian minister John Ankele and educator Anne Macksoud, offers the most inspiring, creative and practical overview of the spiritual dimensions of climate change that we’ve seen. With rare clarity and depth of insight, it reveals the challenges and possibilities that this situation bestows upon the sons and daughters of God. We are called to be co-creators and caretakers of the good Earth and to love our neighbors — humans, animals, plants, waters, soil and rocks. To do so, we have to face climate change and all its ramifications. Speakers in the film include Christian activist Bill McKibben, Buddhist practitioners Joanna Macy and Stephanie Kaza, biologists Roger Payne and Amy Seidl, environmental lawyer James Gustave Speth, Nikki Cooley of the Navaho Nation and many others. Issues covered include water shortages, melting of glaciers, acidification of the ocean, and the impact of the continual burning of fossil fuels. The filmmakers salute the energy and curiosity of children and the creativity of youth who are stirring things up with permaculture, alternative fuel options and city gardens. At the end, the activists express why they still have hope that humans can turn things around and save the planet (Old Dog Documentaries).

  • ELCA pastors are getting younger. It’s not that our beloved, gray-haired pastors are suddenly dropping 20 years (and 50 pounds) and having play-lists of the latest rock stars banging in their ears as they write sermons. The reason is that a large number of pastors are reaching retirement age this year and in the years ahead. As these leaders depart from active ministry, the face of the ELCA pastorate will change and become younger, both in age and outlook. The numbers are clear. The ELCA ministerium is not wholly older, but a significant percentage is more likely to carry AARP membership cards in their wallets than credit cards from the Gap. In the Northeastern Iowa Synod, for example, 60 of the 138 pastors under call to a congregation are age 60 or older, said Bishop Steven L. Ullestad. In the Northwestern Minnesota Synod, Bishop Lawrence R. Wohlrabe said that more than half of the rostered leaders (pastors and associates in ministry) were 65 or older. ELCA Secretary Wm Chris Boerger, former bishop of the Northwest Washington Synod, recalls that the numbers there were similar, with more than half the active pastors over 55. In the Southeastern Synod, Michelle Angalet, an associate in ministry who is assistant to Bishop H. Julian Gordy, estimates that about half its pastors are nearing retirement age.  About 13,000 of the ELCA’s almost 17,000 pastors serve in congregations. (The rest are already retired or in non-parish ministries.) Currently about 350 to 400 parish pastors retire every year. The retirements had slowed a bit in the last five or six years, said Jonathan Strandjord, program director for ELCA seminaries. Sometimes this was because the downturn in the nation’s economy made pastors look hard at the condition of their retirement and investment portfolios and decide to continue in their calls. Nancy Winder, an assistant to the bishop of the Northwest Washington Synod, didn’t keep statistics but saw pastors delay their retirement. “Anecdotally, what happened [in the economy] in 2008 and 2009 definitely changed some people’s plans for retirement,” she said.  But the improvement in the economy and the advancing age of the pastors who put off retiring mean that the bulge in retirements is likely to continue for the next eight to 10 years, Strandjord said. “We are looking at the retirement situation in all our conferences,” said Marie C. Jerge, former bishop of the Upstate New York Synod. “We know there is going to be a lot of turnover in the next few years.”  As larger numbers of older pastors retire from active ministry, some of the skill and wisdom they gained in decades of service also departs. “I’m retiring the all-star team,” said Bishop Jeffrey S. Barrow of the Greater Milwaukee Synod, who said future retirees would include “good pastors, some of whom have served 20 to 30 years in their congregations.” As those pastors leave the scene, some connection between congregations and synods and nearby clergy might also be lost, Winder said. “We will lose,” she added, “the collegial relationships built up over the years.” But Jerge and other bishops said many retired pastors continue to serve in some way. In Upstate New York, for example, three retired pastors who aren’t called to parishes are conference deans, overseeing colleagues in the synod’s regional districts.  The coming retirements also mean that virtually all the pastors who were ordained before the 1987 merger that formed the ELCA will no longer be serving parishes. Therefore the “residual memory” of the predecessor church bodies, which has had a significant impact on the life of the ELCA, will fade. Future pastors will have spent their entire ministry, in some cases their entire life, in the ELCA rather than having had formative or professional experiences in the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America or the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches that merged nearly three decades ago. Bishop Claire Burkat of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod sees a need to maintain an age balance in the synod as larger numbers of older pastors retire, something she has been considering for four years. “That kind of balance won’t happen unless you work for it,” she said.  Since the bulge in retirements over the next few years is — statistically at least — a sure thing, it might look as if the ELCA won’t have enough pastors. Some might also fear a shortage by looking at the number of people graduating from seminary. Earlier in the ELCA’s life, about 250 seminarians graduated each year, Strandjord said. Last year there were fewer than 200. But a clergy shortage isn’t likely to happen, say ELCA planners and several bishops interviewed for this article. “I’m not hitting any panic button,” said Wohlrabe as he considers the possible retirements of about half of the Northwestern Minnesota Synod’s pastors. “There are still going to be people out there to do the work.” It appears that some of those are people who — according to the numbers — are or should be retired. “It seems there is a trend that people are working longer, and not just for financial reasons,” said Bishop Kirby Unti of the Northwest Washington Synod. “We are seeing sort of a rehabilitation of age, and 70 is the new 60.”

  • For generations ELCA members have thought of seminary education this way: A Lutheran student prepares for Lutheran ministry at a Lutheran congregation. But the mission for today’s seminaries is more complex.  ELCA seminaries are providing theological education more broadly and ecumenically than ever. Instead of simply educating only ELCA members for service in their denomination, Lutheran seminaries prepare leaders to serve the mission of the gospel in many and varied American churches.  Today a student on the campus of Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio, could well be an Episcopalian or a Presbyterian. Trinity and Bexley Hall, an Episcopal seminary, share a campus and faculty. “I really love that about Trinity,” said Libby Buuck, a recent ELCA graduate who is awaiting call. “We participate in two worship traditions that recognize a sacramental theology. Bexley hosts a common meal each Thursday followed by a compline service, and sometimes it’s outdoors. It is a big plus.”  Rick Barger, seminary president, calls Trinity’s overlay with Bexley seamless. “This works to help both seminaries clarify who they are,” he said. “It strengthens our Lutheran identity and the identity of the Episcopalians too.”  That’s because Trinity’s task is to form leaders for the Christian church in the world. “We invite people to Trinity to prepare themselves to do something with their lives, something that involves changing the world,” Barger said. “Here they will get the training and inspiration for that.”  A growing trend At Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C., students might easily be Methodist or part of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Southern prepares members of these church bodies for service to their congregations. It also offers a military chaplaincy track in concert with a school at nearby Fort Jackson.  Provost Clay Schmit said 45 percent to 50 percent of students at Southern are non-ELCA. Total enrollment is about 110, and about 25 to 30 students enroll each year. Six of the seminary’s nine faculty members are ELCA; the other three are Baptist, Methodist and Episcopalian. “A distinct benefit for students is the richness that the ecumenical conversation brings to the classroom and the broad understanding of what’s held by others,” Schmit said. That comes out in chapel, where worshipers “see value in what other denominations offer,” he added.   In the past Lutheran seminaries provided an ecumenical component primarily for Lutheran students. In the 1970s, for example, a student at Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, could take courses at the Aquinas Institute of Philosophy and Theology (Roman Catholic) and Dubuque Theological Seminary (Presbyterian).  Today the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia prepares leaders from 28 denominations for a wide range of pastoral ministries in the Christian church. President David Lose calls it “a blessed pattern of cooperating more.” “[Ours is a] Lutheran seminary serving an ecumenical church,” he said. “All our seminaries face identity issues. It is time to be honest about who we are and how we’ve come to be the way we are. To be Lutheran is to be ecumenical. Martin Luther would say that. We are at our best when we are in conversations with other Christians. … We learn from being in real relationship with others, not just tolerating them.” During 2014, Philadelphia Seminary admitted 60 first professional degree students (master of divinity and others) — 34 are from the ELCA and 26 from other denominations. It admitted 19 students for advanced degrees (master of sacred theology, doctor of ministry and doctorate) — eight are ELCA and 11 are from other denominations.    The seminary’s specialized course work ranges from “The Black Church” and the “Latino Concentration” to interreligious and multicultural ministry concentrations. The “Public Leadership” track employs the resources of Philadelphia’s metro area, including courses at the Temple School of Social Work and the Fox School of Business.  Active outreach In 2012, Trinity hired a recruiter for vocation, Theodore Ceasar, one of its graduates who serves a Pentecostal church. He relates to prospective ecumenical students, master of divinity students from non-mainline traditions, student groups at historically black colleges and African-American leaders in the metro-Columbus area. Some of these leaders have been key partners with Trinity, but their members are underrepresented in the seminary’s classrooms. So Trinity works with local pastors to provide scholarships for African-American students. It’s also working on a networking system to help those outside of the ELCA candidacy process find jobs. Such efforts “reach communities with which the ELCA is not in formal ecumenical relationship,” said Jonathan Strandjord, ELCA director for seminaries. “This kind of contact often happens first in theological education, then later in congregations and their church bodies.

  • When I think about the partnership between Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn., andLutheran World Relief, my mind floods with images. I see students eating bananas standing by Maria’s organic coffee farm high on a mountain in Nicaragua. I see an old board attached to a rusty cable spanning a river that was the only access to Ruben’s lush, shaded farmstead. I see students laughing, radical hospitality, awestruck faces and hands shaking in gratitude. Ultimately I see a campus community embracing a global leader in sustainable development.  In some ways, this is a natural partnership since Concordia and LWR share much in common. Concordia, a liberal arts college of the ELCA, is committed to global education. LWR, an ELCA partner, is a nonprofit dedicated to ending poverty, injustice and human suffering around the world.  Even so, the match took work. LWR is based in Baltimore, hundreds of miles from Moorhead. While both institutions emphasize work beyond their borders, Concordia tends to run its own programs abroad or partner with other educational institutions. LWR, for its part, tends to engage U.S. Lutherans through congregations rather than colleges. I joined the religion faculty in 2012 to lead a new “concentration in faith and leadership” that students majoring in religion can add to their studies. The program appeals particularly to those interested in faith-motivated service. As I began looking for partners interested in supporting work toward integrative learning and practical theology, it didn’t take long for LWR to surface. LWR had been considering ways to engage young leaders and instill in them the importance of sustainable development and a global worldview. Together we planned a slate of partnership activities. In May 2014, 10 Concordia students traveled to Nicaragua to learn about LWR work there. Far from a typical mission trip, the 15-day journey was spent learning from LWR’s practices and partners, and from the people of Nicaragua. The students embraced the task with open minds and hearts.  We visited farms and met with cooperatives that, with LWR’s help, have better quality and higher yield crops. Farmers also have greater access to markets. We learned about a devastating fungus called “coffee rust” that affects thousands of coffee plants in Central America. While visiting a water sanitation project, we witnessed the pride with which the community explained its new source of clean water and the effects of water access on the community. Local musicians serenaded us with songs about conservation and God’s gift of water.  Had the partnership between LWR and Concordia ended after last May’s visit to Nicaragua, I would have called it a success. But nurturing our shared roots has helped us imagine ways to grow together in the months and years to come.