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.
  • Kelly Gissendaner, 47, featured in the October issue of The Lutheran, was reportedly singing "Amazing Grace" as she was put to death just after midnight Sept. 30 near Jackson, Ga. Gissendaner, who in 1997 planned the murder of her husband but did not kill him, was the first women to be put to death by the state of Georgia in 70 years. Her lawyers filed appeals to state and federal courts, including three to the U.S. Supreme Court, that failed. More than 90,000 people signed a petition urging Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal to halt the execution, claiming the mother of three had turned her life around and called her a "powerful voice for good." A #kellyonmymind social media campaign to save her life drew widespread activism, including many ELCA members and seminarians. Jennifer M. McBride, professor at ELCA-affiliated Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa, was Gissen-daner’s teacher in a prison seminary program. She gave public witness to Gissendaner’s personal and spiritual transformation and her witness and ministry behind prison walls. McBride’s Facebook post in the early morning hours of Sept. 30 was simply: "Jesus turned to the thief on the cross and said, ‘TODAY, you will be with me in paradise.'"

  • People today seem to be fascinated with dystopias. These stories reflect the consequences of the excesses of contemporary societies: overpopulation, mechanized living, environmental destruction, violence and war, technology used to control people and other problems. Things aren’t that bad yet in this film, but the end of the world as people know it is clearly on the way. Director Brad Bird encourages us to empathize with three unconventional rebels in a time when there is little hope for the future. They meet up in another dimension known as Tomorrowland, where an authoritarian leader thinks the way to get people to change is to bombard them with predictions of the world’s collapse. Can he scare people straight or is his mindset creating a self-fulfilling prophecy? Three idealists take a different approach. Teenager Casey is an optimistic girl; Frank Walker was a boy-genius turned adult inventor; and Athena is a robot who can override her programming. They discover that averting the impending disaster requires a change of heart and a change of mind. They want others, especially young people, to join them, starting with the belief that transformation is possible (Walt Disney Studios — PG). Now on DVD.

  • It’s a Sunday night in downtown Chicago and pouring rain. College students, outfitted with hoodies, ponchos and umbrellas, take turns pushing a shopping cart down the slick city streets. As they walk, they dodge puddles, stop and chat with people who look like they need a helping hand. Not many people are out in these conditions, but the students come across a man and woman sheltering themselves from the rain under a storefront overhang. “Would you like some food?” one student asks.  “We also have hoodies,” another pipes in.  The couple says yes to both and the first student reaches into the shopping cart and selects two brown bags, each containing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, juice and chips, and hands them to the woman. Just an hour ago, the students made and bagged this simple meal. The man has already stood up and is trying on hoodies, eventually selecting one before thanking the students.  This is “Takin’ it to the Streets,” a program of South Loop Campus Ministry, a joint effort of the ELCA Metropolitan Chicago Synod and the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago started in 2007. Led by campus pastor Ben Adams and two student leaders, the ministry has connected students from Chicago’s South Loop (primarily Columbia College Chicago, DePaul University, Robert Morris University Illinois and Roosevelt University) to service opportunities and faith-forming activities. It also connects them to their South Loop neighbors — in particular, those who live on the streets.  Kerrigan Tobin, a junior at Roosevelt, started participating in “Takin’ it to the Streets” to fulfill hours for her service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega. Yet it soon became much more than that. “I was raised Catholic and ever since [I’ve come here] it’s bringing religion back into my life,” she said.   It started with a meal South Loop students like Tobin have been “Takin’ it to the Streets” since 2012. It started with Tom Gaulke, then campus pastor, whose original idea had been to host a free meal to attract students. “It didn’t work, but it did attract homeless people,” said Joe Hopkins, a United Methodist pastor who did his seminary internship with South Loop Campus Ministry.  Rather than waste food, Gaulke and the students gave it away. “From that point on, we figured we were on to something,” Hopkins said. The ministry evolved into what it is today: a weekly bag meal and clothing distribution via the program’s iconic shopping cart. Sixty bags are given out each Sunday to people who live on the streets.  On the last Sunday of every month, volunteers host a community meal at Grace Place Episcopal Church, Chicago. As they prepare lunches before their Sunday night walks, students stamp the bags with the date of the community meal so neighbors know when to show up for a warm meal and conversation. Asked if there was ever a night they didn’t “take it to the streets,” Adams quickly answered, “No.”   Even last February on arguably one of the coldest, snowiest nights in Chicago, Adams and a small group braved the weather to connect with people who hadn’t found shelter. “We go because we know that people will be on the streets in any conditions,” Adams said. When school is out, visiting youth groups fill in for students who are away on summer break. The goal behind “Takin’ it to the Streets,” however, isn’t just for students to participate in community service. “Through charity we are opening the door to create community with our neighbors,” Adams said. Is it working? Adams believes it is. Each week as students encounter their homeless neighbors — people who are often ignored by the average passer-by — Adams has observed them growing bolder, first asking names, then hometowns and soon, deeper questions. 

  • Celebrated composer Robert Hobby had reached a point where he wasn’t accepting commissions for new music. Instead, he was choosing to spend more time with his family and to concentrate on his work as director of music at Trinity English Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, Ind. That’s before the call came — to help the pope. True, it wasn’t a direct person-to-person with Pope Francis, but it was a call from the director of music at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He asked Hobby if he would compose two pieces to be performed during the pope’s U.S. visit. Hobby’s moratorium on taking new work was put on hold. "I was so ecstatic, but I didn’t want to get too excited before I was sure it was all happening," Hobby said. The son of a retired ELCA pastor and a graduate of Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio, Hobby grew up immersed in church life, and music became a big part of it. "I played my first wedding when I was in fourth grade, and I played at church on a regular basis when I was in fifth grade," he said. Still, Hobby was more interested at first in becoming an architect, a passion he found watching his dad attend meetings for new building projects. "But doors just kept opening for me," he said, regarding his music career. What he thought would be a temporary stop at Trinity has turned into a 27-year appointment, where he oversees five vocal choirs for children, youth and adults; two bell choirs; two steel drum ensembles; and a recorder consort ensemble, along with an associate director. More than 250 of his compositions have been published, but the call to write for the pope may be the biggest of his career. Still, given the logistics and tight scheduling, several hurdles needed to be cleared before he got word that his new orchestrations actually would be performed — one at St. Patrick’s and the other at Madison Square Garden. The first piece was a reworking of "Tu Es Petrus" ("You Are Peter"), by Charles Marie Widor, for organ and orchestra. The second, and perhaps most exciting, was the hymn "Alleluia, Sing to Jesus," to be performed by a choir, an orchestra and the congregation. "For ‘Alleluia, Sing to Jesus’ I spent time reflecting on the text alone. When I become more intimate with the text it becomes a spiritual journey," he said.

  • If you were to walk through the doors of Hope Lutheran Church in Bozeman, Mont., looking like a college student, chances are that Don and Diane Heyden would be the first people to greet you. For the past seven years they’ve played an important role in connecting the students with their congregation.  Every month the Heydens host a dinner for Montana State University students at their Bozeman home. As many as 20 get together to unwind and share a hearty meal of chili, casseroles or burgers.  The Heydens didn’t set out to host regular gatherings when they invited several students to their home seven years ago. Andrew Byl and Patrick Bender, who were spending the summer in Bozeman between their sophomore and junior years, volunteered to help with church landscaping. To show their gratitude, the Heydens began inviting them over for barbecues. After school started, the dinners continued. Roommates tagged along. Then roommates invited other friends and, well, everything sort of snowballed.  And that was just fine with the Heydens, who relish their role as surrogate parents or grandparents. “We have one large extended family that is absolutely wonderful,” Don said. Stephen Schmidt, pastor of Hope, said that on Sundays he often notices the couple sitting with at least a handful of students during worship — always in the second row, although sometimes they spill over into another pew. “They embody hospitality,” he said. “It’s a natural spiritual gift they have.”  The Heydens’ monthly gatherings provide not only a home-cooked meal but laughter, camaraderie and stress relief for the students. Their home is a place where students can eat, connect and have fun — and leave refreshed to do homework, said Amanda Olsen, who began attending the dinners as a freshman.  Although many of the participants are Lutheran, everyone is welcome. “We have Presbyterians, Catholics, Methodists,” Diane said.  There’s not much better than getting to relax and have a home-cooked meal after a long week of schoolwork and tests, said Andrew Bender, a recent graduate who attended the dinners for four years.  Bender and his girlfriend also visit the Heydens outside of the scheduled dinners once or twice a month, going over to play cards or just hang out. “It’s nice to be around a different generation,” especially a couple with important life lessons and interesting stories to share, Bender said. “[They’re] our Bozeman grandparents.”  When someone’s 21st birthday rolls around, there’s a good chance the Heydens will treat that student to a celebratory drink. (If you’re over 21 and want to sip a beer at the gatherings, that’s fine. Diane has a spreadsheet with everyone’s date of birth and does keep track.) Before retirement, Diane was a sixth-grade teacher and Don was an engineer. Married for 36 years in what is a second marriage for both, the couple moved to Bozeman from California 18 years ago. Tired of the desert, Don was drawn to Montana in part because of fly-fishing.  The Heydens have six children from their first marriages. But they consider the college students who visit them to be family as well.  Diane estimates that they’ve seen 22 of them graduate with bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees or both. Many still keep in touch, letting the couple know when important life events occur. The Heydens even attended a wedding in Nebraska of one of their “firstborns” — their term for the original group of students.