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.
  • When Lutheran Social Services of the South, based in Austin, Texas, changed its name to “Upbring” last spring, they joined the ranks of other long-standing Lutheran institutions around the country that have re-branded in recent years.  Why the name change? “We want people to know who we serve in one word,” said Evan Molian, chief mission officer for Upbring. The new name comes from the word “upbringing” and emphasizes the organization’s commitment to serve children, he said. Re-branding wasn’t done impulsively. A two-year planning process brought about Upbring’s new strategy and identity. “Organizations re-brand in order to make sure they are meeting the needs of changing audiences,” said Sian Muir, an expert on marketing and director of management studies at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn. “They seek to serve new people as former audiences age or shift, and they want to be current. “There is a general trend to be more inclusive, so organizations will move away from a specific identity, such as ‘Lutheran.’ Their mission pretty clearly states who they are supporting or serving.”  Ascentria Care Alliance is the new name for Lutheran Social Services of New England, based in Worcester, Mass. Ascentria means “rising together,” said Jodie Justofin, its vice president of strategic marketing and communications. “Our faith-based legacy is reflected in this blend of ‘ascension’ and ‘trinity,’ ” she added. SpiriTrust Lutheran is the new identity for a social ministry organization based in York, Pa., that focuses on services for elderly people. Begun in 1950, it was previously known as Lutheran Social Services of South Central Pennsylvania. SpiriTrust Lutheran provides senior living, hospice, home care, memory care and other services.  In these cases, the organizations worked to honor their Lutheran heritage. Although an organization’s culture and goals aren’t necessarily changed in re-branding, the effort reflects serious planning and thought about an institution’s strategy.  For SpiriTrust Lutheran, research during a 16-month process showed that in New England “Lutheran” is relevant, even a strength. It’s associated with compassionate care and not turning people away, said Crystal Hull, corporate director of communications and public relations. Why they serve “Faith-based organizations always have to correct misunderstandings about who they are and who they serve. But it’s not about either of those; it’s about why we serve,” said Glenn Miller, an ELCA pastor and vice president for external relations at SpiriTrust Lutheran. “The Lutheran ethos that drives us is the call to serve the neighbor in what we do every day at every level.” In Texas, Upbring’s leadership saw the need to focus services on breaking the cycle of child abuse so they re-branded. Calling Texas “an epicenter of children’s issues,” Molian said “70 percent of child abuse is actually neglect.” Upbring seeks to reduce recurrence by addressing health, safety, education, vocation and life skills, he said.  For Upbring, re-branding was also part of a strategy to secure developing partnerships in order to deepen services, such as a connection to Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, Austin. This was the case for Ascentria as well. After re-branding the organization entered into a partnership with the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts, Worcester, to address the needs of clients in a holistic way, Justofin said. 

  • Pick up any modern convenience that you consider useful — a cellphone, zippered sweater, electric toothbrush — and you can be sure that object, in its original form, started out as an invention. Someone hit upon an idea and went to work experimenting with its development.  The entire world of experimental science is driven by curiosity. So is every other realm where we find ourselves contemplating deep mysteries and wild truths. Colleges and universities are built on a spirit of inquiry. Relationships, at least the best ones, are woven thick with curiosity.  There is no other creature in God’s kingdom that comes close to matching our curiosity as humans. We ask questions. Geckos do not. Curiosity is innate to humans. Children arrive in this world as a bundle of questions. “Where do babies come from?” “Why is water wet?” “Do ants survive being flushed down the toilet?” “Where did the ladybug get its name?” Kids don’t ask these questions just for the sake of gaining information. For them, asking a question is also about relationship. In bringing their imponderables to the attention of another person, they are hoping for a response. Their very act of inquiry involves an element of trust or affection. When an adult squelches the “why” of a child, both curiosity and relationship get thwarted. One outcome of asking questions of God in prayer may be the gift of coming to know God more fully. If Jesus advised us that “the Father knows what we need before we even ask,” the reasons for informing God of our needs list diminish greatly. At the real center of questioning God may be our desire, however hidden or obvious to us, for kindling a relationship with the Lord. When Thomas asked to see and touch the wounds of the resurrected Christ, he was interested in relationship. It wasn’t doubt so much as holy curiosity that filled him. He was eager to become intimate with the truth. With his inquiry of Jesus, Thomas essentially opened himself to a relationship that was likely to include personal change ahead. That’s what questions do. They prompt openness that allows for change. This trait is what makes questions fundamental to conversation. Answers, in contrast, are basic to making a point. “Having the answer” is fundamental to argument. Incurious people don’t make for good conversation partners. They let us down. They’re hard to hire for a job. Why bring someone into a workplace who isn’t interested in personal growth? When you meet someone who is absent of curiosity, expect that individual to have little interest in your life. Sustaining a close friendship with such a one is difficult.

  • When Dean Beckwith, a retired ELCA pastor, originally bought the property he now lives on in Saddle Lake, Mich., he was immediately intrigued by the old well house that stood on a portion of the half-acre lot. So when a contractor suggested tearing it down to build a garage, Beckwith refused: “I always thought it would be nice to have it be a little chapel on the land.” For a while though, the well house went through a bit of an identity crisis. “At first I just used it to store lawn furniture,” Beckwith said. “But it had a steeple on it that I built and added about 15 years ago with the idea of it becoming a chapel someday. So it was an odd-looking building for a while — a shed, which wasn’t really a shed, with a steeple on top.” But then something — or rather, someone — helped inspire Beckwith to make his dream come to fruition: his wife, Laura, whom he married seven years ago.  “I’d told Laura about my idea and we agreed that if it was going to happen, it should happen soon because we weren’t getting any younger,” he said. When the chapel project was finally completed a few years ago, Beckwith planned a surprise dedication of it on his wife’s 70th birthday, where he unveiled its name: Laura Chapel. “I had an inkling he was planning something for my birthday, but I had no clue he was doing this chapel dedication,” she said. “To have that named after me was quite an honor. We had dear friends who helped plan the whole thing and about 50 people showed up for the celebration. When I think about it, I still get kind of emotional. He thinks I’m pretty special, I guess.”  Beckwith wrote a formal dedication program and had the praise band fromImmanuel Lutheran Church, Allegan, Mich., where he’d served as interim pastor, perform the music for the service.  In addition to the personal significance the chapel has for the couple, it also holds a great deal of history. The altar in the chapel was given to Beckwith from what was originally First English Lutheran Church (now Peace) in South Haven, Mich., where he grew up. Judging from a keyhole to a cabinet on the back of the altar, the fixture dates to the early 1900s. 

  • It has come down to the final 460 words (the length of these missives). This is my last column as editor of The Lutheran. I’ve made some of the points that follow over the years, others are new. Here are 10 of my top takeaways after 10 years as editor. • Don’t judge The Lutheran by just one article in one month. That’s simply unfair. • For certain matters such as publication of denominational notices, The Lutheran serves an official purpose in the ELCA. It’s not, however, “official” in the sense that every word, photograph or advertisement carries the endorsement of the ELCA or represents its “official” position. • You’ll find uplifting elements even in articles that by their subject matter appear to be negative. Articles can be filled with reports of congregations taking positive action to face their challenges. Consider the full article. • The notion of scarcity vs. abundance is gaining currency in the ELCA. No one wants to focus only on the negative. That’s a prescription for defeat. An abundance worldview can also run amok with unending happy-happy-happy. Let’s not deceive ourselves either way. • Quotes are used in articles with the understanding that readers will or should know they are that person’s opinion. The question for The Lutheran is: “When do we — should we — shift gears from journalism to apologetics?” • Civility is a concept that appears to be waning. If not me, listen to Martin Luther King Jr. on this: “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” • It’s been said that alcohol removes the thin veneer we call civilization. Ditto the Internet. Heed Martin Luther’s admonition: “The most dangerous sin of all is the presumption of righteousness.” • Then there’s Luther’s explanation to the eighth commandment: “[W]e do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead, we are to come to their defense, speak well of them and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.” • We do so much more together than separately in the ELCA. We confess one holy, catholic and apostolic church. Congregations are part of something bigger. • I salute the people who, over the past decade, helped make this magazine happen. God bless them all: Megan Brandsrud, Kathryn Brewer, Bette Bruce, Barbara Fletcher, Elizabeth Hunter, Kathleen Kastilahn, Andrea Kulik, Amber Leberman, Jeremy Ott, Curt Peterson, Melissa Ramirez Cooper, Julie Sevig, Sonia Solomonson, Joel Stombres, Erin Strybis and Michael Watson. Finally, I leave you with the Scripture verse I hold most dear, Romans 8:38-39. I intentionally ask that you look it up — to keep that Bible near.Goodbye, dear readers. It was a privilege to be your editor.

  • We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. —1 John 3:16 Francis Spufford, a teacher and writer, lives in the United Kingdom. He’s among the 6 percent of citizens there who still worship regularly on Sundays. The Church of England may trot out clergy and bishops for royal coronations, but the overwhelming majority across the pond largely ignores the church. In Spufford’s book Unapologetic (HarperOne 2014), he mentions his daughter: “Sometime over the next year or so, she will discover that her parents are weird. We’re weird because we go to church.” ' How weird are they? To contrast, in the United States the equivalent figure of regular Sunday churchgoers is 26 percent of the population. But here’s what I find doubly interesting from Spufford’s book: “Some surveys, tellingly, reveal that a further 16 percent of Americans claim to be regular churchgoers. From the British perspective this second statistic is even more startling and alien than the first one. The idea of people pretending to be regular churchgoers because it will make them look virtuous — or respectable, or serious, or community-minded — is completely bizarre to us. Here in Britain, it is more likely that people would deny they went to church even if they actually did, on the grounds of embarrassment.” We are living in challenging times for the church. I once had lunch with an employee of the American Bible Society. He told me of the society’s ministry and its translation work in many countries. Our conversation turned toward Europe and England, in particular. He had just toured many of the beautiful Gothic churches dotting the countryside, which were largely empty on Sundays. He said, “You know, Frank, this reality in Europe is coming your way in America. Not as quickly, but it’s coming.”  What are we to do about such realities? If the current trends continue, what will our congregations look like in 25, 50 or 100 years?  Look closely at 1 John 3:16 sometime. Two 3:16s probably come to mind. We tend to recall the more famous one from John’s Gospel: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” But 1 John 3:16 suggests that if this amazing gift really soaks in, our lives in return will resemble his: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” This echoes a phrase that says a Christian is a person who should be prepared to look good on wood — someone who’s willing to love in the shape of a cross.  A sacrificial life Recently I was home for lunch during three waves of rain and hail. I stood at the kitchen window and watched a hummingbird nonchalantly sip nectar as ice chunks fell from the sky. Somehow he dodged all of them. I expected the little guy to hightail it for cover, but no — it was a serene scene of nourishment in a context that could clock the bird’s brains out at any second. I was envious of such peace and security, and I concluded that the hummingbird’s behavior involved more than simple survival. It had everything to do with sacrifice — for family, even for a species. It was some built-in inclination to love.