lutheran

From the Archives: July 1987

[W]hen I was in junior high, I decided I wanted to become the first black woman ordained in the Lutheran Church. ... At Wesley I enjoyed being a student again, until one of the black seminarians asked, “How can you be black and be Lutheran?” I didn’t know. I had never thought about it. The Lutheran Church is predominantly white, ethnically German and Scandinavian. It is highly structured and without the display of lively emotions most blacks are used to in their religious experiences. The Lutheran Church was the only church I had ever really known, and yet suddenly I was thrust into an identity crisis that really rocked me. ...

I am still learning who this black woman pastor is. I am still learning how to use who I am as a black person and as a woman to provide a strong witness for the church. I have no doubts that being black and a woman are important and integral to who I am, and yet for me those factors are not the issue in ministry.

The issue is sharing together the sacramental moments of our lives, the times when heaven and earth touch—holy communion, baptism, worship, touching people, and being touched by them when we celebrate joys and huddle together in pain. The issue is that we share a relationship with God and with each other, and it takes many talents and a variety of people to populate our church. 

Laura Griffin was the second black woman to be ordained in the American Lutheran Church.

Image: Mosaic of resurrected Christ,  / Shutterstock ">

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July 2015
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Water Initiatives Get Congregations to Pledge to Conserve

Children from Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, N.J., under the sign for Spalsh! Kid's Camp. Photo via RNS/courtesy Betsy LaVela

At an interfaith summer camp in northern New Jersey, two dozen children explored a swamp to learn how creatures depend on safe water.

In Southern California, a Unitarian Universalist congregation installed a dry well so water from its church rooftops drains into underground pipes to replenish the water table.

In Vermont, members of a Lutheran church removed cars and appliances that had been dumped in a nearby stream and restored its banks with local willows and oaks.

Across the country, water has become more than a ritual element used in Christian baptismal rites or in Jewish and Muslim cleansing ceremonies. It has become a focus for worshippers seeking to go beyond water’s ritual symbolism and think more deeply about their relationship to this life-giving resource.

... And Every Tongue Confess

Scripture passage, Anastazzo / Shutterstock.com

Scripture passage, Anastazzo / Shutterstock.com

I am part of a liturgically worshiping tradition. There are days I wish I wasn’t; days when our Kyrie is lacking splendor and our Eleison feels redundant; moments that I wish we could get to the important stuff — my inspired and infallible message (I kid) — and toss the unending Psalm or Prayers of the Church.

And then there are the other times, when I am guiltily reminded that cutting the creed means missing out on the same words spoken by millions of believers before me. Or when the music just all works and my heart is stirred by the Hallelu– (shhh, its Lent) Chorus. 

So I like to remind my community of believers from time to time why we do what we do. I have long felt the risk of liturgy is that it becomes rote narration, a thoughtless speechifying of sorts. So that this might be avoided, here are my thoughts on the creeds and why a corporate confession of faith is still valuable today. 

Newtown ‘Debacle’ Reopens Old Wounds for Missouri Synod

RNS photo courtesy LCMS.

The Rev. Matthew Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. RNS photo courtesy LCMS.

ST. LOUIS — A decision by the leader of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod to censure a pastor for participating in a prayer service for victims of the Sandy Hook school massacre has reopened old wounds for an often politically divided denomination.

The Rev. Matthew Harrison asked the Rev. Rob Morris, pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown, Conn., to apologize for participating in a public interfaith vigil with President Obama two days after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at the town’s elementary school.

Morris apologized and Harrison accepted, but the exchange sparked a media firestorm with charges that the 2.4 million-member denomination was intolerant, insensitive or both. On Sunday, Harrison said he made a bad situation even worse.

“As president of The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, I take responsibility for this debacle,” he said. “I handled it poorly, multiplying the challenges. I increased the pain of a hurting community.”

All Sinners, All Saints, All Welcome

Nadia Bolz-Weber

Nadia Bolz-Weber

Editor's Note: God's Politics contributor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, recently delivered an address to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's (ELCA) Youth Gathering in New Orleans, where she told the story of her spiritual journey from tattooed, alcoholic ne'erdowell to tattooed, 20-years-sober, Lutheran minister. Nadia's is a powerful tale of redemption, God's unconditional love, and staggeringly real grace.

Nadia told the thousands of Lutheran youth gathered in the Big Easy earlier this month:

Some of your parents and some of your pastors were really upset that I was your speaker tonite. They felt like I was someone who should not be allowed to talk to tens of thousands of teenagers. And you know what I have to say to that? They are absolutely right.

Somebody with my past of alcoholism and drug abuse and promiscuity and lying and stealing should not be allowed to talk to you. You know what? Somebody with my present — who I am now — shouldn't be allowed to talk to you because I am sarcastic, heavily tattooed, I swear like a truck driver — they're having a heart attack back there, going, "Please help her not swear."

I am a flawed person. I should not be allowed to be here talking to you. But you know what? That's the God we're dealing with, people.

The HIV Minister (VIDEO)

The Rev. Andrena Ingram

The Rev. Andrena Ingram

The Rev. Andrena Ingram is currently the only known Lutheran ordained pastor living openly with HIV. Her husband's death from an AIDS-related illness, and the shame that he felt, inspired the pastor to be open about her own diagnosis with HIV. She is known as "The HIV Minister" – a title that has helped others with HIV reach out to her for help.

Listen to Ingram tell her story inside the blog...

Being Good Doesn’t Make You Free. The Truth Makes You Free.

Way to Freedom, Lukiyanova Natalia / frenta/ Shutterstock.com

Way to Freedom, Lukiyanova Natalia / frenta/ Shutterstock.com

There’s someone who is new here at House for All … actually they are new to church entirely and therefore unfamiliar with liturgy. After coming to House for a few weeks I met them for lunch and asked what stands out for them at church expecting them to say the singing or maybe the community. “You know that part at the beginning where we all say together that we’ve fractured relationships and done things we shouldn’t and stuff?” Uh…I answered…the confession? “Yeah! they said. That’s so amazing.”

There’s a trend in starting new Lutheran churches to actually eliminate the confession and absolution in the liturgy because, well, it just makes people feel bad. And let’s be honest, it’s just a lot more appealing to go to a church that doesn’t make you feel bad.

And I guess there is some logic to that. I mean, if the point of religion is to teach us good from evil and how to choose the good, then who wants to start out each Sunday saying that you didn’t manage to pull that off. Again.

Splinter Churches Realign Mainline Protestantism

Photo via Getty Images.

Photo via Getty Images.

The question now is whether these breakaway groups signal a seismic shift in American Protestantism, or just a few fissures in the theological terrain.

In some ways, the rifts are nothing new. American Protestants have been splintering since Roger Williams left Plymouth Colony in the 1630s, said Nancy Ammerman, a sociologist of religion at Boston University.

Yet the schisms counter a 20th-century trend in which ethnic and regional Protestant groups merged to form big-tent denominations such as the ELCA and PC(USA). 

"What we may be experiencing at this point is the limit of that movement to draw a lot of diversity under one umbrella," said Ammerman, author of Pillars of Faith: American Congregations and Their Partners.

The Court Has Spoken. Now What?: Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC

"Stop the Intersection of Church and State." Image via http://bit.ly/yAHnfE

"Stop the Intersection of Church and State." Image via Wylio, http://bit.ly/yAHnfE

With its unanimous ruling in Hosanna-Tabor Church & School v. EEOC last month, the United States Supreme Court handed down one of its most important church-state decisions in decades. The First Amendment bars ministers from suing the religious communities they serve regarding the terms and conditions of their employment, it said.

The Court affirmed what lower courts had held for decades: Religious bodies, not the government, must have the power to decide which individuals will minister to the faithful. This doctrine is known as the “ministerial exception.” The Court also held that the former teacher in this case, Cheryl Perich, was a minister and thus her lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) could not proceed.

An important aspect of the Hosanna-Tabor ruling is the Court’s recognition that there is simply is no good way for the state to police these matters – it inevitably ends up intruding on core religious decisions like who should speak to and for the church. When a minister is fired, the religious employer cites a religious reason for doing so, such as sermons that are inconsistent with Biblical teachings and a failure to challenge congregants to follow Jesus Christ. If the minister then sues the church for discrimination, he or she claims the religious reason wasn’t the “real” reason for the church’s actions; it was just a pretext for discrimination.

Church Seeks Line Between Interfaith and Intolerance

Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core.

Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core.

DES PERES, Mo. — More than 100 Lutherans streamed into the basement classroom at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Des Peres recently for a Bible study called "Islam Through a Lutheran Lens."

It was a better-than-expected showing, and people carefully balanced their Styrofoam coffee cups as they rearranged extra folding chairs into rows to capture the overflow crowd.

"We're going to be looking at (Islam) though the lenses we have been given through God's word, the Scriptures and the Lutheran confessions," the Rev. Glen Thomas told them. The executive director of pastoral education for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod had taught a similar series of classes in the fall called "Mormonism Through a Lutheran Lens."

"How many people here know a Muslim?" Thomas asked.

Three hands went up. Thomas pressed on.

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