Friday, December 03, 2010

Making Decisions in the Ministry of Giving

Making Decisions in the Ministry of Giving
From the Gburg PO
by President Michael Cooper-White
On my desk at home is a stack of a dozen or so letters and response cards, offering multiple opportunities to share a portion of my tithe.  I know that before Christmas comes, more fund appeals will arrive in my mail slot, as well as via email.  With so many worthy causes in desperate in need of contributions this year more than ever, how do I make decisions regarding an appropriate allocation of my financial stewardship? 
I continue a long-time practice of being most generous with the place of ministry to which I am called—Gettysburg Seminary receiving the largest portion of my charitable contributions.  In addition to the worthiness of our mission, I believe that other donors appropriately expect the school’s leaders to demonstrate a high level of personal commitment and generosity.  We are blessed indeed that a high percentage of our faculty, staff, board members, and even some financially-challenged students generate a significant portion of our “annual fund.”
The congregation to which I belong needs and deserves strong financial support, as well as a portion of my time and talents as they may be called upon from time to time.  I also try to be generous as I visit other congregations, though I have discovered that in many places where I serve as guest preacher the offering plate is never passed in the chancel area where I tend to be seated!
Taking pretty literally Jesus’ insistence that we must be generous with “the least of these,” the ELCA’s World Hunger appeal has been another personal giving priority area throughout the three plus decades of its existence.  In the course of my ministry, I have been privileged to visit a number of ministries in this country and abroad where World Hunger support is truly a matter of life-and-death.  This year I felt a pang as we made our WH commitment given the fact that my son,  who worked for the appeal until recently, was among those laid off in the recent round of ELCA churchwide budget cuts.  While I remain confident in those staffers who are left to allocate funds among the many domestic and global hunger relief and development efforts supported by our contributions, I confess to some less than charitable feelings about fellow Christians who have withheld or withdrawn their mission support and thereby caused disruption in the lives of so many as a result.  In recent years, my wife and I have been expanding the circle of friends and family members to whom we give “Good Gifts,” a special holiday season opportunity for second-mile designated giving through our church’s hunger and development-related programs. 
Many effective, efficient and important local agencies cry out for my attention, as do my college alma maters and other causes.  While in general I tend to give more to a few recipients rather than a host of smaller gifts to many, I also recognize the importance of “loyalty gifts,” which demonstrate to grant-making foundations that a high percentage of a school’s alumni make at least a modest contribution of record.  I also tend to be a bit more generous donor when “matching funds” promise that added value will result from my gift. 
In the senior “Integrative Seminar,” for which I am the instructor/leader again this year, December’s second session will focus on pastoral leadership in congregational stewardship.  Based upon my personal experience and that of many colleagues, “declaring oneself,” i.e. being transparent about one’s own financial stewardship commitments, is a key to effective leadership.  Regardless of one’s financial capacity and income and indebtedness levels, some measure of giving is both possible and a necessary component of spiritual wholeness.  As important as current giving is signaling one’s desire and commitment to grow in generosity.  And most crucial of all is to genuinely exude a spirit of joy in giving—not as mere duty, but as response to God’s incredible graciousness in the gospel. 
In this brief P.O. piece, I’ve shared a few personal perspectives about and approaches to giving.  I’m eager to hear how you steward your gifts, and how you have been blessed by and found joy in giving.  

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Choral Vespers for Advent from Music, Gettysburg! Nov 28


CONTACT: John Spangler 717-338-3010




The Schola Cantorum and the Mount St. Mary’s University Chorale Chamber Ensemble, conducted by Andrew Rosenfeld, will offer festive Choral Vespers for Advent on Sunday Nov 28th, at 7:30 p.m. at the chapel of Gettysburg Seminary.


Choral vespers, or evening prayer, is a meditative and stimulating sung prayer event combining sung prayers, psalms, motets and readings and assembly singing in the beautiful setting of the Gettysburg Seminary chapel at 147 Seminary Ridge, in Gettysburg. The one hour choral vespers will follow the order of a typical 17th century evening prayer service, featuring a new setting of Psalm 122 by Stephen Folkemer who will serve as organist for this vespers. Choral works will be conducted by Andrew Rosenfeld of Mount St. Mary’s University. The vespers will also include the “Magnificat” by Leonardo Leo.


The Chamber Ensemble is making its first appearance at Choral Vespers, and will perform Hugo Distler’s “Praise to the Lord,” joining the Schola Cantorum for Psalm 122, the “Magnificat” and other offerings. The setting of Psalm 122 is newly translated by Seminary biblical scholar Brooks Schramm set to new music by Folkemer. The Rev. Dr. Pamela Cooper-White will officiate.


Rosenfeld has served as Associate Professor of Music and Director of the Chorale at Mount St. Mary’s University since 1997. In addition to directing the vocal ensembles, Dr. Rosenfeld also serves as chair of the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at the Mount, and teaches a wide array of courses in music history and theory and in the humanities.  In 2008, he served as a guest conductor with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, Elizabeth Schulze, music director and conductor, in a performance of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy in celebration of the Mount’s bicentennial.  He has been a member of the Gettysburg Schola Cantorum since 1998; this ensemble premiered his “Psalm 23”, a work appearing on the recently released compact disc, Thy Ways Illumine. 


Enjoy this choral musical treat at the Sunday evening concert, which is free and open to the public. The Seminary Chapel is on Seminary Ridge in Gettysburg. For more information about this and other concerts in the 2010-2011 Music, Gettysburg! schedule, please call 717-338-3000 ext 2197 or visit the Music, Gettysburg! web site:




Monday, November 08, 2010

Carthage's Harvard Stephens 2010 Pastor in Residence


CONTACT: John Spangler 717-338-3010



Carthage College Dean of Chapel Harvard

Stephens Serves as Pastor-in-residence

at Gettysburg Seminary

The Rev. Harvard Stephens, Jr. will be the pastor-in-residence on campus this week, November 8-12, 2010. Pastor Stephens is currently the dean of the chapel at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., a position he has held since 2003. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. Stevens is a veteran of educational and parish ministries including Howard University. Pastor Stephens will be preaching in chapel on Monday, Nov. 8 and Friday, Nov. 12, will be attending various classes throughout the week, and will be experiencing campus life and informal conversation over lunch in the Refectory and other times and places.



Bothering with Advent

Bothering with Advent


The Rev. Dr. Mark Oldenburg, Dean of the Chapel and Steck Miller Professor of the Art of Worship at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, provided the community, the church and the world with a ten minute primer on Advent entitled “Bothering with Advent.”


You’ll find it easy to use for personal preparation and an excellent primer for parish education groups.


See it here 


Our thanks to Mark Oldeburg





Sornchai Named Young Adult Steward



CONTACT: John Spangler 717-338-3010

Gettysburg Seminarian Adam Sornchai Named Young Adult Steward for National Council of Churches’ General Assembly


November 8, 2010 (New Orleans, LA) Fourth year Gettysburg Seminarian Adam Sornchai was chosen by the National Council of Churches to participate in the Young Adult Stewards Program for the 2010 General Assembly of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCCCUSA)/Church World Service (CWS) to be held in New Orleans, LA, November 9-11, 2010.


Sornchai, a native of New York, will complete his studies in preparation for ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 2011.  The ecumenical agency is observing its centennial during this year’s national gathering, which is shared by the globally active relief agency, Church World Service.


Chosen from an unspecified number of applicants, Sornchai expects to report more than daily by way of social media from the assembly, which began the evening of Nov. 7th and continues to the 12th. He will be tapped by the assembly for special duties and write a post assembly reflection as well.



More information is also available at the Seminary’s web site: .



Pamela Cooper-White and Organist Mark Mummert Bring Bach, Copland, Faure and More to Music, Gettysburg!


CONTACT: John Spangler 717-338-3010


Soprano Pamela Cooper-White and Organist Mark Mummert Bring Bach, Copland, Faure and More to Music, Gettysburg! Nov 14 


(Gettysburg) Music, Gettysburg! presents a favorite soprano Pamela Cooper-White and organist and pianist Mark Mummert to the concert stage November 14, 2010 for a concert of Bach, Faure, Copland and more.


Cooper-White is familiar to Music, Gettysburg! audiences, but this Sunday afternoon concert is her first headline event and one that reunites her with friend and musical collaborator Mark Mummert. They will open the concert with Bach’s ‘Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor’ followed by 'Pie Jesu' from the Faure Requiem. Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs are included in the second half of the concert along with songs of Hugo Wolf and more.  


The concert will begin at 4pm in the chapel of the Gettysburg Seminary, 147 Seminary Ridge, in Gettysburg, and is free and open to the public.


Pamela Cooper-White, who for several years sang full time for the San Francisco Opera company, now serves as the Ben G. and Nancye Clapp Gautier Professor of Pastoral Theology, Care and Counseling at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA, and from 1999-2008 served as Professor of Pastoral Theology at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.  Prior to her theological credentials, she earned a B.Mus. from Boston University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in musicology from Harvard University, with a dissertation on Arnold Schoenberg’s opera Moses und Aron.  She studied voice with Wilma Thompson (Boston), Kari Windingstadt (Los Angeles), and Janet Parlova (San Francisco).  She was a soloist with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, and performed as soloist and in vocal ensembles for the San Francisco Ballet and the American Ballet Theater. 


Cooper-White is a familiar soloist with the Gettysburg Chamber Orchestra and Music Gettysburg!, having premiered Lynn Gumert’s “Mary’s Lullaby” with flutist Teresa Bowers on Music Gettysburg!’s Christmas Offering in 2000, and has appeared in solo ensembles on several other Music Gettysburg concerts.  She was soprano soloist with the Gettysburg Chamber Orchestra in the Kodaly Te Deum (2005), the J.S. Bach Magnificat (2006), and most recently, Mozart’s Exsultate, Jubilate, a three-movement cantata for soprano and orchestra, for an all-Mozart program in celebration of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth.  She will also perform as a soloist in the upcoming Music Gettysburg! Christmas Offering on Dec. 19, singing pieces by J.S. Bach and Max Reger. 


Mark Mummert is Church Organist and Chorus Director at Christ the King Evangelical Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas. There he conducts the Chorus, the Choristers, the Jr. Choristers, the Taize Ensemble and leads the assembly song at the liturgies of the congregation. Mummert serves as organist for the Bach Society of Houston,  and is active in the Association of Lutheran Church Musicans. Prior to his call to Houston, he was Seminary Musician at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia for eighteen years (1990-2008), where he and Cooper-White were musical colleagues in numerous performances. Mummert is a composer of the first setting of Holy Communion in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's core worship resource, Evangelical Lutheran Worship. He has served as Cantor for congregations in Philadelphia, Lancaster, and Glenside Pennsylvania. As a recitalist, Mummert has appeared in programs for the American Guild of Organists and has presented hymn festivals throughout North America. He has appeared in concert with the University of the Arts Chorale, Haddonfield Symphony Chorus, Philadelphia Chamber Chorus, Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia, the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, and the Singing City Choir of Philadelphia.


Cooper-White and Mummert will delight the Central Pennsylvania audiences this Sunday in a not to miss concert.


Music, Gettyburg! is a premier free concert series featuring the finest regional, national and international musicians hosted by the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettyburg. The seminary chapel is located at 147 Seminary Ridge on the west edge of Gettysburg. For more information about this and other concerts remaining in the Music, Gettysburg! schedule, please call 717-338-3000 ext 2197 or email or visit the web site at .


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

New Eben Ezer pastor sees a need on the plains

Story about recent graduate Teri Hermsmeyer

By Jesse Chaney Brush News-Tribune Staff Writer

Teri Hermsmeyer stands in Brush s All Saints Lutheran Church, where she will be installed as pastor Sunday morning. She is also the new chaplain at Eben Ezer Lutheran Care Center. (Jesse Chaney/News-Tribune)For someone who lives in Boulder, new Eben Ezer Lutheran Care Center Chaplain and Pastor Teri Hermsmeyer spends a lot of time in northeast Colorado.

For nearly two years, Hermsmeyer has served as the Sunday morning pastor at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in the rural town of Anton south of Akron.

She joined the Eben Ezer team about three months ago and will be installed as pastor of the facility’s All Saints Lutheran Church during a special service at 9:30 a.m. Sunday. Bishop Alan Bjornberg will lead the special service, and a reception will follow in the Eben Ezer activity room.

“Apparently God is calling me out here to rural ministry,” Hermsmeyer said.

Though her home is in Boulder, Hermsmeyer lives in a duplex on the Eben Ezer grounds from Tuesday through Thursday and preaches at All Saints church on Sunday morning each week. She leads services in Anton on Sunday afternoons.

In addition to preaching at the Eben Ezer church, Hermsmeyer is responsible for any funerals or weddings held at the facility. She said the church is open to anyone in the community, though “our ministry is with Eben Ezer.”

Full story may be seen at:

40 Years Later, ELCA Pastor Elizabeth Platz Still Serves Maryland Students

August 23, 2010
by John Brooks

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (ELCA) -- For nearly 45 years, the Rev. Elizabeth A. Platz (Gettysburg Seminary M.Div. 1965) has served here at the University of Maryland (UM), quietly influencing generations of Lutheran students to remain active in the church and in service to others. Those whose lives she has touched speak highly of Platz's influence on them, her dedication to the church and some wonderful home-cooked meals she serves to hungry college students.

In 1970 the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) ordained Platz at UM's Memorial Chapel, where she serves today. Platz, the first woman ordained a Lutheran pastor in North America, has served her entire ministry as UM Lutheran campus pastor. On Nov. 22 this year, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) will mark the 40th anniversary of her ordination.

Before she was ordained Platz served five years as assistant Lutheran chaplain at the university, after earning a bachelor of divinity at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (LTSG), an ELCA seminary in Gettysburg, Pa. Looking back, Platz, a native of Pittsburgh, said she couldn't have imagined becoming ordained.

Full story at:

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Alumnus Passes On His Love for Learning

Retired Pastor Never Stops Learning and Teaching
Now that he's retired for the second time, the Rev. L. Guy Mehl (Gettysburg Seminary B.D. 1961) has the time to do what he loves — learning and teaching.  "I love to learn anything I can," Mehl said. Mehl quoted an Asian spiritual leader: "You're never old as long as you want to keep learning."  The 75-year-old Lancaster resident's recent studies have been about Muslims and Islam.

"I've read the Quran, and, recently, the autobiography of Jehan Sadat, the wife of (the late Egyptian) President Anwar Sadat, who is a devout Muslim."

Last spring, Mehl taught a course on how the Muslim, Christian and Jewish traditions relate to Jesus and Abraham for Pathways Institute for Lifelong Learning. "Muslims have a great deal of respect for Jesus," Mehl said. This fall, Mehl will teach about the healings of Jesus in relation to the practices of healing in the first-century Roman Empire.

Read more:

Seminary Professor Gil Waldkoenig Named GreenFaith Fellow



CONTACT: John Spangler 717-338-3010





(September 14, 2010) GreenFaith announced today that Dr. Gilson Waldkoenig, Professor at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, has been named a GreenFaith Fellow, joining the 2011 class in the only comprehensive education and training program for religious environmental leadership.  “We’re thrilled to welcome Gil to the Program,” said Rabbi Lawrence Troster, Fellowship Program Director and a nationally recognized religious environmental leader.   Fellows gain “the opportunity to become well-trained leaders in religious environmentalism,” noted GreenFaith Executive Director, the Rev. Fletcher Harper, who added that “they will help create an environmentally just and sustainable world.”


Through retreats, webinars, and extensive reading, Waldkoenig will receive education and training in eco-theology, “greening” religious institutions, environmental advocacy, and environmental justice. Waldkoenig, who already teaches courses in ecological theology in the seminary curriculum, will join Fellows from Jewish, Muslim, Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations who come from congregations, universities, campus ministries, NGO’s, and denominational organizations.  Each Fellow develops an eco-theological project intended to mobilize religious leaders in relation to an environmental issue.


Gettysburg is an ideal base for work in the Fellowship. “Seminary Ridge is treasured by millions of people around the globe because of its historical significance,” Waldkoenig noted.  “The seminary has been a faithful steward of the natural habitat on the ridge since 1832, helping it to recover from the battle’s devastation in 1863 and collaborating with the Park Service and Gettysburg Borough in long-term care of this public treasure,” he added.  “As the global community confronts new environmental challenges,” Waldkoenig said, “how--and why--we sustain the natural habitat of Seminary Ridge will be a witness and inspiration to many.” Waldkoenig serves as one of two faculty members on the Seminary’s Green Task Force, a community wide campus effort to steer the seminary in ecologically healthy directions.


GreenFaith is a leader in the fast-growing religious environmental movement and has won national and international recognition for its work.  The Kendeda Sustainability Fund supports the Fellowship Program.  For more information visit


The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, the oldest of the eight seminaries of the 4.8 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, prepares women and men to be outreach oriented pastors, public theologians and mission leaders.  In addition, it provides programs in continuing studies, advanced theological education, and specialized educational programs for informed lay persons, ordained and other rostered leaders, and high school youth. 



Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Neither Slave Nor Free

Sermon for Wednesday, Sept 8, 2010
Texts are Year C Lection 23
Philemon & Luke 14.25-33
Preached by the Rev. John Spangler

Paul's shortest letter in the New Testament is a personal note. So far as we know Paul wrote it, and he did so from captivity, ironically, addressing it to a slave owner about a runaway slave, Onesimus. If you study this letter, its 500 words, you can see why the early Christian community was seen as pushing against the social structures. In fact, you can find evidence of the leadership of women, and of course the presumption of the prevailing slave holding structures; you can infer the breaking down of class divide, and also the need to abide by law; you see an appeal to the freedom of life in the Gospel, and the sheer force of personal persuasion.

In a year in which the first African American president has been caricatured in public political rallies repeatedly in white face and cartoon-like animal drawings, this text sent up a flare. In a year in which a Mid-Atlantic state celebrated its civil war heritage without the mention of slavery, it seems prudent to revisit a little history. In a time in which too many Christians are confused about what is “in” the Bible and what “the Bible” says, it is time to model witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In such a year, in such times, we bear special responsibilities. Our preaching is on the line, and in the spotlight.

What you find “depends an awful lot on what you are looking for,” said a wise Yogi Berra. And this is the bad news: If you are looking for a resource for the one chosen divine idea about social structure, a societal makeover that suits you, you’ll probably find it. If you are looking for confirmation of your conclusions around human sexuality, you’ll probably find that too. If you think that it is your righteous duty to burn a copy of the Quran in public, you will find justification, however inadequate, somewhere in Deuteronomy that calls for the burning of idols, some twisted idea about false worship, and other thinly veiled un-contextual self-justifications.

--The truth is that interpretation matters. Faithful exegesis is no mere luxury in our time. The physical well-being of countless people depends upon preachers getting this right. Self projections upon the sacred texts are dangerous. Things are so bad that perhaps we should press Fox news to rally people to Seminary Ridge to restore honor to the Bible. Well, maybe not.

But the first and most important step is to stop applying inappropriate questions to the scriptures. Apparently, the second is to say more about this when we preach and teach. We work here is a place dedicated to faith in search of understanding. The world around us isn’t getting enough of the “understanding” part.


The first African American to receive a Lutheran theological education arrived here in 1835, 25 years before the civil war began. He arrived with letters of introduction from John Bachman, a leading Lutheran from South Carolina and what he called an album of signatures and associations that testified to his good character and free standing. He had started a school in the South to help open young minds of young African Americans. That activity was such a threat, however, that he was driven from his own school, the victim of new laws passed in a quasi legal way (for no women or African Americans had access to the legislature). The laws were designed to make it impossible for free blacks to survive there, and so he was forced to leave. [Remember, we do not delight in every law, but in the Law of God.]

Upon arrival in Gettysburg, he wondered whether his sponsors among the Lutherans here intended to send him to Liberia. From his own pen:

When Dr. Schmucker, the President, arrived, I called upon him and again asked what the Society had in view--whether it was the intention to send me to Liberia. The reply was: "The members of that Society are not colonizationists, but abolitionists, and they desire you to be trained to labor for the intellectual, moral, religious, and social improvement of the free people of color in the United States." My doubts were at rest, and I was ready for matriculation.

Payne wrote about choosing his affiliations here in town and in Pennsylvania based upon what the various groups thought about these 500 words in the New Testament. Some Northern preachers found justification for the end of slavery in this letter. And in Philemon others in both north and south found slavery’s justification. Interpretation matters deeply, and Daniel Payne will be among the voices saying it can be a matter of life and death.

What we know about the letter to Philemon is this: Onesimus owed his master money, perhaps having borrowed more than he could repay and had also run away. Paul sent this servant back to his master in order that forgiveness and love and new life might have a chance. But as he sent Onesimus, the risks were rather high. A slave would likely be punished severely for running away, let alone for running away owing money.

And Paul faced the risk that the slave would not return to Philemon. And he risked his hope that the new relationship between master and slave would be no longer master and slave, but something new as between brothers. Paul was trading on his relationship with Philemon -- a promise to repay and an expectation that all the parties involved would sacrifice, for the sake of love.

For Philemon, it would mean total forgiveness and perhaps swallowing some righteous anger. And for Onesimus, the order called for courage and obedience and a new steadfastness in service. Paul risked becoming the newest cause for his friend’s suffering, in other words, he was meddling now. As a kind of indirect insurance, Paul told his brother in Christ, Philemon, that he was coming to visit as soon as he was out of prison. I suppose we call that accountability.

Did Paul count the cost? Did he know what the outcome would be? Did he know that things would turn out all right, or perhaps did he suspect that things could get worse? Did he really believe that line about in Christ there is no jew or greek, no slave or free [person]? He expected his brother to give up being a slave lord; he foresaw a former slave to take up new responsibility as a full person. Paul apparently weighed the options and took the plunge, believing that the power of the Gospel to reconcile would win out.

We know little of how this story turned out. We don't know about any such visit Paul made to Philemon after his imprisonment. Many wonder in print about the forces that led to preservation of this letter. Is that in itself evidence of a good outcome for Onesimus and Philemon?

We have hope ourselves because people have counted the cost of discipleship and have followed Christ anyway. The cost is, in the end, too high; we cannot afford it. But in our lives connected to Christ, we cannot avoid taking risks if we are faithful to the Gospel. This letter of Paul reflects a moment, a teachable moment, when one cannot keep blindly following the messiah without understanding what is at stake. The Gospel beckons us to lead a life that reflects real risk, perhaps even becoming sacrificial -- or it is something other than love and something other than the Gospel that we follow. amen.

Welcome Home

Opening Eucharist August 31, 2010, 185th academic year
Preached by President Michael L. Cooper-White
Texts: Proverbs 25, Hebrews 13, Luke 14:1, 7-14

Theologian and ethicist Stanley Hauerwas has been teaching down at Duke Divinity School for nearly three decades. A few years back, TIME magazine deemed Hauerwas the most influential theologian in America. He recently published an autobiographical memoir, Hannah’s Child, which I received as a gift and have begun to read. Looking back at his Texas origins, where his father was a bricklayer, Hauerwas reflected, “I have spent my life in buildings built by people like my father, buildings in which the builders have felt they do not belong.”

Buildings in which the builders have felt they do not belong . . . Hauerwas refers, of course, to the halls of academia, and perhaps even to the great chapels at places like Duke University. Here in our own grand Church of the Abiding Presence, those who built and have stewarded it over seven decades have seldom sat among us as we gather for worship or one of the fine lectures or concerts that take place within these walls.

In the current season, it seems that we are surrounded on every side by questions of who and what belong where and when. Heated debates are waged up in New York City. Out in the New York harbor, Lady Liberty still beckons and beseeches: Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. But if your idea of freedom is to build a Mosque near the place of horrendous tragedy at Ground Zero, then go elsewhere. Here you do not belong.

Likewise down in Arizona, and in many jurisdictions around the country, there is high anxiety over those who cross our borders without their immigration papers in order. “Send them home or somewhere else,” cry out many. I suspect if they did their family genealogical work carefully, some of those most vociferous in their opposition to so-called “illegal aliens” would soon come across ancestors who came to this country with no questions asked. Many who cling most fiercely to their land and property would have to acknowledge that their ancestors walked onto rich land and simply called it their own in a time of rural homesteading.

Even within our churches, the debates roil on and on about who and what belongs where and when. So-called worship wars continue to be waged in some places over what kind of liturgy and type of songs, even which hymnal shall be used. In my student years at this institution, a couple of professors could not celebrate the Sacrament because they held radical notions about who might receive bread and wine, including very young children. This was at a time when pastoral discretion in such matters was quite circumscribed, and deviations from the norm received a heavy hand of church discipline. Just last week, a new North American Lutheran Church body was created over questions of who belongs where doing what in our churches. Some of the long-time builders, including bishops who gave their lives and careers to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and its predecessors, have concluded that ours is now a building they can no longer inhabit. While I do not agree with their assessment, I am saddened by their departure and hope for a day when they and we and indeed all Christians can truly abide in the same household of faith.

This week’s appointed Scriptures issue some theological vectors and pastoral advice that address these very questions of who and what belongs where and when. And their message is consistent, even insistent. The writer of Hebrews sums it up succinctly: Never fail to exhibit, to demonstrate hospitality to strangers! Those who have done so already have often entertained God’s very messengers, angels coming incognito and in disguise. Go so far, says the Hebrews author, as to remember those in prison, for they too belong in places where they are no longer free to go.

In the Gospel, Jesus once again is mixing it up with the Pharisees, who seemed to spend most of their time worrying about who belongs where and when doing what. On a Sabbath, when Jesus went to dine in the house of a Pharisee, Luke’s Gospel says, “he was being watched carefully.” The Pharisees were always watching Jesus. Theirs was not the loving kind of watching, as when you watch a baby sleep and utter prayers from your perch beside the crib. It was a more sinister watching—to take note when he might stumble. Theirs was the watch-keeping of a security guard or police officer keeping tabs on a shady suspect.

As he did so often, Jesus engaged the Pharisees and invited them to expand their comfort zone. He first offered some friendly advice about how to avoid embarrassing themselves. “Don’t take a seat in first class if you don’t have that ticket. They’ll kick you out and send you back to coach, and you’ll be shamed in the process.” Then he went on to teach them the way of true Christian hospitality:

When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your relatives or rich neighbors. But when you host a five-course banquet with your finest china and nicest linen tablecloths, or when you make a group reservation at your town’s most expensive restaurant, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then you too will be blessed by the experience of offering lavish hospitality.

Once again this year, as I have been privileged to do now most years of the past decade, I sat in as you summer Greek students introduced yourselves and explained how you came to be in this place. I came away that Friday afternoon more grateful than ever for my own call to serve in a Seminary that attracts such outstanding women and men! As I listened to your “call stories,” I was struck by how many of you wondered for so long—and may still be wondering—whether or not YOU belong in this place. Are you not indeed like Stan Hauerwas’ father, the builders who feel you don’t belong in the buildings that you have sustained by your prayers, your offerings, your commitment during all those years of your formation in the faith; during a long season of your lay leadership in the church?

Perhaps some or many of you need a word of assurance, maybe even from me a presidential proclamation. So here it is: Welcome home! This Church of the Abiding Presence is a building that your forebears built. You will continue reinforcing and refurbishing it by your frequent presence within these walls. This Seminary will not be the same four or two or one year hence. As has occurred every year since the beginning way back in 1826, once again this year the Seminary will be rebuilt, refashioned as a community—by all of us.

So, be confident in God’s call and your own sense of calling. You do belong in these venerable buildings and upon this holy hill. Whether or not you come for your very first service of Holy Communion around this altar, or have been coming here for decades already—in the case of some of the faculty, staff and alumni—welcome home. Welcome home!

Now, in the spirit of high transparency to which this school’s leadership aspires, I must go on to remind you that exhibiting good Christian hospitality is indeed hard work. Those who open their doors and their hearts to a host of strangers will on occasion be taken advantage of and even abused. There is some wisdom in the little ditty that Barney the dinosaur teaches children who watch him on television:

Never talk to strangers; that’s very good advice. Cause you just can’t tell if they’re good or bad, even though they may seem nice.

In my experience, however, it is generally not strangers who do us the greater harm. So often, our most painful encounters come with those who are close to us or even within our care. Of late, there has been a flurry of newspaper articles and internet pieces on the topic often referred to as “clergy burnout.” These articles point out that on average those who engage in full-time ecclesiastical service have poorer physical health and more mental health challenges than the population as a whole. Many in the professions to which you students aspire find themselves strapped financially, work far too many hours, often neglect their families, and experience a profound loneliness because they lack either the time or the ability to form lasting supportive friendships. But the even greater burner-out, which leaves some colleagues smoldering in the ashes after a time of ecclesiastical service, is the constant grind of demands by and lack of appreciation from those among whom they serve.

Perhaps in this regard also, there is some word from the Lord for us in the Bible’s many teachings on this important matter of Godly hospitality. I think both Jesus in his mini-lecture at the Pharisee’s house, and the writer of Hebrews issue a reminder, and it is this: The host is the host. The host is not a servile victim who must fulfill every unreasonable demand of every guest who shows up at the banquet, invited or not. In another saying, Jesus urged us to go the second mile; he did not say we have to always run a marathon beside those whose intentional or subconscious aim is to facilitate our fatigue. A good host has to remain healthy enough to issue the invitations, set the table, and then engage in holy conversation that builds up and sends guests away more whole than when they arrived.

Jesus concludes this little lesson in the school of the Pharisee’s home with a promise: “You will be blessed. Even though your guests cannot bother to say thank you; even if they pan you or blast your hospitality in the post-banquet reviews, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. God’s answer to our modest acts of hospitality will be the Great Surprise at the in-breaking of the Coming Age, when the Triune Host of Heaven flings wide the doors to the larger life of God and shouts, “Welcome home, daughters and sons, friends, family all. Welcome home!”

That, dear fellow travelers on the journey this year on this hill, that word of welcome is precisely what Jesus issues to us now as he beckons us to his banquet table.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Information, Knowledge, Wisdom

A sermon preached during the summer Lay School, July 2010
by the Rev. Dr. Kristin Johnston Largen
Text: Matthew 12:38-42 [Wisdom]

We live in an unprecedented age of information. Everything you want to know about anything at all is at your fingertips—no further away than a cell phone or a keyboard, and an internet connection. If you give me a woman’s name—any name—in 30 seconds or less, I can tell you everything you need to know about her. If you give me a date—any date in history—in 30 seconds or less, I can tell you everything you need to know about what happened then. If you give me a sentence—a fragment of a sentence—in 30 seconds or less, I can, most likely, pull up the book or article from which you got it [plagiarizers, beware!]. In 30 seconds or less, I can find a list of every state capital, give you the definition and spelling of any word in the English language, or pull up a picture of any picture by your favorite artist. Today, everything you want to know about anything is at your fingertips. Information is everywhere.

However, unless you are preparing for a stint on Jeopardy, these kinds of bald facts are not necessarily all that valuable. What good is it, for example, if I know that it was Matthew’s Gospel in which the wise men visited the baby Jesus; and Luke’s Gospel in which it was the shepherds—if that is all I know?

What good is that information if I don’t understand that, for Luke, the shepherds are another example of the gospel proclamation of the salvation of the last and the least, and the radical reversals in human society that Christ’s coming entails? I would argue that it is this bigger picture that makes any bit of information worth something; it is this larger context in which we can interpret information that makes it useable, that makes it useful, that makes it mean something in our lives. In other words, it is this larger context that separates information from knowledge.

Now, knowledge, of course, is a good thing. Knowledge goes far beyond the simple collection of facts to a synthesis, interpretation, and application of that data to real-life situations, in order to make the world a better place. Knowledge, then, consists of the use of our God-given gifts of intelligence, creativity, and memory to create new technologies, develop new medications, find alternative fuel sources, and to deepen connections between individuals, cities, and countries. Knowledge is information in context, information at work for the sake of the world.

However, knowledge, like information, is, ultimately, a human convention —it comes from our necessity, it is shaped by our convictions, and it is judged by our standards; and what that means, is that, like all things human, it is tainted by sin and evil. And therefore, we deceive ourselves terribly if we choose to ignore the fact that knowledge also consists of the use of our God-given gifts of intelligence, creativity, and memory to create land mines, to develop new ways of trafficking drugs and people, to find alternative ways to torture people more slowly and more painfully, and to deepen the divide between the rich and the poor. Human knowledge in action reveals both the best of who we are, and the very worst.

Now, in saying all this about information and knowledge, I have attempted to set the stage for what is, for Christians, a central paradox, a key faith proclamation, and a particularly rich bit of gospel all rolled up into one outlandish claim: that is, the very best of human knowledge is folly—stupidity, to quote Rick Carlson—when compared to the wisdom of God, embodied and enfleshed first and foremost in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Over and over again in Scripture, we see that God’s wisdom is surprising, and runs quite counter to knowledgeable human anticipations, assessments, and assumptions. I’m sorry, God, but I’ve run the specs and a little runt like David has less than a 1% chance of winning a fight against a giant like Goliath—you really should choose someone bigger and more powerful. Listen God, I hate to disappoint you but I’ve seen with my own eyes that you can never trust someone who was once your sworn enemy—Paul is going to turn on you at the first opportunity—you really can’t count on him. Excuse me God, but I’ve done some research and no one is going to believe a woman if she tells them that she has seen something as miraculous as a resurrection—you really should send someone else.

God’s wisdom really does look like foolishness, when you think about it. Only God could see that choosing a young boy, an agitator, and a woman to do God’s work in the world would bear such extraordinary fruit—our eyes are blind to such wisdom.

And that’s not all: when we turn from Scripture to today, over and over again in our own lives, we see that that God’s wisdom is surprising, and runs quite counter to knowledgeable human anticipations, assessments, and assumptions.

When we’re sure we should go left, God takes us right. When we’re sure we should marry someone like “X,” God brings “Y” into our lives, and turns everything upside down. When we’re sure we’re going to be a lawyer or a teacher, God calls us into public ministry. God’s wisdom really does look like foolishness, when you think about it. But that's only from a human perspective. When viewed through the lens of God's wisdom, we can look back on our lives and see that God never leads us astray. When we put our faith and trust in God and God’s wisdom, we will surely be surprised, but we will never be disappointed.

That’s why I love every single one of these Scripture readings we heard today. Even though Solomon turned his heart away from God toward the end of his life, I will always love him for answering God in such humility and honesty, and choosing wisdom over everything else, when God offered him the whole world on a platter. And as we heard this morning, Solomon went on to use that wisdom for the sake of God’s people, and for the sake of God's kingdom.

In First Corinthians, Paul shocks us anew every time we read this passage, as he calls us away from our typical way of ordering the world—our logic, our hierarchies, and our convictions about what's right and wrong—and back to what really matters, the wisdom of God manifest on the cross of Christ and revealed in weakness, realized in our own lives as we are joined to Christ in our baptism.

This is a lesson we, like the Corinthians, have to learn over and over again, because we continually fight against God, sure that our way is the best way—sure that our human knowledge is equal to divine wisdom. Luther's call for us to return to our baptism daily surely includes the day-to-day practice of conforming our minds to the mind of Christ, and allowing God's wisdom to be the ordering principle of our lives.

Finally, in our Gospel lesson for this morning, we hear the radical proclamation that Christ himself is the very incarnation of God's wisdom—divine wisdom walking, talking and at work in the world. In Jesus Christ, we have more than simply a sign of God’s intentions, we have God in the flesh, living and breathing right in the midst of creation. In Jesus Christ, we have more than just the inspired speech of a human channel for God’s wisdom, we have that wisdom in a flesh and blood human being, not only speaking God’s will, but actually embodying it for all to see and follow and emulate.

What this means for us, then, is that when we want to access this divine wisdom, when we want to see what God desires for God's people, we merely look to Christ. In Jesus’ life, in his ministry, in his healing the sick, in welcoming the outcast, chastising the religious leaders, and proclaiming a kingdom of God that bears little resemblance to any society constructed according to human knowledge, we see a vision of what God intends for the world. And in this vision, against all knowledgeable human predictions of how things should logically turn out, might does not make right, the rich do not keep getting richer, and the status quo is not maintained. Instead, in the kingdom of God, there are no rich and poor, no haves and have-nots, no outsiders; and no one is rejected, no one is abandoned, no one is unloved.

Today, the church as a whole, and we as individual Christians are called to be witnesses to this vision, and live as though this promised reality were already here; seeing and believing with the eyes of divine wisdom that Christ truly lives in each brother and sister, that every corner of creation has infinite value, and that the promised victory over sin, death, and the devil has been won—salvation is not in doubt, no matter how dark things may appear. In God, all things are possible; and with Christ at work in us, amazing things are possible for us, too—not because we have so much information, not because we have so much knowledge, but because in Jesus Christ, divine wisdom has come into the world and changed it forever. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Packards Came to Seminary Ridge

Just Because It’s Fun!

In late July, the Seminary campus was host to a pack of Packard automobiles, and their several hundred owners and admirers. More than 100 of the restored cars manufactured throughout the now-defunct Packard Motor company’s existence, from 1899-1958, graced the lawns up and down Seminary Ridge. Our staff worked closely with event organizers to provide a safe and hospitable climate for the day’s events. Following the “concours,” which included judges rendering prizes to the best-restored vehicles in pristine condition, the Seminary received a letter from the Packard Club of America glowing in its appreciation for our hospitality.

See the full column at From the Gettysburg PO

Friday, July 30, 2010

LWF Unity is in Christ

Unity in Christ, by Robin J. Steinke, LWF Council member and dean, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg

I just finished my first meeting on the new council for LWF. It is such a privilege to serve the church and the mission of Christ in this capacity. I wish that each member of the ELCA could experience the genuine love of Christ experienced here across the cultural, social, economic and denominational traditions. There are clear and longstanding differences on a whole range of theological and social issues. Yet the unity of the Lutheran World Federation, a communion of churches, bears steadfast witness that our unity comes as a gift in Christ. We need not be of the same mind on any of these issues as long as we together confess Christ. I give thanks for my brothers and sisters across the communion of the LWF that we stand together as a public sign of unity in Christ in the midst of difference.

One final note, I also wish that each member of the ELCA could witness the faithful, pastoral and wise leadership exercised by Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson as he so ably served as president of LWF and presided at this assembly. There was great appreciation expressed throughout the communion of churches at this assembly for his Christ centered, biblically rooted, and confessionally sound and pastorally sensitive witness in preaching, teaching and presiding. His leadership was a powerful witness which pointed to Christ as the Center of life, faith and ministry.

Two Vignettes from Stuttgart

LWF Vignettes, worship setting moments
by Robin J. Steinke

A Living Ikon

I have been singing in the LWF Assembly Choir throughout the week. It has been a wonderful way to engage in the public witness of LWF as we pray together “give us this day our daily bread. On Thursday we experienced the moving service of forgiveness with the Mennonite/Anabaptist tradition. Bishop Younan carried olive oil from the Middle East which was distributed in small bowls throughout the assembly hall for use later in the service.

The entire assembly processed together from the assembly hall, where the formal action to ask for forgiveness was adopted, to the Chapel space singing Veni Sanctu Spiritus-a kind of physical journey to repentance-. This hymn reverberated throughout the tunnel as we sang from deep in our hearts. When we slowly and solemnly gathered in the “Reithalle” for worship, nearly every seat was filled and many were standing in the back of the hall. The Very Rev. Protopresbyter Constantin Miron (which means oil), Ecumenical Patriarch of Germany was crowded into a seat right next to me and the choir. He did not have the green assembly worship book so I stood next to him and said something like, “When you are sitting this close to the choir-you are in the choir so please join the choir and sing with us.” So I shared the worship book and he joined with the choir. He had a wonderful deep bass voice. There we were, an ordained Lutheran woman in a clerical collar and the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch singing praise to God with the whole communion of saints.

At the appointed time in the worship service we were to dip our finger in the small bowl of oil and turn to the person next to us and mark the sign of the cross on the top of their hand and say “God gives you a new heart and a new spirit” and the response was “Thanks be to God”. This was from the Ezekiel text for the day. Several of us were to start this with the choir. I went to begin this rite with the Mennonite choir and gave and received the sign of the cross with oil.

When I returned to my place in the choir, Bishop Miron reached for my hand and took his own oil crossed hand and placed the top of his oil marked hand on the top of my hand and said “with this I seal it”. It was a gift of blessing from this Orthodox Bishop. I received this blessing from one who did not need to do this. I was stunned at his public respect and gift of blessing. It may be that the public act of confession and forgiveness with the Mennonites bore witness to God’s reconciling and redeeming project for the world in a way that this Orthodox brother in Christ extended to me an ecumenical blessing. I continue to reflect on the powerful time of shared blessing and rejoice in the glimpse of God’s promised future of wholeness in the body of Christ.

Stiftskirche Marks History with Bell

I was in the “Stiftskirche” or college church on Sunday morning, July 25th singing in the choir again. The bishop of Baden W├╝rttemberg, Bishop July preached with the Bishop of Lund and Dr. Ishmael Noko presiding. This was again a deeply moving service, broadcast across all of Germany.

The pastor invited all assembly participants to climb the bell tower following the service. Housed in this towed is an enormous bell which is only rung twice a year. Once at the beginning of lent and again on the commemoration of the bombing of the church and its nearly total destruction in 1944. The day of commemoration just happened to be July 25th. Many of us were in the bell tower as it was rung to remember the devastation of another era.

As one who also lives on another battlefield where we too commemorate the end to violence unleashed on our seminary campus, it was a powerful reminder of the need to for ongoing attention to our call to bear witness to God’s promise of peace for the world.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Steinke Elected To LWF Council


Stuttgart, Germany (July 26, 2010) The Rev. Dr. Robin Steinke, Dean of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, was elected to serve on the 48 member Council of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). The election took place here during the Eleventh Assembly of the LWF, which meets every seven years.

The Council serves as the global Lutheran Communion’s governing body between assemblies, and meets once every 12 to 18 months. It consists of the President, who is elected by the Assembly, the Treasurer, who can be elected from among the membership or from outside, and 48 persons elected by the Assembly.

Steinke is one of five persons elected to the Council from North America. The Rev. Donald McCoid, Executive for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said that Steinke was the right nominee for this role. “The LWF had identified the need for a female theologian to serve on the Council,” he said. “Dr. Steinke has the right combination of theological gifts and global knowledge for the work of this Council.”

The Council meets every 18 months to consider the important work of ministry of care, world service, ecumenical dialogues, interfaith relationships, theology, and to address concerns and issues in the world. An executive committee meets between meetings of the Council.

This year marks significant changes for the LWF. By action of the Assembly, the LWF Council will be face a new structure, some challenging ongoing planning, and new leadership. As of the conclusion of the assembly, the newly elected Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land will fill the post of the LWF president. In October, a new General Secretary will lead overall operations for the Geneva based organization.

An advisor to the LWF also said that with diversity of opinions on moral and ethical decisions and maintaining unity within the LWF Communion of Churches, the Council will tend to relationships as well as issues. Among the issues that are a priority include: global warming, gender justice, peace, hunger, poverty, disease -- malaria and HIV/AIDS, illegitimate debt, disaster response, and concerns and needs that develop.

McCoid cited Steinke for “her commitment to the LWF as a communion of churches, and her passion to work for unity in Christ in the world and for the sake of all people especially for those who live on the margins of society.” Steinke, who was present for the assembly, attends her first meeting at the conclusion of the LWF Assembly on July 27, 2010.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

LWF Assembly Short Video Spots

You can see an array of 1-5 minute video clips that give a feel for the more than 1000 persons assembling at Liederhalle in Stuttgart, Germany

Youtube LWFweb section

LWF President-elects First Press Conference: Hardest questions first

Press Conference with Munib Younan
Reported by John Spangler

Right out of the box, the questions came hard and fast for President-elect Munib Younan following his election. The first question was offered by secular press and it was clear that they wanted the Bishop to stake out the lines in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict: “Are the Jews God’s chosen people?”

The bishop affirmed all three times he was pressed on the Israeli/Palestinian questions that he believes that as complex as the issue is, justice for Palestinians and justice for Israeli’s is the only way to achieve a suitable peace in the seemingly intractable conflict in the Middle East. He thought that his election might bring greater strength of spirit to Arabic Christians, who are such a profound minority in the territory now. Younan navigated the thorny questions on conflict Palestinian politics carefully and thoughtfully.

Secondly, on the first question’s heals was another line of difficulty: this one on the culturally specific hot button issue in the Christian world these days: “Do you believe in the ordination of women? Homosexuals?

Reporters got aggressive here and followed up trying to find out how he might deal with an issue of disagreement among some groups in the communion. Younan said quite clearly that “My church 10 years ago decided to allow women to be ordained and now is preparing a woman for ordination. Now we must continue to encourage the evangelical churches to be open to women, for it is an integral part of the Lutheran tradition.” Once more the follow up came whether he himself believes in the ordination of homosexual persons, he finally said “it would be wrong to state my opinion now. And he said flatly to a third follow up on the question of “We are committed to this process of study until 2012. Please be patient. Because the churches in Africa and Asia in the next two years are studying marriage, family and hosmosexuality and will come to the council at that appointed time.”

"When God created us in his image, it is male and female, when he saved us from the cross, it was for all. He calls us as human beings."  And his last statement on the issue was it is his desire to focus on “what unites us more than what divides us.”

The bishop also received other kinds of questions, equally offering potential pitfalls: are you prepared for this role? What is your vision for the Lutheran World Federation? Will his role change in his present setting due to this new global recognition?

“I took the nomination as a call from Christ.” Said the president-elect. “I believe that the lord calls me to this job to be the servant of this communion, that he would qualify me. In essence, he expects that God is telling him “don’t worry my brother, we will succeed.” 

Even though these seemed particularly "hard ball" questions for the newly elected leader, there is no reason to expect that they will get easier as time goes on.

Palestinian Bishop Elected President of the Lutheran World Federation

LWF News Service
Bishop Munib A. Younan is a Passionate Campaigner for Peace and Inter-Faith Dialogue in the Middle East

STUTTGART, Germany, 24 July 2010 – Bishop Munib A. Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) has been elected President of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) by the Eleventh Assembly here, a gathering of 418 delegates and others from the LWF member churches.

Three hundred and sixty registered delegates voted, representing 145 member churches from 79 countries. Rt Rev. Dr Younan received 300 votes affirming his election, 23 against; there were 37 abstentions. There were no other nominees.
Younan   photo LWF/Erik Coll

Younan, 59, succeeds Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, who has been President of the LWF since the organization’s last Assembly in Winnipeg, Canada, in 2003.

Ordained in 1976 after study in Palestine and gaining a degree from Helsinki [Finland] University, Younan was a youth pastor and teacher in his homeland. From 1976 to 1979 he was pastor of the Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem and he has also served parishes in Beit Jala and Ramallah. He studied at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and he holds an honorary doctorate, granted by Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa.

The president-elect has headed his church body since 1998 and was the third Palestinian bishop of the church founded by Germans in the nineteenth century and previously led by clergy from Germany. A member of the LWF since 1974, the ELCJHL has about 3,000 members.
The bishop was the first to translate the Augsburg Confession, a key document of the Lutheran Church, into Arabic.
Younan is a former vice-president of the LWF, is president of the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches and serves with three Jerusalem patriarchs and nine other bishops on the International Christian Committee of Jerusalem. He is also a co-founder of the Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land, made up of the two chief rabbis of Israel, heads of the local churches, the Chief Judge of the Islamic Court in Palestine and other Muslim leaders.
He is the author of Witnessing for Peace, a book about the search for peace in his homeland and numerous articles on churches and the search for peace in the Holy Land.

His wife, Suad, is Director of the Helen Keller School in the Jerusalem suburb of Beit Hanina, which educates visually-impaired children. She is also the chair of the women’s committee of the ELCJHL.
The couple has three children and one grandchild.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Singing in the Tunnel

Singing Veni Spiritus in the Tunnel, Marking Reconciliation

By Maria Erling
ELCA Delegate to the LWF Assembly

The procession underground went through the modern, granite surfaced tunnel between the plenary hall and the worship room. Were there a thousand of us? Hard to tell from the front, where the Mennonite and Lutheran choirs sang their way through. We sang a version of “Come Holy Spirit,” and it carried us into a service of confession. The tunnel gave our song a rich welcome. The prayer echoed ahead of us and behind.

photo by Arni Svanur Danielsson
Then began a service of testimony and song that recited the stories of persecution. We heard stories of the Anabaptist martyrs and learned how another community was formed. We listened as our Mennonite sisters and brothers acknowledged that a dark history told by victims can also do a kind of damage, and prevent a people from becoming all they can be. So, both of our communities will be transformed by this, and in that work made more fully alive in Christ.

But the other healing thing that happened through this honest recital was that we Lutherans, that is all of us – African, Asian, Latin American, European, Nordic, and North American - accepted that the harm done in the 16th century and continued through five centuries is a history that would not be buried or forgotten by us.

So we sang our way through to a new day.

Follow the Questions

The Questioners’ Questions
by John Spangler, From Stuttgart

How does the world view Lutherans in this kind of a global gathering? To answer that, I followed the questions that people have been asking. In this case, mostly press and media questions.

From the pre assembly news conference and subsequent conferences taking place within the assembly time frame, the world and its media representatives press their questions to LWF leaders. In the pre assembly event, all questions were related to human sexuality in one way or another. The ELCA’s decision, joining the Church of Sweden in formal openness to the ordination and recognition of persons in faithful same gender relationships, elicited questions about whether disagreements among the LWF member churches, particularly Africa, would surface. A second focus, still centered on sexuality, was the abrupt resignation of German Bishop Maria Jepsen over the weekend before the assembly. (Jepsen resigned in response to clergy sexual abuse cases within her jurisdiction that did not receive proper intervention in a timely way.) One German newspaper noted that it was the third German bishop to resign (2 Lutherans, one Roman Catholic) with in a year’s time. Jepsen is listed as a delegate to the assembly but has not attended to date.

In a later conference, the questions from media shifted slightly toward the search for conflict, signs of what they believe to be potentially underlying clashes among the Lutheran churches around sexuality. This shift was triggered by questions raised by delegates in a plenary session in response to Bishop Hanson’s report on Wednesday, wondering why the U.S. church, and by implication, the church of Sweden, moved ahead on sexuality questions when the LWF is calling for a five year period of study and conversation. A second delegate from Africa wanted to know what the nature of the communion of churches is in which this kind of decision might be made by some churches. But the secular media members’ other questions also picked up on disagreements over the ordination of women among the churches, a kind of extension of the tensions around sexuality. Bishop Hanson clarified that membership in the LWF does not require the ordination of women, but that the LWF is on record within its membership to supporting those churches that do (which is a very strong majority) and encouraging those that do not to consider adoption of the practice.

More pointed questions from secular and ecumenical outlets searched for possible rifts in the LWF’s unity. Here LWF leaders responded with frustration around the belief that some non-LWF member entities in the Lutheran tradition may be trying to use either scripture or the Lutheran confessions to define who is and who is not Lutheran, or who is and who is not confessionally pure. There appeared to be a frustration among some leaders that there are thinly veiled attempts to fragment the Lutheran world and use issues of women’s ordination or human sexuality as a wedge.

Other questions included one about the hopes the leaders might have for the 2017 anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, is there ecumenical work going on around the prospect of common communion for couples who belong to ecumenically diverse traditions, such as Lutheran and Roman Catholic spouses, and one about the fragility of family and church life in the North, the isolation and scarcity of young people in church life.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lutheran Reconciliation with Mennonites Intense, Emotional, and Moving Action

Lutheran and Mennonite Reconciliation today, Thursday the 22nd

Mennonite gift to LWF

In response to the Lutheran and Mennonite reconciliation, today Larry Miller, whoserves as General Secretary of the Mennonite World Conference presented a gift of a footwashing bucket to the Lutheran World Federation today,

The gift followed an intense and heartfelt introduction to action, and included a vote with many delegates voting on their knees in repentence before God and in request of forgiveness from the Mennonites.

The gift is a pine well bucket, a varnished wooden pail, roughly 20 by 20 inches, with narrow steel rings around the outside, a steel handle. Essentially it looks like a well bucket.

The bucket is engraved with the following: “Given to the Lutheran world federation by Mennonite world conference with deepest gratitude on this day of repentance and forgiveness. From this day forth let us serve one another as our Lord and Teacher served us. (John 13:1-17)” and dated 22 July Stuttgart

The “Footwashing Pail” was made by the Anabaptist community in the Nickle Mines area. “in the Nickle Mines area” is due to the fact that they are a “modest community” and Larry Miller, out of respect for their reticence about being in the media spotlight.  It is from one of the Anabaptist communities in Eastern Pennsylvania that still practices foot washing. Footwashing is done prior to the Lord’s Supper as a sign of service and reconciliation.

The Old Order Amish community at Nickel Mines in Lancaster County, PA, came into a tragic spotlight on October 2, 2006 when a gunman took ten girls hostage in the one room school house, killed five and committed suicide in the school. The response of reconciliation and forgiveness and the resistance in the Amish community to express anger or bitterness was widely discussed in both churches and wider public across the country.

Hail and Farewell and ‘The Dialogue Must Continue’ -- Day 2

by John Spangler, from Stuttgart

Thanksgivings mingled with the undercurrent of farewells on day two of the assembly. The greetings of Walter Cardinal Kasper were received with affection by the assembly, even as they highlighted the unfinished work of ecumenism, the dialogues, and the greater common work of Christian unity. Kasper, who came “home” to Stuttgart for the greeting (he was bishop of Stuttgart) has been in a farewell tour mode, it seems, and cited the significant friendships that have been forged through long history of ecumenical contact with the Lutherans. If Kasper were the only key figure to retire, that wind may not have prevailed, but with the retirement of General Secretary Noko and the conclusion of the LWF President’s term (Bishop Hanson), the text of the song was thank you, carry on in faith the work of unity, and farewell.

As one would expect, Kasper cited the Joint Declaration on the doctrine of Justification as the highlight of his four decades of dialogue. He said that this work doesn’t belong to any person or tradition, but that “the ecumenical movement is God’s own movement… to bring us together to reconcile ourselves to him.” Whether Catholic or Lutheran, “as Christians,” he said, “we can no longer afford our differences. The dialog must continue. Where there is no communion there is no peace.”

Dialogues are still an unfinished agenda, said Kasper, and “the Catholic church is determined to continue.” Here I suspect an unspoken context is that some among Lutherans who have been arguing against the ELCA’s 2009 decision to permit the ordination of homosexual persons in monogamous, lifelong committed relationships would bring an end to such commitments and common work. Ecumenical partners appear to remain in their commitments, even where there might be significant disagreement on this issue.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

News alert -- Global Lutheran Communion and Mennonites to Mark Reconciliation

Luherans to Ask Forgiveness for Past Persecutions of Anabaptists -- Mennonite response to include gift from Nickle Mine Community

An Action toward Reconciliation with Anabaptists

The most prominent ecumenical action at the July 2010Lutheran World Federation Assembly will be the request for forgiveness—first from God, and then from Mennonite brothers and sisters from the Anabaptist tradition. With theological support from such leaders as Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon, Lutherans in the 16th century violently persecuted and even executed Anabaptists. These actions remain vivid in Anabaptist memory.

Results of the Lutheran – Mennonite International Study Commission (2005-2008) provide common perspectives on this painful history and allow Lutherans to recognize not only past wrongs but also “inappropriate, misleading, and hurtful portraits” of Anabaptists to the present day. Based on this study, the LWF Council in October 2009 unanimously approved the request for forgiveness. While important theological differences remain, these can be explored in a new atmosphere when the legacy of the persecutions is addressed.

In this action, the LWF prays “that God may grant to our communities a healing of our memories and reconciliation.” Mennonites have indicated that they are eager to respond. This action by the Lutheran communion to address faithfully a sorrowful legacy has significance for the entire Body of Christ.

Further information will be made avialable Thursday morning 08:00 in Stuttgart that is currently embargoed information.

More details are available at

The event is streamed from the same website and scheduled for the afternoon of thursday here (between 16:30 and 18:00), early morning EDT

Text of the statement:


The Rev. John R. Spangler
Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg
And Co-opted Staff for LWF Assembly, Stuttgart, Germany

Gettysburg Seminary Sends Three to LWF Assembly in Stuttgart

By Gettysburg Seminary News
Three members of the Gettysburg Seminary faculty and staff will attend the 11th Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), July 20-27, 2010, in Stuttgart, Germany.

The Rev. Dr. Maria Erling, Professor of Modern Church History and Mission, is a voting delegate to the assembly, representing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a member of the global Lutheran body. Joining her at the assembly will be the Rev. Dr. Robin Steinke, Dean of the Seminary and newly elected member of the LWF Council, a 48-member body directing the Federation’s work between assemblies, which occur every seven years. The Rev. John Spangler, the Seminary’s executive for communication, will serve on the LWF communication staff for the event.

The focus of the LWF assembly is “Give Us Today Our Daily Bread,” which will open topics of food, hunger and justice, as well as environmental and political causes of food shortages. Leading the meeting is LWF is the Rev. Mark Hanson, Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, and for the last seven years, President of the LWF.

The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition. Founded in 1947 in Lund, Sweden, the LWF now has 140 member churches in 79 countries all over the world representing more than 70 million Christians. Information about the LWF and its Stuttgart Assembly is available at .

Opening Worship at LWF2010 Assembly in Stuttgart

From John Spangler, co-opted LWF staff, social media manager for english

The Eleventh Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation opened with a stunningly visual liturgy this afternoon in the Stuttgart Stiftskirche, packed with several hundred worshippers and 8 (count em) television cameras from SWR, broadcasting all over Germany and selected other countries.

The service opened up the theme “Give Us Today Our Daily Bread” with the reading from the first two chapters of Ruth in which Naomi tells her daughters in law to return to their own kin and country. This was paired with the Luke chapter 9 gospel story in which Jesus tells the disciples to feed the great crowd gathered to hear him teach and heal at Bethsaida. The disciples wanted Jesus to send the crowd homeward and away to be fed. This set up Bishop Hanson’s opening to his sermon, asking if the message is “Go back” or whether it is a far more powerful message more like Jesus’ call not to retreat, but to “make them sit down” and feed this crowd with bread, both physical and spiritual. “You give them something to eat” said Jesus, and what was collected, bless and shared fulfilled this promise.

The theme and sermon was augmented by a choreographed feature, part liturgical dance and part chancel drama, in which a dozen people, some clothed in the travel clothes of immigrants and pilgrims, act out and then cry “your people are my people, your God is my God” woven through the entire section of the worship devoted to the Word. The same group brought back a gleaning gesture at communion distribution as worshippers came forward. Each bent low to pick up a stalk of wheat and placed it in a basket that represented an offering of “necessity laid upon you” for this meeting, for your work back home. Say what commitment you are taking to respond to the one who says ‘you will be my people and I will be your God.’”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Death of a Gettysburg Seminary professor emeritus

 The Rev. Roy J. Enquist died Tuesday evening, April 13, 2010, following a brief battle with leukemia. 

Memorial arrangements will be shared when they are known. The Seminary’s prayers extend to Mia Enquist, their family and loved ones.   

MetroLiner Notes Header

The Rev. Roy J. Enquist

The Rev. Dr. Enquist, an ordained Lutheran minister, was appointed Ecumenist at Washington National Cathedral in the spring of 2000, serving as the principal advisor and planner on matters regarding the Episcopal Cathedral's relationship with other faiths and denominations.Pr. Enquist received his Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary in New York. He was professor emeritus of theology and ethics at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg where he served as professor from 1980 to 1998. He had also served as visiting professor at theological schools in both Namibia and South Africa.

Additionally, Pr. Enquist has authored various works, including The Courage to Believe which was released in 2009. He served as an assistant professor at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, and as a professor of theology at Texas Lutheran University in Seguin from 1965 to 1980. He had also served as the assistant executive secretary of the Division of College and University Work of the National Lutheran Council and had studied as a visiting scholar at the Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., and the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago.