Pastor Chris Nelson, who was my pastor in my 20s, talked to a group of pastors in the Metro DC this past week. He mentioned an exciting new church that didn't have the word Lutheran in its name. Did the people going there know they were Lutheran? Not necessarily. Would they articulate an understanding of Christianity that was recognizable to someone in the know as Lutheran? Definitely.
I'm leading an informal class on Sunday mornings on what it means to be Lutheran. We've offered this in various formats about once a year because we know that many people join our congregation without a Lutheran background. They want to know and I want them to know about this great church tradition. The 2nd of the 4 classes will be this Sunday at 9:45. Everyone is welcome.
A woman in the class last week made me completely re-think how to lead it. She mentioned that she intuitively loves our church and now she wants to know what it is about Lutheranism that has made such a community.
This is the same kind of thing that Pastor Chris was talking about. Increasingly, people don't join a church out of loyalty to the denomination of their youth. They look for authenticity, genuine community, and opportunity to serve.
Yet it matters to me that once people are here, they can articulate what it is in the Lutheran tradition that works for them. It also seems to matter to those who join our church that they know what it is to be Lutheran. This is not the case with everyone or everywhere, but here, people want to know.
In the class last week I gave a bit of historical reference and basic theological background. I also brought up 4 Lutheran catch phrases that are good to know about: saint and sinner; law and gospel; priesthood of all believers; saved by grace through faith. I tried to show how they play out in the life of our community.
This week I think I'm going to do something different. I'm going to ask people what they've experienced, heard, seen in our congregation and show how that is (or isn't) in line with Lutheran traditions.
About a week ago, one of the college chaplains at my alma mater, Valparaiso University, committed suicide. According to the news reports and the notice from the church, she celebrated communion on Easter Sunday at the Valparaiso Chapel of the Resurrection - a first for a non-Missouri Synod Pastor and a first for a woman - and a few days later, hanged herself.
When I was a student (92-96), the campus was apparently embroiled in a debate about whether or not women could preach there. I knew in the background that the debate was going on, but it's surprising looking back on it how little I cared. As a student, I was only remotely involved in the life of the college chapel and even more remotely involved in church politics of any kind.
I can trace back part of my call story to the Chapel of the Resurrection. It was the site of my first homily - given during a daytime chapel service when a fellow student asked me out of the blue to do it. I wish I would have found out why he asked me to give a homily. I wasn't particularly religious or faithful at the time. I had little idea then that I would eventually be called to be a pastor.
Now, of course, I am a pastor and I see this suicide on a variety of levels. Besides being generally sick for the Valpo community and for the family and friends of Rev. Grega, I am fascinated with this tragedy. I want to know more about what convergence of experiences, illness, pressure, despondency and pain led to her suicide.
Intellectually, I understand this is very little of my business. She left a note, but it is, of course, private. The pain of her family doesn't need to be dragged out for the public to see.
But still, I want to know why this happened. My curiosity feels different from interest in celebrity news or rubber-necking at the scene of an accident. I want to know what her unique role as the first woman to serve in a culture of male hierarchy played in her decision. I want to know if and how she had dealt with depression in the past. I want to know about her isolation as a pastor, especially as a college chaplain.
My close friend Rachel called to tell me the news. She's also an ELCA pastor and as I talked with her, I thanked God for her friendship, for other colleagues and supporters and the love of family and friends. Also, I thanked God for my new, fantastic counselor and for providing me enough money to pay her. In mourning with Valpo and hoping for healing on many levels.
1)Why is it called the Barefoot Pastor? - Read the first entry, Dec 10, 2008. (hint, It has nothing to do with the wine or the contessa.) 2) Yes, those are my feet. 3) Anyone can comment. Click on the word comments at the bottom of each blog entry. Write your comment. Do the Word Verification. Then under choose an identity, if you don't have a google account, click on anonymous.