By Rebecca Walton
You may have heard that this past August, the ELCA declared itself a “sanctuary denomination”—the first North American denomination to do so. But what does that mean? And what might it mean for us, specifically, here at Prince of Peace?
The ELCA has produced some talking points that do a good job of answering the first question. I’ll quote at length from these talking points below, and you can download the complete set of talking points from the ELCA website if you’d like more details.
“In its simplest form, becoming a sanctuary denomination means that the ELCA is publicly declaring that walking alongside immigrants and refugees is a matter of faith. The ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the highest legislative authority of the ELCA, declared that when we preach on Sunday that Jesus told us to welcome, we will use our hands and voices on Monday to make sure it happens.
Being a sanctuary denomination does not call for any person, congregation or synod to engage in any illegal actions. We have a broken system regarding immigration, refugees and asylum-seekers. To declare ourselves a sanctuary church body is to say that we seek to provide concrete resources to assist the most vulnerable who are feeling the sharp edges of this broken system.
Being a sanctuary denomination will look different in different contexts. We cannot mandate or direct our congregations and ministries to respond in specific ways. Each must work out what this means for them in their context.
While we don’t yet know the full scope of the work that this declaration will open for the church, we do know that our faith communities are already doing sanctuary work. Sanctuary for a congregation may mean hosting English as a Second Language (ESL) classes; marching as people of faith against the detention of children and families; providing housing for a community member facing deportation; or, in some congregations, having thoughtful conversations about what our faith says about immigrations. All of these are a step closer to sanctuary in our faith communities and sanctuary in our world for people who must leave their homes.”
The ELCA has developed quite a few materials for folks who are interested in learning more. For example, in October the Rocky Mountain Synod offered a webinar attended by our own Karin DeJonge-Kannan, as well as 31 other folks from across the RMS. With her permission, I share here some of what she learned. The central question guiding the webinar was, “How can we best live out our desire to be a church of welcome and safety for God’s most vulnerable children?” Facilitators (Erin Power, Peter Serverson, Mary Campbell, Ruth Hoffman, and Bishop Jim Gonia) pointed out that, as a church, we are engaged in the reality of what is—our neighbors, co-workers, and the people sitting with us in the pews include asylum seekers, refugees being re-settled in the USA, travelers who have overstayed their visas, people who entered without proper documentation, whether as adults or as children—and also in advocacy for what could be: for example, just laws and policies, at both state and federal levels.
The Rocky Mountain Synod borders Mexico, which means border issues have long been part of our context. Facilitators pointed out that we have a unique opportunity to learn about immigration and help educate others about immigration along a wide range of perspectives. As noted in the ELCA talking points document quoted above, many churches (including some in our synod) are already engaging in work that enacts the sanctuary declaration and have engaged in this work long before the declaration was officially adopted in August. For example, Lutheran Family Services of the Rocky Mountains is a long-standing ministry that operates in Colorado and New Mexico, working with refugee re-settlement in those two states. The Guardian Angel program was founded to be the church in courtroom situations. Participants in this program accompany people as a source of support, pray with them, and help them not be alone during court proceedings. The program started in Southwest California, but now it is in ten locations throughout the ELCA, including one in Denver, which is part of the Rocky Mountain Synod.
As detailed in the webinar and other ELCA resources, what it means to be part of a sanctuary denomination varies congregation by congregation and should be informed by local context. This time of transition, when we are praying for God to send us a new pastor, seems an appropriate time to begin (or continue!) to educate ourselves about issues of advocacy and theology. In educating ourselves, we can prepare for working together with a new minister in a new year to discuss how we live out the sanctuary declaration as a church—in our current actions and in future opportunities.
By Erik Ingram
Growing up, I was fortunate to have a wonderful youth pastor in my home church for all of the major milestones of my formative faith years. One of his most distinguishing traits was his relentless enthusiasm for Jeremiah 29:11, to the extent that the text was eventually painted around the perimeter of the youth room. With so much of our lives ahead of us, he felt strongly about the need to impress on us that God was, is, and always will be there to guide us, even when the going was tough and we didn’t necessarily feel that His presence in the moment.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)
On the surface, it seems like a simple sentiment, yet, speaking from my own experience, it’s one that’s incredibly easy to forget in those times of struggle. I’ve been fortunate to have people in my life that have both directly and indirectly reminded me of this when I’ve needed it, which has served to strengthen my faith foundation as a whole.
The reason I bring this up is that our church has just passed a significant milestone on the journey to finding our next pastor. With the end of Pastor Teri’s time with us, it very much feels that we are in the “home stretch” of this process, and that things will stabilize with a new sense of permanence soon. I liken it to the cross-country races I ran during high school; we’ve just crested a big hill and we can see the flags of the finish line in the distance, but there is still one more to climb before we can settle into finishing mode. It’s easy to get impatient with the pace at which the process is moving, but just as a runner must exert strength to climb that final hill and finish, we must use our spiritual strength to remember that God has a plan to prosper this congregation and give us a future, but that the call committee is still discerning how it will manifest itself.
That plan includes remembering our roles in it; I remember when my home church was in the process of adding another pastor, several people expressed how they thought that they could do a better, faster job if they were on the call committee, and that they wouldn’t needlessly hold things up the way they felt those in charge were. When it came down to it, of course, none of those people had wanted to be involved when the committee was forming, and in doing so, accepted their role in supporting them instead (even if it wasn’t as willingly as some might hope). Our congregation has that same role, and we must see it through to the end the same way the committee does with their work.
It is undeniably an exciting time for Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. With the finish line on our long journey distantly in sight, it’s tempting to think we can cruise the rest of the way there. However, we must always be mindful of the plan God has laid out for us, and to let Him guide us across. As simple as it might sound, it will continue to require our collective spiritual strength to do, and I am confident that we will continue to place our trust in His will for us.
By Barbara Daniels
As a new academic year begins, many of us see our lives pulled into an increased pace of activity. Classes, kids’ activities, sporting practices and games, even startup of committees and choir rehearsals make our lives busier than during the relatively languid summer. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but sometimes we need to slow down, take a break, and be still. Being still can help us remember who we are, who God is, and why we are here.
Throughout the Bible, God speaks to us about the necessity of quietness and contemplation. Elijah did not experience the Lord in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but in the still small voice that followed them (1 Kings 19:11-13). In Psalm 46, we are reminded that “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble…He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.’” (Psalm 46:1, 10). And of course, Jesus knew the value of stillness, and demonstrated it for us: “In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” (Mark 1:35). You can surely think of many more examples in the Scriptures.
How can we be still in such a busy world? Although we might like to, many of us cannot leave everything and go on a silent retreat in an isolated place. Here are some suggestions for ways to break into the busyness, and refresh:
august, the end of the war of the roses, and the unintended beginning of religious tolerance within christianity
By Dave Wilson
August marks the anniversary of an unintended transformative event in the history of
Christianity, the English speaking world, and the concept of religious tolerance. The Battle of
Bosworth Field was fought on August 22, 1485, 534 years ago this month, near Bosworth,
England. The houses of Lancaster (red rose) and York (white rose) had been fighting The War
of the Roses for 30 years, and had managed to eliminate the male heirs to the throne from both
extended families; Bosworth Field was the final battle of that war. Some increased attention to
the battle resulted from the 2012 discovery of the long-missing body of King Richard III, who
was killed in the battle. The victorious Lancastrians were led by Henry, Earl of Richmond, from
Wales. Henry, Richard, and the battle itself have many interesting stories, but space and
pertinent subject matter do not permit telling them here. Henry was crowned as King Henry VII
of England after the battle. He had two sons, the younger named Harry, but the eldest son Arthur died at age 15. After Henry VII died, Harry became King Henry VIII and married Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, earlier financiers of an expedition by Cristoforo Colombo who had the dubious idea that he could find a passage to Asia across the Atlantic Ocean. Henry VIII was married to Catherine for most of his reign, but eventually became known in history for having 5 other wives in quick succession. In order to marry his second wife, Anne Boleyn, Henry ultimately created the Church of England because the Catholic Church would not grant him a divorce from Catherine. Key figures in the new Anglican Church exhibited no more religious tolerance than most religions in any part of the world up until that time, often burning or torturing “heretics” who opposed the new branch of Christianity, including Catholics, adherents to England’s Christian religion for approximately the previous 1200 years. However, after Henry VIII died, his son and eldest daughter (Bloody Mary, who restored Catholicism and promoted widespread torture of Anglicans) both died within 11 years. Their younger sister ascended to the throne as Queen Elizabeth I in 1558, and because she herself had been imprisoned and threatened with death over religion, she had no use for religious persecution or intolerance, restored the Anglican Church, and introduced policies of religious tolerance to England that were almost unprecedented in history. Sadly, the tolerance was greater than that in the 64 of the 196 countries in the world today that are considered very restrictive of religion (they contain 70% of the people in the world), nearly 500 years later. The concept of comparative religious freedom within Christianity and toward other religions spread throughout the English speaking world. Colonization and expansion into indigenous areas did not uniformly result in religious tolerance, especially regarding people of color. Nevertheless, widespread torture and/or efforts to completely eliminate all adherents to other religions were not practiced by the English speaking people to the extent that they were by many other religions, societies, and empires. The unintended results of Henry Earl of Richmond and his son Harry’s thrusts for power created a basis for religious tolerance originated by their granddaughter and daughter that was reflected in the U.S. constitution 300 years later and largely exists in our society today.
By Frank Pultar
In early May, I traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico with Paula Zsiray to attended the Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly. This was a first time attending for both of us. It was an eye opening experience, both in mind and spirit.
There were a few things that have stuck with me. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, spoke of Grace, the Trinity, and how we dance with God.
Restorative Justice was also spoken of, and Fr. Rohr talked about how Jesus never punished anyone. This also spoke to me that we, as followers of Christ, should do as Jesus did. How else are we made whole if after justice has been done, you are not given back your humanity?
By Regina Dickinson
Time lives our lives with us
Walk side by side with us
Time is so far from us
But time is among us
Time is ahead of us
Above and below us
Standing beside us
And looking down on us…
Time has changed
Time would heal
Time will mend and counsel
In the end everything will be fine
-The Kinks (1968)
This is my last letter as outgoing Church Council President. I find it only fitting that the lyrics from the Kinks song, “Time” be quoted as I have been wandering around church the past month singing this song in my head as I think of all of the amazing ongoing events and service possibilities that allow those at Prince of Peace to donate their time.
Summertime is a refreshing time at Prince of Peace. We benefit from the wonderful addition of our summer citizens and the added bonus of a fresh and exuberant Church Council. This is also perhaps a mildly unsettling, but exciting time at our church with a newly appointed Call Committee. Time is also changing as we have a duo of wonderful congregants willing to share their time and talents as our volunteer secretaries.
Our time as a church congregation will once again be recorded by an amazing volunteer to be archivist. I have come to realize with the twenty years of time that I have spent as a participant at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, that time and talents are something we have in abundance at our church. Even with a transition period at our congregation, we need to remember as wonderfully sang by the Kinks, “Time mends, time heals, and in the end everything will be fine”.
Thank you to our new time and talent volunteers:
Secretaries: Mona Baran and Mary Feldman
Archivist: Kathy Evans
New Council Members: Dave Wilson, Eric Ingram, and Frank Pultar
By Rebecca Walton
Our congregation has been in a major transition now for almost exactly a year: saying goodbye to Pastor Scott Thalacker and preparing to welcome a new pastor. Between last year’s annual meeting and this year’s, we have proceeded through most of the major milestones in the process. The Rocky Mountain Synod represents the transition in three phases in its “Moving into the Future” resource. We’ve completed Phase I: thanking Pastor Scott, wishing him well in his new position in New Mexico, grieving our loss, and working with the Rocky Mountain Synod to learn and pursue next steps. As a key part of that process, we welcomed interim pastor Teri Hermsmeyer, who has been patiently guiding us through the ELCA transition process even as she performs the rest of the pastoral duties for PoP.
Just recently, we’ve completed Phase II. We formed a transition team, reflected together as a congregation, and gotten to know ourselves better in preparation for selecting a new pastor who can be a good fit with the flock. The transition team is finalizing its report (or perhaps has recently submitted it by the time you read this newsletter article!), and now the call committee will take the baton to begin the next major step in the process.
We’ve officially entered Phase III of the transition; this is the final phase, folks. Drawing upon the congregational self-reflection and priorities synthesized by the transition team, the call committee will complete the Ministry Site Profile that was begun by the transition team. The Ministry Site Profile is like a congregation’s “dating profile,” which describes our congregation in preparation to seek a good match. (Remember Lisa Greene’s Council Corner article last fall about this step?) Once the Ministry Site Profile is officially submitted, the Office of the Bishop at the Synod level will take 4-6 weeks to review its pool of qualified candidates and select those who seem like the best fit for us. At that point, the call committee can begin Skype interviews with each candidate and begin narrowing the list: deciding not to pursue some candidates further, identifying some for additional interviews, and even requesting additional names from the Office of the Bishop if needed.
As we enter the home stretch of this important transition, I find myself comforted and encouraged by a Daily Meditation sent out recently by Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation. He was discussing the divine Trinity as not just an example of unity but also its source. Rohr distinguishes between “unity” and “uniformity” by noting that uniformity is coercive and limiting. Uniformity requires sameness, conforming to a particular mold regardless of fit. Unity celebrates diversity, embracing and protecting difference unified by love. I found this comforting because we are each unique. Yes, our congregation has reflected together on our past (its high points and low points), our present (our strengths and shortcomings), and our future (our priorities and desires). And this reflection is synthesized in the Ministry Site Profile that will guide Phase III. But individually we have some differences relevant to this process. I think about when Tony and I filled out the survey on our priorities for the new pastor, discussing our responses with members of the transition team and another church member. Tony and I have been married our entire adult lives. We have more in common with each other than we do with any other church member. And our responses and priorities were pretty similar. But not identical. Uniformity would suggest this bodes ill for pastor selection. Uniformity would require that we all have identical perspectives and priorities. But unity is flexible. Unity says that different perspectives and priorities are welcome and should be considered throughout the process. That’s encouraging.
But what I found most encouraging in this particular Daily Meditation was the final paragraph:
Nothing can stop the flow of divine love […]. God is always winning, and God’s love will finally win in the end. Nothing humans can do can stop the relentless outpouring force that is the divine dance. Love does not lose, nor does God lose. That’s what it means to be God!
In this paragraph, I am reminded that we can’t screw this up. God is sovereign. Yes, the transition is lengthy and complex and important. And, yes, we want to be prayerful and careful and thoughtful as we round the corner into Phase III. But this process is directed by God—a God who is the source of our own unity, who protects and embraces diversity, and who cannot be defeated. I am expectant and hopeful about the outcome of Phase III, and I look forward to seeing what God has planned for us in the next phase of our life together as a church.
By Lela Gilmore, Council Member at Large
Have you even taken a trip without a plan? I don’t mean a Sunday afternoon spontaneous “let’s take a drive and see where we end up” kind of trip, but a real vacation type trip with all the kids and maybe Aunt Ethel, too, for two weeks, to an out of state location? Perhaps you’re the adventurous type and have given this “no plan style” a try, but usually the trip involves a plan with many stages and steps before you even think about getting into the car to leave.
Without a plan, you get weary travelers, hungry back-seaters, bored passengers, etc. Perhaps that uncomfortable feeling sounds familiar as we’ve been journeying through “transition time” which is our trip-to-the-future of our congregation? Perhaps you’ve wondered, why we aren’t “getting on with the process” or “why haven’t we developed a list of potential candidates and started the interview process yet?”.
A well thought out vacation begins with a step one, then two, and then the next, and the next. Our trip as a congregation needs to follow this same strategy. This process is called “transition”, because we are making, according to Webster, “a passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another”.
Transition is also “a movement, development or evolution, from one form, stage or style to another”,… also quite aptly describing our “trip”, and not generally understood as something to be done immediately, in one step, or ‘in a blink’, but as a process (one STEP at a time).
Just as that road trip with the Aunt Ethel required a plan: choice of destination; selecting a time frame; scheduling a vehicle check-up; booking motels; packing bags for each family member; books and toys to keep everyone occupied; mapping the route and scheduling rest and food stops; selecting car-friendly snacks; first-aid kits and necessary meds; clean-up supplies, etc., etc., etc., so too our journey has required a plan and many specific steps to help us navigate the path of change without stumbling, getting lost, or falling off a cliff!
We’ve successfully navigated several of these steps already, almost painlessly! There are just a few more to go….stay with the driver and all will be well.
According to Martin Luther, ”……….we are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end but it is the road…..”.
Have faith and patience, many others have been through this process and have proven that it works. In the discomfort of “discovery and discernment” we find out we might just be different than we were a couple of years ago, or what we might be a few years down the road. Just as each one of us is growing and changing, so are we as a congregation. Again, per Webster, a ‘congregation’ is described as “an organized body of believers in a particular locality” and ‘congregating’ as “an act or instance of bringing together”. Each step in the process helps us discover where we are and where we would like to go, and then , “Surprise!!!!”, we may not all have the same ideas about “where” and “when” and “how”!! That’s where the ‘coming together’ enters in.
So we continue, one step at a time with the plan, continually checking (by the process) with each other for answers and ideas and ways to work toward an end and a coming together. By virtue of being “members of the body” we each have a say, a vote and an opportunity to contribute to the good of the body, an opportunity to help make the best and most comfortable ‘road trip’ we can, with a destination we can all appreciate.
Obviously this growth and movement continues……Luther’s advice is as applicable today as it was 500 years ago,…“this is not the end, but it is the road”….
An Annotated Guide to Church-Related Internet Resources
I’m using my turn at the Council Corner to highlight a few church-related resources you may not have explored on the internet. It can be insightful to keep up on ELCA and broader church news. This is only a start, so please leave your contributions in the comments!
ELCA.org and Rocky Mountain Synod - https://www.elca.org and https://www.rmselca.org/
Hopefully you’ve landed on these pages before. I won’t go into detail, but they’re good places to find out what’s going on in our home denomination. Council member Barbara Daniels wrote a blog post a few months ago on advocacy in the ELCA. Social media links can be found on both of these sites, if that’s how you prefer to check for updates.
Christianity Today - https://www.christianitytoday.com/
A magazine from the evangelical perspective. Sometimes articles are inaccessible due to a paywall. If you are affiliated with USU, the Library has an electronic subscription.
Relevant Magazine - https://relevantmagazine.com/
“A bimonthly Christian lifestyle magazine exploring the intersection of faith and pop culture.” Relevant got its start in the early 2000s and was strongly associated with the “emergent church” at the time. It is written by and for twenty- and thirty-somethings and its angle seems to have become more theologically and socially “woke” over time.
Faithfully Magazine - https://faithfullymagazine.com/
“Faithfully Magazine is a fresh, bold, and exciting news and culture publication centering on Christian communities of color.”
Sojourners - https://sojo.net/
This magazine covers social and environmental justice from a Christian perspective. It’s been around since the 70s. Sojourners trends Protestant (and is often associated with the evangelical left) but is committed to interfaith dialogue.
Pew Research Center Religious Landscape Study - http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/
A good place for data nerds to explore religious demographics in the US. They even have some stats on the ELCA: http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/religious-denomination/evangelical-lutheran-church-in-america-elca/.
Podcasts - use your favorite app, or search for them online
The Liturgists - This one was started by two guys who left the Christian faith for a time, and came back (sort of) with much different perspectives. Focuses on science, art, and faith.
Queerology - On belief and being
Three Sides - A monthly ELCA podcast featuring diverse voices
To Hell with the Hotdish - By three ELCA pastors who are “trying to help move the perception of church beyond its cliched casserole culture.
by Regina Dickinson
What makes a home? It seems like a simple question, but the answer is complex. I can quantify my personal sense of home as having changed over the years. My first sense of home was with my family of origin (mother, father, sisters, and dog) and then transitioned to a home with my family (husband, sons). My definition of home has changed over the years, but it has never been an actual structure or place, but more of what is inside the structure. In many ways, homes embody how we live and see ourselves. And these spaces evolve when we focus on what makes us happy. This is sometimes easier said than done, though. It requires reflection and thoughtful choices, but it is a rewarding process. When we create a place that meets our needs and expresses our character, we enrich our lives.
When you walk into some homes, they instantly feel welcoming. And it’s not just because you enjoy the company or admire the decor – although both help. There’s something else. The space feels authentic, a genuine reflection of the person or family who lives there. What is reflected when a new guest or a treasured past member walks through the doors, are they feeling welcome? I know that many feel welcomed, I know because I have seen it time and again. Prince of Peace is a home. Over the years, I have seen many new faces at Prince of Peace and I know as our paths diverge and people move to other adventures, that if possible they will be back. I have seen multiple times a member that leaves to a new adventure in life however, who, when in the area, they make it a point to attend Prince of Peace to say hello and have a catch up with friends. This sense of belonging is what makes Prince of Peace truly unique
Throughout the past four years, church council has been asking members of the congregation in differing formats and avenues, what is unique about Prince of Peace? The answers inevitably have to do with the welcoming atmosphere present at Prince of Peace. This welcoming atmosphere is present regardless of pastors, member fluctuation, trends, etc. The reason that POP feels so welcoming is because no matter what may be going on or who may be coming or going everyone at Prince of Peace is genuine and they reflect the fact that Prince of Peace is God’s welcoming space.
The home of POP is knowing one year or twenty since you were last at POP, you will be welcomed with open arms and smiles, makes POP a home. We see ourselves at Prince of Peace as being part of a greater whole, of being part of the Spirit. This sense of belonging with the Spirit is passed to those around us through our simple welcoming gestures, through the peace of home. As we begin to get ready for a new calling of a pastor, let us not forget that Prince of Peace is a home and welcome all who enter. “You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”- Anonymous
This blog is run by the council members of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Logan, UT. For more information, check out our church's website at princeopeace.org.