The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Jayne M. Thompson's Blog

August 29, 2014


I heard Ronnell coming down the hall in the student center before I could see him. He has a rolling, kind, infectious laugh that can make you smile. His smile is broad and beaming. Ronnell is just an amazing young man. He’s a senior and getting ready to take on the world.

Ronnell and Jacob preparing for the Chapel Rap (BAS stands for
Ronnell and Jacob prepare for the Chapel BAS ("Born Again Sinners") Rap.

I met up with Ronnell shortly after I arrived at Thiel College when he wanted to interview me for the campus TV station. He’s a communications major and hopes to get into radio and TV after he graduates. Like many of our students, he’s a man of many talents. He plays football at Thiel just as he did for his high school in New Castle, Pa. He’s a resident assistant, comedian, magician, Christian rapper and a licensed preaching minister in his home church. I might not know about his other talents because Ronnell is humble. What’s clear is that he loves everybody. Ronnell really loves Jesus.

So I heard his laughter coming down the hall on Aug. 14 when he arrived on campus for football practice. Poking my head out of my office door, he caught sight of me and ran to give me a big hug. We laughed some more, chatted about how good it was to see each other, and he introduced me to his parents and girlfriend.

Ronnell preaching at the Interfaith Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr./President Nelson Mandela memorial service
Ronnell preaches at the Interfaith Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr./President Nelson Mandela memorial service.

As they made their way down the hall for football check-in and such, I felt a mixture of emotions. Joy flooded my being! Ronnell and I shared a lot of ministry-moments last year. From heartfelt chats about ministry, to our teamwork efforts in planning the first interfaith Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Nelson Mandela memorial service. At that service, Ronnell brought the good news to life with fine preaching. Later on in the spring, he and several other students led the first Thiel College Chapel rap. Then he was an assisting minister at our Celebrate Campus Ministry worship, serving alongside Herbert Chilstrom, former ELCA presiding bishop, and portraying Jesus in our enactment of the story about the blind man, "Jesus and the Pool of Siloam." Like so many of the students I cherish here, I think the world of Ronnell.

Ronnell preaching at the Interfaith Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr./President Nelson Mandela memorial service
Ronnell processing in for the Celebrate Campus Ministry worship service.

Ronnell is 6-feet tall and happens to be African-American. When he walked away with his usual exuberant, cheerful bounce in his step, I also felt pensive and sad. The nation was just reeling from the news that Michael Brown, 18, had been shot and killed in an encounter with a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. We didn’t talk about that. We haven’t talked about it yet, but I know we will at some point.

Roger Gustafson, bishop of the Central States Synod, is having "the talk" with the congregations and leaders in Missouri and Kansas. He wrote a pastoral letter: "The various elements of this painful drama carry the temptation of distracting us from an even more painful truth, one that's at the heart of it all: His name was Michael Brown. He was 18 years old. He was black, and he was killed by a police officer. Had he been white, chances are excellent that he would still be alive. But the stark fact of Michael Brown's death under extremely unclear circumstances points our attention to a larger truth: To be born male and African-American in this country is to be born into a clear and present danger." 

This is in the back of my mind when I welcome the male African-American students. 

Ronnell and Robert enacting the gospel of the Blind Man and Jesus
Ronnell and Robert enact the gospel of the blind man and Jesus.

I saw Ronnell again at the all-campus picnic that the college hosts before all the new students arrive. The band members are there, the employees, their families, sports teams and the residence life staff. I hugged him again, this time with great care and urgency — in a way that’s hard to explain. It’s like the way you hug your children tighter when something awful has happened to someone else’s children. When he walked away, I didn’t want him to see me or worry that I was moved to tears.

On our campuses, in town hall meetings, at schools, and in churches, mosques and synagogues, we need to have a conversation about the tyranny of racism and how it’s killing us. We especially need to hear the harrowing and terrifying stories from young African-American men and listen, really listen, about how many times they’ve had to throw their hands up in the air so they wouldn’t be shot just for being black.

 Ronnell and the Rev. Dr. Herbert Chilstrom at the Celebrate Campus Ministry worship service
Ronnell and Herbert Chilstrom at the Celebrate Campus Ministry worship service.

I can’t bear the thought of this happening to Ronnell or any other student of color anywhere. But I know it does happen. Colleges and universities have incredible resources for diversity training for students, faculty and staff members. We’re engaged in this conversation at Thiel College with the help of Mark Weir, Director of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, and other students. We're going to have "the talk" when the time is right. 

We could also provide opportunities for community members to join in the conversation, as we did at St. Cloud State University and as others do around the country. Our faith in Jesus and the affirmation of our baptismal promises compel us to “strive for justice and peace in all the world.” Pope Paul VI wisely said, “If you want peace, work for justice.” Peace and justice join hands when we engage in efforts to bring people together of many and varied backgrounds, religions, ethnicities and walks of life. Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton has called on us to shoulder this work together in the ELCA. 

As the colleges, universities and campus ministries welcome students to campus, please remember them in your prayers and the prayers of the church, send the names of your students to the campus pastors, and, if you have the ability, send financial gifts to support them in their ministry to the amazing young adults just like Ronnell. 

The Chapel Rap crew, Erik, Raj, Zohaib, Ronnell, me and Jacob on the floor
The Chapel Rap crew: Erik (left), Raj, Zohaib, Ronnell, me and Jacob on the floor.

Ronnell and I had a chance to talk about this blog post briefly. We talked about the situation and the need for conversation on our campus. He agreed and also offered to have his mom, a retireed police officer, come help us. Their family thinks about this from all different perspectives. I told him that the only time I want to see him throw his hands in the air is when the Thiel Tomcats score a touchdown or when he’s praising the Lord in worship. I never want Ronnell to be confronted and harassed by law enforcement, throwing up his hands just because he’s black. No one should have to deal with that. 

As we throw our arms wide open in welcome, let’s also reach out, extending hands of compassion, understanding and advocacy — in Jesus’ name.

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July 21, 2014

The Bishop, Eboo and Bonheoffer

"What would you tell that student who received a milquetoast response from her campus pastor?"

The question hung in the air, stuck like a wet blanket on a clothesline. It was addressed to Eboo Patel, a guest speaker at the ELCA college's and universities first Interfaith Understanding Conference, June 1-3, at Augustana College, Rock Island, Ill.

The student, who had the encounter with her campus pastor, came from an evangelical background. She had wanted to know how she could, would, should engage her faith with a new friend who was a Muslim. The amiable pastor gave a kind, but weak, reply. The student wanted, no, she needed, more. 

"What would you say?" The question was more earnest with an anxious tinge and burning desire to know. "How would you answer her?"

Eboo Patel and Jayne Thompson
Eboo Patel and me.

Without missing a beat, Eboo said, "I would have told her about my hero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer." Eboo, the founder of Interfaith Youth Core, has told this story to many others as well. 

As soon as Eboo began to tell the story of one of my heroes of the faith, I began to weep. It wasn't a sobbing weeping. Rather it was a steady slip of tears down my cheeks as I listened to a story that I had told generations of students over the years. There was something about his urgency, his articulate passion about telling Bonhoeffer's story of choosing to stand with his country fellows, all of them, especially the Jewish ones who were being massacred by the Nazi war machine orchestrated by Adolf Hitler. Eboo embraced Bonhoeffer, who had embraced the persecuted Jews. This choosing to up-end the expectations upon them and to radically embrace others for the sake of justice and the love of God has always inspired me. Listening to Eboo, I was in awe and simultaneously filled with unfathomable gratitude. He was telling part of my story, part of my Lutheran history, which is part of the world's story after all. 

Elizabeth A. Eaton
Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton during a panel dicussion.

I had traveled to the conference with amazing women from Thiel College, Greenville, Pa.: students Elizabeth "Liz" Koerner, Elizabeth "Bess" Onegow and staff person Annie LeMar. Liz and Bess were excited to attend because they were going to see ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, whom they had met when we traveled to Chicago for her installation. Annie was thrilled to make connections with other like-minded and compassionate faculty and staff members from other ELCA colleges. I just love watching people learn and grow from gatherings like this.

Eaton and Thiel students
A silly photo with Bess Onegow, Annie Le Mar, Bishop Eaton, me and Liz Koerner (the bishop knew we were going to do this, she's a good sport).

Bishop Eaton was also part of the gathering and graciously answered questions with wisdom and wit. But it was her presence that spoke volumes. Rather than popping in and sharing niceties and a panel discussion (which is always nice, don’t get me wrong), she stayed with us. She pitched her tent with us and talked to the students, the faculty and staff members, and the presidents of the colleges represented. She broke bread and shared table talks with the guests. Bishop Eaton made a difference. She gave voice to the urgency in interfaith conversations and cooperation. Bishop Eaton “gets it.” That’s what my students think, and I think they’re right!

We were also doubly delighted to see her again because Bishop Eaton will preside at our 2015 Thiel College baccalaureate service, giving the commencement address in the afternoon. We'll be conferring an honorary doctorate upon her at that time.

I’ve been thinking and thinking about our time at the interfaith conference. Now in these recent days, as I’m heartbroken and horrified by the violence that human beings heap upon one another and on the earth’s creatures, I’ve been deep in prayer. Deep sorrow wells up as I read about and watch the live streaming video about the attacks and bombings in Gaza. On July 17, Bishop Eaton added her voice to the call for the end of violence. She expressed her profound concern for members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land in a letter to that denomination's bishop, Munib A. Younan:

"Our hearts are heavy as we read about and see images of the violence being inflicted on both Israelis and Palestinians. This suffering and loss of life are inexcusable before God. As followers with you of the Prince of Peace, and as children of God, the Creator and Sustainer of all life, we long for peace and a just resolution to the escalating conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people," Eaton wrote, adding that she is responding directly to Younan's call to participate in interventions and actions "to create hope in a hopeless situation."

lucas koener
Lucas Koerner in Jerusalem, 2011.

There are other inspirational leaders with whom I’ve had the blessing of conversation and connection. One such young adult leader is Lucas Koerner. Lucas was 19 when he traveled to Israel in 2011 to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. The amazing thing: Lucas is a U.S. citizen and Jewish. In one of those reversal/solidarity actions, he decided “to wear, along with my keffiyeh, a kippah adorned with a small Palestinian flag. This last article of clothing on my head contributed, I believe, more than anything else to the climate of collective bewilderment, especially among the youth. … It simply never occurred to them that a Jewish person would, in the name of Jewish ethics, stand in solidarity with the oppressed Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom. I feel that it was precisely this cognitive dissonance on a societal level that formed the motivation for my arrest.”

After speaking out against the occupation of Palestine, Lucas was detained and then arrested by the Israeli police. The video of this disturbing event has resurfaced in light of the recent bombings in Gaza. Lucas’ account of the ordeal can be read on his blog, Stronger Than Slavery. Three years later, he is still active in his work for justice among the Palestinian people. His Facebook profile photo says: “In Solidarity with Gaza.” We became Facebook friends this week. We both noted that there have been global protests about the attacks on the civilians — the elderly, the frail, women, babies, boys playing football on the beach, the ailing in a hospital ICU and schoolchildren — but precious few in our country. I am haunted by this lack of dismay in U.S. streets. I wonder what  Bonhoeffer would say to us now, just as he addressed the people of the U.S. during the terror of Hitler's regime.

Doubtless cautionary advice will be given: Hamas is bombing the Israeli public and both sides are waging terror on each other. Yes, but no. There is no excuse for indiscriminately bombing hospitals. None. Or children. Or frail, elderly people or any people for that matter. Something is very wrong and the young adults can spot it, name it and take action against it as a matter of faith and conscience.

So I’m going to throw my lot in with the young adults like Lucas Koerner, my bishop, Dr. Patel and my hero Bonhoeffer. But above all, I’m going to center my life on Jesus, my savior, who said I would see him in the least of my brothers and sisters, not just my Christian sisters or brothers, but that I would see him in all people of faith and no faith at all.

dietrich bonhoeffer quote

As the psalmist wrote, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” I pray that my silent tears shed at the story of Bonhoeffer, for the refugee children at our border and for the frightened ones in Gaza might refresh my courage and enliven my witness for the weak and voiceless ones of the world. No matter what, I’m going to stand up, in the strong name of Jesus, and shout a big “no” to cowardice, indifference, callous disregard for human life and apathy. I’ll say “yes” to the wisdom of one of my heroes of the faith who said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” 

Be moved. Speak up. Get out and make a difference in the name of Jesus and for the sake of the ones he loves.

For more about the ELCA's initiative in the Holy Land, please check Peace Not Walls: "We are a church that rolls up our sleeves and gets to work. We do God’s work in the world — restoring and reconciling communities." 

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May 11, 2014

The Other PJ

pj and pj

He-Jay and She-Jay at Lutheran Student Retreat, fall 2011.

He-Jay or PJ-Y (not to be confused with me-J the She-Jay, PJ-X) are his other nicknames. Pastor Jim “PJ” Holthus, Lutheran Campus Ministry pastor of Bemidji State University (BSU), is the Other PJ. I got to thinking about my dear friend the other day as the academic year was coming to a close. Jim, as per his usual amazing and crazy antics, was up to some cool stuff up at BSU. I love how he loves his work! 

I’ve been following the end-of-the-year events of my colleagues at the other ELCA colleges and universities as well as the Lutheran Campus Ministry (LCM) sites across the country. So many of them are spectacular in their outreach, pastoral care and ministry with students. It’s really difficult to mention them all and they all deserve huge amounts of kudos for the way they engage the young adults on their campuses.

PJ and bsu students
PJ with some of the BSU student leaders.

But I wanted to lift up PJ Holthus because this is going to be his last year in LCM and because he is one of the last of my colleagues who started campus ministry with me who is still going strong in LCM. Come to think of it, in my 1993 LCM new staff orientation class, none of us are now serving as LCM-related pastors and only one, Brian Johnson, executive director of Campus Ministries at Valparaiso [Ind.] University, along with me, is connected with college work.

PJ and I have been pastoring for over three decades. For both of us, more than two-thirds of our time has been in ministry with college students and the faculty and staff who support them. He is the most unabashedly punny-est person I know. Even though he receives groans galore at every pun, he’s beloved by his present and former students. PJ’s been through some pretty harrowing medical calamities and challenges over the last several years, but he rallies and forges on like a champ. His students help him out when he needs assistance. He is amazing! He is also the person who takes the most selfie-photos in his recliner with his cats (photos below).

pedal with pj
Pedal with PJ 2011.

Over the years he's led thousands of worship services and Bible studies, hosted countless student suppers, Back Yard Bashes and barbecues. Like me, he’s done hundreds of weddings for students and likely a few sad student funerals. He’s a tireless supporter and cheerleader for the Lutheran Student Movement leaders in every region in which he’s served and is a frequently "Pastor Goofball" at the gatherings. He’s famous for his late-night ventures to Perkins with students, as well as his "Pedal with PJ" fundraiser bike excursions around Lake Bemidji to raise money for LCM and to bring folks together for a cycling good time.

One of the incredible events he helped to create was a commemoration the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Of that night he wrote: “[It was] an incredible evening! Probably the single most moving event we've ever done here in my 11 years. Add the perfect weather, no wind, a full moon and the perfectly still lake and it was pretty clear God was involved in the event.”

lake bemidji
Sept. 11, 2011, at Lake Bemidji.

The other reason I was thinking about PJ and all the other campus pastors as they wind down their semesters, is that on May 5 our colleague Clint Schnekloth posted a link to his latest blog post titled "Nine ways to not lose your graduating seniors" on his blog Lutheran Confessions.

Among the many excellent suggestions that he offered, this one caught my eye and my heart, "Start a campus ministry at the university or college closest to you." At least in our denomination, funding for campus ministry has been greatly reduced in recent years. If there is going to be an ELCA presence on a campus, it needs to be supported and staffed by a church of our denomination near the school. When I learn that my graduating seniors are headed to the University of Central Arkansas, or Arkansas State University, or other places away from here, my first thought is: Who do I know there that leads an ELCA church or campus ministry? How can I get them connected to people there?”

pastor pj
PJ in his office.

Clint is right. If we hope to have the caliber of excellent campus pastors like PJ and all the other gifted pastors and lay ministers who walk with our beloved young adults, we need to support them! Please, connect your graduating seniors to the campus ministry at their college or university. 

So, this is a big shout out to all those who have ever been campus ministers and pastors, to all who have loved hanging out with college students and loved telling them about the love of God in Jesus. This is for my friend, Jim, who is gifted beyond all measure and is really all-campus-pastor-all-the-time. Well done, dear ones, well done! Rest up for the summer and return refreshed to engage those brilliant, zany, dazzling college students in the fall.

pj and cats
pjs cats
PJ, his cats, his laptop and his recliner—so typical

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April 18, 2014

Holy days

The David Johnson Memorial Chapel is so quiet, so very still.

After the Thiel College Choir and Handbell concert on April 15, we stripped the altar and tucked all the purple fabric into the drawers of the sacristy. We removed our very long banners that hang majestically on either side of the large cross. We did all of this because Thiel College is on Easter break from Maundy Thursday through Easter Monday. They are off to share these holy days with family and friends. 

This is the first time in over 20 years that I haven't shared Holy Week and the Holy Three Days with students. It's an odd experience. Not a bad one, just odd. Talking to Lee Penvose, pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Greenville, Pa., I said, "I always told my students who worked with me that if they yoked themselves to the discipline of creating all of these powerful worship experiences for others, they would be changed."

My dear friend and former student, Ryan Birkman, had this experience with me in 2010 while serving as the student outreach coordinator. As a result of that holy time, he discerned his call to ordained ministry. Now Ryan is in Germany. Having completed his master of divinity degree from Luther Seminary, he's nearly completed his master of theology too. I'm always amazed at the brilliance of my students.

So I'm thinking about and praying for all those who are creating powerful worship services for their flocks and for all the people of God who yoke themselves to these holy days. But I'm especially thinking about all the campus pastors who are journeying through these holy days with their students. I know for certain that they will be changed forever by the power of God's love in Jesus. 

Good Friday always gives me pause. The strains of "What wondrous Love is this, O my soul, O my soul," drift through my being. And then, at some time during the day, whether in a worship service or by myself, I always sing, "Were You There." I never liked the designation for "Good" Friday. I asked my mom why and she gave me the best explanation. Still, I'd rather think on this day as Holy Friday. That leaves it to the profound mystery of the death of Jesus on the gruesome cross of crucifixion.

I'd rather pause in humble adoration and consider the unfathomable power of God's love that can raise the dead and breathe new life into stone cold tombs of death and despair. Because truthfully, that Friday was a very bad day filled with terror, heartbreak, weeping, wailing, pain, suffering, torture, agony, grave uncertainty and death. It remained a very bad day through Saturday and unto the wee hours of the dawn of the first Easter morning when the women went to the tomb with their spices. Sometimes we need to sit with those who live in this horrid Friday place every day of their lives. Sometimes we need to sit there and wait and pray. 

So I'll wait. I'll pray and sit in the empty, silent chapel as I did last night after Maundy Thursday worship. Sometime today I'll sing, Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble ... were you there when they crucified my Lord? Then, I'll wait for that Easter news to gladden my heart again and I'll wait for my students to return, changed by the very good news that Jesus is alive, raised from the dead to lead us into new life again.

Blessed be your holy days. 

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February 24, 2014


Ashtabula bridge
The drawbridge in Ashtabula, Ohio.

For the first time in my life, I traveled over a drawbridge in Ashtabula, Ohio! I had journeyed over many drawbridges when I lived in balmy, warm Florida (yes, I do miss the weather and the coastal beauty of that place). I had never been to Ashtabula.

On Sunday, Feb. 23, I traveled to Messiah Lutheran Church in Ashtabula. This is the parish that ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton’s she served before she was elected a synodical bishop. Their new pastor, Michael Meranda, invited me to lead their adult forum about Thiel College campus ministry. Fortunately, three amazingly gifted students wanted to accompany me. They wanted to get up at 6-something in the morning to get in the car and drive an hour away to help lead the conversation! Did I say, “Amazing?” Why, yes I did and yes, they are.

amanda, Audra and Zohaib from Thiel
Audra, Zohaib and Amanda

Amanda from Baltimore is a first-year student. A gifted flautist, she traveled to Chicago for Eaton’s installation and serves on our chapel staff. Audra from Jefferson, Ohio (we were in her neighborhood), is also a first-year student and one of our Chicago travelers. She sings beautifully in the Thiel College Choir. Zohaib is one of our two international students this semester from Pakistan. You may recall that our first international student from Pakistan and a Chicago traveler, Saba Pervaiz, shared her story in this blog. Zohaib is a talented musician who is renowned in Pakistan. While in Pakistan, Zohaib is a student at the University of Gujrat and while he's in the United States, we're blessed by his presence at Thiel College. 

Zohaib from Thiel
Zohaib in front of Messiah Lutheran Church in Ashtabula.

When campus pastors travel with students, it isn’t “just for fun,” though it is super fun to do this. It’s not just a “campus-pastor-and-student-show,” though we do usually rock when we visit congregations. There is something primordial and deep that is transpiring. I hope I’m not overstating this, though I think my colleagues would agree. When Amanda, Audra, Zohaib and I entered Messiah, we were met by the gracious pastor and others along the way. There were wide, happy smiles all around. Something happens when faithful, longtime congregation members meet up with brilliant, compassionate young adults. There is a mysterious and beautiful chemistry. Sunday was no different.

I sensed that my students were feeling a bit awkward. But I knew it would soon pass as they told their stories, made friends and assisted in worship. This is one of the things that comes from decades of bringing students to new places of worship, and this time was no exception. The members shared their names and told us how long they had been connected to Messiah. Since birth (81 years), since marriage (65 years); since moving to town (15 years), since becoming the pastor (six years). I was fairly certain that I was among the youngest “older adults.” As I listened, I had this sense that I was in the presence of greatness and holy fortitude as the elder members told us about their love for their pastor(s) and the congregation. We were mesmerized and inspired.

I had this feeling that I was a bridge — a bridge between generations and between the church that was and the church that is to be. By this I’m not saying that either generation or group is not the church of now. They both are. But it was obvious to the students as we reflected on our marvelous visit that there were no young adults in worship. 

Recently, I read a profound guest blog post by John C. Dorhauer, the conference minister for the Southwest Conference of The United Church of Christ. He’s completing a book about what he characterizes as the Church 3.0. He ponders the differences between what we might think of as Church 2.0 (the church of the 50s, 60s and 70s) and the emerging church: Church 3.0.

He wrote: "I am a bureaucrat. I am a bureaucrat in a model of church fully invested in and supported by institutional loyalty, authorization, and oversight. My model of the church, however, is dying. That may or may not be hyperbole — time will tell. It is, however, the overwhelming experience and lament of many within the institution. Those outside the institution respond to the threat of the church’s diminished capacity with what ranges from collective indifference because of the perceived irrelevance of the church, to an active pursuit of its demise because of its abuse of authority."

He was concerned about this for a while. But he traveled around the country for a summer and met the Church 3.0 and now he’s not so worried after all: "Church 3.0 — the emergence of an entirely new way of being church in a postmodern world. It was a discovery that not only lowered my anxiety about the need to preserve Church 2.0 at all costs, it helped me to understand that version 2.0 will only continue to appeal to people the way that 8 tracks and VHS recorders still appeal to people long after better technologies emerges on the market … the need for Church 2.0 as a model is going to decrease dramatically, and those who invest in the infrastructure that supports it are going to close a lot of their franchises — i.e., churches."

I’ve been observing this trend for decades. But this past weekend was hopeful and holy. Amanda played her flute, Audra sang with grace, and Zohaib played his guitar and sang a beautiful Pakistani song in Urdu. They all assisted me with the children’s time with my puppets and a funny camp-song. There was crazy singing, laughter and joy in the sanctuary! We sang about the love of Jesus and love of our enemies. Love, love, love!

Zohaib in front of the frozen Lake Erie inlet
Zohaib in front of the frozen Lake Erie inlet.

I cherish being that kind of human bridge, the kind of bridge that connects people who might not otherwise have a chance to meet. When I saw the hope in the eyes of Ruth, the eldest of the group, who was inspired to learn about the students’ commitment to their faith and to interfaith conversations, my heart was warmed. When person after person stopped to thank them and to ask Zohaib about his life and ministry in Pakistan, I was grateful beyond measure for sharing in this sacred moment of grace.

I don’t know what the future holds for the congregation, for me or for my dear students, but I feel confident that God holds all of us in a wide embrace of love, compassion and care. It was a time of elegant, paradoxical beauty. Amid all that is changing, dying and emerging around us in the church, the center holds. The center is Jesus, who gathers us all and who leads us into ventures of which we cannot see the ending. This post is dedicated to the saints of Messiah; their brave, faithful pastor; and all who call forth young adults into their midst to share stories of faith and life. Thanks be to God!

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January 19, 2014

Let my people go!

"Let my people go!"

The Chapel at Thiel College resounded with this refrain on what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.'s 85th birthday, Jan. 15, 2014, had he not been assassinated in 1968. Astoundingly brilliant students led the interfaith worship service, and it was so moving! The student readers concluded the litany in remembrance for Dr. King with these words:

liturgists at thiel mlk day service
Liturgists for the Martin Luther King Jr. service at Thiel.

We pledge, on this day, to continue this work, building a world full of justice and equality for all people. Thank you, God, for this one who now causes us to say in the name of Martin Luther King Jr.: Let my people go!

We gathered to remember the witness of King and President Nelson “Madiba” Mandela, who died Dec. 5, 2013. Faculty and staff members who’ve been at Thiel for decades said this was the first interfaith service for King and Mandela they’ve attended at the college. Professor David Miller, 52 years at Thiel, and his wife, Ruth, were so enthused they made it a point to thank all those who participated.

thiel college dancers
Students dance to "I Won't Go Back."

There were those who brought greetings of peace: an American Buddhist; Hindu in Hindi; a Christian greeting in Korean; and our friend, Saba, Skyped in from Pakistan to bring an Islamic blessing in Arabic. A dance and mime troupe of seven African-American students ministered to the song "I Won’t Go Back" by William McDowell. Their long black skirts swirled dramatically as they bowed and twirled, lifting up their arms in praise. Our new director of diversity and multicultural affairs, Mark Weir, prayed us into our gathering with mighty and holy words!

zohaib on guitar
Zohaib on guitar.

Dr. Michael Bray, along with other talented musicians, led us in South African freedom songs, "Siyahamba" and "Freedom is Coming." Our new international students from Pakistan, Raj and Zohaib, jumped right into the craziness of our planning, having just arrived on campus on Jan. 6! Raj, a Hindu, brought greetings and joined in the litanies. Zohaib, a Christian and an accomplished musician, sang a song of peace. We prayed, sang, drummed, clapped and listened the bold message of our student-preacher Ronnell. He rocked the chapel and brought the good news from Luke’s good Samaritan parable to life!

All the while, my stalwart chapel staff quietly readied the sanctuary, set up for everyone, welcomed guests, helped and were so hospitable as well as awesome as readers — it truly was a blessing, a gift, a holy experience beyond description. We wrapped it all together by singing "We Shall Overcome," linking elbows and harmonies as those beloved strains rose to the rafters. 

ray prays at Thiel MLK service
Raj prays during the service.

I know it’s not quite the same as being there, but if you’re yearning on this Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to go to worship and see fantastic young adults at work, loving God, serving their neighbors and loving one another, take a peek at our Thiel College Interfaith Chapel Service on YouTube. If you want to see us behind the scenes preparing for worship, check out our out-takes too (on YouTube or Vimeo)! Or visit any college or univeristy today or this evening as many of them will be gathering for services much like ours. 

As we remember the life, ministry and legacy of King (and Mandela) today, may we never forget that until all are free, none of us is completely free and that the refrain must continue to resound from mountains to the valleys, from cities and farms, from alleys to freeways: Let my people go!

Our work is not done, but our resolve is great: we will continue to siyahamba (march in the light of God) for the sake of freedom and justice for all!

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January 6, 2014

Ivey Shorts, '16

Ivey Shorts of Thiel College, Greenville, Pa., reflects on attending the installation of Elizabeth A. Eaton as ELCA presiding bishop. This is the 12th of 12 reflections.

Ivy Shorts
Ivey Shorts (right) with Saba Pervaizand the Rev. Jayne Thompson.

I find it hard to write a reflection on this trip. It was a wonderful experience, but I’m not sure how to put it into words. Whenever my mom would ask how it was going, I would simply reply, “It’s like a family vacation: everyone is grumpy from driving, we got lost a few times. And I got sick from something I ate.” But the trip was honestly so much more. It’s hard for me to explain.

First, I will mention that I was extremely excited for this opportunity. I come from a relatively large family with a low income, making travel quite scarce. I was honored that PJ had invited me to come along. To be completely honest, I was a bit out of my comfort zone. Yes, it was partially because I’m an introvert and claim to despise all humans, but it was also the culture.

To elaborate, I am not Lutheran. I was baptized and saved in elementary school — third grade to be exact — so I guess that makes me Christian. I call myself spiritual. I don’t like labels, in fact I hate them, and they only lead to stereotypes. So not being a Lutheran, this trip was definitely a unique experience. I in no way felt unwelcome by the churches or anything, it was just different. I wish I would have expanded myself a bit more, bonded with my peers and the hosts, but unfortunately I was, and still am, just a bit too wrapped up and involved in my own struggles.

I could sit here and talk about how beautiful everything was and how awestruck the ceremony left me, but that isn’t what I found important. This trip is where the service seeds were planted in my brain. Ever since I heard about the Lutheran Volunteer Corps and now ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission, I have become extremely passionate about service. All the signs are pointing that way, and I feel that is what God wanted me to gain from the trip. I’m truly inspired and honored to have attended. 

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January 5, 2014

Saba Pervaiz, international student from Pakistan

Saba Pervaiz of Thiel College, Greenville, Pa., reflects on attending the installation of Elizabeth A. Eaton as ELCA presiding bishop. This is the 11th of 12 reflections.

Saba Pervaiz
Saba Pervaize (center) in front of former ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson.

I belong to a country where the majority of the population is Muslim so I have not had any chance to see the celebrations of people belonging to the other religions.

When I came to America and Imet Pastor Jayne. She took me to the chapel, where I saw the inside of a chapel for the first time in my life. I felt so blessed when Pastor Jayne and the chapel staff offered me to go with them and see the bigger chapel and the installation of a presiding bishop in Chicago. I was so excited to be in Chicago and get a chance to experience a new religion’s activities. When I entered the chapel, at first I was so amazed after seeing how big it was with a capacity of 1,500 people at one time. Then Pastor Jayne introduced me to Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton. When she said greetings to me in my language, that feeling was beyond the words. The emotional part of that event was when I saw a Muslim representative in the chapel and after that how a lady recited few verses in Arabic.

I have not felt homesickness before, but after experiencing such a welcoming response from each and every person in the chapel, I really missed my family and country. At that time, I wanted to say loudly to those people who are just using the name of Islam for wrong purposes that ... there are good people who understand me and my religion much better than you.

Eaton is a really nice and humble lady, and I pray for her that God may bless her with happiness and give her more strength for doing good work for humanity.

I want to say thank you to the Pastor Jayne and other folks who gave me such a wonderful experience that I will never forget in my entire life. 

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January 4, 2014

Rachel Ortega, '16

Rachel Ortega of Thiel College, Greenville, Pa., reflects on attending the installation of Elizabeth A. Eaton as ELCA presiding bishop. This is the 10th of 12 reflections.

Rachel Ortega
Rachel Ortega on the beach in New Buffalo, Mich.

Thiel College students had a wonderful opportunity to attend the installation of Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton. As a student who attended the installation I can say that it was an inspirational and life-changing experience. As a fellow Lutheran I can say that it is something I will never forget.

In our 15-passenger van we left Thiel early Friday morning to begin our eight-hour car ride to Chicago. As a person who once used to live in Chicago, it was nice being able to return. Even though I was young when we lived there, I did know that I absolutely loved Chicago and that feeling didn’t change the slightest. It was nice being able to have Chicago-style pizza again because pizza is just not the same anywhere else. Chicago is definitely a place that I would love to visit again in the future.

When we arrived we were separated into host housing. It was a different experience and one that will never be forgotten. Though ours were not the friendliest of people, it was still wonderful of them to let us stay in their home. The next day we were greeted to breakfast by some students from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. We also got a tour of the school, which was absolutely beautiful and our tour guide was absolutely magnificent.

Then the time had come to head down to the installation. A few of us, myself included, went to the church early to secure seats up close for our students. While there, we got to meet several bishops. I must tell you that this was certainly unforgettable. We even got to meet Eaton and shake her hand. She was such an amazing person and so kind. We even got pictures with her to have our moment last a lifetime. She is seriously such an inspirational person. The installation itself was quite beautiful. It was quite long, but totally worth it in the end.

Getting to worship at Valparaiso [Ind.] University was quite fun as well. Its chapel was simply breathtaking!

After a fun-filled weekend, we packed up and headed back to Greenville. With a few stops (and quite a bit of rain) along the way, we made it back safely with plenty of memories in our belt. I am so truly blessed to have been a part of this unforgettable experience. It was so wonderful getting bonding time with fellow students as well. It is something that will never be forgotten as long as I shall live. Eaton is sincerely a remarkable individual and I am so blessed and thrilled that I had the opportunity to meet her. 

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January 3, 2014

Sean Oros, '15

Sean Oros of Thiel College, Greenville, Pa., reflects on attending the installation of Elizabeth A. Eaton as ELCA presiding bishop. This is the ninth of 12 reflections.

sean oros
Sean (right) with Saba Pervaiz at Chicago's Navy Pier.

Our joyous adventure to Chicago began with a long bus ride, which facilitated bonding — whether we wanted it or not — among our members. Little did we know what experiences lay ahead of us, or how close we would become. Pastor Jayne Thompson led us on, despite our sleepiness and occasional crankiness. We stopped at each state sign we passed to chronicle our quest’s progress, enjoying loud and boisterous camaraderie all the while. 

Chicago itself was wonderful. We were hosted at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, where we learned about labor issues concerning migrant workers and were housed by willing seminarians. We were trusted with open arms into their apartments, where we rested for the following day’s adventure. In addition, we were able to sample multiple varieties of Chicago’s famous deep-dish pizzas — always a treat.

The installation of Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton was held in the dramatic Rockefeller Cathedral, where we had the opportunity to serve as ushers in a few circumstances. It was truly an honor, something we never imagined having the opportunity to do. Once the service began, we were treated to a wide variety of nationalities coming together to celebrate Eaton’s installation: representatives from within and outside the country had gathered to celebrate the occasion. 

Even on the way home adventure continued, especially in a visit to Valparaiso [Ind.] University to see its campus ministry program and a small side adventure to Michigan.

Our group, although facing some tensions, had bonded exceptionally well by this time. However, all stories must come to an end, and our trip concluded in merry Greenville once more. But our lives have been forever changed by the experience — it is something we are likely never to forget. 

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January 2, 2014

Bess Onegow, '15, begins with a poem

Bess Onegow of Thiel College, Greenville, Pa., reflects on attending the installation of Elizabeth A. Eaton as ELCA presiding bishop. This is the eighth of 12 reflections.


Will You dance with me?

Your Word is a home

throughout the heavens and beyond the sea.

Let me not alone.


Bess Onegow
Bess Onegow is in the center, next to ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton.

Your Word is a home

when I am sick at heart.

Let me not alone,

come show me my part.


When I am sick at heart

I can hear you call my name.

Come, show me my part.

I am in search of no fame.


I can hear you call my name.

Here I am. Is it I, Lord?

I am in search of no fame,

yet your voice strikes a chord.


Here I am. Is it I, Lord?

For I am sore afraid,

yet your voice strikes a chord.

Lead me to your safe glade.


For I am sore afraid.

When you speak the earth shakes.

Lead me to your safe glade,

teach me what you did for our sake.


When you speak the earth shakes

throughout the heavens and beyond the sea.

Teach me what you did for our sake.

Will you dance with me?

I wrote this poem just over a year ago as a class assignment. It's in the form of a pantoum, which entails repeating alternating lines throughout. I find this particular form helps me create an ambiance or describe a mood, rather than tell a story. In this case I was asking God a question. For a couple of years I've been on the path to discover if I am called. There are many kinds of callings, and not all are definitively spiritually based. But I felt there might be such a spiritual calling in store for me. I kept my ears alert, my mind attentive and my heart open as I waited. [This trip to Chicago was a piece in the puzzle for me.]

One of the first things I learned when I came back to school this August was that Pastor Jayne Thompson was creating an opportunity for several campus ministry students to journey with her to Chicago for the installation of Bishop Elizabeth Eaton.  As soon as the trip was mentioned to me, I knew that I needed to go—isolated by distance and travel difficulties, I had not yet been to a gathering of over 300 Lutherans.  So, with singing hearts and smiles, we crammed twelve students, their luggage, and a cheerful pastor into a fifteen-passenger van and headed west.  I decided before leaving that I would leave all electronics in my dorm, except for my cellphone, so that I could enjoy the company of my friends.

Though trips generally fall into the category of the journey becoming more meaningful than the destination, I found our destination to be the most important aspect of this trip.  We certainly had fun along the way, but it all became a blur of a memory when I stood in Rockefeller Chapel and watched as the church poured in.  We met so many different pastors and bishops that my head is still spinning.  I have been in gatherings of ministers before, but not Lutheran ministers, and certainly not this many.  I blubbered quite a bit, mostly because I could see and feel the church.  The video camera was right beside us, and I told my mom to watch too—so many people were gathered together in spirit that we could have filled dozens of Rockefeller Chapels.

I finally managed to get ahold of myself just as the ceremony started.  The procession included devices that were called “the spirit” or some such thing, which I had never encountered before but found beautiful nevertheless.  I was fortunate enough to be seated near the end of a pew, beside two bishops.  Neither introduced themselves, but they were naturally amiable when it came time to pass the peace.  My height disadvantage came into play, of course, but I was able to listen to the entire ceremony and take in the awesome power of the liturgy and the people inspired and lead by God.  The love and grace of God filled the chapel and the church.  The beautiful peace and communion shared among the attendants and those at home burbled forth into a joy written on every face.

After, we took pictures and mildly mingled around the reception.  We then packed up in the van and headed out to adventure in the city.  We ate at a fabulous Pakistani restaurant, enjoying the food almost as much as each other’s company.  Once finished, we stopped at a shop, Islamic Books and Things, just to see what we could.  The uncle who ran, perhaps even owned, the shop kept it open after hours just to talk to us about Islam.

The peace and honesty with which he spoke to us gives me hope for peace between the different religions of the world.  Yes, we believe in different concepts of God, but he did not express any fault with that.  He took pictures with us and gave us booklets about Islam and Muslims out of the goodness of his heart.  As he held the door open for us to leave, he said, “Goodbye, I love you.  Remember that, here is love.”  He was right.

We went down to Navy Pier for a while, though it was pretty much all closed.  The best view of the city, though it was covered in fog, was atop the parking garage for the Shakespeare Theatre.  We possibly were not supposed to go up there, but it was worth the risk of getting caught.  It was around one o’clock that we made it back to our host flats.  PJ and I were staying with her good friends Amy and Olivia-Beth.  They could not have been more welcoming or hospitable to us.

We were up and on the road early Sunday morning in order to make it to Valparaiso University in time for chapel.  I was excited to be going there because my cousin (distant relative going back several generations) is the chapel photographer there.  This was to be the first “family reunion” of our generation that was not planned by our parents.  The rest of the family was rather jealous, but mostly glad that we could spend some time together.  We had not seen each other for over two years.

The service was quite nice, and the Thiel group explored the chapel quite a bit.  We ate lunch with some of the chapel staff and discussed the ways that the chapel was used and how that was facilitated.  We hit the road again after taking pictures together, driving out of our way to visit Michigan and the shore of the lake.  I waved to Canada and went rock-hopping while others dipped their toes (or went swimming) in the lake.

We made a few other stops on our way back east, gradually growing more tired and a bit more ornery with each other because of it.  We sang some songs as we crossed into Pennsylvania, and before we quite knew it, we were back at Thiel.  We prayed together in the van before climbing out and going our separate ways, reaching out to touch each other instead of gathering in a circle (van seats get in the way of that).

We started the trip with a prayer, laughter, and anticipation.  We ended the trip with a prayer, laughter, and fulfillment.

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January 1, 2014

Cheryl Marshall, '14, Letter to Bishop Eaton

Cheryl Marshall of Thiel College, Greenville, Pa., reflects on attending the installation of Elizabeth A. Eaton as ELCA presiding bishop. This is the seventh of 12 reflections.

Dear Bishop Eaton:

My name is Cheryl Marshall. I am currently a senior at Thiel College and plan on graduating in May 2014. I am a double major in youth ministry & theology and religion, also a minor in parish education. I am a member of Trinity Lutheran Church, Butler, Pa. — part of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod, so we were neighbors.

Cheryl Marshall
Cheryl Marshall (center, left).

One day I hope to be a youth director in a church. In the meantime, I want to work at the churchwide office in Chicago and help plan events for youth. Chicago is a city I always wanted to live in and being there was a pure blessing. I had the feelings of belonging, and I found myself gazing at the possibilities before me.

In very general terms, I enjoyed my time at the installation. I traveled with you on your journey. I was in Pittsburgh at the Churchwide Assembly when you were elected, and I was also at the church service that Saturday singing in the choir. I had an amazing faith-building time. I have always been a Lutheran and have achieved a lot of events on my bucket list achieved in the last year within my religion. I had always looked at the possibilities, but never got my hopes up. I did just that. I had planned on meeting you and Bishop Mark S. Hanson in Pittsburgh, but the timing didn't work out right. I was crushed when I didn’t get that chance.

When I came back to Thiel last fall I had no idea what the new campus pastor had in mind. When I found out we were going to Chicago in a van, I about cried with excitement. I was always told to take every day as it comes, and I did just that. I often wonder "what if," and Chicago was one of those moments. I was in awe the entire time. I can't explain the emotions that overcame me the entire trip, not only during the service, though that’s where I felt most moved. I had never experienced anything like that in my life, and who knows when I will experience that again. The words I now write just aren’t coming out right, that’s how moved I am still. I'm so grateful for the experience and faith-lifting emotions I felt.

Meeting you in person, shaking your hand to congratulate you is indescribable. I can imagine what you were feeling after the service and still are feeling.

I thought you might like a little chuckle. As I was growing up Hanson was my bishop. I had gone to both Youth Gatherings in New Orleans, once as a participant and the other as a servant companion. I had my heart set on meeting him there, though it didn’t happen. I had never imagined receiving communion from him, ever. I had the opportunity to have that happen, and when I went up for communion this poor man couldn’t rip the bread. I felt like I stood there for hours, but then he said, “Hold on, it won’t rip … you're holding up the line.” Then he asked, “Do you just wanna take the whole loaf of bread?” I chuckled and said, "Might as well" as he ripped off a piece of bread.

It is these little relationships that could change someone’s life. I cannot wait to see you grow within the church. You have moved lives and will continue to do so. These youth today are fortunate enough to have such a loving, caring woman as their leader. I know youth and adults from my home congregation are so excited for the  Youth Gathering in Detroit and being in your presence, as am I again. God bless you, Bishop Eaton, in all you do. You are moving mountains in this world, and you will always continue doing that. It was a blessing to be in your presence and meeting you.

May God bless and keep you till we meet again!

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December 31, 2013

Elizabeth Koerner, '16

Elizabeth Koerner of Thiel College, Greenville, Pa., reflects on attending the installation of Elizabeth A. Eaton as ELCA presiding bishop. This is the sixth of 12 reflections.

Elizabeth Koerner
Elizabeth Koerner.

Describing our trip to Chicago isn't an easy task. The amount of grace, joy, fun and spirituality that this trip entailed is infinite. Every person on our trip had their own ideas and hopes of what they would experience, and it seemed that people were able to experience that and so much more.

I plan to be a pastor in the ELCA, so the installation of the first female presiding bishop was very near to my heart. Until I met Pastor Susan Nagle, I didn't understand the concept that women could be pastors, let alone run the entire church of which I am a part.

This event allowed me to become closer to God and the people around me. It also gave me insight for my future.

During our visit, we had the chance to visit the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. I fell in love with the school, its programs and the people there. Seeing that let me see all the possibilities of being ordained in the ELCA. I saw my future. I had stars in my eyes of awe and wonder as to what my future could be if I went there. Chicago was revitalizing, rejuvenating and just an amazingly spiritual experience. 

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December 30, 2013

Amanda Hautmann, '17

Amanda Hautmann of Thiel College, Greenville, Pa., reflects on attending the installation of Elizabeth A. Eaton as ELCA presiding bishop. This is the fifth of 12 reflections.

Amanda Hautmann
Amanda hautmann is in the front row, fourth from the left.

Where do I start? I enjoyed every minute of this trip. Not only did I learn more about my peers, but I also went further into my respect for my faith. I'm glad I had the opportunity to come along with the group and go to Chicago.

When I was approached with this opportunity, at first I was just excited about going to Chicago. Then the deeper reason of why I was going made me realize how wonderful a chance it was. I’m not an ELCA member, but experiencing something that wasn’t part of my normal culture and traditions was eye-opening. People should have the chance to experience another religion, whether it’s through a wedding or a ceremony such as the installation. Although I’m Lutheran it was different to see the style that I’m used to change. They had religious leaders from different religions speak, and they used varying languages to speak the message. I even just like the music with the style being completely different from normal hymns. Although I will mention that the last hymn was breathtaking and moving. The choir and the musicians made my heart stop and just want to continue listening.

The overall experience was amazing though. Sharing my faith in a different way while watching the movie The Harvest was something I had never experienced. I honestly thought the movie would be somewhat lame, but it really got me thinking about how much people don’t have and how money truly controls so much. Those kids have dreams and they can’t complete them because they don’t have money.

My host was wonderful! Marissa and Jake (her dog) were so sweet. She helped us get settled and answered all the questions we had.

The whole trip was just a good thing for me to remember how strong faith brings people together. During this trip we didn’t have just ELCA members go, they had Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which includes me, as well as other religions like Muslim and other branches of Christianity.

Even though I didn’t get out for every stop to take a picture at each state border, it was nice to know that people who had never left Pennsylvania had an excellent time trying new things and getting out of their homeland. We all tried new foods when we went to try the Pakistani food as well as trying the huge pizza.

Sunday morning was just the start to another long day. We visited Valparaiso [Ind.] University, which meant a lot to me because my mom went there. What really sparked my interest was the fact they are an independent Lutheran school. The fact they switch between an ELCA services to a Missouri Synod service every week was just awesome. I also enjoyed the lunch we had together. It was nice to talk to similar students who work with the chapel and help around the chapel. The chapel itself was beautiful and I can now understand why they say it is one of the most beautiful campus chapels.

In the end we all returned to our homeland back at Thiel. It was nice returning home from such a long trip and the next morning was pretty tiring, but I would not change anything for this wonderful chance I got to experience. 

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December 29, 2013

Audra Franley, '17

Audra Franley of Thiel College, Greenville, Pa., reflects on attending the installation of Elizabeth A. Eaton as ELCA presiding bishop. This is the fourth of 12 reflections.

Audra Franley
Audra Franley is on the right.

I’m a freshman at Thiel College. I am a double major in parish education and English writing with a minor in international studies.

When I signed up to go to Chicago, I had two main reasons. First, of course, I was excited to see the installation of Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, whom I had the privilege of meeting prior to her time as bishop. Second, I was excited to revisit Chicago and see more of what the city had to offer. But as I attended both Lutheran Student Movement meetings and gatherings held for those going to Chicago, a third reason became obvious: I couldn’t wait to get to know the awesome people I’d be sharing this experience with. Throughout the trip, I gained a multitude of other reasons why this trip had a huge impact on my life.

The first night our group was invited to watch a movie on migrant workers in America at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. When I first received this knowledge, I have to admit I was skeptical. I was tired from the trip and didn’t think I was interested in the topic. But it turned out to be an eye-opening experience. I had no idea of the discrimination and hardships that migrant workers here go through. I’ve always felt called to do mission work, as well as service toward people in need in my country, and seeing this movie has made me want to do something for these people.

The next morning our group was blessed to see more of the seminary. Our tour was held with another group of college students. An LSTC senior led us through the building, offering fun facts and important information. We then were able to talk to several staff and students to gain a better perspective on what it is like to attend the seminary. Attending seminary is a possible option for me upon graduating in a few years, so this was a great opportunity.

Our next big event was our main reason for the journey: Eaton's installation. I can’t rightly explain the feeling I had worshiping with so many people in the large and beautiful Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. It was so powerful hearing the church echo with so many voices in so many languages. My home church, as well as most I’ve attended, is small and not highly diverse. But people from various cultures, bishops from synods across the U.S. and many others attended the installation. It was amazing and an experience I will never forget. I could feel God’s presence in the chapel that day as more than 1,000 people sang the closing hymn in celebration of God and the ELCA's newly installed bishop.

The Saturday night after the installation turned out to be one of the most moving and eye-opening experiences of the trip. It had started to rain after the installation, and I was quickly tired and cranky upon being wet and hungry. When the group collaborated to decide where to eat, I didn’t care that much. I just wanted to eat and go to bed. But we ended up on Devon Street in Chicago, an area of great diversity. A member of our group, Saba, is an international student from Kashmir so we got to try Pakistani food that night (which is very good). I was in a much better mood after eating, as was the rest of the group, and we wandered into an Islamic bookstore. The owner engaged us in a conversation about what the Islamic religion truly stands for, debunking American stereotypes and enlightening us. He was hospitable and kind, and I wish I could broadcast his words to anyone who has an uninformed and negative view of the Islamic religion. This was an eye-opening experience, and I am proud to have this knowledge and understanding of the religion.

I wish I could relay every single detail of this trip. From the start of our journey on Chicago Street in Greenville, Pa., to the installation, to visiting Lake Michigan and Valparaiso [Ind.] University on the way home, I made some amazing and eye-opening memories. I got close to an amazing group of people, who I am sure agree that Chicago 2013 was an amazing experience. 

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December 28, 2013

Stephanie Ensminger, '16

Stephanie Ensminger of Thiel College, Greenville, Pa., reflects on attending the installation of Elizabeth A. Eaton as ELCA presiding bishop. This is the third of 12 reflections.

Stephanie Ensminger
Stephanie Ensminger (phone is on her head).

I didn't know what I expected from the Chicago trip before I went. Clichéd as it sounds, it changed me so completely that it’s hard to remember my view of the church and religion before the trip. Spending so many hours in such close quarters with so many people was trying for everyone. It was frustrating even at the best of times. The thing is, once we got to Chicago, we realized that spending 10 hours pretty much in each other’s laps was a small price to pay for the people we met, the things we learned and the amazing stuff we saw. There’s nothing like seeing God at work to bring college students and their pastor together.

We sang songs and slept on each other’s shoulders. We wandered around Chicago with our matching tie-dyed T-shirts, taking pictures of everything we passed. And it was special because this was the first trip I've taken where time was allotted just for enjoying the company of the people I was with. We spent hours eating deep-dish pizza and praying and walking around. We were content just hanging out with each other in a foreign city. It was easy in its simplicity.

And really, simplicity was the biggest struggle for me. We went to a closed amusement park and ran around taking pictures of what it looked like at night. We went to a beach in Michigan and just looked at the water. The simple things like the cold beach and the city at night were things I would have ghosted past while looking for the big lessons I was supposed to learn. If I didn’t have the the group and PJ (Pastor Jayne) to slow me down, I would have missed finding the beauty of standing in the rain watching people on a dinner boat. I would have missed huddling inside a small, closed store that sold Islamic books, talking with the owner about how, really, our religions aren’t that dissimilar. We ate Pakistani food and Egyptian food and bagels with people we’ll probably never see again. That’s probably the part of the trip I enjoyed the most.

I learned the most about my connection to my religion when I wasn’t in a church. The time we spent learning about issues regarding agricultural work in the South and how to help, and the time we spent talking to people from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago about what they hope to do for the world, made me realize how much of a loving community the ELCA is. The kind of church that steps in as a family and comes together to celebrate a new presiding bishop is the church I’m proud to belong to. The people who sing their praises loudly in a humid church full of 1,500 is the group I’m grateful and blessed to represent. Sitting side-by-side with bishops and crying with my friends was an ineffably amazing, humbling experience. Through all of this, I felt a peace and call to ministry. When I came back to Thiel, I changed my major to religion and I’m on a path of service in the church.

Make no mistake, if I had the words to sum up this experience, it would take volumes to write about the things I saw and how they impacted me. If I knew how to express how grateful I am that I had the opportunity to take this trip, I would probably be a lot more satisfied with myself. But for now I’ll settle for this: I would not trade the memories of this trip for anything the world has to offer me. The lessons I learned in patience, light packing, friendship and all-encompassing love are completely unparalleled. Since this trip, I see the grass a little greener, my friends a little closer, and every challenge a little less impossible because I’ve got this amazing family and their support behind me. 

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December 27, 2013

Louie DeCristoforo, '17

Luigi DeCristoforo of Thiel College, Greenville, Pa., reflects on attending the installation of Elizabeth A. Eaton as ELCA presiding bishop. This is the second of 12 reflections.

Louie DeCristoforo
Louie DeCristoforo, smiling on the far right.

The installation of Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton had its ups and downs. The actual installation was an awesome experience. I come from the United Brethren in Christ denomination, and this showed me how the Lutherans have certain rituals and  beliefs they follow. Over that whole weekend I had communion every day, which is uncommon for me. I usually have communion just once a month.

The whole trip was amazing because it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. They will never have another first female as head bishop. The trip taught me that even though someone is from another denomination, they can still do certain things because they are the same rituals just performed a different way.

The weekend trip was a huge bonding exercise. It showed everyone on the trip another person’s different attitudes and how he or she would deal with them. This trip also taught everyone a valuable thing: sleep is very important and to let people sleep.

Overall, the trip was amazing. I would go back if I had the chance. The sightseeing and eating the Pakistani food was a great experience. It is always good to try new things even though they may seem different at first — it is a good way to bond and interact with new people.

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December 26, 2013

Robert Carpenter, '17

Robert Carpenter of Thiel College, Greenville, Pa., reflects on attending the installation of Elizabeth A. Eaton as ELCA presiding bishop. This is the first of 12 reflections.

Robert Carpenter
Robert Carpenter is on the left.

Laughter, happiness, adventures, watching, listening, observing, helping are some of the main topics that at 1 a.m. on Monday I thanked the Lord for. You might ask, “Why 1 a.m.?” Well, that's when the 2013 Chicago trip to see the installation of Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton was over. During those very short 64 hours a lot of events happened.

First, after a very long, interesting, memorable ride throughout the borders and lines of the U.S. was purely the sight of Chicago. It was truly a blessing to be greeted by Olivia Beth and be given directions for the weekend stay.

When we woke up bright-eyed on Saturday, we knew it was going to be "nonstop." As we approached  Rockefeller Chapel, the sight was breathtaking. The chapel was so beautiful and you could feel how much God has blessed and continues to bless the chapel!

After we toured and found a spot to watch the installation, a few of us actually had the privilege to meet the lady we were there for — Elizabeth A. Eaton!

While I was there, I was able to see people, bishops and fellow Lutherans from all over the country. It was a very diverse atmosphere. It made me realize how different everyone’s views are, but under the love of one true God, everyone has something in common.

Then as we said our good-byes, we looked forward to our next adventure —  downtown Chicago. We were then able to go a local Pakistan restaurant to celebrate our classmate's Saba’s heritage and culture and to experience food from Pakistan.

After our adventure was over in Chicago, we went to Valparaiso [Ind.] University. We were there for only a short afternoon to watch, serve and have a fellowship lunch, but we made friends to last a lifetime.

As the journey was coming to an end, I felt the grace of God all over me. Not only did God grant us with safe traveling mercies, but he also granted us with his love!  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, thanks be to God! Amen!

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December 25, 2013


"Sixty-four Priceless Hours Along 5 Different State Borders!"

Thiel students in Chicago
Students from Thiel College, Greenville, Pa., meet ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton in Chicago.

This is how Robert Carpenter, first-year Thiel College student, titled his reflections about our trip to Chicago. On Oct. 4, I left Greenville, Pa., with 12 amazing college students. We were on an adventure to witness the installation of Elizabeth A. Eaton as the first female presiding bishop of the ELCA

With the assistance of Thiel's Religion Department and the dean of students, Mike McKinney, we were able to travel to this momentous event. Now, after gathering the reflections of the students over the semester, we're offering these as a gift over the 12 days of Christmas. I hope you enjoy the brilliant, humorous and inspiring stories of the travelers.

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December 24, 2013

Nights of silence

After an amazing, blessed and exhilarating whirlwind semester at Thiel College, Greenville, Pa., the halls are silent tonight. All is calm, all is bright. The students have long gone home to collapse and snuggle into their beds, rest in their pajamas, and see family and friends back home. Faculty and staff members closed their laptops and office doors. The food service folks hung up their aprons and hats, the housekeeping friends put their cleaning carts in the closets, and our maintenance and public safety folks are on call. 

In my first semester, it became a challenge to keep up with my blog posts due to the nonstop pace of getting to know more than a thousand people all at once, as well as getting the chapel and campus ministry programs up and running.

But what an incredible adventure it has been! In the loving name of Jesus, I’ve been blessed by assembling seven incredible, diverse students to serve as chapel staff sacristans of the David Johnson Memorial Chapel. Together, along with fabulous musicians, we’ve pulled together to plan weekly communion worship, Sunday candlelight services, the Blessing of the Animals, a spectacular and unforgettable homecoming service, and a movingly beautiful Advent Lessons and Carols with more candles to light the way for the baby Jesus.

One of our once-in-a-lifetime highlights was the trip to Chicago to celebrate Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton’s installation. Among the travelers was our friend, Saba Pervaiz, Thiel’s first international student from Pakistan and the first Muslim student to grace our campus. The students bonded and made forever-friends on this trip. Their loving friendship and exuberant joy, as well as their working out their grumpiness and kerfuffles, inspired me in ways that are difficult to articulate. Their reflections on that experience will be coming during the 12 days of Christmas.

I love my ministry and calling to Thiel. I'm so deeply grateful for all the staff, students and faculty members who have made me feel so welcome and blessed to be here. 

On this Holy Night, I wish you a most blessed evening and offer my thanks to all of you who continue to pray for and support the ELCA's campus ministries. As we all await the Christ child’s birth anew in each longing heart, let us cherish this night of silence, bless the grace of the night and celebrate a new day, in the name of Jesus, who is Christ the Lord! 

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The ELCA's aging clergy wave