The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Jayne M. Thompson's Blog

December 17, 2014

Moving on

One day after the horrific attack on the school in Peshawar, Pakistan, the trending twitter feed has moved on.  Gone also are the hashtags, I Can’t Breathe, Ferguson, and the list goes on and we move on.

Moving on is what we do as human beings. We move on because it’s necessary for sanity, health and well-being. But any pastor or grief counselor worth his or her weight will tell you that it’s a both/and scenario. People need to both move on as well as to remember, commemorate and recall the anniversaries of pivotal and oft times horrendous events. I suppose one could find fault with either of these human impulses: criticizing moving on as callous or flighty and criticize remembering as morbid or obsessive.  At its extreme, I’m certain both critiques could be true.

We are, as Gordon Lathrop once said, Easter people living in a Good Friday world. Eucharist after Eucharist we who journey as the Body of Christ Jesus remember that on the night in which he was betrayed on the night before he died and turned over to the authorizes who wanted to kill him,” Jesus took some bread and wine, offered them up in thanksgiving and told his followers to eat and to drink in remembrance of him. 

In Communion after Holy Communion service, we remember the horrific events in the life of our beloved Jesus: betrayal, arrest, beating, denial, accusation, conviction, torture and death by crucifixion.

I suppose some folks would like us to just get over it, to forget about it, to think happy thoughts and, yes, to move on. We have – moved on.  We gave ourselves over to the impossible and incredulous idea that Jesus, just as he had said, was raised from the dead into a new life; a resurrected life full of grace and truth. We trust in this outlandish news because we have lived it and experienced it ourselves. In the midst of suffering and death, new beginnings spring forth. Where we thought that we could not go on after the death of a spouse or a sibling or a child – God came in a whisper of hope and new life and breathed on us so that we could live again, so that we could actually – move on.

We move on because we must. But we will never forget because in the absentminded act of forgetting, we lose our humanity and in losing that, we lose our compassion. We are called to this perplexing life of paradoxes lived and wondrous grace that astounds us day by day.

Remember those in sorrow and don’t turn away because it’s too sad or the rest of the world has moved on. Those in sorrow often need us the most after everyone else has looked the other way at the next news story to catch their eyes.

Remember, in the name of the One who commanded us, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

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December 16, 2014

Black boxes and Rachel weeping

Where there were once vibrant photos of Saba, Raj and Zohaib, now on their Facebook profile pictures there is only a black box. Across the country, others joined Saba, Raj and Zohaib as black profile pictures swept through social profiles to express their anger and great sorrow. 

These dear and beloved students live in Pakistan. For a blessed and brief semester (Saba in the fall of 2013 and Raj and Zohaib in the spring of 2014), we were honored by their presence here at Thiel College. Frantic and heartbreaking posts began to appear in the middle of the night. There was a brutal, ruthless attack on an Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan and hundreds of children and teachers were gunned down. As of this post there are 132 children dead along with 13 teachers

Now, there are more mothers and fathers weeping and wailing tonight. Mother Rachel is weeping with them. Whenever these horrific, despicable acts of murder and terror are perpetrating upon children, Mother Rachel comes to my mind. The text from Jeremiah weaves its way into the sorrow:

A voice is heard in Ramah,
    mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.
Jeremiah 31:15

Barnstorm blogger Emily Polis Gibson is a wife, mother, farmer and family physician, living the rural life in northwest Washington state. On December 14, 2012, reflecting on the image of Rachel weeping, in her blog post, "Advent Cries: The Shadow of Death," she posted a poem on her site "in mourning for the people of Newtown, Connecticut." Two years and two days later, Rachel is weeping and in mourning with the mothers and fathers of the Peshawar school children.

Emily's poem carries us and the world in our lamentation: 

There is no consolation for these families.
Their arms aching with emptiness tonight,
beds and pillows lying cold and unused,
dolls and stuffed animals awaiting all night hugs
that will never come again.

There can be no consolation;
only mourning and great weeping,
sobbing that wrings dry
every human cell,
leaving dust behind,
dust, only dust
which is beginning
and end.

He came to us
for times such as this,
born of
the dust of woman and
the breath of Spirit,
God who bent down to
lie in barn dust,
walk on roads of dust,
die and be laid to rest as dust
in order to conquer
such evil as this
that could horrify masses
and massacre innocents.

He became dust to be
like us
He began a mere speck in a womb
like us
so often too easily washed away
as unwanted.

His heart beat
like ours
breathing each breath
like ours
until a fearful fallen world
took His
and our breath

He shines through
the shadows of death
to guide our stumbling uncertain feet.
His tender mercies flow freely
when there is no consolation
when there is no comfort.

He hears our cries
as He cried too.
He knows our tears
as He wept too.
He knows our mourning
as He mourned too.
He knows our dying
as He died too.

God wept
as this happened.
Evil comes not from God
yet humankind embraces it.
Sin is our choice
we made from the beginning,
the choice we continue to make.

Only God can glue together
what evil has shattered.
He just asks us to hand Him
the pieces of our broken hearts.

We will know His peace
when He comes
to bring us home,
our tears will finally be dried,
our cells no longer
just dust,
never only dust
as we are glued together
by the breath of God

Many thanks to Emily for her kind permission to offer her poem in the midst of our world's great sorrows and travails. The only consolation I can offer my students from such a vast distance is to pray and sing for them in the candlelit darkness of the David Johnson Memorial Chapel; a place where they each found solace, friendship, love and peace. I hope that this bit of light and song would pierce the sorrow represented by those black boxes and be of some comfort in their anguished, broken hearts. May our common prayers bring peace and may our voices rise as a plea to end violence of any kind, but especially violence against all of our children

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,                                        I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.                     Psalm 23:4

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December 15, 2014

Orange ribbons

My friend and colleague, Andy Erb, changed his Facebook profile picture to an orange ribbon on Thanksgiving Day, November 27. One day before Thanksgiving, in a sonogram to check another ailment, Andy found out that he had a fairly large tumor on his right kidney and it was 97% likely to be cancerous.

This was shocking news for Andy, as it would be for anyone. Andy is only 41 years old and the lively, fun and very active Director of the Thiel Tomcat Marching Pride Band. He’s the spouse of Diana, the father of three cool kids under the age of eight and a chicken and turkey rancher (or is it a farmer or enthusiast?). Well, whatever the case may be, Andy loves to be outside and that’s probably one of the many reasons that he’s great at leading the marching band in the cool weather days of football season. In five short years, Andy created the marching band where there had been none and now it boasts over one hundred students members; one of the largest student groups on campus! Plus, they sound so great!

Today was the day of his surgery, so Jack and I headed to Pittsburgh in the wee hours of the morning to accompany Andy through this stressful and worrisome time and to lend support to his dear and beloved, Diana. We prayed together before the surgical people came to wheel him off to surgery-land. Then, we waited throughout the day checking the electronic numerical list that alerts you to your patient’s status. Jack took a photo right before Andy’s nurse came to whisk him away. 

Several hours later, Andy’s surgeon came out with good news. They got the entire tumor, saved his kidney and were certain that Andy wouldn’t need any chemotherapy or radiation! He’ll just need to have regular check-ups and scans. The entire Thiel College community, his family members and friends breathed a collective sigh of relief but also burst forth in thanksgiving to God. No one was more relieved, of course, than Andy. What a trooper!

So, when Andy got to his room on the floor, we brought him an orange bear with “get well and hang in there” monkey balloons. Orange ribbons, I discovered today, are for those who are surviving kidney cancer. Andy’s a grateful survivor and knows how blessed and fortunate that he is that one day another test for a stomach problem revealed a pesky tumor lurking around his kidney. There by the grace of God we all walk and in grace and love we walk together.

Such is the life of a campus pastor…one day that ended in an angels’ song,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace to God’s people on earth!”

Peace and healing, Andy!

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December 14, 2014


Moms are important. Some of my college students brought their moms by to say hello before they left for Christmas break. As colleges and universities pause for the winter holidays, campus pastors often emerge from campus to attend worship services in the college towns.

On the Third Sunday of Advent, I love to commemorate Mary, the Mother of Jesus. For many years, and I don’t exactly remember when I started doing this, I exercised my pastoral prerogative and deemed the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday. We added rose-colored paraments to match the rose colored candle on the Advent wreath in accordance to a long-standing Christian tradition in the Church. 

The day takes its common name from the Latin word Gaudete ("Rejoice"), the first word of the introit of the day: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. St. Paul wrote these words as he sat in prison and so they are not a trite call to rejoice, but rather a bold call to rejoice in the midst of suffering. I love the paradox; it’s so very Lutheran and so deeply rooted in the human condition. 

Mike Jordan Laskey from the National Catholic Reporter noted this paradox as well when he wrote on last Thursday, December 11:

"Gaudete" is the word's imperative form. We are commanded to rejoice. Against the backdrop of heartbreaking news out of cities like Ferguson, Mo., and New York this Advent, I don't really feel like rejoicing. I probably need that sort of urgency from Paul. Of course, there are sad headlines every Gaudete Sunday, and every other day. Our celebration this week (and at Christmas) is a countercultural declaration that even in sadness, we rejoice because our hope is in the one who is stronger than death.

In addition to the readings for the day that center on this exhortation to rejoice, I chose Mary’s Song, the Magnificat, to lift up and remember the mom of Jesus, for without her, there would be no Christ and thus, no Christmas. I suppose in a small way, this was one act of feminist resistance, in lifting out Mary’s voice into the Sundays of Advent when they are so heavily weighted on the words and stories from John the Baptist. Pastor-types will know that during Advent in the three-year lectionary cycles, there are scant references to the women of the Nativity. 

So, we would hear Mary rejoicing as I read from Luke 1:46-55:

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…”

I missed hearing Mary today. Not that my congregation did anything wrong. Our service was beautiful in blue. But today I needed to hear from a mom; from a mom who, as well as knowing the exultant joy of bearing a son also knew the sorrow of witnessing his death. Mother Mary lost her baby boy all too soon to violence at the hands of the state; a gruesome death by Roman crucifixion. After Simeon sang his song of praise when he held the baby Jesus, he told mother Mary that, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34). Mary was going to suffer great heartache. I thought of Mother Mary today as I remembered the Sandy Hook Elementary School moms, and the dads, who are sitting in sorrow today, the second anniversary of the shooting massacre in Newtown, Conn. 

I thought of Mother Mary yesterday as I watched some of the anguished mothers speak in Washington DC about their sons lost too soon unarmed and killed at the hands of law enforcement: Tressa Sherrod (John Crawford, 22), Collette Flanagan (Clinton Allen, 25), Kadiatou Diallo (Amadou Diallo, 23), Sabrina Fulton (Treyvon Martin, 17), Valerie Bell (Sean Bell, 23), Samaria Rice (Tamir Rice, 12), Gwen Carr (Eric Garner, 43), Lesley McSpadden (Michael Brown, 18) and Wanda Johnson (Oscar Grant, 22) were among the many moms who are now forever united in a sad sisterhood of grief.

With the exception of Gwen Carr and Samaria Rice, all these moms are those whose sons were college age or college age-potential; all were handsome young men of color. Across our country, college students, many at our 26 ELCA Colleges and Universities, and other young adults have taken to the streets, joined their voices with the moms to call for a justice and accountability. You may not have read about it or have seen their young faces in the news, but I’ve noticed the postings in social media sites and elsewhere, young people have heard the heartbreaking stories of the moms and are speaking out. They are clear in their support for excellent policing as well as adamant in their calls to end unwarranted and unnecessary brutality, harassment and racial profiling in communities of color. Our church joins with them as Bishop Eaton and other bishops have encouraged us to stand in solidarity.

I hear Mother Mary singing again; Mary singing the song that is sung at every evening prayer/vespers service. It’s the song that Martin Luther thought all those in power and with authority over others ought to sing, reminding them to be humble in their exercise of power:

“…the Mighty One has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.”

I need to remember Mary’s song as she sang in the midst of the oppressive occupation of her homeland and her struggle for justice and peace as she journeyed with her Jewish son, Jesus, a young man of color who called all of us to treat one another the way we would want to be treated. With Mary, perhaps we could ponder all these things and hold them close to our hearts – and remember the moms who are missing their children tonight, first graders and young adults alike and, in spite of all the sadness, Gaudete in the love of God in Christ Jesus that is stronger than death, violence and despair. 

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December 13, 2014

More light

Today is the commemoration of Saint Lucia, or St. Lucy depending on what part of the world you’re from.  This is not to be confused with the tiny island nation in the Caribbean Sea bearing that name which is where a lot of people who live in snowy climbs would like to be. On the island, however, December 13, St. Lucy’s Day, is a National Day of celebration.

According to tradition, Lucy, whose name means, “Light,” was born in Italy to rich and noble parents in around 283. Her father was of Roman origin, but died when she was five years old. Saint Lucia was believed to have suffered death in Syracuse, Sicily around 310 CE. Among the many stories about her life as a Christian witness is the one told about her aid to Christians hiding in the catacombs to escape terror and oppression from the Roman Emperor Diocletian. She needed to have both of her hands free to carry supplies so ingeniously she attached candles to a wreath around her head so that she could see in the darkness of the catacombs.

When I was the chaplain intern at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., we celebrated Saint Lucia Day with gusto. This was new for me since I was from the “other” Scandinavian tribe – Norwegian; Norse. Although Saint Lucia was from Italy, she has a large following; I mean a really big following, in Sweden!

In Sweden, the eldest daughter of a household will rise early in the morning to don a white robe, a red sash and a crown with nine lit candles. The family awakens to sing, “Santa Lucia” and joins in a breakfast of coffee and saffron buns. Larger gatherings abound throughout Scandinavia and Italy to usher in the light and to remember the bravery of a young girl who brought light to shine in the darkness. 

The celebration continues at Gustavus and the photos are beautiful (please make sure to check this link to view the photographs). Sophomore, Janet Jennings, of Inglewood, Calif. was crowned in Christ Chapel on December 11. The community gathered to sing and to welcome the Light.

Today, all across the United States, there were others who were shining the light of peace, justice and freedom into the dark places of our nation where oppression and fear still lurk. Thousands of people of all races, creeds, walks of life, ages and genders walked peacefully to shed light on the problem of disproportionate violence at the hands of law enforcement officers upon people of color, especially young African-American men and boys. Maybe today as we recall the brave and compassion acts of Lucia, we might consider what it would mean if we’d all wear candles on our heads; to be a bit dangerous and bold in our risk-taking for others. Maybe we could imagine a world in which we bear the Light of Christ so as to banish the darkness around and within us; to brighten the world so desperate for peace.

Tomorrow, I will wear black in solidarity with the call by bishops, including our own Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and my friend, Bishop Guy Erwin, across the country to stand with those who suffer from racism. Then later on, I think maybe I’ll try to wear a crown of candles just to see what it feels like to be Saint Lucy – and imagine being brave and daring in hopes of bringing more light – in Jesus’ name. 

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December 12, 2014


It's twelve days now until Christmas Eve. Today, December 12th, is also the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Mexican celebration of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Tomorrow is the celebration of Saint Lucia, a saint who bore witness to the light. In twelve days after Christmas Eve, it will be the Twelve Days of Christmas. 

It's been a long while since I posted about Ronnell.

I know.

I've been both breathlessly consumed in the wonders of my life as a campus pastor and professor of religion and nearly suffocated by the events since my last post: the killings of Michael Brown, Kajieme Powell, John Crawford, Darrien Hunt, Vonderrit Meyers, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley and Tamir Rice (and this list grows even as I write), but especially a twelve year-old Tamir, all African-American young people killed at the hands of police. I've struggled, honestly, as to how to write, how to respond and how to bring a word of hope to a situation that is so painful, so conflicted and so controversial to the minds of many in our church. Over the Thanksgiving break, we stopped at Tamir's memorial in Cudell Park late at night...it was so sad with all the teddy bears, stuffed animals, candles and cards. 

In the meantime since my last post, my friend Pastor Jim "the other PJ" Holthus decided to retire at the end of this month. His last worship service was December 10. My husband Jack and I participated via video. I offered a prayer for my friend via the video connection and we recorded his last homily. It was a bittersweet gathering as we watched the college students be their crazy-selves at the end of a semester and say their heartfelt good-byes to their beloved campus pastor. 

For today, tonight, for now -- perhaps it's enough to recognize both the utter, astounding beauty of my life and the depth of the deep, agonizing struggle I feel and many others feel in their souls and for some, in their very lives, as we confront the travesty of racism and brutality in any form and the worldwide struggle for justice for all. 

I'm going to attempt to write for the twelve days before Christmas and the twelve days after Christmas because it's time to reflect and to write. 

The world in solemn stillness waits - to hear the angels sing...

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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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Advent: Waiting together