Jayne M. Thompson's Blog
February 24, 2014
|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.
|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 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.|
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!
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 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.
|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.|
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.
|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!
January 6, 2014
Ivey Shorts, '16
|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.
January 5, 2014
Saba Pervaiz, international student from Pakistan
|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.
January 4, 2014
Rachel Ortega, '16
|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.
January 3, 2014
Sean Oros, '15
|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.
January 2, 2014
Bess Onegow, '15, begins with a poem
Will You dance with me?
Your Word is a home
throughout the heavens and beyond the sea.
Let me not alone.
|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.
January 1, 2014
Cheryl Marshall, '14, Letter to Bishop Eaton
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 (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!
December 31, 2013
Elizabeth Koerner, '16
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.
December 30, 2013
Amanda Hautmann, '17
|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.
December 29, 2013
Audra Franley, '17
|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.
December 28, 2013
Stephanie Ensminger, '16
|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.
December 27, 2013
Louie DeCristoforo, '17
|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.
December 26, 2013
Robert Carpenter, '17
|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!
December 25, 2013
"Sixty-four Priceless Hours Along 5 Different State Borders!"
|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.
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!
September 30, 2013
What's the diff?
The diff? On a college or university campus this might be shorthand for "differentials" or "diffy-q," which is short for differential equations. Since I've been at Thiel College, Greenville, Pa., folks here and others from afar have asked me, "What's the diff? What's the difference between a Lutheran Campus Ministry pastor and a campus pastor at an ELCA college?"
In my last post, I mentioned that they are similar but not the same. Since I've been at this for about two months, I'll confirm my hunches and add some. Students on our college and university campuses wherever they reside are precious, hungry for knowledge as well as wisdom and are thirsty for God. They may not all express it in the same way and they may not even know it themselves on a conscious level, but they are a questing people. Students who identify as atheist or agnostic still have questions and are still open to the conversation about what it means to be a human being and how we go about making a difference in the world.
Many of the students at Thiel are similar to those at St. Cloud [Minn.] State University in that they come from many and varied backgrounds. But for the most part their families aren't considered wealthy by any stretch of the imagination and students here at Thiel are generally quite grateful to be here. They may be the first or second generation to go to college and attending a place of higher education has not always been a possibility for some. One of the biggest differences is that Thiel is much smaller than St. Cloud State and Kansas State where I previously served as the Lutheran campus pastor.
With just about 1,100 students, Thiel is very tightly knit. This is not always the case at a large institution. I like the small college feeling and the experience of knowing a lot of faculty, staff and students and seeing them on a regular basis. My office is across from the bookstore and on the main drag-hallway through the student center. Thus, wondrous and copious amounts of people pop in, flop in, and sit on the chairs or the sofa to chitchat or share deep worries or woes. I love this. I feel happy and, well, useful is not the exact word but it will do. Maybe helpful is a better word, but you get the point. At SCSU and KSU, this wouldn't happen. Not like that. My offices were off campus and not on the well-worn trail in the union or student center. I had to go be with the people in those places to make connections and friends.
This isn't to say that I haven't done that at Thiel. From day one, I've eaten in the dining hall or in the Bistro at least once a day. I made it a point to be at nearly every orientation event and helped with the new student move-in by greeting the residence life staff, bringing good cheer, and meeting parents and family members (see photos). I met the band camp and sports camp students, went to an all-campus employee retreat, attended faculty and staff meetings, learned about new phone and email trainings and tried to learn about a thousand names in two weeks. This is the life of a college campus pastor.
My experience as a campus pastor has been priceless and so instrumental as I join the folks here at Thiel. The other thing that is different is that I'm set within a community, not merely journeying alongside an institution. I get to teach religion and this is just the best thing ever. I love being a professor. I'm part of a great team of people who are working hard to make their college an excellent place for learning.
It hasn't all been perfect, of course. We have little glitches along the way and we try to work them out with good cheer and a healthy dose of forbearance and understanding. But things do get accomplished. Students are learning, not only in book knowledge but also in how to become wise, caring, thoughtful human beings.
I think the most important thing to say is this: campus ministry — whether it is on our public college and university campuses or at a college or university of the church — is essential. It is essential in bringing a holistic approach to a student’s academic career. It is essential in encouraging all to learn the balance between mind, body and spirit. Please support your Lutheran Campus Ministry site and your local ELCA college or university’s campus ministry.
Let those campus pastors know if you have a young person who has come to their campuses. Ask if you might be able to visit and learn more about the campus ministry and how you might get involved with the students who are so dear, bright and eager to make friends. Hold a Campus Ministry Sunday in October or November and invite your congregation’s college students to help lead worship and share their stories. Pray for the students as well as the faculty and staff of those colleges and universities. I see firsthand all the work they do to make things happen for students. It’s a wonder to behold.
What’s the diff? Not an enormous amount, but enough to make a difference in my life. I am so, so deeply grateful for my new call and for all the people at Thiel College who have welcomed me and made me feel at home.
It is a wonderful life!
August 5, 2013
It's hard to know what to say. I've been a Lutheran Campus Ministry pastor for more than 20 years. That seems like a long time — but it went by so fast! I love being a campus pastor. I thrive on the energy of young adults, I love hanging in there as they ask great questions, struggle with matters of faith and life and strive to follow Jesus.
|LCM-Kansas State University at the end of the semester in 2002 in the Danforth Chapel.|
Recently, I had discerned deep down in my spirit that it was time to move on. To paraphrase U2's Bono (in their song "40"), "I waited patiently for the Lord who inclined and heard my cry ... I will sing, sing a new song — I will sing, sing a new song ...."
I've accepted a call to serve as Thiel College's campus pastor. Thiel College in Greenville, Pa. is one of the 26 colleges of the ELCA. I'll begin my new ministry on Aug. 12, just one short week from now. Oh my!
In the midst of trying to write this I was, of course, multitasking like a typical campus pastor. I've been in Pennsylvania scouting out housing possibilities with my spouse, Jack, and trying to figure out how we're going to get all of our stuff from point A to point B. I was also posting things to my Facebook friends as I mused about what to say.
This about sums it up:
|Holy Week 2013, Interfaith Seder. I am at the far end of the table with all of our LCM-SCSU folks.|
"I'm trying to write my blog for The Lutheran. It's just hard to know what to say after serving for 20+ years as a Lutheran campus pastor. I'm going to do something different and similar, but they are not the same — being a Lutheran campus pastor and a campus pastor of an ELCA college. I am sad/happy; nostalgic/looking forward; cherishing all that has gone before/grateful for what is to come. I am: the theatre masks; yin/yang; a living, walking, breathing Lutheran paradox — this is most certainly true. Carpe diem!"
That's what I'm going to do — seize this new day. I'm going to give thanks and cherish my rich, wondrous, amazing, challenging, beloved and, at times, agonizing years as an LCM pastor. Then I'm going to seize with gusto and grace my new, exciting, cool, awesome call as Thiel's campus pastor and a religion faculty member.
|July 2013 in the Johnson Memorial Chapel at Thiel College. That's my dog, Koda, and me. Photo by Jack Hayes.|
In my last days running with the Lutheran Campus Ministry pack, among the most amazingly gifted and excellent colleagues, may the Holy One grant me grace and wisdom, peace and clarity and the serenity to carry the day. I pray that the wonderful folks at The Lutheran will invite me to continue blogging about campus ministry as I learn to sing my "new song." Thanks for reading these posts along the way. Give a shout out if you find them helpful!
I hope to see some of you at the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburg. A group from Theil will be joing the school's president, Dr. Troy VanAken, in hosting the College, University and Seminary Presidents' reception on Wednesday, Aug. 14. If you're there, stop by and greet folks!
Blessings to you in Jesus' name.
July 4, 2013
|Kiel and Amanda exchange vows on May 25.|
Kiel and Amanda just got married on May 25.
Now, in a matter of days, Kiel will ship out to Afghanistan. Of course, he can’t tell me exactly where he will be deployed. But he says it’s somewhere along the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan. This causes me a bit of worry. Well, maybe more than a bit of worry. Kiel gives me hugs and says, “Don’t worry, PJ, I’ll be OK.” I just smile.
|Council co-chairs Lynn Rae Olson and Kiel Ruberg at the last student supper of the semester, April 24.|
Peer minister Kiel and I cooked up a storm last year at our Wednesday Student Suppers. Sometimes we tag-teamed the cooking if one of us had to be out of town. Jon, our other peer minister, and many others pitched in to pull off an amazing menu week after week. This was no small feat in our lean times of few resource dollars. Congregation members brought Crock-Pots full of delicious food, made salads and lots of desserts. Amanda, his lovely fiancée now-wife, would join us after her shift at the local YWCA.
|Emilie (me in the center) and Terence’s wedding, Sept. 22.|
Amanda will stay in St. Cloud, Minn. We’ll do our best to support and care for her in our excellent Lutheran Campus Ministry way. Their dear friends, Terence and Emilie, have already moved away from our community. I presided over their wedding last September. Terence is in flight school in Alabama. After he finishes, he might be looking at deployment as well. These young adults, along with so many others in public service, have heard and responded to the call of duty in our nation. Over the years as a Lutheran campus pastor and an aikido instructor, I've known many wonderful young people who have served our country. They have inspirational stories to tell.
On the Fourth of July, our nation’s Independence Day, I think of them and give thanks for their diligent service. Among those I offer my gratitude to are the armed forces, mechanics, diplomats, states-people, government employees, public educators, social workers and counselors, senators, congress people, ambassadors, staffers, members of the executive branch, judges and court workers, firefighters, law enforcement officers, janitors, sanitation workers, and the list goes on. All these people work in hopes of making our nation healthy where freedom is the order of the day and is in the air we breathe every day. Are they perfect? No, none of us are. But my hat’s off to them because without them we would be a poorer and lesser nation. These fellow-citizens need our prayers, support and care — no matter who they are or where they live. They are part of us in the weave of our nation.
|Lutheran Campus Ministry friends after Kiel and Amanda’s wedding.|
If our nation were a tapestry, it would be woven in threads of blue, white and red as well as purples, greens, yellows, azure and orange, shades of gray, variants of black, brown, olive and sand. We are a many-splendid, richly diverse people as citizens held together with the vision of the founders who wrote the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
|Kiel with his Epiphany star gift given to him at the last student supper, April 24.|
As a people in all sorts of communities of faith, we commit ourselves to upholding these truths and values for the common good of all of our citizen-neighbors: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
Duty calls not only the soldiers to attention, but calls each one of us to stand together as “one nation, under God with liberty and justice for all.” This is our sacred honor as we travel with one another on the roads and byways of our nation.
Godspeed, dearest Kiel, I will miss you and will hold you close in the prayers of my heart.
June 20, 2013
Jumping the broom
|Richmond and TaLeiza, visiting at Christmastime 2012.|
“And then, we’ll end with the broom ceremony,” TaLeiza said. Richmond nodded. I said, “Oh, what’s that?”
I was meeting with this lovely young couple about their upcoming marriage. Richmond, one of our dear Lutheran Campus Ministry students and a member of our congregation, was getting married to his sweetheart on June 15, 2013. It just seems right and good to write about their remarkable story the day after Juneteenth and on World Refugee Day, June 20. TaLeiza, who hails from Cleveland, Ohio, fell in love with Richmond, who is a former refugee from Liberia. I wrote a bit about Richmond's story in a previous post. This is the next chapter in his story.
We were all sad when Richmond told us that St. Cloud State University had canceled his graduate school program. This meant he was going to have to go elsewhere. So he applied to and was accepted to another program far away at the University of San Francisco. Richmond had introduced me to TaLeiza at one of Jack's art shows. She was just delightful. They seemed so happy! Then, Richmond moved to San Francisco in 2011. He and TaLeiza kept in touch and pretty soon, the next thing I knew, they were engaged!
Campus pastors are blessed as we are invited to do a lot of weddings — a lot. I have campus pastor friends who are traveling this weekend to various locations to preside over lovely weddings of their students where heartfelt vows are shared and precious rings exchanged. I've done renaissance, country and hiking weddings, weddings on boats, cruise ships and in homes, barns, gardens, chapels, hotels, churches, parks, and old growth forests, at the beach, in the mountains and at Bible camps and country clubs.
When Richmond and TaLeiza asked me to do their wedding, I was so honored. He commuted from California to Minnesota every few months or so. When he was in town, the three of us met and talked about their life together, their hopes and dreams and plans for the special day. That's how we got to talking about “jumping the broom.” I studied up on it, and TaLeiza sent me her thoughts:
|Wedding whisk broom, the jumping broom and the wedding prayer shawl I knit for Richmond and TaLeiza.
“Jumping the broom is an ancient tradition dating back to communities in Africa and beyond. Jumping the broom is a symbol of sweeping away the old and welcoming the new. The broom ceremony represents the joining of two families. It shows respect and pays homage to those who've come before us and paved the way. During times of slavery, many African Americans were not able to marry; this was the only way to symbolize their union. The tradition honors our ancestors and reminds us of our journey.“
As I prepared for their wedding, it occurred to me that it was happening amid a holy convergence — that of Juneteenth and World Refugee Day. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when the Union Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas. Granger's General Order No. 3 finally freed the last 250,000 slaves still in bondage two years after President Abraham Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation. Here was TaLeiza, a U.S. citizen of African heritage, likely a descendent of slaves, now a brilliant and accomplished journalist marrying a young man who fled his homeland in fear for his life.
World Refugee Day is important to Richmond because he knows the refugees’ stories. He was one. Richmond has overcome so many adversities in his life, it makes my head spin and inspires my spirit. Crippled by polio as a child, Richmond was shunned and ostracized by some members of his town. They thought his affliction was a sign of evil spirits and that Richmond should be kept away from others. His sister, Alice, thought otherwise. She sent Richmond to school where he excelled (he is super smart). But then war and violence broke out and they fled to a refugee camp in Ghana. What they thought would only be weeks stretched into long, grueling years in a camp that grew to more than 20,000 refugees. There were no tents, no running water — nothing. But the U.N. came and set things up, and then Richmond met helpers from Lutheran World Relief and Catholic Relief Services. The Anglican Church folks were there too. These are the ones who helped Richmond all his many years there and the ones who miraculously helped him find his sister in Minnesota.
When he arrived in Minneapolis, Lutheran Social Services lent their aid as well. They helped Richmond graduate from high school and, because he was so smart, determined that he should apply to Augsburg College, Minneapolis. He was accepted and fit right in. Alice told me that Richmond just makes friends wherever he goes. The Augsburg community loved him and he graduated with honors. Along the way, leaders of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) heard about him and asked him to be on its board of directors (LIRS President Linda Hartke flew out from Baltimore to the wedding). Richmond joined the ELCA when he became a member of University Lutheran Church of the Epiphany and then went off to California for graduate school. His dad died a few weeks before his graduation this May. His mother had died a few years earlier. He couldn’t fly home to Liberia for his father's funeral. It was too expensive and too close to the wedding.
|Richmond and I wait for his bride, TaLeiza, June 15, 2013.|
I called him in San Francisco. Though his father's death saddened him deeply, Richmond told me that he would be OK. At the wedding, they lit a memorial candle for his parents and for other beloved ones who had died. I read the names and it was a blessed moment in a joyous day. To their wedding Scripture lessons, I added the story I call “The Precious Coin,” when Jesus asks: “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ ”
In the homily, I reminded them that Jesus says God is like the woman who sweeps and sweeps until she finds this one silver coin. God loves us all this way — when we have lost our way or get stuck in gross places like under a refrigerator or underneath the bed, God comes searching, sweeping to gather us up and to hold us again as precious and loved. As we are swept up into God’s great love and care, so also as a couple and as a people we’re swept up into caring about justice, freedom, safety and welcome for all of God’s children — wherever we live.
Then, I said: “As a couple, of course, God who is love, loves you and is the center of that love. But it’s not simply an inward looking into one another’s eyes, as you both know. This mighty love between you is to be shared with the rest of the world — with children, should they become part of your life and family. But also with the other lost ones — lonely children, frail elders, frazzled teens and any stuck in bondage. So I invite you — all of us — to be sweepers for God.”
|TaLeiza and Richmond getting ready to “jump the broom.”|
Then I gave them a “wedding whisk broom” as a symbol of their love and commitment to whisk away vexing troubles; to sweep up the good things together and to sweep the world, making it better and searching for the lost, especially for the children. When they exchanged the vows they had each written and memorized it was so moving that the guests, many of them near tears, applauded. That was the first time I'd ever seen that happen. Then, after the blessing, the prayers and a kiss, they jumped the broom!
Soon they will be on their way back to California for their next adventures. Richmond is working for the city of San Francisco and TaLeiza has a job waiting at the YWCA. I have no doubt that they will be “sweepers for God.” I have no doubt about how pleased they would be for us to join them. I hope they realize how special they are to me and to all who know them — happy marriage, dear ones!