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Making “God’s Work. Our Hands.” Evangelistic

By Rev. David Sprang, Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Evangelical Mission

On Sunday, September 12, 2021 many folks across the ELCA will wear their “God’s Work. Our Hands.” shirts out into the public arena as they serve others. A noble endeavor to serve the community. And many will hope that others read their t-shirts and they will know who it is that is doing the work and why they do it. 

But what if? What if we also tell them who we are, why we serve, and listen to hear about their lives, their stories, their faith, their joys and their sorrows?

When Jesus sends the disciples out for the first time in Matthew 10 he says: “Go to the lost sheep and tell them ‘The Kingdom of God has come near’”. Think about ways your congregation’s “God’s Work. Our Hands.” project will let people know the Kingdom of God has come near.

Here is a beginning list of ideas – and I hope you might add to it:

  • Take worship to where you are serving – a nursing home, park, with first responders, etc.
  • Listen to the people being served – listen to joys and sorrows, laments and COVID struggles
  • Bless people – find ways to pronounce a blessing upon the people being served
  • Invite friends or other family members to serve with you
  • Ask those being served or those serving with you: What can we pray for?
  • Hold a Welcome Event after God’s Work Sunday and invite all the people you encountered on September 12 to come to the event
  • Ask people to tell you their faith journey story – find ways to invite them into further conversations
  • Recruit a listening team to accompany workers so some are working/serving and others are listening to those being served
  • Ask  those being served what they think are things the church should be doing to help the community
  • Keep the list going…

Talk about Jesus. Invite folks into conversation. Listen to their stories. Be transformed!




Pastor Receives Emgage Action Ambassador Award

By Sue Sprang

EAST LANSING – On Sept. 20, Pastor Gary Bunge and University Lutheran Church, East Lansing, received an award of acknowledgement and appreciation. Bunge explained what the award entailed:

“The award came from Emgage Action at their Get Out the Vote Virtual Gala,” he said. “It is their Ambassador Award and was given to me and University Lutheran Church for our work and relationship with the Islamic Center of East Lansing.

“I had about two minutes to speak and talk about our relationship which goes back to the 1970’s. I was nominated by the son (member of the Islamic Center of East Lansing) of Emgage board member Dr. Iltefat Hamzavi.”

As stated by Bunge, the relationship between ULC and the Islam Society goes back to the 1970’s. It began with the Islam Society reaching out to University when its building was in need of expansion. When the request came before the East Lansing Planning Commission, ULC members and Pastor George Madsen, who was then serving the congregation, attended to give their full support for the project. 

This seemed to be a natural move on both congregations’ parts. ULC was already allowing its Muslim neighbors to use its parking lot when they gathered for Friday prayers.  

Pastor Fred Fritz came to ULC in 2003 and the relationship between the two bodies became even more intentional.

“When I came to Lansing I was immediately greeted by then Imam Omar Sobani,” Fritz said. “When the imam became ill, our [Church] Council presented him with a prayer quilt and prayed for him.” 

In 2007, the congregations came together to landscape the property between the mosque parking lot and the church’s north driveway. 

“A member of ULC drew up the plans and members of both communities did the work,” Fritz said. “The landscaping includes two brick paver sidewalks to connect the communities.”

The addition of the sidewalks provided an added bonus.

“Around [the time the walks were laid], the children from the [Islamic] Center’s school began using our yard and play area for recess,” Fritz said.

The year 2009 brought a new depth to the relationship when ULC, the Center, and the local synagogues began biannual interfaith discussions.

“Topics have included basic teachings of each tradition,” Fritz said, “as well as the role of women and the separation of church and state. Our next event will address earth keeping.”

The relationship between the two faith communities is certainly needed in today’s world and is one that has not gone unnoticed.

“In our time God seems to be bringing people of faith–Christian, Jewish, Muslim–together to work for justice and peace in the world God loves and to serve God’s most vulnerable children,” said Bishop Craig A. Satterlee of  the North/West Lower Michigan Synod. 

“It is both exciting and gratifying to see God at work in this way in East Lansing, on the territory of our synod.”

As the globe grows smaller and our nation grows in diversity, relationships such as the one between University and the Islamic Center can serve as healthy examples of finding common ground where we can work together for the common good of our communities and our world.

The link to the YouTube video of the Emgage Action event is Emgage Michigan Virtual Gala.  In the video the part with Pastor Bunge/ULC begins at 1:28:12.

Note from, the author: Portions of this article were taken from two of my former works: “A Bold Collaboration” and “A Bold Collaboration, Part 2” (2015).




A Grieving Mother’s Journey of Faith

By Sue Sprang

WOODLAND – “I cannot think of anyone stronger that a mother who has lost her child…and still breathes.”  – Robyna May

On Oct. 24, 2018 an ecstatic and seven-months-pregnant Kayla Cole, a member of Zion Lutheran Church, Woodland, arrived for her monthly check-up. Things soon took a horrible, unforeseen turn when the ultrasound technician announced, “I’m sorry; I can’t find a heartbeat.”

“It was the day the rug was pulled from under our [Kayla’s and her husband, Andrew’s] feet and our hearts shattered,” Cole said. “When she first said those words, the words no expectant parent should ever have to hear, I honestly didn’t believe her.”

True to human form, Cole’s initial response was denial. When the technician left the room to get the doctor, Cole found herself coming up with any other scenario than the one she now faced.

“I laid there staring at the ceiling and running every possible scenario through my mind,” she said. “She might be new and have no idea what she’s doing. As the minutes ticked by I thought, just for good measure, I’d say one prayer. In that prayer, I didn’t ask… I told God, ‘this isn’t happening,’ that I would do anything to make it be a mistake.”

The doctor arrived and did a second ultrasound. She confirmed that there was no heartbeat.

“The world stopped,” Cole said. “I sat in shock as the doctor talked… too stunned to hear her or even cry. Finally, she told me that she would get it all figured out and would let me know when I needed to go to the hospital. She handed me a tissue, asked if I’d make it home okay, and told me to skip checkout and just walk out.” 

From there, Cole headed home, shocked, numb, and beyond reeling.

“To this day, I don’t remember the drive home,” she said. “I just know I was speeding, going ninety miles an hour, and I could barely see through my tears.”

She now had to break the news to her husband, Andrew.

“When I got home, I had to walk into the house and tell him that our son, that Wesley was gone,” Cole said. “I still can’t imagine what Andrew felt waking to my sobs or how he even understood me through them. 

“The rest of the day is mostly a blur. I felt like a zombie and a lot went on in those next few hours. Then we had to call our parents to tell them and had several imaginably hard decisions to make.”

There are two things prior to this day that have a significant impact on the rest of the story.  

First, Cole, an active, lifelong Lutheran, was never afraid to talk about Jesus or embarrassed by her Christian faith. But how she experienced and viewed that faith took a massive turn on October 24 and 25, 2018.

“I always thought I was a faithful person. I grew up here, going to Sunday school and church every week,” Cole said. “I went to all the [synod youth] gatherings and was a big part of the youth group. My family prayed before dinner every night.

“I wasn’t afraid to tell people I was a Christian,” she continued. “Yes, I had my struggles in my youth – but it was never a struggle that tested my faith. I was that stereotypical Christian who thought that God doesn’t test people. I wasn’t Daniel in the lion’s den or Moses in the wilderness. And I’ve always been the stereotypical human who saw other people’s tragedies and, despite being sympathetic to them, I always thought it would never happen to me. 

“I used to listen to the speakers at the [synod youth] gatherings and they all had a story. They had some big ‘come to Jesus’ or an ‘I saw or felt God’s presence moment.’ And I just remember thinking, ‘yeah okay, sure you did.’ I never really thought that people truly experienced God in such huge ways, until I did.”

Second, the Coles’ road to pregnancy was not an easy one. 

“The actual start of our journey was in 2017, when we were struggling to get pregnant,” Cole said. “We learned I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, which basically is a hormone imbalance that usually makes it extremely hard to get pregnant. 

“After around a year of probably a hundred negative pregnancy tests, I finally tested positive in May 2018. We were shocked, thrilled, and so excited. Our prayers had been answered and our struggles felt worth it.” 

On Oct. 25, the day after learning that Wesley was dead, Cole carried that weight, along with the above history, into the hospital to deliver her and Andrew’s son. Their mothers accompanied them.

“When we left our house to head to the hospital, I was still in shock,” she said. “I was numb with fear. I focused on simply getting through the day. I didn’t think about anything beyond getting through labor. Hour after hour passed and more and more medicine was pumped into my body to help speed up the process. The pain became both physically and emotionally worse and worse. 

“I confess, I grew angry with God. I felt like He’d left me. I didn’t know where He was because He certainly wasn’t there in that room with me. He wasn’t there as I cried out in pain or when the medicine made me shake so badly I thought I’d shake off the bed. How could He be and let this happen?”

The following October (2019), when Cole’s pastor, Rebecca Ebb-Speese, asked if she’d like to use a sermon time during worship to share her faith story with the congregation, she accepted the invitation. Preparing her sermon for that day wove itself into the grieving process. She could recognize God’s work and his care on the day Wesley was born and in the depths of her sorrow.

“When I look back on that day, I realize that God was there,” she said. “He was there in the nurses who were nothing short of angels on earth, as they cared for me in my darkest hour. He was there, in Andrew, who stayed by my side and put me above himself. He was there in our moms who stayed by our side the entire time. He was there in our brothers and sisters-in-law who came to be with us when they could. He was there as our moms, my sister-in-law, and Andrew took turns holding my hands through the pain. He was there in Pastor Becky, who sat for hours waiting to bless Wesley.” 

It was during this time that, even though she felt God had left her, Cole also felt his presence.

“When I really think about that day, despite my anger and fear and the feeling of being completely abandoned by God, I knew He was all around me,” she said. “When Wesley came into the world, this feeling washing over me. It’s really hard to explain, but the only way I can is that it was this overwhelming peace, and this voice-like thought that told me that I could do it, that everything was going to be okay.”

The grief was still raw, and after months of tests and other medical procedures it looked like Kayla and Andrew would never know why their son died. Just when they were beginning to accept the idea of not knowing, it was discovered that she has an extremely rare clotting disorder that makes her more clotting prone. Wesley was not getting the nutrients he needed, which eventually led to his death.

Even though there is still lots of grief to plow through, Cole has been learning more about herself and the way the world works. 

“I learned that life isn’t fair, and that no matter how good you are or how good you try to be, bad things still happen,” she said. “I learned that no amount of planning can prepare you for losing the one thing you wanted more than anything in the world. I learned how to survive my grief even when it felt fatal. I learned that you can be happy and sad at the same time and that that’s okay. I learned to never take even the smallest things for granted.” 

Cole shares her story with women who have lost their babies to make talking about pregnancy and infant loss easier and more common; to show they don’t have to feel ashamed, guilty or worthless when they experience these losses, and that they don’t have to feel they need to hide it; to let them know they aren’t alone; and to give them the love and support they need as they grieve.  

Kayla and her husband also find that sharing their story is part of their personal healing process.

“I do believe that our story is important to tell,” Cole said, “because our story isn’t just about Wesley or our losses or even raising awareness about Pregnancy and Infant loss. Our story is so much more than that. Our story is about a journey that we never expected to be on. Our story is about being strong when you feel weak. Our story is about choosing to have faith when you have lost all hope. Our story is about experiencing God in the time of our deepest sorrows.”

Cole is aware that grief is an on-going process and that God is with her all the way.

“Despite all I’ve learned, there are things I’m still figuring out,” she said. “I’m still figuring out what moving forward without Wesley means. I’m still figuring out how to accept that I’m different than I was before. I’m working on truly putting my faith in God, in a way I’ve never had to before. 

“But most of all, I’m figuring out how to have hope again. To hope that things will get easier. To hope that we can heal. To hope that our journey to parenthood isn’t over. To hope that even if Wesley is our only biological child, God has a child out there that needs us just as much as we need them. To hope that great things are in store for us. To hope that our story can somehow help even just one person. To just have hope. Because without hope then we don’t have faith. Without hope we can’t trust God and have faith that he has a plan. 

“Faith had always been easy for me,” Cole added. “Now I realize that was because I never really had to use it. I never had to sit down and say ‘Okay God, you’ve got this, do what you gotta do.’  But I also had never experienced God like I did that day in October 2018.” 

Ebb-Speese reflected on the Coles’ journey.

“The whole congregation was deeply affected by Kayla and Andrew’s loss of Wesley,” she said. “Kayla grew up at Zion and everyone is family here. We were all so excited to have a new baby in the church family so their loss brought deep grief to everyone.

“Kayla could have taken time away from church activities for a time but she did not. She sang a few weeks later for our Zion Lutheran Church Women’s thank offering service. She jumped right into planning and leading the Sunday School Christmas program. I asked her if it would be too hard for her, but she said it was healing for her to sing and to work with the children.

“Over the next year, I saw Kayla grow so much in her faith,” Ebb-Speese continued. “She was open to share her story with anyone who asked her about it. Certainly, she struggled with why they lost Wesley and had her times of questioning God, but she did not let go of her faith. 

“Kayla has been an inspiration to all of us. And it’s been exciting to see her take opportunities to be a lay preacher at church. I am honored to be her pastor and to have been able to walk this journey with her.”

Things Cole suggests to help you navigate supporting someone amidst their loss of a child: 

Words aren’t hard!  You don’t have to come up with something fancy or try to comfort us.  Simply saying “I’m sorry” is all we need to hear.  We know you don’t know what to say.  We understand it’s awkward and uncomfortable.  We know you have the best intentions when you respond to us, but depending on how new the loss is, our emotions could be all over the place and while you meant to say something comforting, you may have offended us.  So just keep it simple.  Say “I’m sorry”.

Don’t let that fear of not knowing what to say, make you remain silent though.  Silence is the worst — especially if it is someone you are close to. It’s easier to forgive well-intentioned phrases that offend us than it is silence.  Silence tells us that you don’t care.  Silence tells us that you don’t want to try to push past the awkwardness and uncomfortableness.  If you can’t say you’re sorry in person, send a card or text.  Anything is better than radio silence.

All we want is to be acknowledged as moms, to feel like our baby mattered and that our pain and grief are valid.  No matter how early the pregnancy is lost, it is a loss. Many women, like me, struggle for a long time to conceive and even if it’s only a few weeks, that positive test means the world to us. We are moms and our babies matter.  Let us talk about them, say their names, let us share our stories.  Pray with us, cry with us, grieve with us.  Include us in your list of mom friends.  

Remember that everyone is different.  We all grieve differently.  There is a difference between a loss at four weeks and a loss at seven months.  Nonetheless, they are both tragic losses.  What offends some may comfort others, and what may comfort some may offend others.  Everyone handles their loss differently.  The best thing you can do is be there for them.  Let them know that no matter what, they don’t have to go through it alone.  

Be patient with us.  Our lives were thrown upside down and the pain is crippling.  We might not want to go to the party or dinner or celebrate a holiday.  We might want to just sit on the couch in our pajamas and mindlessly watch TV.  That’s okay.  Be patient with us as we are learning to live with this constant ache in our hearts.  This is not something we get over or move on from, but we do learn to move forward with the pain.  We all move forward at different paces.  We all have days where we break down or back track in our grief.  So please, be patient with us.

Lastly, for those of us whose loss is not fresh and even for some of us when our loss was fresh, do not treat us like we’re fragile.  For me, this one is the worst.  Don’t be afraid to talk about pregnancy and babies with us.  We are thinking of our babies 24/7, so you won’t set us off.  When we say their name or talk about when we were pregnant, don’t panic.  Talk to us like you would any other mother.  We long for the day when we can say our sweet baby’s name and not bring tears or sadness to anyone’s eyes.  Until you experience it, you can never understand how we can be happy and sad at the same time.  We are learning to be happy for you at the same time we are sad for ourselves.  So while it may be hard or uncomfortable for you, please do not shy away from these conversations.  When you do, we feel ashamed or like you don’t care about our story, us, or our baby.

These are just a few of the things that can help you navigate through someone’s loss.  The more we talk about pregnancy loss and infertility, the more comfortable we become with it.  When we are more comfortable talking about it, we can better support our women and their families, when they experience it.

Things that helped Cole through her grief:

Journaling: “A coworker of mine had given me a journal.  I used it to write letters to Wesley and to just write in daily so that I could see how far I had come.  It allowed me to be 100% honest about how I was feeling.”  

Reading and Bible Study: “The first book that helped me was Mending Tomorrow: Choosing Hope, Finding Wholeness by Alyssa Quilala.  I found a lot of what she went through during her loss and the things she felt were similar to how I felt.  The second book that really helped me was It’s Not Supposed to be This Way by Lysa TerKeurst.  While the book is about her dealing with the blow of an unexpected divorce, I found the book to be extremely helpful.  It had a bible study book and DVD that goes with it.”  

Therapy: “When it was coming close to a year since losing Wesley, I finally decided I needed to talk to someone who wasn’t emotionally connected to our story.  So I found a therapist to talk to.  It was helpful that she was a spiritual person (Roman Catholic), so we could talk on a spiritual level as well.  She helped me to see things from new perspectives.”  

Music: “Music has always been a huge part of my life and it has been a huge part of my grieving process – whether it has been singing in church or just blaring it in the car and singing my heart out.  A few of the songs on my playlist are. ‘I Will Sing’ by Kari Jobe, which was also the song that I was singing in the car when I first felt Wesley move; ‘I Will Carry You (Audrey’s Song)’ by Selah; ‘Gone Too Soon’ by Chris Daughtry; ‘Winter Bear’ by Coby Grant; ‘I Want You Here’ by Plumb; ‘Worn’ by Tenth Avenue North; ‘Why God’ by Austin French; ‘You Don’t Know’ by Katelyn Tarver; and ‘Even If’ by MercyMe.”

Church Community: “The huge thing that helped me was continuing to stay involved in my church.  No matter how angry I was at times, I had to stay involved.  It was a huge support system for me.  And it helped me continue to hold onto my faith.”

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month is in October and began in the U.S. in 1988. You can find more information, resources, and activities at https://nationaldaycalendar.com/national-pregnancy-and-infant-loss-awareness-month-october/




COVID Meets Church Camp

By Sue Sprang

SYNOD – Church camp. For many of us it means a summer of children and youth going away for a week or two to enjoy God’s creation, be nurtured in their faith – or maybe even find it, be uplifted and encouraged by the staff, make new friends, and find themselves busy with a myriad of activities that inspire spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being. For some young people, it is a life and faith-altering experience. And for some it is the only place they feel included or where they feel they can express their doubts and beliefs without judgment. 

Beyond summer camp, there are retreats and events spanned across the other three seasons. These are times for folks to connect; to learn, study, or plan; to experience personal or spiritual growth; or to just enjoy spending time with other people of faith. These times can bring refreshment and renewal to God’s people.

So what happens when these experiences are suddenly not possible? Who would have thought that a pandemic virus would make it an abrupt reality?

C. J. Clark, executive director of Living Water Ministries of the North/West Lower and Southeast Michigan Synods, knows what happens.

When it was acknowledged that COVID-19 had hit the United States and many governors, including Michigan’s, put public health safety requirements and guidelines in place, Clark immediately knew that changes were going to have to be made. Not last-minute tweaks or adjustments, but major changes that would impact LWM now and into the future. 

When the LWM board sadly, but prudently, agreed that the March 2020 Jr. High Youth CHARGE event and summer camp should be cancelled, Clark, along with LWM’s program innovator Nicole McCarthy, buckled down to map out future opportunities for summer campers and off-season events.

“How do you bring children together ‘to experience intentional community centered in Christ,’ which is our mission?” he said. “How do we engage people when they can’t come together?”

Creativity and not knowing how long the pandemic and its affects will stretch out have to be blended when planning for the present and the future. 

“This summer we were able to do some virtual campfires,” Clark said. “We also invited past anti-racism camp alumni to be part of a virtual event. We had ten people from across the country, including Michigan, take part. It wasn’t a huge number but it was a good experience. I was humbled by the participants connecting with us.” The Bridge Builders team continues to meet monthly via virtual meetings.

This year’s fall events have been cancelled, as has the annual Youth Gathering for the N/WLM and SE Michigan synods, which was to be held this January. Mostly likely any off-season events beyond that will also be cancelled. Then who knows what summer 2021 will bring. Clark and McCarthy are brainstorming resources campers can use in their home settings, especially things that get them away from the computer.

Meanwhile, LWM’s finances are stable.

“I’ve talked to other camp directors across the country and some of them are being hit really hard, especially if they rely heavily on [off-season] retreats,” Clark said. “So far, our fundraising has been going very well. May, June, and July were positive and August is looking to be on track.

“Right before COVID hit, we were raising funds for a new cabin. We have some verbal commitments, but have paused it [the project] for now. It was hoped to have the cabin built by August of next year, but pausing [rather than cancelling] indicates there is a day beyond [Aug. 2021] we are looking toward.”

Clark has been grateful to the board and the synod for their support.

“Bishop Satterlee sent me a message during a board Zoom meeting that said LWM doesn’t have to justify its existence,” he said. “That was encouraging.”

On Aug. 13, the following message was posted on LWM’s Facebook page:

“As the sun sets on what would have been the 2020 summer season, we remember all the summers that have come before. It is our hope and prayer that you have found ways to safely and meaningfully connect with God and other people this summer, and we look forward to again being a place that brings together all of God’s children on the shores of Stony Lake in the future.”

Shortly thereafter, Clark wrote a letter that was also posted on Facebook. One paragraph says:

“As the sun sets on summer 2020 we move into the next phase of pandemic life.  Living Water Ministries now turns its attention to the east to celebrate and witness the dawning of a new day in which we can continue to confidently trust that Jesus reigns.”

And God’s people say: “Amen.”




Sharing the Light

By Sue Sprang

EAST LANSING – At a time when intolerance seems to be the norm, it’s refreshing to come across an example that dispels that notion. In this case, it comes in the form of a long-standing relationship between University Lutheran Church and the Islamic Society of Greater Lansing, both in East Lansing.

The congregations, which have had a relationship for about 35 years, provide spiritual and religious guidance and services to Michigan State University and surrounding area, sit next to each other, share a parking lot and a playground, and hold interfaith opportunities and events. 

The long-time friendship went a step further when ULC asked the Islamic Center to join them for “God’s Work. Our Hands” Sunday in September 2015. The mosque’s spiritual leader, Imam Sohail Chaudhry, wasn’t surprised by the invitation, nor by his congregants’ eagerness to participate.

“When I came here, I was over the moon when I heard of the warm, close relationship with the Lutheran Church,” said Chaudhry, who came to the area in December 2014. 

“It is one of my goals to improve relationships with other faith communities and bring people of different faiths closer through education and collaborative efforts. In the case of the Lutheran Church, I didn’t have to make much effort because this relationship had been established before I arrived.”

The friendship between the two worshiping communities has continued to flourish. Prayer, education, and words and actions on behalf of one another are ongoing. The people of University are well aware of the threat of violence against Muslims across the United States, so are vigilant in their concern for their neighboring congregation. 

This strong bond laid a natural foundation for the mosque’s outreach to ULC when it came to taking steps toward environmental stewardship. The Islamic Center approached ULC with a friendly challenge in the form of solar energy.

“The Solar Project implemented by the Islamic Center is our attempt to care for God’s creation by generating electricity without a trace of carbon footprint,” said Chaudhry. “As a house of worship, we didn’t want to merely preach, rather, put our words into action. By producing electricity from a renewable source, we are conserving the environment as required by our faith.” 

Initially, the two congregations contemplated doing a joint solar project between their property lines, but realized the project was cost prohibitive in the short term. The Islamic Center moved ahead with the project with the installation of its own system.

“We installed a 10.24 KW Solar Array system on our rooftop – which generates only a small portion of the electricity we consume,” said Chaudhry. Not only does it serve the primary purpose of generating electricity, but it also serves as an example for our members to follow. We are treating this as a beginning and intend to grow the array in the future until it can produce enough energy to be self-sufficient.”

On ULC’s end, the idea went dormant for a couple years, although it was not completely forgotten – especially by its Muslim neighbors.

“We knew the Islamic Center had installed a solar array and some money had been donated at ULC for the project,” said Rev. Gary Bunge, lead pastor, “but there was not a great deal of energy for it except by the congregation’s Earthkeeping Team. However, when the Islamic Center surprised us with a gift of $25,000 for the project – although they said that there were no strings attached and we could use the money however we wished – the dormant idea came to life.”

With the Islamic Center money, other money donated to the solar project, money left from a bequest, and budgeted money saved with lower utility bills due to COVID-19, University was able to fund the second half of the project. The solar panels were installed by early September and are now producing electricity.

“Our friendship with the University Lutheran Church spans decades now,” said Chaudhry. “We have worked together on several initiatives to benefit our local communities. When we could not fulfill our goal of a joint solar project, and had to go our own ways, we did not want ULC to be left behind. After all, they are such wonderful neighbors to us, accommodating our parking needs every Friday and during the month of Ramadan. 

“There are some things money can’t buy, and the generosity of the ULC is one of them. So we came up with the proposal of presenting the gift and challenging their members to match the donation so that their energy needs can be fully met for decades to come.

“ULC was quite surprised by the gift,” he added. “They never had any expectation of a return for their kindness towards us. So when we presented the gift, they wondered why! And for our part, it was a small gesture to say thank you to the kind members and wise leaders at the University Lutheran Church.”.

The thankfulness for the strong bond between the two congregations is reciprocated by ULC:

“We are so grateful for the friendship and relationship that we have with the Islamic Center. They are incredibly gracious neighbors,” said Bunge. “We are grateful that we can share our parking space with them, and grateful for the ways that we can come together to serve our community. This relationship is a gift to both worshiping communities and a model for the rest of the world.”

Bishop Craig Satterlee of the North/West Lower Michigan Synod, where ULC resides, also commented on the relationship:

“The world’s future is people pulling together to respond to God in acts of God’s will,” he said. “I am thrilled – genuinely thrilled for the concrete acts of faith in East Lansing within our synod.”




Being Church: Women Clergy: Shout Out!

By Sue Sprang

SYNOD – In this final installment of the series observing the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Lutheran Church, some of our synod’s pastors share their thoughts on what they see as the role of the church, the music that inspires and motivates them, dancing, and how they would like to view their years of service once they retire. 

QUESTION: What do you see as the main role(s) of the local congregation, the ELCA, and/or Christ’s Church as a whole?

Pastor Joan Oleson: “I see the main role of the church [at all levels] as being to share God’s redeeming love with all, in word and deed.”

Pastor Pauline (Polly) Standley: “The main role of the church in all its expressions is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to all. An important part of this is to be a voice for those who do not have a voice.”

Pastor Kjersten Sullivan: “The congregation that shaped my view of the role of thte church in Becongregation is a different, though equally justice focused congregation in a different part of D.C. But I worked for N Street Village, a homeless shelter for women that was founded by Luther Place. 

“N Street had no religious affiliation, and modeled God’s unconditional love for me. Women who came to N Street were welcomed exactly as they were, and they were loved and challenged, pushed and encouraged, to grow an change, to live into the fullest level of however God had created them. N Street is what I think church looks like at its best. Everyone is welcome, exactly who they are and as they are, and is loved into becoming the best they can be. Sometimes that love is gentle; sometimes it’s harsh truth – but it is always love.”

Pastor Megan Crouch: “I see the main role of the local congregation in the ELCA or in any church body as being the first point of welcome into something bigger. Local congregations invite people in; they give them safe places to talk about their questions, their doubts, their concerns, and in doing so, provide a place for them to grow in their faith. They help teach faith to future generations, and provide a real sense of God’s presence with people during some of the most important moments in their lives. 

“Local congregations also serve as ways to connect each person to the wonderful work of the larger church. They are the first place that new ideas can come from and be tried out. They are the mouthpiece that share information about what is happening in the larger church body, and they are the place where people come to feel equipped to go out and share that good news of God’s love with a world that desperately needs it. The local congregation helps remind people that they aren’t alone, they aren’t the only ones working, the only ones trying, or the only ones with questions… and that no matter what life may throw at them, they don’t need to face it on their own.” 

Pastor Jessica Rivera-Walker: “I love the motto of the ELCA ‘God’s Work. Our Hands.’ I believe the role of the Church both locally and globally and everything in between is to be the hands and feet and body of Christ in the world. We need to be the place where the hurting and the lost, the marginalized and the mainstream come together in the name of Jesus to live out the love of Christ. We are called to be prophets and speak out on behalf of those whose voices are suppressed, we are called to be truth-tellers and to speak truth to power. Which means we are meant to call out racism and other oppressive systems, and we are meant to name evil when we see it happening in our society, and we are meant to work together to overcome these things because that is what it means to love and serve your neighbor.”

QUESTION: What are some of your favorite hymns/church songs/church camp songs/other songs of faith or inspiration? Please share why, if you wish.

Pastor Pauline (Polly) Standley: “Two of my favorite hymns are: ‘I, The Lord of Sea and Sky’ because of the insistent call by God to serve God, and ‘There is a Balm in Gilead’ because it reminds me of my mother and grandmother and comforts me during the pains and horrors in life.”

Pastor Megan Crouch: “A favorite church hymn is ‘The Canticle of Turning.’ I sang this for the first time in seminary on the day it was announced that Barack Obama was going to be our next president. It was in Philadelphia, and the energy, hope, joy, and faith that God truly was turning the world were so real… I’ve always felt that joy when I hear that song, and know that God is at work in creation. Other favorites are ‘This is My Fathers World’ – I’ve always found great comfort and peace in this hymn; it really helps ground me – and ‘You Are Mine,’ which I find to be one of the most wonderful and honest songs in the book. It remin”ds me that God has called me and made me his own.”

Pastor Kjersten Sullivan: “For someone with as little musical ability as I have, I do love music. Right now, we’re singing ‘Spirit of Gentleness’ as our prayer hymn and I love it. We begin with the refrain, then after the prayers, we end with verse four. So the last line we sing after praying for God’s presence is ‘with bold new decision, your people arise.’ It gets me every Sunday.”

Pastor Ruth Overdier: “It’s hard to choose favorites…I love so many: ‘Beautiful Savior’ – sung in every congregation, from childhood to the present; ‘Rise! Shine! You people!’ – perfect poetic articulation of our faith and musical excellence; ‘Lord of All Hopefulness;’ ‘God, Who Made the Earth and Heaven;’ ‘O Day Full of Grace;’ ‘He Comes to Us as One Unknown’ – we never sing this one…but Timothy Dudley-Smith’s poetry is exquisite; and ‘People, look East!’”

Pastor Joan Oleson: “Favorite hymns of mine are ‘My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less,’ with its message of grace and solid hymnic melody (Melita); ‘Lord Jesus, You Shall Be My Song,’ with its theme of life and faith as journey; and ‘O God beyond All Praising,’ with its theme of gratitude and praise.”

Pastor Jessica Rivera-Walker: “Oh, there are so many… The camp songs I learned as a youth have always been close to my heart. There’s one called ‘The Lord is My Light’ that I often sing when I am afraid or in need of comfort.  When I was ordained I chose ‘I, the Lord of Sea and Sky’ – a song that still makes me cry, and Steven Chapman’s ‘For the Sake of the Call,’ as well as ‘I Love to Tell The Story’ – and one of my very favorite ‘funeral’ hymns was one we sang at my beloved Grandmother’s funeral, ‘In the Garden.’ These are all songs that I grew up singing and have a special place in my story. 

“I also remember listening to the group The Imperials when I was a kid. They were one of my mom’s favorite gospel groups and there are a few songs that still take me back to those days of simple, childlike faith. Then there are hymns that I sang as part of a choir. In high school our ‘go to’ encore song every year during tour and the spring concert was an arrangement of ‘O Day Full of Grace,’ by F. Melius Christianson and I have always adored that song. It sounds to me exactly like a chorus of angels would sound when welcoming someone into heaven. 

“In College at Augsburg University we sang ‘Stay With Us’ and it’s simple plea for Jesus to stay with us, for it is soon evening has been a prayer ever since. We also had a ‘go to’ encore with an arrangement of ‘Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho’ – it’s a fun, energetic arrangement that was always a crowd pleaser. Plus I will never forget seeing my (future) husband sing that when he was in the Augsburg Choir.”

QUESTION: If you were to choose a dance that represents your ministry, what would it be? OR if you were to create a dance about your ministry, what would you name it?

Pastor Kjersten Sullivan: “I’m a runner, so I dance like Elaine from ‘Seinfeld’ [television show]. Which, come to think, is maybe a good metaphor for my ministry – with great gusto and not a whole lot of direction.”

Pastor Pauline (Polly) Standley“The waltz. It is quiet, in sync with another, and beautiful. It exemplifies care for another and that you are safe.”

Pastor Joan Oleson: “I would probably choose some type of ballroom dance, as it requires partnership.”

Pastor Megan Crouch: “As someone with no sense of rhythm, I can’t say I would have a dance that represents my ministry… I think I’m just making up the steps as I go and trying not to step on God’s toes

QUESTION: When you retire (or are already retired) and look back on your years of service, what would you like to be able to say about those years?

Pastor Jessica Rivera-Walker: “I would like to be able to say that I did the best I could to live out my call, that I was compassionate and that I was able, in even the tiniest way, to be God’s love to someone when they needed it.” 

Pastor Pauline (Polly) Standley: “That I made a difference!”

Pastor Joan Oleson: “I’d like to be able to say that Christ, not me, was at the center of my work and I had a deep desire to share in word and deed that God’s love in Christ was for all people.  Regardless.”

Pastor Megan Crouch: “I really want people to say that Pastor Megan was herself and helped others feel like they could be themselves in the church. That she helped people see that they didn’t have to have it all together, get it all right, or have any answers at all to be part of this wonderful family of faith, and that they felt like the church was somewhere safe and accepted by God, and that they responded to that gift by trying to make the world a place where more people felt safe and accepted.” 

Pastor Kjersten Sullivan: “The pastors I admire most have a calming presence. You just feel safe with them – the kind of safety that makes you want to try your best for others and the world – like I want to live up to being the kind of person you seem to think that I am.”

Pastor Ruth Overdier: “Looking back on years of service, I’ve been blessed to have served as associate pastor in a growing congregation, and as solo pastor in a smaller, rural setting.  Terms of interim ministry and supply preaching have been significant and meaningful. I have felt empowered by God’s Spirit in each place. As I said earlier [in Part 4 of this series], pastoral ministry has brought unexpected joy.”




The Word: Women Clergy: Shout Out!

By Sue Sprang

SYNOD – Here is Part 9 of the series observing the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Lutheran Church by raising up the women clergy of our synod. In this installment, some of our pastors share scripture passages that inspire and sustain them. 

QUESTION: Do you have any “go to” scripture passages? Please share why, if you wish.

Pastor Jessica Rivera-Walker: “All of Romans 8 because I think that Paul distills the gospel so well. If we need to be reminded of anything it is that ‘nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.’” 

Pastor Joan Oleson“’Fear not for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine.’ (Isaiah 43:1b)This was my confirmation verse.  It brings comfort, peace, and joy.  Wherever I find myself in life, whatever the circumstances, I know that I have been named and claimed as God’s own.”

Pastor Megan Crouch: “I have a lot of ‘go to’ scripture passages. I guess a few of my personal favorites would be John 14:6 – ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the father except through me’ – because it reminds me that Jesus is the way to God, and life isn’t about figuring out how to be saved; life is about realizing we have been saved, and responding to that gift. It reminds me of what Jesus has done, and helps keep me humble. 

“Another would be Isaiah 9:2: ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…’ That is because it reminds me that though there will be times of darkness, God will always help us find light… and that belief in God isn’t the naive hope of people who have never known suffering… it is the resilient faith of people who have suffered, who have walked in darkness, and who still see and believe that there is light and love in the world God has made – and that is what helps me take the next step even in the darkest of times.” 

Pastor Kjersten Sullivan: “Each phase of ministry seems to have a scripture passage that ends up shaping the narrative. In my last call, it was the story of the exile, Moses reluctantly leading grumbling Israelites through the desert. He doesn’t really want to lead them, they don’t really think he knows where he’s going – but they muddle along together, for God has given them to each other. At Trinity [my current call], the verse that has stuck with me is Esther 4:14: ‘perhaps you have been called… for such a time as this.’”

Pastor Pauline (Polly) Standley: “So many passages, so little time.  In scripture I return again and again to John 20:21.  Jesus said to them again ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ But I also rely on Martin Luther’s sacristy prayer; particularly the section: ‘Lord God, Thou hast appointed me in the church as bishop and pastor (at least the pastor part for me), Thou seest how unfit I am to attend to such a great office, and if it had not been for Thy help, I would long since have ruined everything, therefore I call upon Thee.’”

Pastor Miriam Bunge: “Exodus 15:20-21 is special to me: ‘Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing…’ I’m sure you can surmise why these verses are important to me.  In fact, 40 years ago, during my first year at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, one of my classmates, David, gave me a tambourine as we were studying this part of the Bible.

“Psalm 121:1-2 will always be special to me. I struggled through a time when I was very sick. I decided to memorize these two verses.  When the days got really hard, I would say these verses to myself. I reminded myself that my help comes from the Lord, the Lord who made all of heaven and earth!  Now, I pass these two powerful verses along to people in pain and struggling, to give them comfort, courage and hope.

“A scripture passage that has been and is becoming more and more important to me is Micah 6:8. I use the acronym ‘JKH’ for this verse, which stand for:  Justice, Kindness, Humbly.  The Lutheran Study Bible contains very helpful notes on this verse. ‘Justice” (mishpat in Hebrew) is about fairness and equality; ‘kindness’ (chesed in Hebrew) describes merciful actions such as loyalty and integrity; and ‘walking humbly’ is set in contrast with the rapid strides of the powerful.’ Racial justice for people of color has been and continues to be a passion of mine. God, through the prophet Micah, could be speaking these words to us today, as we continue to be plagued by racial injustice. God is calling, especially those of us who are white, to ‘do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.’

“Luke 1:28-31 is another favorite Scripture verse of mine. Here was young Mary, a virgin, told that she would be the Mother of Jesus! This must have been both frightening and exciting for Mary. The angel gives her the words she needs to hear: ‘Do not be afraid.’  Our lives are good and our lives are hard.  There are many times in our lives when we are afraid, sometimes in response to a very difficult experience and sometimes even in response to a very good experience. When I am afraid, I think of the angel Gabriel’s’ words to Mary. Implied in those words is the reality that God is with Mary and us, our Emmanuel!

“A favorite Scripture passage I enjoy preaching on is a text for Reformation Sunday, Romans 3:19-28. I am especially drawn to verses 23-24 – grace, God’s unconditional love in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, giving us the gifts of forgiveness and salvation.  What a gift for us from God through Jesus Christ!  ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton wrote this about grace in the 2018-2019 publication of ‘Stories of Faith in Action’:  ‘Grace – God’s love freely given – is for everyone.’ I like the simplicity and the profundity of that statement. As we are gifted with God’s grace, we then are called to be servants of God’s grace. May we live in and out of God’s grace!”

Pastor Marilyn Robinson: “’Go to’ scripture passages for me are 1 John 1: 5-7, Romans 12:1-2, Philippians 1:6; 8-11,Psalm 91: 1-4, Romans 8: 12-13; 26-27, John 12:32, and John 1:12-14.

 “But Psalm 27:13 speaks most strongly to me: ‘[What, what would have become of me] had I not believed that I would see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living!’ (Amplified Bible) The Berean Bible translation of this same verse is: ‘Still. I am certain to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.’

“There’s no need to quote the verses that precede verse 13. The current State of the Union and the State of the Church are overtaken with ‘adversaries, and witnesses breathing out cruelty and violence. The flesh-eating host abound:’ human trafficking, watching the life leave the body of George Floyd via someone’s’ I-Phone, gender violence, racial hatred, poverty, sexual abuse and sex trafficking of our kids, the continuous lust for power, the lack of compassion for our neighbor, rebellion within and without, appropriation and acculturation of lands and peoples, children sacrificed for the good of the order, incarceration of African-descent men, women, boys, and girls.

“The immensity of these conditions, can leave anyone in a constant state of angst and despair. The onset of this 21st century COVID-19 has amplified these conditions. The impact of this unyielding and indiscriminate disease is heartbreaking. What is even more malicious is its frightening yoking with the heartless human dis-ease that inhibits compassion, reason, and solidarity of that which is common to humankind. Love of self and the lust for economic and social power is predominant, usurping our love of neighbor.

It is quite frightening when we recognize the freedom that we have to continue in and let sin dominate our life. To be hurt, for example – real or perceived – is painful, creating a reflex response that can be irrational, unforgiving, and unrelenting. The time within this darkness leaves one longing for help, for freedom, for deliverance. 

“At one time, the onset of darkness created a deep terror and fear within me, creating a surreal reality. It was overwhelming. I needed to see beyond fear and believe that God was real and very present help. Belief in God grew within and God’s love became preeminent in my heart. God is faithful! Reading this particular verse in Psalms 27 evoked a spirit of praise and an anguished cry out to God. Upon first glance, I felt fresh and new – time and faith are verifying this ‘newness.’ Seeing God in the world begins with regard, considering, and envisioning God at work firstly in Marilyn. 

“We see the goodness of God in the ways that worked in Christ – for all of God’s creation finds its ultimate expression in the cross of Christ, the forgiveness of sin, and the hope of eternal life in the Resurrection. The Holy Spirit challenges us: she reminds us of what we are free from and what we are free for (Martin Luther). When we love in that deeply intimate way that God always loves us, then we will see lives changed, neighborhoods empowered, nations transformed, policies and polity begin a surprising transformation. 

“God never leaves us alone. God’s goodness gives us hope and keeps us alive. We live in God’s goodness so that everyone can know what the living God is doing in the world.”




Belonging & Nourishment: Women Clergy: Shout Out!

By Sue Sprang

SYNOD – In Part 8 of this series, some of our synod’s women clergy share their thoughts about being Lutheran and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. We’ll also get a glimpse at where they turn for personal or professional nourishment.

QUESTION: Is it important to you to be a Lutheran and/or a part of the ELCA? Please share your thoughts.

Pastor Pauline (Polly) Standley: “Yes, being a Lutheran is important to me.  Having transplanted from the United Methodist Church at the age of 21, it was a conscious and considered choice to become Lutheran. Lutheranism continues to encourage education, self-revelation, and tolerance.  It vocally stands for equality and equal rights.  It is in solidarity with the least and most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters. Lutheranism expects me to have a mind and a heart and to use them.”

Pastor Joan Oleson: “Yes, it is important for me to be part of the ELCA with its theology and practical applications.” 

Pastor Kjersten Sullivan: “I was raised in the ELCA, so I’m responding with the caveat that I know nothing else. But, that being said, I remained Lutheran as an adult because the way in which this tradition approaches faith fits the most with how I understand the world. 

“For me, the Lutheran tradition sums up as a giant arrow pointing down (as a theologian, I get heaven is not an actual physical place located above my head, but there are no metaphysical arrows, so arrow pointing down), this idea that God loves God’s creations, loves us, so much that God put on flesh and came down to be with us. That God died for us, so that death might be destroyed. There is nothing we have to do – nothing we could ever do – to earn or deserve this love. It is unconditional. And then, because we have experienced that kind of unconditional love and acceptance, what else can we do but share that with the world – which is the social justice of the church? The work in the world is like the cup of love overflowing.”

Pastor Ruth Overdier: “Yes, it is important to me to be Lutheran – specifically an ELCA Lutheran. Our doctrine, inclusivity, and ways of worship feel like the right path for me.”

Pastor Megan Crouch: “It is important to me to be part of the ELCA Lutheran Community. I grew up in the ELCA, and while I know firsthand that it is not a perfect organization (honestly, what organization is?), it has been a great place to grow in my faith. Throughout my life the ELCA has challenged me to think about what I believe and why. People have shared their ideas and beliefs with me, but never said ‘you have to believe this.’ In fact most of the time I heard ‘this is what I believe, but you need to figure out what you believe.’ 

“I love that our social statements are deep and thought provoking, that they challenge things that need to be challenged, but don’t just pick a side. They cause us to think more deeply and compassionately about tough topics like abortion, immigration, same gendered marriage, and social justice. We embrace tradition, and I find comfort in that, yet I’m always amazed at the new things the church is doing and trying. I love that we do big things like the National Youth Gathering which I’ve been part of as both a youth participant and adult leader… and that we value small things like rural churches with 25 families sharing God’s love. I also love how the most important voice in the ELCA is the people sitting in the pews… that the main voting body of every congregational, synod and that the national assembly is made up primarily of lay people. I believe that this helps us stay grounded in our communities, while remembering that we are all a part of something bigger! 

“Honestly, I love the ELCA, I love that we work with other church bodies, learn from and admit our mistakes, and that we truly are a group of redeemed sinners trying to share the good news of God’s love in this world any way we can.”

Pastor Jessica Rivera-Walker: “My identity as Lutheran, especially as part of the ELCA, is very important to me. I believe that the way we approach scripture and our emphasis on grace are extremely important in a time when the loudest forms of Christianity, or at least the ones getting the most press, promote division and prop up the status quo.

“Luther challenged the status quo – he believed that the scriptures should be read and open to everyone and he believed that grace was for everyone. Today the ELCA has taken stands on immigration, race, and LGBTQ rights that are against the status quo and in line with Jesus’s teaching – our message of Grace for people can be a balm to the souls of people who are tired of hearing that they are ‘wrong’. If we do it right we have a message that welcomes the outcast and the marginalized – which is exactly what Jesus did.”

QUESTION: Where do you find professional and/or personal nourishment?

Pastor Ruth Overdier“I find both personal and professional nourishment in reading the Psalms and in reading selected novels (e.g. Marilynne Robinson, Geraldine Brooks, Barbara Kingsolver) and poetry (e.g. Mary Oliver, Denise Levertov).”

Pastor Pauline (Polly) Standley: “A complicated question with an easy answer: family, reading and prayer.”

Pastor Kjersten Sullivan: “Especially in this strange time, dialogue with colleagues is huge. Pastor Jennifer [Michael] from St. Peter [Lutheran Church, Battle Creek] and I are working on a virtual Family Camp together right now, and having someone to bounce ideas off of is life-giving.

“The other thing that feeds my soul are the really simple moments of connection with someone. Nursing home visits (off the table right now, but some day again, getting to give someone a ride, hearing a story…Being a pastor gets me invited into people’s inner lives in a way that is both sacred and precious.”

Pastor Joan Oleson: “I find nourishment in collegiality, continuing education events (especially with a focus on worship), and working in my flower garden.”

Pastor Jessica Rivera-Walker: “Reading gives me both professional and personal nourishment – I try to read a good blend of professional and ‘for fun’ books. I also enjoy journaling and education events. Part of what nourishes me professionally and personally is connection with my peers – events like synod assembly and various rostered leader events give me the social connection as well as the continuing education that I crave, and in that respect this last year has been difficult. I look forward to the day we can gather again as the body of Christ.”

Pastor Megan Crouch: “I guess I find a lot of my nourishment in prayer. I love to pray in lots of different ways – by walking a labyrinth, coloring, journaling, through music… all kinds of things. Even my sermon writing (one of the things I love doing the most) is a form of prayer. I ask God what the people need to hear, and I’m often challenged and inspired by how the scripture unfolds through study and prayer. Study would be my other form of nourishment. I love to prepare for, lead, or participate in a good Bible or Church study. I loved being challenged to think more deeply about my beliefs and how I share those beliefs with others, and I love to learn about other people’s faith journeys and how God is at work in their lives. 

“This brings me to the final thing that truly nourishes me, and that is travel and service trips. I love organizing and participating in service trips that focus on accompaniment and help people hear the faith stories of new people while learning how to share their own. Be it working with companion synods in Global mission, taking youth a to new city for a service trip, or exploring church history while hiking up Mt. Siani, I feel fed and nourished when I get to connect to God’s greater world.” 




A Bit of Whimsy: Women Clergy: Shout Out!

By Sue Sprang

SYNOD – This is Part 7 of our series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Lutheran Church by focusing on the women clergy of our synod. Here they cross seriousness with fun – creating a bit of whimsy.  

QUESTION: If you were to choose one, some, or all of the following to write – book, song, movie, reality TV show, opera, and/or Broadway play – about your time as a pastor, what would your titles be? 

Pastor Jane Mountain: “I would write a symphony, and it would be entitled ‘Dancing with the Trinity in Community.’”

Pastor Kjersten Sullivan: “It would be a memoir or a how-to book with the title ‘Where Did the Chicken in the Parking Lot Come From? And Other Questions without Answers.’

Pastor Pauline (Polly) Stadley: “This is not an easy question, but it would have to be a book and would never be a reality TV show. The title would be:  ‘The Times They Are A-changing’ or ‘You Can Do Anything… Be Anything.’

Pastor Megan Crouch: “Okay, so I’ve actually thought about writing a book about being a pastor. Because I have OCD, it would be called ‘OCD Theology: My Often Obsessive, Sometimes Compulsive, and All too Frequently Disordered Journey of Life and Faith.’ If I could have anyone write a Broadway play or song about my time as a Pastor, I think I would want it to be titled ‘Lin-Manuel Miranda.’”  

Pastor Julie Bailey: “I am not sure what the title would be of the whole book, but I know some chapters (or maybe songs!) – as I have written them in my head several times:

‘Did Your Mother Really Name You Vicar?’

‘Will There Be a Pastoral Procession? (and other questions I didn’t understand)’

‘Birthday Cakes and Other Congregation-Splitting Decisions’

‘You Never Told Us: What Do You Do for a Real Job?’

‘How Long Do You Plan on Staying?’

‘When Was It That Sounded Like a Good Decision?’, and

‘Let’s Stop This Conversation Before the Women Get Emotional.’”

Pastor Jessica Rivera-Walker: “I would write a book turned Broadway musical, ‘Faith, Coffee, and Fabulous Shoes’ –   featuring songs like: 

‘We’ve Never Done That Before’ 

‘Church Ladies Make the World Go Round’

‘Appropriate Shoes’, and  

‘Pastor, You Look Tired.’”

Pastor Ruth Overdier: “A theme for my title would be ‘grace.’   ‘Amazing Grace’ is trite, and not my favorite hymn. So, for now, no title available.”




Direction: Women Clergy: Shout Out!

By Sue Sprang

SYNOD – Part 6 of our series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Lutheran Church by focusing on the women clergy of our synod gives us a chance to hear a word from our second career pastors (or other life experiences that helped shaped first career pastors).  

QUESTION: Is this a second (even third!) career for you? What was your previous work? What, if anything, have you carried from your previous work into your work as a pastor? 

Pastor Joan Oleson: “My first career was working as a Christian Education director [as a lay person]. That brought the experience of working with volunteers, other leaders in the congregation, and as part of a staff.  It also helped me explore learning and teaching styles, and how to choose curriculum and recruiting and training volunteers.”

Pastor Ruth Overdier: “In the years before seminary my focus centered on being an active mother for our children, and ‘assistant pastor’ to husband, Fred.  I worked as a substitute teacher in the Kalamazoo and Traverse City public schools. I worked for a year as Library Director for the Interlochen Public Library. I’ve served as organist both regularly and part time, beginning in high school and continuing through the years. My background in music is helpful in worship planning, and I guess I’ve always been attentive to detail.  I think my family background—the faith and witness of my parents has been perhaps the most significant influence in my ministry.”

Pastor Jessica Rivera-Walker: “No, I was a ‘pipe-liner’ – college to seminary to ministry.”

Pastor Rebecca Ebb-Speese: “This is my first and only career. I went to seminary from college and to my first call.”

Pastor Julie Bailey: “I suppose this is my second career, the first being a nurse. I served as both a floor nurse and in management, both of which bring a wealth of knowledge and insight. As a nurse, I worked with people in the most difficult times and learned to listen – and be vulnerable – not everything I experienced with my patients was medical in nature – they shared their lives with us. Nursing also gave me a confidence to work with all people.”

Pastor Jane Mountain: “I’ve had several careers. I was a professional violinist in college and later I took voice lessons. My experience as a musician helps me in leading worship and also gave me listening skills. Then I became a family physician and a physician owner of a multicultural practice. This gave me an understanding of different cultures and skills for interpersonal communications. There was also a strong element of spiritual healing in the type of practice I had. As a civil surgeon doing immigration physicals, I became comfortable with a variety of people from all over the world. 

“After I sold my practice, I did disability physicals, and that introduced me to the disabilities community with whom I worked with later on when I became a wellness educator in the field of mental health. I worked as an author, publisher, consultant, and speaker. It was during this time that I participated in community and political activism as a board member of the Mental Health Association of Colorado (now Mental Health America of Colorado) and Founding President of the Mental Health Ombudsman Program of Colorado. In these roles, I learned skills to help me in my role as a Redevelopment/Vitality pastor. I learned how to meet and grow community relationships, and I learned business skills that are often applicable to ministry.”  

Pastor Kjersten Sullivan“Having taken three years between college and seminary, I am technically not a pipe-liner, though just barely. I think three years is considered the cut-off. Anyway, before seminary I managed the volunteer and in-kind donations office at a District of Columbia homeless shelter. The shelter was founded by an ELCA congregation, and the pastors were still very involved in the ministry. It was from there that I learned how congregations can be involved in reshaping entire communities. It gave me an entirely new perspective on what being church in the world could look like, and started me on the path to the work I get to now at Trinity [Lutheran Church, Battle Creek].”

Pastor Megan Crouch: “I am a pipe-liner… right from high school, to college, to seminary… so I am not second career. But I did spend a year on the Michigan Civilian Conservation Crew in college, and worked many jobs throughout school including after school programs, state park ranger, working in a movie theater, cooking assistant in college, security team, archivist, and janitor – lots of great life experiences that have helped me become the pastor I am today.”

Pastor Pauline (Polly) Stadley: “If you go back far enough, my first job was as a dog minder for my mother’s friend for a whole quarter.  F.Y.I.:  I was four years old.  In addition, I have been a baby minder; house sitter; house cleaner, cook, baker; toy factory assembler; retail clerk; secretary; seamstress; reader; public and private school teacher; and counselor. All of these have given me the ability to work well with people.  They have helped me live up to my mother’s teaching that I could be and do anything that I wanted if I was willing to work hard and pay the price. However, she was not always aware of the prices I had to pay.”

Pastor Karen Niemeyer: “Actually, this is my fifth career, and the perfect one to cap off the other four that I delighted in throughout my earlier life. First, for about 15 years I was a stay-at-home mom. And I loved it, as my family moved around the Midwest six times and my kids grew to be 11, 10 and 1. This was a time filled with moving vans, new neighborhoods, new schools, and new churches where I’d always find, or begin, a mom’s home bible study.

“My second career came along as my two older kids were approaching college age, which necessitated my getting ‘a paying job’ so I could help with college finances; but doing so was a challenge with a three-year-old still at home. God answered my prayers when one day ‘out of the blue’, my new Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod pastor asked if I’d consider taking on a part time lay position as Spiritual Gifts Director… during a time in the 1980s when discovering, developing and using one’s spiritual gifts was a hot topic and more and more churches were hiring and educating lay staff. I was fortunate to attend many seminars on spiritual gifts and grow in learning how to encourage congregation members in the joys of using their gifts in church ministries.

“After helping put my two oldest children through college, my husband gifted me with the opportunity to finish my degree, so I quit my lay staff job to go to Aquinas College in Grand Rapids full time and graduated a year later with a bachelor’s degree in business. (Prior to that time, I had attended Valparaiso University for two years, and the University of Michigan for a year.) It was while I was at Aquinas that I took on an internship at a marketing communications firm, and where, after graduation, I went to work full time. Thus began my third career: marketing project manager. It was during this career that I also pursued and earned a Masters in Organizational Communication.

“During my ten-year career in marketing, my husband and I joined an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America church: Trinity in Grand Rapids. After hearing from some other congregants (who had also transferred to Trinity from my former LC-MS church)  about my prior spiritual gifts work, the pastor asked me to join Trinity’s lay staff. So once again I changed careers, quitting my marketing job and becoming Trinity’s volunteer coordinator. There I found that my communications classes on small groups, listening, and conflict management came in very handy. It was also then that, combining my spiritual gifts knowledge with my marketing background, I was able to develop Tapestry, which was a congregation-wide program designed to encourage participation in church ministries. 

“After ten years in that position, at the age of 67, I decided it was time to join my husband in retirement. However, I love going to school. And having graduated from the ELCA’s lay ministry program, I had always wondered about the possibility of attending seminary. So I decided to take some classes at the Reformed Church in America’s Western Seminary in Holland, ‘just to see how I’d do.’ I took Greek and Hebrew first, because I figured if I was too old to learn the languages, I might as well go no further in pursuing a divinity degree. Whereas I loved Greek, I survived Hebrew. So from there I just kept on going, taking a two-year internship and graduating from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago some seven years later. I was ordained at Trinity Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids in February 2017.

“Now I wake up every day amazed and ever so thankful that at my age I am able to be assisting pastor at Trinity. And looking back on my five careers, while I loved each of them when I was in them, I can see God’s hand in continually leading me into the ordained ministry in the later years of my life. Even now, after my husband has passed away…..and even now during this time of COVID-19…..I am blessed with a rich, and meaningful life.”