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.”