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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.”