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Ubuntu – I am because we are

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By Andrew Steele
Guest Blogger

Andrew SteeleGrowing up the son of two Lutheran pastors was quite an experience. I definitely saw church differently.

I hung out in a lot of church basements. I found interesting ways to play hide and seek in big church buildings. And when there was a portable communion kit in the backseat of the mini-van and I was hungry, communion wafers did the trick. (I know, this is sacrilegious but I was a young kid who had a craving for some tasteless snacks!)  

Needless to say, I kind of went through the motions of being a rambunctious, trouble-making pastor’s kid.  Church was part of weekly and daily life, and the people in our church community were as well.  That’s what I knew and that’s how it was for most of my childhood and young adulthood.

But over the years, I have grown in ways that I never quite anticipated.  

After college, I served as an ELCA Young Adult in Global Mission volunteer in South Africa where I was challenged in many ways.  I was challenged by the cultural differences. I was challenged by my own privilege. And I was challenged by the radical hospitality bestowed upon me by my host community.  I began living into what it means to be community, and I quickly adopted the South African way of life known as Ubuntu, or ‘I am because we are.’ This continued as I moved to Chicago after my time in South Africa to start working for United Way. I began attending St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Logan Square, where Pastor Erik Christensen serves as pastor. I quickly learned about Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and Erik’s incredible journey to where is called today. Knowing what Erik’s leadership has meant not just to the Logan Square community but also to me has cemented my passion and belief in ELM’s mission.

So today I attempt to continue living out Ubuntu in a variety of ways.  One of those ways is being an ally and advocate for LGBTQ folks in church and society.  However, I really don’t see the term ‘ally’ being one that best describes how I wish to live this out. My hosts in South Africa taught me a lot about family. They taught me that being a child of God is all that matters, no matter the color of your skin, language you speak, etc. And so I will continue being the brother in Christ that I already am with my LGBTQ family members, more than an ally.

The body of Christ is all of us. We are all one body. And some of the body has cancer. Some of the body is HIV positive. Some of the body is LGBTQ.  The body of Christ cannot be full while some are missing.

As the struggle continues for equality and recognition in the church for our LGBTQ family, (and increasingly in society,) it’s important to remember that South African word, Ubuntu, that we are only who we are because of the people in our lives. That we are all children of a loving God whose love for us is unconditional, and that each member of this family belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:1-8.)

Andrew SteeleAndrew Steele, Director of Global Church Sponsorship for the ELCA, writes most of his reflections on one of his devices while awaiting a flight. He has become quite the expert in airport codes and expedited security lines.

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