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Extraordinary Love and Theological Education

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photo credit Brenda Tibbetts

It was a stimulating mixture of people to have in one room at the same time: from Rev. Tuhina Rasche, one of the conspirators of #decolonizelutheranism (and a co-curator of #RendtheHeavens, a Twitter Advent devotional), to Rev. Dr. Robin Steinke, the President of Luther Seminary. There were about 40 of us gathered from several different fields of ministry to discuss the future of Lutheran theological education at Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center in Arizona.

This annual gathering called the Western Mission Network Conference, was formatted as a series of short 12-minute talks—like TED talks. The topic for these talks, however, was experiments and partnerships in theological education. And when we used the term “Lutheran theological education”, we weren’t only talking about seminary. We were talking about the vast range of ways that we learn and grow in the faith: from campus ministry, to interreligious dialogue, to outdoor camps, to youth ministry, to lay leaders learning to preach, to synod staffs equipping call committees as they search for their next pastor. We got to share with one another stories of how new experiments and partnerships are transforming theological education… the church… and ultimately the world. After all, the church exists not for its own sake, but for the sake of the whole world.

In Scripture, we experience a God whose extraordinary love brought all things into being. In the account of creation in Genesis, we experience a God who has an imagination and a knack for creativity. Our God delights in the wildest possible array of diversity from flowers to jellyfish, from whales to humans. So the question for us becomes: When we look at our congregations, when we listen to the perspectives of our candidates for ministry, when we think about theological education, do we experience that same kind of rich and vibrant diversity? When you experience church, do you experience a God who delights in difference? If you don’t, how does that diminish your witness to this God?

Diversity in all its forms is a gift. Diversity reflects God’s extraordinary love in a way that homogeneity just can’t. We need leaders in the church who reflect this reality. So where do we begin?

I shared with the group that Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes that the public ministry of LGBTQ+ people transforms church and community, proclaiming God’s love for all. I introduced them to our programs and several of our resources for synod staffs, call committees, and candidates. It was a joy to get to talk to so many people who were new to our work and to hear about all the innovations going on in everyone else’s settings. (Shout out to Proclaim member and Associate Professor of Homiletics at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Rev. Dr. Shauna Hannan, who presented on preaching as a ministry of the whole congregation!)

We closed our time with worship. Rev. Gordon Straw, who has served on the ELM Board of Directors and is a member of the Brothertown Indian Nation preached. In the passage for the day, he translated the word that anglos like myself typically translate as “righteousness” to “right relations” instead. He proclaimed Christ as the one who came to fulfill all right relations, in his Baptism, his living,  his dying, and rising. May we the church learn from Christ’s extraordinary love how to live in right relation with God, one another, and all of creation. Amen.

 

Asher O’Callaghan is the Program Director of ELM and he got to preside at the closing worship. He is grateful for the theological education he’s received over the years: from his parents, Sunday School teachers, small group leaders, camp counselors, pastors, transgender people of faith, anti-oppression trainers, Proclaim colleagues, spiritual directors, professors, mentors, and all the congregations he’s been a part of. His education is on-going. There’s just so much to learn.

 

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