By Rev. Emily E. Ewing
It’s hard to put into words the thoughts and feelings swirling inside me when I think of Rev. Gordon Straw. He was a colleague, but more than that. A mentor and elder, but more than that. A teacher, a companion in the struggle, but more than any of those.
There was something about the way that Gordon lived and worked in the world—a spark of the Divine—that carried a deep compassion and thoughtfulness. It was as if he slowed time down enough that decisions and statements weren’t made in haste, but instead carefully considered, taking into account the whole of Creation. Rev. Mike Wilker, who was co-chair of the ELM Board during much of Gordon’s tenure on the Board, put it this way, “Gordon combined deep compassion for each person with a fierce passion for justice for all. As a board member he focused ELM on creative ministry in which every baptized person was liberated and called to share their gifts. He also led ELM to deeper understandings of the history of American Indian and Alaska Native ministries in the Lutheran churches of North America.”
Gordon, as a member of theBrothertown Indian Nation, led one of our Board anti-oppression trainings focusing on Native history and theologies. I wrote about some of what I learned on the blog after the training, though the wisdom he shared during the training continues to inform how I live my faith. As an organization ELM now includes land acknowledgments at our in-person board meetings and as part of our opening worship at Proclaim Gatherings, reminding and grounding us in the lives and histories of the land we gather on and its peoples. Gordon also wrote a guest blog on supporting Standing Rock in response to the Dakota Access Pipe Line.
It was in large part because of his leadership that so many of us in Proclaim introduced and advocated for the ELCA’s 2016 repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery at local synod assemblies as well as at the Churchwide Assembly itself, an important step for our denomination, though as another former ELM board member, Vance Blackfox noted, “more needs to be done to fulfill our promises.”
I’ve felt a deep resonance as I have been reflecting so intentionally on Gordon’s life these past two Sundays. First, reflecting on the magi at Epiphany, I couldn’t help but think of the ways that Gordon continues to be a wise one in my life. Then, as I prepared my sermon for the Baptism of Jesus this past Sunday, I was vividly reminded of Gordon’s emphasis on the many ways that God calls the whole body of Christ—all the baptized—into a life of ministry.
ELM joins the whole church in grieving for the loss of Rev. Gordon Straw’s leadership while giving thanks for his companionship in life and ministry. We pray for comfort, especially for Evelyn and Amanda, and trust that Gordon now rests with the ancestors, even as he remains connected to all of us and all of Creation, all our relations.
Rev. Emily E. Ewing (they/them/their) is a member of Proclaim and the ELM Board. Emily grew up on land originally inhabited by the Ute, in the mountains they knew as the Shining Mountains, and currently lives and does ministry on land originally inhabited by the Ioway, Sauk, and Meskwaki peoples. They’re grateful for the witnesses, wisdom, and patience of many of their elders, like Gordon, in journeying with them on the path of ministry.