Category Archives: Chicago

DOING PUBLIC CHURCH: Some Reflections on Ferguson, Protesting Injustice, and Waiting

I am thankful for the witness of my classmates as we attempted to understand what has happened in Ferguson, New York and Cleveland

Although this is Advent, we as seminarians are struggling not just with the end of the year

and not with just the weariness of the winter coming

but with the reality that many of us are not seen as an essential part of humanity

Here are words of wisdom and hope from fellow Seminarian, Josh Evans10805673_10154830418425063_8970009728288024060_n

 I’ll say it: I’m exhausted.  I’m exhausted because the last several days have been full of action—and I’m not talking about class work and papers for the end of the semester.

The Monday afternoon when it was announced the Ferguson grand jury had reached a decision, I could do nothing more but sit in front of the TV, nervously watching the news and obsessively refreshing my Twitter feed for any breaking information.  Finally, I had had enough waiting and decided I had to go out and be where the people were.  An assembly was gathering at Chicago police headquarters for a vigil, so that’s where I went.

When I got there, there was a crowd of maybe two hundred, all peacefully standing, watching, waiting.  I ran into my friend, a student at one of our sister seminaries in Chicagoland, who was with her roommates passing out hot coffee in the cold.  I also met a Unitarian pastor, who noticed my collar, and we talked for a bit.  But mostly there was a lot of waiting.

Then the crowd began to shift across the plaza in front of the police station and gathered around a radio that was broadcasting the results of the grand jury decision.  To say that that moment was tense would be an understatement.  While a part of me held out hope for an indictment, another part knew that it probably wouldn’t happen—and so I feared for the crowd’s reaction.  But watching the news later that night, I was pleasantly surprised at how peaceful it was.  People marching, probably more than a few praying, but all showing up in the wake of injustice.

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Our mass #HandsUpWalkOut this week underscored for me the power of showing up.  As we stood at the corner of 51st and Greenwood, I saw a great cloud of witnesses—students across all classes, faculty, staff, and our sisters and brothers from other Hyde Park seminaries.  Looking at a picture of the walk-out later that day, I couldn’t help but think of another walk-out forty years ago.  In 1974, a group of students and professors in dramatic exodus processed out of Concordia Seminary in St Louis, in solidarity with one another, to protest the injustice of their situation.  Now in 2014, here we were—the descendants of Seminex—protesting our own day’s injustice, keeping alive a tradition of rabble-rousing and truth-telling.

In the aftermath of Ferguson, I was especially proud to see so many clergy and church leaders who showed up to offer sanctuary, to decry injustice, and to witness to the Gospel.  One article I read said something to the effect of, “If the Gospel we preach has nothing to say to Ferguson, then the Gospel has nothing to say at all.”

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The Gospel we preach has everything to do with Ferguson, and our bearing witness to it is the heart of public church.  We can learn all the theology and history and Greek and Hebrew we want in the classroom, but all that studying is useless unless we actually put it into action—putting feet to our prayers and our preaching, as some have called it.

Such is what happened that Monday night at police headquarters, and what we did this week in Hyde Park, and what likeminded, justice-seeking, righteously angry people all over the country have been doing these last several days.

The fact that we still have to do this—that we still have injustices to protest—reminds us, to paraphrase King, the moral arc of the universe is long and difficult and tiresome and far from over, but I still believe it does bend toward justice.  And so we must keep showing up.  As people of faith and leaders in the church, we are called to follow the example of Jesus who was constantly going to the places with the people society preferred to ignore, for our God is a God of the oppressed.  We are called to be present with “the least of these,” to go to where the pain and suffering is, to name it for what it is, and to say “no more!”  Like the ancient Israelites, we need to keep marching around the walls of Jericho until no stone is left upon another.

In the season of Advent, we watch and we wait and we cry, “Come, Lord Jesus!”  Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down!

But if we expect a Deus ex machina, a God who will just come and make everything right all by God’s lonesome, then our expectations are misguided.  We have just as much of a role to play in transforming the world as it is to the world as God intends.  It’s “God’s work, our hands,” as those ubiquitous yellow t-shirts remind us.

Luther also reminds us that our being justified by faith alone is not an isolated reality but compels us to look after our neighbor:

“This is a truly Christian life.  Here faith is truly active through love, that is, it finds expression in works of the freest service, cheerfully and lovingly done, with which a person willingly serves another without hope of reward… Although the Christian is thus free from all works, we ought in this liberty to empty ourselves, take upon ourselves the form of a servant, be made in the likeness of humankind, be found in human form, and to serve, help, and in every way deal with our neighbor as we see that God through Christ has dealt and still deals with us.”  (The Freedom of a Christian)

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Such is our calling: faith active in love.  Faith active in love shows up, decries injustice, and bears witness to the life-giving Gospel.

Sometimes that also means waiting.  As the dark awaits the dawn, the Advent hymn begins, the people of God boldly proclaim that there is a Light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot and will not overcome it.  Amen.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

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So What?

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 “God encounters us in the human condition as the liberator of the poor and week, empowering them to fight for freedom because they were made for it.”

Dr. James H. Cone

Last night, a number of us from LSTC: students, staff and faculty attended a worship and revival service…

…because as Bishop Wayne Miller put it, Rachel is weeping for her children….

…in Syria and Palestine, in Englewood and on the West Side….

….because Pastor R. Grady stated, “I am tired of being tired”

…because Pastor Larry Clark proclaimed, “I don’t want to do another funeral, ya’ll”

….because the youth present demonstrated through beautiful poetry the raw pain they are experiencing every day.

And the Holy Spirit filled that place through song and through prayer.

So, now what?

So what?

What do we do know that we have been filled with God’s Love, and called by our leaders of this Church,

to actively engage in ministry,

to effect change against the injustices that continue to pollute and contaminate who we are as sisters and brothers in Christ and in Faith?

Do we take the prophetic word that was preached and sung and poured into our souls and hold it, so that we remember-

and actually live out the mission and ministry where we are called to serve,

Where the Creator is Calling Us?

Or was that just another worship service where we were able to be seen?

There is a frustration and a tension that perhaps there are those who question why this happened,

and that many people who were there will not get it-

But if we truly are a community of faith, that means that we need to begin to have conversations with one another,

because we are all, not at the same place.

Some of us will go to the front lines, march on the Capital and local City Hall; we will call into question practices and policies,

that strangle those that we are called to serve.

But if we are truly a community of faith,

We must understand not everyone will be on board, and that is when we must be prayerful,

Because it is up to the Holy Spirit to have that conversation with our fellow sibling in Christ.

At the end of this service, with laughter and tears shed we almost ended without our final hymn,

And so,

my wonderful, enthusastic classmates just started singing,

“We are Marching in the Light of God!”

And we are, marching, singing, praying, fighting, talking, being the people of God,

in the healing, wholeness, eternal, beautiful, unconditional

Light of God.

So what?

We as the people of faith, struggle and strive to do.

Thanks Be To God.


Assignment or otherwise known as, The Draft

There’s an ELCA Draft?? While it may not look as sparkly as the image below, the process of Assignment for those of us who are M.Div students in the process of ultimately being ordained is real. Having watched the process from the far off shore, this horizon looms off in the not so distant distance for me as well as the rest of the Senior class in 2015. The Assignment process happens twice a year, once in the Spring and once in the Fall, which happens to be literally, tomorrow. LSTC Alum and another good friend of mine Chris Brown gives us some insight as where the Triune God will be calling him.

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Assignment…. It’s a word most of us have heard around campus. For those who have not, it’s sure to be a word you’ll become very familiar with. The very sound of the word around these parts brings with it a mythical notion, much like the Golden Fleece or the Loch Ness Monster – something you’ve heard of, something that is talked about with the utmost curiosity and wonder, but not fully comprehended. What is assignment? For students on the ordination tract, assignment is the final stage of the process in which candidates are assigned first to one of the 9 regions in the United States, and then narrowed further into one of the 65 synods. It is from here that candidates can then interview with churches and, God willing, begin a first call.

For me this is a day that will start to come to fruition this Wednesday, as the bishops and regional coordinators from around the county gather at the Churchwide office to conduct what has commonly become known as “The Draft”. As with any predecessors it’s a day that brings with it quite a bit of trepidation.  All of my evaluations and paperwork, from my endorsement essay and interview, to CPE evaluations, to all of the paperwork from internship, and finally with my approval essays and interviews, are all taken into this one decision of where my first call will be. For someone from the more tropical climate of Southern California, all of this paperwork can mean the difference between going back to California, which is my hope, and going to a rural Midwest area, which is my fear. For others, it’s the complete opposite. Regardless of where one hopes to go, it all rests on this one day, mysteriously regarded as Assignment.

I want to offer this blog as kind of a roadmap of how this has taken place from my own perspective. A lot of questions arise with the assignment process from those of us who are going on to ordination: Am I allowed to want to go to a particular area? Is it appropriate to network prior to assignment? Who should I network with? Who can I talk to along the way for guidance and help? I can’t speak officially on any of these, but I can talk about what I’ve done. My hope is that as the assignment process unfolds over the coming week I can offer some guidance on this blog, and ultimately, a person that any of you can contact should you want to talk in the future about how this process is for me.

Let me start by bringing up another phrase of trepidation: The Spirit’s Will. It’s not particularly a phrase that any of us want to hear after getting assigned to the one place we didn’t want to go, but we also cannot deny that the Spirit’s will in all of this is not only present, but ultimately more knowledgeable than any of us wants to admit in a moment like above. Yet part of the process of assignment at the ELCA is one of partnership with the Spirit and not one of manifest coin toss. This is most apparent in the paperwork that is filled out specifically for assignment, in which candidates are asked to write which regions and synods they would prefer to be placed in. This part of the paperwork might not guarantee that you go to the exact area you wish to be in, but it does show to the bishops and regional coordinators in a general way the type of place you’d like to be, and the type of place you really do not want to go. Let me also say at this point that if you do not preference anywhere, the greatest need right now for pastors is in the rural Midwest – just sayin’.

Aside from preferencing the areas I would like to go, I was also very honest and forthcoming in my Approval essay and paperwork as to what kind of area, geographically, I think my ministry would thrive in. I took extra time on this part because the preferences we list, this part of the paperwork gives bishops and regional coordinators a good feel for the general areas you might be comfortable in. Lastly, to supplement what I’ve said so far about the paperwork, throughout all of my approval paperwork, I was open and honest in any appropriate place as to where I think my own ministry would be most effective geographically, socially, and demographically.

Now there might be the assumption that once the paperwork is completed and turned in, there’s little else you can do – it’s in the Spirit’s hands at this point (there’s that phraseology again). However, this is where I want to add the greatest insight I’ve had so far, and that’s in regards to networking and building relationships. Every year LSTC has a group of Bishops come to the school and meet with the seniors. In the time I’ve been here it’s been in this avenue that I’ve seen many of my peers develop relationships with bishops and bishops develop relationships with students. Yet I noticed that most of the bishops who’ve come in the past have been from the more surrounding Midwest areas. In noticing this, and after some conversations with previously assigned friends, I decided that it’s completely appropriate to try to start conversations and, hopefully, develop relationships with bishops from the areas I hoped to be assigned.

So I made a call to my home synod, asked to speak to the bishop, let the admin. assistant  know I was a student at LSTC, and then had an open and honest conversation. I asked the bishop what they layout of the synod was, how many openings were available, or going to be available, and then in my opinion and most importantly, I said without flattery that I was interested in coming to that synod and why. Upon these words coming out of my mouth I was freaking out, thinking that I was just ruining any chances I had, but what I discovered was the bishop liked hearing this. He appreciated the desire I had, and whether it was possible or not, also liked talking about what my hopes were for assignment. Even if there are no openings to the synod I want to go, this at the very least created a system of support, and an advocate.

After feeling much more comfortable making the phone call and having this conversation, I made the same phone calls to the other synods I was interested in. Many times I was not able to talk to a bishop, but I also found that the Assistants to the Bishops for Rostered Leadership were just as supportive and beneficial. I think it’s important not to overwhelm any one person and I probably had two or three conversations total over the course of a year with each, but I have concluded that networking and having those conversations does a few things. One, it lets them know who you are and puts your name on their radar. Two, it may not guarantee you a spot in that synod, but they’ll at least pay closer attention to your paperwork. I had one assistant tell me that they would intentionally put my Approval paperwork “on the top of the pile” for the Bishop to read. And lastly, this creates an advocate. That Bishop, while perhaps not having a spot in their synod, can advocate for you during assignment and hopefully find a spot that is more fitting to your paperwork.

Finally, the last great help you can do along the way is Paul Landahl. He’s the school’s contact for the assignment process and he’s present at every draft. Paul has not only been a great system for support, as well as one of knowledge in how assignment works, he’s also another great advocate. There are moments in which bishops and coordinators will ask his opinion on a person who’s name is up, and if you haven’t developed a conversation with him, all he can offer is what’s on your paperwork. On the flipside, when two or three bishops are fighting over you, Paul can really make the difference. So I strongly encourage using him as a support system.

These are all the steps I’ve taken in my own process. Our system at the ELCA has opened a way where we can be in partnership with those around us. And none of us needs to walk this process alone. Yet to go back to the beginning of this blog, when everything is all said and done, it ultimately rests on the will of the Spirit. And although we don’t like to hear it at times, God does have a will for us in our lives and we have to trust that God knows what God is doing.

As for me, I have no idea what will happen this Wednesday. I don’t know if the conversations I’ve had or the relationships I’ve developed will bear fruit in the ways I want them to, but I do know that I’ve done everything I can do, and I trust that the Spirit is constantly leading us to the places that we need to be.  I will report back in the next week or so how the assignment process goes from my own perspective and hopefully keep this blog up as I enter the call process. I wish you all abundant blessings as you navigate your own waters of assignment and/or seminary education, and again, offer myself as any kind of a system of support or answers on your own journey.

In Christ’s Peace,

Chris Brown