Their lives still matter

Editor’s note: In the days and weeks following the July shootings in St. Paul, Minn.; Baton Rouge, La.; and Dallas, ELCA leaders traveled to these cities to be present with the communities. Stephen Bouman, executive director for ELCA Domestic Mission, was among the delegation and shares his account of the trips.

St. Paul, Minn.
Hundreds of mourners leave silently from the chapel at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, and begin a long, slow walk to the place where Philando Castile was killed. The sound of hundreds of footfalls accompanies the silence, broken from time to time by song—“We shall overcome some day ….”

The large turnout was the result of Lutheran institutions in the Twin Cities leveraging their strength and sponsoring this assembly together: Luther; Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota; Augsburg College, Minneapolis; and the St. Paul Area and Minneapolis Area synods.

We arrive at the obscenity of an ordinary street corner surrounded by open fields and apartments that was transformed as a place of death and sorrow. We all witnessed this death through the lens of his brave partner. We had watched him die. A 4-year-old child of God in the back seat watched him die. Here.
Philando Castile’s life still matters.

Baton Rouge
We walked to the parking lot of the store where Alton Sterling was selling CDs when he was killed. People at the site greeted us with hospitality. One man who witnessed Alton’s death told the story, pointing out the bullet holes in the building and air conditioning unit. He and others told us again and again the details.

Lamentation, again and again, that’s the only way we can ever begin to heal. We were there to be quiet and listen. And we were guests in church. A street preacher poured out his heart and faith: “Jesus didn’t call his disciples to baby-sit buildings and guard offerings. Right here in the street is where Jesus calls us.”

I left my heart in the parking lot where Alton died, a huge mural portrait of him looming over it. “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?” (Lamentations 1:12)

Alton Sterling’s life still matters.

Bishop Erik Gronberg of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod and Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton wrote with great pastoral heart about the deaths of the police officers. We are a church together with many voices, and we convened these voices and made them public.

An African-American pastor said her grandson has been profiled by police. She taught him how to survive these encounters. She also talked about his respect for the police who keep them safe and his revulsion over the death of these five public servants. A pastor from Sierra Leone shared the perspective of violence in the civil war of his country. A Latino pastor spoke of being “in the middle,” his people called “wetbacks and illegals” by the white community and sometimes by the African-American community. Bishop Michael Rinehart of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod linked the Dallas tragedies to the ones in his synod and shared the solidarity of love and presence throughout the church in Dallas.

I was there to honor five victims who lost their lives while protecting those speaking out against the loss of lives. I named the names: Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith and Lorne Ahrens. These lives still matter.

Ernie Hinojosa, pastor of Rejoice Lutheran, Coppell, Texas, preached to a church in agony, putting the questions in our hearts starkly in front of us. We all got up and walked to the table with open, outstretched hands. This is where the church lives, where meaning is etched in the life of the church hitting the streets everywhere.

United Methodist election draws concern

In July, Karen Oliveto, a pastor of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church (UMC) in San Francisco, was elected bishop by the Western Jurisdictional Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz. Bishop Bruce R. Ough, head of the UMC Council of Bishops, said the election of the denomination’s first openly lesbian bishop “raises significant concerns and questions of church polity and unity.” Currently, the denomination bans the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” In May, at the Council of Bishops’ recommendation, the denomination agreed to create a commission to discuss the conflict over sexuality that could lead to a special session of the global conference in 2018 or 2019.

Catechism quandary? There’s an app for that!

Augsburg Fortress and ELCA Reformation 500 released a free mobile app, “Luther’s Small Catechism,” in recognition of the 2017 Reformation anniversary. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism is available in English and Spanish. The app can be found in the Apple iOS App Store and on Google Play. Content from the Study Edition is also available as an in-app purchase.

Panel to study ordaining women deacons

Following through on a pledge he made to a group of nuns last May, Pope Francis established a special commission to study whether the Roman Catholic Church should take the historic step of ordaining women as deacons. In August the pope appointed seven men and six women to the panel, a move that reignited the simmering debate about the role of women in the church. Phyllis Zagano, an acclaimed Catholic scholar who teaches at Hofstra University on Long Island and has championed the cause of women’s ordination as deacons, will serve on the panel.

Next phase of ‘Called Forward’ underway

The second phase of “Called Forward Together in Christ,” an initiative that asks members to consider the kind of church God is calling the ELCA to become, is underway. Released on July 26 via, a new paper shares key messages discovered through conversations across the ELCA during the first phase. Member feedback on that paper is requested by Sept. 9. Following phase two, the ELCA Church Council will consider a statement of future directions and priorities at its November 2016 meeting. The goal is to launch the statement in 2017 as part of the ELCA’s observance of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

Publishing house has new name

Augsburg Fortress, the ELCA publishing house, has adopted a new name: 1517 Media. Beth A. Lewis, president and CEO of 1517 Media, said the new “doing business as” identity “expresses our rootedness in the Lutheran reforming movement—ignited by events in the year 1517—and the gifts this tradition continues to offer to the whole church, society and the individual” (the Protestant Reformation sparked by Martin Luther began in 1517). Its three publishing units are Augsburg Fortress, Fortress Press and Sparkhouse.

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