“I’m a Lutheran” is a monthly profile featuring ELCA members around the world. The profiles showcase ELCA members in all their diversity, connecting one another through individual faith stories as Lutherans. Sentence prompts are provided to each person featured. If you’d like to nominate someone for “I’m a Lutheran,” email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Congregation: Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Jericho, Vt.
Occupation: Director, Partnership for Change
I believe we are all called at some point in our lives and given opportunities to make a difference. Those opportunities are called days. We get them one at a time with no promise for tomorrow.
In 1996 I founded Good News Garage with enormous support from Lutheran Social Services of New England, now called Ascentria Care Alliance. Debra Coleman’s story of buying a used car for $500 only to learn that it had no brakes once she drove it off the lot outraged me. Vermont, not having a used-car lemon law, left her with no recourse. For me, Debra was Jesus Christ not saying “clothe me” or “feed me,” but saying, “I need transportation equity in order to survive.” (Read a Living Lutheran story on a Good News Garage program here.”
I pray unceasingly that my white brothers and sisters take responsibility for the racism destroying our communities and country in order to reclaim their humanity and be healed.
To me, community service means working in solidarity with the people oppressed in our communities. “Nothing about us without us!”
Getting to share the story of the Good News Garage on “Oprah” was very surreal. When I went on the set to be interviewed, she hugged me and had tears in her eyes. I don’t remember a word I said after that, but the producer said it was one of her best shows in a while. When I saw the tape, I was amazed by the generosity of Rick Hendrick of Hendrick Motorsports. He donated 10 Chevrolet Impalas and $10,000 to the Good News Garage. Having met him for the first time, I said to Ms. Winfrey, “There is an angel.” She said, “No, you are an angel!”
Being recognized as “Vermonter of the Year” was a shock. When I was told I was selected, what I heard was that I was a finalist, not the finalist.
I decided to leave my career as a chef because I experienced a midlife crisis—needing to reconnect with my core values of truth and justice.
I helped start a dialogue about race relations with residents and police in my community by speaking truth to power. I wrote an op-ed, “Driving While Black in Vermont,” in the Burlington Free Press. The chief of police was very upset with me and demanded a meeting. He asked me why I didn’t go to him first instead of going to the press. I gulped and said, “Because I don’t trust you or your people.” An hour later I discovered we were allies, wanting to collect data on police stops based on race so this reality could be managed and changed.
My favorite church memory is visiting Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, and it was love at first sight. Longtime member Jan Steinbauer welcomed us by putting a loaf of freshly baked bread at our doorstep. That sealed it and we joined and became Lutherans.
I share my faith by living my personal mission statement: “I seek the truth so all may experience justice.”
My current work in the education sector is rewarding because I see educators learning to show up as a person instead of a position.
In the next 10 years, I see the church offering new and different ways for people to experience Christ outside of an hour on Sunday morning.
An issue I’m fighting for is to help my white brothers and sisters understand that they were born on third base and did not hit a triple, thus unpacking their privilege so it might be used for racial justice.
To people looking for ways to make a difference in their communities I’d ask, “What are your core values and your personal mission statement?” This is what best guides you to improve the common good.
I struggle with taking credit for the things I have accomplished. It’s not about me but about us.
People are surprised that I am very introverted.
My favorite piece of Scripture is 1 Corinthians 10:12-13—“So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” This has been in my wallet for the past 21 years.
I’m a Lutheran and I quietly walk with God and listen for God in my life.