Editor’s note: This story is a part of The Lutheran World Federation’s Her-stories global Lutheran storytelling project. If you have a story of how women have reformed the church or influenced your spiritual life, email it to justiceforwomen@elca.org with “Her-stories” in the subject line. Written stories can be up to 1,300 words. Audio/video can be up to five minutes. To learn more about Her-stories and submission guidelines, please click here.

I officially retired several years ago, but I am still on my journey as an ordained and rostered woman of color in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Thanks be to God!

Thirty years ago, my journey began and has led me to a deep and committed life for the cause of Christian mission and evangelism. When I moved to the South Side of Chicago, one of my new neighbors, Dr. Betty Guice, invited our family to the Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit, a nearby mission congregation. It was at the Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit that my gifts of creativity and energy coincided with the needs of this new mission.

This is where my love for Jesus and my spiritual journey toward being an ordained minister began. My spirituality blossomed as I had the opportunity to lead the youth group with morality skits during worship. I even had the opportunity to take my production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” on the road to other Lutheran congregations. During the production of “Jesus Christ Superstar,”   Anthony Fiorentino, a Lutheran elementary school teacher at Martin Luther Educational Center, volunteered to play the drums as part of our musical quartet. That relationship led to our marriage several years later.

As I continued in leadership at Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit, I felt the call to enter the rostered leadership of the ELCA. I entered seminary at the age of 36.

My girlfriend said, “You will be 40 when you graduate.”

I told her, “I would be 40 anyway, right?”

I was divorced at that time and had five offspring – four in high school and one in grammar school. Was I crazy? Yes, crazy for Christ. I often wonder about how my offspring felt about my decision. I sometimes wonder how many important conversations I missed with my daughters and sons because of my decision to enter seminary.

Seminary was an exciting experience for me. I did my internship at Grace Lutheran Church where there were 1,100 Swedish Americans and me. I will always cherish the song that Keith Haan wrote in honor of my time at Grace.

For Maxine

(In appreciation of her work at Grace Lutheran Church as intern pastor and friend)

By Keith A. Haan, director of music at Grace Lutheran Church, Davenport, Iowa

May our love be held within your heart;

and God’s love shine brightly as your guide.

Remember all we’ve shared when we’re apart;

and then one day,

we’ll join with each other by His side.

His light will grow within us;

and make us one.

And we’ll smile when we remember

all the work that we’ve begun.

I graduated in 1986, and in 1987, I was called as associate pastor to Holy Family Lutheran Church, an American Lutheran Church congregation with the Rev. Charles Infelt. This is the same church that introduced me to Lutheranism.

Again, the needs of Holy Family Lutheran Church and my gifts for ministry matched. Along with pastoral duties, I was to initiate a program at the Dwight Women’s Correctional Center. When the opportunity opened to explore a call to the national office of the recently formed  Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I eagerly accepted as I felt my God-given gifts would allow me to participate in helping with the mission of our new and exciting ELCA. I was called to the Commission for Multicultural Ministries as associate director – education for ministry. My call involved recruiting African Americans who were considering ordination and the support of African American students who were enrolled in the nine Lutheran seminaries across the country.

During my call at the commission, I entered the doctoral program at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and earned a doctorate degree. My paper, “Paradigm Shifting for Mission, Ministry and Renewal,” gives credence to the biblical mandate that our ELCA should shift in attitude and mission to become more multicultural.

My journey has given me the opportunity to design a ministry model, which has been introduced to two urban congregations. This ministry model stresses that all God’s people realize their giftedness and see themselves as ministers. It is still being used at Bethel Lutheran Church, which is one of the prominent urban churches in Chicago.

It was an honor to have my name appear on ballots for the election of a bishop on three occasions: the Metropolitan Chicago Synod, the Southeast Michigan Synod, and again and most recently the Metropolitan Chicago Synod.

My journey included two positions as assistant to the bishop. In these two positions, I was given the freedom to work with specific regions of the synods. I developed diversity dialogue, a process where a person of color tells their story in depth and the question is asked of those gathered, “How does your story relate to his or her story?” Those gathered learned that stories of different ethnic groups are very similar.

As I think back on my 30-year journey, I am thankful to God who has equipped me to initiate many programs for building up the body of Christ:

  • A successful merger of two urban congregations, one Anglo and Hispanic, and the other black.
  • Project Build, a Metropolitan Chicago Synod and a South African project where Chicago synod volunteers built 10 Habitat for Humanity homes. I encouraged an exchange in which volunteers from South Africa would come to the Metropolitan Chicago Synod to build Habitat for Humanity homes.
  • Confirmation Academy, where eight Chicago congregations participate in a three-year cycle confirmation curriculum together.
  • Children of the Light Clubs, a midweek program for neighborhood children. This program was videotaped by the ELCA and shown at the 1998 synod assemblies across the U.S.

I thank God and the ELCA for the opportunity to use my creativity for mission and evangelism.

I’ve come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord. Trusting in God’s holy word, God has never failed me. Oh, I can’t turn around. I’ve come this far by faith.

Maxine M. Washington
Washington is a retired Lutheran pastor living in Chicago. For many years, she was the  associate director for the Commission for Multicultural Ministries where she supported African American students enrolled in ELCA seminaries.

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