Member, Order of Lutheran Franciscans; registered nurse; family nurse practitioner; epidemiologist
St. Paul Lutheran Community of Faith, Denver

As a young adult, I left the conservative denomination I grew up in when I could no longer reconcile those beliefs with the diversity and complexity of the world. More than 20 years later I attended a music event at St. Paul and met the pastor, who turned out to be an exceptionally gifted teacher and homilist. He patiently helped me explore my doubts about Christianity and introduced me to Lutheran theology. Several years after joining St. Paul, I discovered the Order of Lutheran Franciscans, and I am now also a life-professed Franciscan.

I regularly serve as assisting minister, and it is an honor to help lead worship. St. Paul has been at the forefront of welcoming those who have been historically marginalized by the church and was an early Reconciling in Christ congregation. Participating in faith formation and education are also important to me. Our current pastor has guided us in exploring racism and white supremacy—issues that I feel are critical for the church to wrestle with and dismantle if we are serious about being true to the gospel.

I have discovered that the best way to nurture faith is to show up every week to practice it! Hearing the gospel proclaimed [and] experiencing the mystery of the liturgy and the healing wonders of music help sustain faith and hope for me.

I pursued public health because I became very interested in prevention. … Public health views wellness as much more than the absence of disease and focuses on identifying and addressing the root causes of health inequities such as historical trauma. I currently focus on substance abuse and suicide prevention.

I chose nursing as a way to find meaningful work anywhere in the world, and that has been true for me. I’ve worked as a public health nurse on the Navajo reservation, with migrant farmworkers, and doing refugee relief work in Sudan.

I chose nursing as a way to find meaningful work anywhere in the world.

Several years ago an interfaith coalition formed to address gun violence in Colorado. When they discovered that most firearm deaths are due to suicide, they decided to offer Question-Persuade-Refer (QPR) suicide prevention training for the general public, and I have been their volunteer trainer. The training focuses on how to recognize when a person might be thinking about suicide, and the skills to respond to offer hope and help them access support. I also train other groups. For example, I recently trained a group of veterinary leaders; veterinarians have a higher rate of suicide than many other professions.

One especially rewarding part of my work is to train school health professionals and others who work with youth on how to identify and respond to substance use and related problems from a framework of positive youth development, early intervention and restorative justice. Most people who develop an alcohol- or drug-use disorder first initiated substance use during adolescence.

So much of nursing and public health is about accompanying and empowering individuals, families and communities. Most of the time, people know what is lacking in their lives and the best ways to improve their quality of life. So another part of my vocation is to advocate for equitable policies and allocation of resources, which is also what I am called to do as a Christian.

I spend my free time walking, reading—I am so grateful for the public library—gardening and spending time in nature and in visits with friends.

For me, prayer is more about listening than talking, especially listening for what it means to align my life with God’s will for the world.

To me grace means that nothing can separate us from the love of God—and even our ability to trust in that love is a gift.

I’m a Lutheran because it provides an anchor that makes it possible to not turn away from the suffering in the world and to be sustained by the good news of a loving and merciful God.

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John Potter
John G. Potter is content editor of Living Lutheran. He lives in St. Paul, Minn.

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