Letter from the Director for October 2017



Something that for me has been absolutely astounding – as we have been celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation – are some of the things that that milestone has been used to justify and support. I have seen the anniversary of the Reformation being used to advocate for environmental issues, even though the only time that I am aware of when Martin Luther promoted ecological concerns was when he said that if he knew the world would end tomorrow, he would still plant a tree. Luther’s antisemitism later in life as well as his not supporting the peasants in the peasant revolt have been made into a jumping off point to rail against racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and all the other awful things that people are guilty of these days.

An observance that was held on Reformation Sunday in a church in the ELCA synod in which I was rostered before I retired used in its publicity an interesting version of the Luther rose. The outer perimeter was made up not of the typical colors, but instead of the hues of a rainbow, and in the center of the rose was not a cross but an angry looking fist holding a hammer. Concerned and alarmed, because I saw Christ and the cross as being replaced by human anger and political activism, I telephoned the church that was hosting the event and left a message for the pastor, asking what was intended to be communicated by that form of the Luther rose. As I expected, I have not received a reply. Because the bishop of that synod was participating in the event and the synod was helping promote the event, I also wrote to the synod, expressing my concern that that symbol was replacing Christ and the power of the cross with the power of human efforts and anger. Again, as anticipated, I have not received a reply.

And so it was so refreshing for me to attend the LCMC gathering in Minneapolis October 8-11, where the real message of the Reformation was kept at the heart of the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.


Under the theme “We Confess Our Faith,” the gathering was structured around conversation about three of the fundamental teachings of the Reformation: Justification, the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms, and the Priesthood of All Believers. Presenters first described the basic principles of each of those three teachings, then a panel made up of people serving in diverse ministry settings – both in the United States as well as in other parts of the world – discussed how that major teaching impacted their ministry in their own particular place of service. The panel discussion was then followed by discussions at tables where those attending the gathering were able to apply that teaching to their own lives and ministry settings.

My soul was stirred and my thinking was stimulated by the presentation of Steve Turnbull, pastor of Community of Grace Lutheran Church in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. He spoke on the doctrine of justification. Maintaining the real message of the Bible and the Reformation while also applying that message to real life issues today, Pastor Turnbull talked about how Paul often discussed the concept of justification within the context of Jew-Gentile relationships. For example, in his letter to the Ephesians Paul describes God as pointing to the Church and saying, “See what I have done. Sin wrecks human community. I have put it back together again.” Pastor Turnbull then shared how Paul’s evangelism had created multi-ethnic communities. He needed a way to explain theologically what was happening. And so he wrote, The cross is enough to tear down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile. Pastor Turnbull then applied that principle to life today when he asked, “Is it enough to unite people today?”

I heard a similar emphasis during the discussion of the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. One of the panel participants said, “We have got to be about reconciling things. If we are not reconciling things, we might not be the church.”

I was struck by the number of people who attended the workshop entitled “Next Generation Leaders,” taught by Dr. Kyle Fever, director of the Nexus Institute of Grand View University in Des Moines. We of Lutheran CORE have known that many Lutheran pastors and congregational leaders and members are deeply concerned over where their congregation’s next Bible believing and outreach oriented pastor will come from. That concern is the reason why we of Lutheran CORE are involved in our pastoral formation project. The extent of the concern, as well as the importance and immediacy of the concern, were brought home to me by the number of people attending that workshop, which Kyle Fever entitled, “Resurrecting Timothy.”

The idea behind the title is this. Timothy was different from Paul, and Paul was willing to allow Timothy to be Timothy. In other words, Paul let Timothy be different from Paul. Dr. Fever shared how youth today are interested in spiritual things, but many of them in ways that we do not know how to deal with. We have virtually no training for non-traditional ministries. We have very few Timothies, who are different from Paul. Dr. Fever challenged us, What kind of church leaders do we want? Ones like what we already know? Or are we willing to be like Paul and let Timothy be Timothy?

Kyle Fever said that we need to find ways to raise up not future leaders for the church as we know it now, but future leaders for a church that we do not yet know what it will be like. We need to give young adults opportunities to participate in the vitality of the congregation, and not necessarily within the four walls of the church. We need to cultivate in them a yearning to be a part of the work of the Gospel in the world, rather than try to cultivate in them a yearning to be part of preparing the communion table for Sunday morning. He got down to basics when he asked us, “How many here are intentionally mentoring a high school sophomore or junior?” He challenged pastors, “The next time you write a sermon, target it to sixteen to twenty-two year olds.” He concluded by saying, “There are no easy answers, but there are resources.”


After being home from Minneapolis for a few days, I left for Chicago to attend the annual Latino ministries Encuentro (Encounter) October 17-19. This event is sponsored by Lutheran CORE and was planned and put on by Pastor Keith Forni, member of the board of Lutheran CORE and pastor of First/Santa Cruz Lutheran Church in Joliet, Illinois. Pastor Forni has an unusual gift for Latino ministries. He has an unbelievable number of contacts within the Lutheran Latino ministries community, and he is natural and comfortable leading bi-lingual worship.

One of the two main presenters was Dr. Alberto Garcia, professor emeritus of theology at Concordia University Wisconsin and co-author of the book, Wittenberg Meets the World: Reimagining the Reformation at the Margins. I was struck with how much he emphasized one of the same themes that I had heard so much about at the LCMC gathering – the theme of reconciliation. It made sense to me. Because we live in such a divided nation and divided world, one of the particular gifts that the Church has to offer our nation and our world is the power of reconciliation. And one of the chief ways in which the Church can demonstrate the power of the Gospel and give credibility to its message is if we as God’s people are able to become reconciled with those from whom we have become estranged.

The other main presenter was Ken Elkin, a retired ELCA pastor from Williamsport, Pennsylvania. During his presentation, entitled “A Pilgrim People,” Pastor Elkin described his recent pilgrimage walking the entire, approximately five hundred mile long route of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. After describing the characteristics of a pilgrimage as well as the place of pilgrimage in the history of the church, he then told of his own experiences in walking that route. He described what he called “the spirit of the camino” – how people are very open to each other as well as very caring for each other while on the pilgrimage. Some people who are on the camino are dealing with major issues in their lives. He presented the challenge of then bringing that spirit of the camino back into the rest of your life. He shared two of the great life lessons that can be learned from the camino. One of them he had found written as graffiti along the way – “You are capable of more and you need less than you think.” The other one was the title of a book – “To walk far, carry less.” He concluded his presentation by saying, “The popularity of this pilgrimage shows that there is a genuine spiritual hunger in people, and we are not reaching them.”

saw us, walked up to us, and then began sharing how her fiancé had just been killed in a motorcycle accident. She had felt abandoned by God until she saw us. Dr. Alberto Garcia responded to the moment beautifully. He shared the love and comfort of God with her and prayed with her. She was certain God had brought her to us and us to her. How wonderful it was to be part of an answer to someone’s prayer.

St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church ELCA, the host congregation, is in the Hermosa neighborhood of northwest Chicago, which has changed dramatically in the last few decades from being totally Caucasian to totally Latino. In the basement there are pictures of confirmation classes from the 1960’s, made up of thirty to forty very Caucasian looking young people. We were able to experience how the congregation still has a vital opportunity for ministry, though a very different opportunity for ministry, as some of the neighbors joined us for dinner and a prayer service one evening. That evening we also held an outdoor candlelight prayer service for peace in a city that has experienced the tragedy of five hundred homicides so far this year. The neighborhood is a fairly high density neighborhood, so we know that nearby residents witnessed our service. The need for prayers for healing and peace were brought home to us by some graffiti we saw on the way to the church – “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”

Pastor Keith Forni, who serves St. Timothy’s congregation in Chicago, as well as First/Santa Cruz in Joliet, told of how dozens of children and their parents walk right by the church each day on their way to and from their school, which is only two blocks away. Pastor Forni uses the strategic location of the church as an opportunity to reach out to the children and their parents, and invite them to an afternoon children’s program at the church.

We were very honored and pleased that the Rev. Hector Garfias-Toledo, Assistant to the Bishop of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod ELCA, stopped by and visited the Encuentro and brought greetings from Bishop Wayne Miller. It is our goal that future Encuentros will continue to provide inspiration, resources, fellowship, and encouragement for those involved in or considering becoming involved in Latino, Spanish language, and/or bi-lingual ministries. We hope to find ways to make the Encuentro more accessible to more people so that this annual gathering will be a resource for Lutherans of all church body affiliations.

May your celebration of the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation be a time for you of giving thanks to God for His abounding love and His amazing grace.

Blessings in Christ,

Dennis D. Nelson

President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE