New Faculty Book: "Who is the Church?"

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl Peterson, associate professor of systematic theology, is the author of Who is the Church? An Ecclesiology for the Twenty-First Century released May 1, 2013 by Fortress Press.

While “survival” is on the mind of most mainline congregations, Peterson argues that the real crisis facing the church is not one of declining numbers. The crisis facing the church is rather one of identity. The church has forgotten “who” it is (thus, the book’s title). The majority of solutions proposed for addressing the “numbers” crisis (all which call for us to “do” something different) belie what she calls the “operative concept of the church” in North America today: the church as voluntary association, a group of like-minded, self-selecting people who come together for a common purpose, too often, to serve as a social club for its “members.”

peterson 02“However, the church is not only a human institution; it is also a divine institution, created by God, and so we need to find our identity from God, that is, theologically,” she said. “Ecclesiology, then, should start with who God is—and what God is doing!—and then reflect on what it means to be the church in light of that.”

The book has its origin in Peterson’s 2004 doctoral dissertation, “The Question of the Church in North American Lutheranism: Toward an Ecclesiology of the Third Article,” at Marquette University. It is a substantial revision that strengthens and expands her constructive argument in various ways, including the addition of Reformed (and Roman Catholic) voices alongside of Lutheran ones.

“All too often, congregations address challenges technically: what can we do differently? why aren’t people coming to worship?  where is the money going to come from? In asking ‘Who is the church?,’ Peterson asks the right question, and offers an insightful perspective—rooted both in theological history and the biblical narrative—that seeks to reclaim and re-identify the Holy Spirit’s active presence in the ministry and mission of the 21st century church-in-transition,” said Matthew Kruse (’11), now a pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Rio, Wisconsin.

The two constructive “moves” Peterson makes in the dissertation and the book—to use a narrative method and to “start with the Holy Spirit”—were suggested by her dissertation director, Dr. D. Lyle Dabney, who was himself one of Jürgen Moltmann’s doctoral students in Tübingen, Germany.

peterson 01In the book, Peterson examines three different theological starting points for the church:
  • The Word, God’s address to us (making the church a creature  of the word, or a Word-event),
  • The communion of the three persons of the Trinity, which the church participates in through its communion with Christ in the sacrament, making the church a “communion” that reflects the divine life of the Trinity;
  • and the missio Dei, the mission of the Triune God, whereby out of love for the world, the Father sends the Son, the Father and Son send the Spirit, and the Spirit sends the Church into the world—the church is created by and is an instrument of God’s “sentness.”

In her analysis and evaluation of these paradigms, she finds the first two somewhat beholden to a Christendom context and in this sense limited for a post-Christendom context. She then proposes a constructive alternative that uses the missio Dei as its starting point, but which also draws on the strengths of the other two. Further, she uses a narrative method, because in order to know “who we are,” we tell our stories.

“I ‘start with the Spirit,’ both in terms of the missio Dei—but also in terms of how we tell the story of the church in scripture, especially  Acts of the Apostles, and in what I call the ‘creedal story’ of the church in the Third Article of the Apostle Creed,” she said.

Starting with the Spirit as a “character” in the narrative, Peterson shows how the church is “Spirit-breathed” and guided, the Spirit brings the Word to the church (and enables believers to receive the gifts of faith and forgiveness in Christ, per Luther’s Large Catechism), the Spirit creates the koinonia between God and among members, and the Spirit directs the church in its mission, pushing disciples out of their comfort zones, “sending” the church across socio-economic lines, as well as those that separate us in terms of race and sexual identity (e.g. the Ethiopian eunuch). The Spirit drives the action in Acts, so that the gospel may be known and experienced by all nations.

“I hope what I have proposed is helpful to pastors and other leaders struggling to help their congregations reclaim a theological identity, and to help their congregations understand that mission is not an option, but part of who God is and therefore who the church is,” she said.

Students Embrace Spanish for Ministry

By Margaret L. Farnham

Throughout the season of Lent, the Trinity and Bexley Seabury community gathered for worship each Monday morning prepared to speak and hear the familiar words of the liturgy in an unfamiliar language.

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Student James Dunham, left, and Pastor Bob Abrams (’11) work the food bank at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Hilliard, Ohio. Martha Gouty helps translate the needs of the Hispanic families who come to the church.

“Señor, ten piedad.”
“Lord, have mercy.”

“Christo, ten piedad.”
“Christ, have mercy.”

Students who were enrolled in the seminary’s first Spanish for Ministry course led worship with a guarded confidence. Others followed along on cue. As the weeks passed, the voices lifted higher.

“Y ahora diga˜el debil, fuerte soy”
“And now let the weak say, I am strong”

“Diga˜el pobre, rico soy”
“Let the poor say, I am rich”

“Por lo que hizo el Señor por mí”
“Because of what the Lord has done for me”

“It is humbling to learn someone else’s language. That is an important part of ministry, to be the learner and the one who is struggling to understand,” said Kristen Ulmanis, a senior M.Div. student enrolled in the course and a participant in the weekly worship.

Ulmanis’s desire to learn Spanish arose during her internship year in Cuero, Texas, a town located about two hours southeast of San Antonio. No Spanish was spoken within the life of the congregation, but she heard the language on the radio and in the community at large.

“The ability to speak the language would help bridge an English-speaking congregation and the neighborhoods outside,” she said.

Trinity alumnus Bob Abrams (’11) would agree. He serves Resurrection Lutheran Church in the Columbus suburb of Hilliard, Ohio.  About eight months into his first call at Resurrection, members of the Southern Ohio Synod encouraged him to do outreach to the Latino neighbors who live south of the church.

At the time, Abrams decided it was too early into his call; the congregation didn’t know him well enough. But last August, the pastor from a community church down the road invited Abrams and the members of Resurrection to join in the effort to provide a second food bank for people in the neighborhood.

“We kind of jumped in head first, and within a month we were feeding 40 to 45 families every Monday, and about half of those families were Latino,” he said.

As word spread, attendance at Resurrection’s food bank continued to grow. The church now feeds up to 60 families, or about 250 individuals, each week. Two local women from the Hispanic community offer their services as translators for those who do not speak English.

While the arrangement worked well, Abrams felt there was something missing. “I decided that if I wanted to get to know people in a ministry setting, I needed someone who spoke Spanish and who had a ministry background,” he said.

Both Ulmanis and Abrams turned to the seminary to meet their needs, and both were directed to Professor Mark Allan Powell, the Robert and Phyllis Leatherman Professor of New Testament. He has been studying Spanish for five years and has an interest in introducing Spanish for Ministry into the seminary curriculum.

“I first decided to start learning Spanish as a hobby, to keep my brain from rotting,” he said. “But it wasn’t long before I realized the tremendous ministry potential in the ELCA for people who know even a small amount of Spanish.”

He started with Spanish language audio tapes and then graduated to taking classes with Speak Our Language, a Columbus-based company that provides Spanish language instruction for businesses and other organizations through interaction and immersion experiences. Part of Powell’s experience with the Speak Our Language program included two, Spanish-language immersion trips to Cuernavaca, Mexico. While in Mexico last summer, he received an e-mail from the dean describing Ulmanis’s request.

Dr. Powell and Ulmanis arranged an independent study that would include language instruction through Speak Our Language. By the time classes started in the fall, six other students had also expressed an interest, so the group traveled together across town in the seminary van to take classes offered by the Speak Our Language program. At the end of fall semester, two more students voiced their interest. At that point, Dr. Powell and Academic Dean Brad Binau arranged for the Speak Our Language instructor to teach the class on the Trinity campus during spring semester. In addition, Dr. Powell would offer the “ministry component,” which included visits to Spanish-speaking congregations, Spanish worship services during Lent, and the writing of prayers and lessons in Spanish.

Dr. Powell also decided to turn his own return trip to the school in Cuernavaca into a January Term course for interested students. Two students in the class, Scott Benolkin and James Dunham, signed up for the immersion component in Mexico.

Dunham transferred to the ELCA from another denomination and is completing his “Lutheran year” at Trinity. He previously worked with a Hispanic community while serving a church in Los Angeles, and refers to his knowledge of Spanish as “religious Spanish”; a knowledge of prayers, music, and liturgy. He can preach, teach, and engage in pastoral care, but is limited in conversational Spanish.

Still, his knowledge was just what Pastor Abrams needed at Resurrection in Hilliard. Dunham now assists the congregation with the Monday-night food bank, and offers pastoral care and outreach as needed. He has written a Spanish-language page for the church website, provided Bible studies, and Spanish-language worship services during Christmas and Easter.

“They love hearing the teachings in Spanish,” said Dunham.

“We’re not entirely sure how this will shape up, but what is coalescing is the Latino population is seeing that we care and we’re not just proselytizing,” said Abrams.

The members of Resurrection have embraced the food bank and the addition of Spanish services.

“God surprised me,” said Abrams. “This was not the focus I had or even planned for Resurrection. I always saw myself as a teacher, preacher, and pastoral care person. I never envisioned myself as the pastor who would oversee something like this.”

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Students James Dunham, left, and Scott Benolkin with Professor Mark Allan Powell in Cuernavaca, Mexico during the January Term.

“I am so thankful and proud of this congregation of suburbanites who have embraced this ministry. The congregation has seen this as a way of deepening their faith,” he added.

He also sees this new ministry as a way to partner with the seminary.

“We’re excited about the possibility of working with the seminary and having more students come to Resurrection,” he said.

The 2010 census indicates that one out of six people in the United States identify themselves as Hispanic; in the population under 18, it is one out of four. An increasing number of these Hispanics know English, but Spanish remains a significant part of their culture and is particularly meaningful in aspects of culture involving tradition or ritual.

That realization spurred Dr. Powell to develop a proposal for a seminary curriculum that includes Spanish for Ministry. This spring, he invited the Trinity faculty to consider adding Spanish as a core requirement to the new curriculum. The curriculum, if adopted, could offer three levels of Spanish to accommodate students with a range of Spanish-language experience.

The proposal states: “The essential goal for non-Hispanic seminarians is not to obtain fluency in the Spanish language. The necessary and realistic goal is for non-Hispanic church leaders to have sufficient facility with the language so that 1) they can interact meaningfully with Latinos who might be involved in a Hispanic-led mission sponsored by the congregation, and 2) they can minister effectively to church members for whom Spanish remains part of their cultural identity.”

In addition to the language component, students would be exposed to the music, culture, and history of the Latino community, including religious holidays like Day of the Dead (October 31) and Festival of the Kings (January 6).

“A light bulb moment for me was when I realized the tremendous potential for those even at the intermediate level. People can learn enough to minister without being fluent in Spanish; we can turn out students able to do the liturgy,” said Dr. Powell, who also envisions involvement in the course by faculty and staff. This year’s class included Laura Book, assistant director for vocational discernment and Summer Seminary Sampler.

“I definitely want to see Spanish for ministry as a fixture in the curriculum,” said Dr. Binau, academic dean and professor of pastoral theology.

“This comes as a missional imperative in its own right…We’re not looking for fluency, but we want people to be able to lead a liturgy, read a prayer, or talk to someone in the food pantry. That is the vision that Mark Powell has helped us to see; Anglos who can connect, provide leadership, and orchestrate a meeting.”

Before coming to Trinity, Scott Benolkin, a middler in the M.Div. program, attended a church in Washington, D.C, with a Latino ministry called Comunidad de Sante Maria. They held a Hispanic worship service every Sunday at 5 p.m.

Benolkin had some Spanish in high school, but told his wife last summer that he would like to further his exposure to the language and culture. He didn’t hesitate to join his peers in the Speak Our Language course.

“I just had a sense that it would be kind of silly not to try to have some level of facility of the language spoken in the households of 40 million Americans. If we are including all people in our context, it seemed like something I would want to do,” he said.

Stephen Zeller, who will graduate this spring, also worked the class into his schedule after serving his internship year in Texas. He had some knowledge of the language and had hoped to hone his skills while on internship. Instead, he landed in a congregation filled with German Lutherans. Like Ulmanis, Zeller wondered how to bridge an English-speaking congregation with its Hispanic neighbors.

“I have seen the need for conversational Spanish in the congregation. I thought I might get that in Texas, but I didn’t,” said Zeller, who was pleased to see the addition of Spanish at Trinity this year.

“A lot of us are not even taking the class for credit,” he added.

Dunham sees his future as a leader in a bilingual congregation where English and Spanish are spoken, and Abrams hopes to eventually add a weekly Spanish liturgy at Resurrection. Students studying the language and culture this year at Trinity know by looking at U.S. census numbers that their ministries likely will need to include an awareness for and understanding of their Hispanic neighbors.

“I thought I would be the only one studying with Dr. Powell. I was surprised to find so many other students who were interested,” said Ulmanis.

“The Lutheran liturgy has great appeal to the Hispanic community…it is a good match, and Lutherans should be aware of that,” said Powell, who after five years reads Spanish “well” and continues to challenge his mind and abilities with Spanish-language books, comics, and magazines. When he isn’t using his Greek Bible in the classroom he opts for the Spanish version.

Said Dr. Binau, “Classical theological education has long valued language study, because it allows you to read the text. If you look at lives as living, human documents, why would you want to try and understand that life in translation if you can get at the primary language?”

“This is not about getting more Hispanic students; this is about how you can be a missional church that serves God’s world,” he added. “This is about pastoral stuff, relationship, and hospitality as a primary Christian virtue.”

Dad gracias de corazón    
Give thanks with a grateful heart

Trinity Provides Platform and Praise for Young Preachers

Two events this past year inspired several young preachers and connected them to Trinity Lutheran Seminary.  During the 2012 Summer Seminary Sampler, the teenage Samplarians participated in the program’s first-ever Gospel Slam, held in an ultra-chic, near-downtown coffee house featuring local artwork and fairly traded coffee and tea.  The youth poured into the Upper Cup Coffee Co.  on Parsons Avenue in the Olde Town East neighborhood of Columbus, to sip on green tea and lattes while listening to their peers share faith-inspired prose and song.

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Trinity alumnus Doug Warburton ('99) of Peace, Gahanna, offered the opening message at the preaching festival.
In preparation for the Gospel Slam, Dr.  Hank Langknecht, professor of homiletics and Christian communications, instructed the Samplarians in the art of public speaking, with a focus on prayer and scripture reading.  Following the session with Professor Langknecht, the Samplarians crafted readings, songs, prayers, and poetry in Hamma Library and practiced reading aloud with their Sampler counselors.  The following evening, the Samplarians stood before the microphone in the front of the coffeehouse, supported and encouraged by friends, students, faculty, staff, and other local youth groups.

The Gospel Slam was repeated during the second session of Sampler and likely will remain a part of the annual summer program.  It is just one program inspired by the Academy of Preachers, a Lilly Endowment funded, non-profit organization dedicated to providing opportunities for young people ages 14-30 to preach the gospel of Christ in various venues across the country.   Members of the Admissions staff, Laura Book and Teddy Caesar, became acquainted with the Academy of Preachers and its founder, the Rev.  Dwight Moody, through Lilly, which also provides financial support for Sampler.  Pastor Moody, of Louisville, Kentucky, came to Trinity’s campus last year to explore opportunities for a preaching event in Columbus.  This meeting prompted the Gospel Slam and a second event— the first regional preaching festival, held on campus on November 9, 2012.

During the fall preaching festival, seven preachers between the ages of 17 and 28 preached on texts chosen by the Academy of Preachers for its national festival titled Gospel in the City.  The Admissions office opened up registration for the event to non-seminary candidates with the hope that some might one day study in a degree program here.  In addition to the seven young preachers, many young people from across Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio came to Trinity to witness the event.   

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Samplarian Laura Barr takes the stage during the Gospel Slam last June.
“Our partnership with the Academy of Preachers shows an investment in the next generation of preachers and future leaders, because the academy is helping them grow into their calls and improve their communication skills,” said Teddy Ceasar, recruiter for vocation.   Faculty, staff, and students, along with local preachers and pastors of various denominations, were invited to listen to the sermons and join participants at lunch to discuss topics such as call, seminary, theology, and more.  The day opened with a message from Trinity alumnus Doug Warburton (’99), a pastor at Peace Lutheran Church in Gahanna.  Throughout the day, more than 50 people witnessed the festival and learned more about Trinity and the Academy of Preachers’ mission and ministry.  At the end of the festival, Stephanie Engle, a 2009 Samplarian who now studies at Capital University, won a free registration to the 2013 Academy of Preachers National Festival in Atlanta.

The national festival provides an amazing opportunity for young preachers from across the country to gather and sharpen their preaching.  They also have the opportunity to attend seminars and panel discussions.  Since its launch in 2009, the Academy of Preachers has worked with more than 300 young people from across the nation.  Trinity is just one of the Academy’s many partners.  Other participating schools and organizations include Candler School of Theology, Texas Methodist Foundation Institute for Clergy & Congregational Excellence, Woman Preach! Inc., Baptist Women in Ministry, Union Theological Seminary, and Crozer Divinity School.   

“Our involvement with the Academy really connects Trinity with other ecumenical divinity schools and seminaries across the country.  When we go to events, we are placed side by side with these other schools and it increases the awareness of Trinity across the country,” said Laura Book, assistant director for vocational
discernment and Summer Seminary Sampler.

“We were the first to do the Gospel Slam and now we are the model for the Academy of Preachers across the country,” she added.

Student Receives Schweitzer Fellowship

Trinity student Sarah Wharmby received a $3,000 Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, a national award that funds graduate student projects designed to address unmet health needs and promote leadership development.

Wharmby is a student in the Master of Theological Studies degree program who plans to use the award to work with women in the neighborhood surrounding First English Lutheran Church, a near downtown Columbus congregation where Trinity graduate Bob Ward (’00) is pastor.  “The goal is to get these women out of the house and encourage them to form a community,” she said.  

fp list connected wharmby sarahHer proposed project strives to align local women through conversation and camaraderie, initially established in organized visits to a neighborhood hair and nail salon.  She hopes their spontaneous conversations and meetings will evolve into deeper discussions about issues surrounding health care, education, and nutrition.

“Ultimately, we hope to raise health awareness and empower women to be their own instruments of change,” she said, particularly in areas of personal health screenings and nutrition.

First English is located in an urban area of Columbus, where neighbors are exposed to gun violence and lack access to affordable child care and healthy food choices.

“A lot of these women are heads of households.  I would like to get them to form relationships with other women, so that they could call on one another to help with child care or how to navigate the bus routes and school issues,” said Wharmby.

The Schweitzer Fellowship program was launched in select cities in 1992 as a way to identify and develop a network of leaders focused on health-related community service.  The Columbus program was established in 2010 and is hosted by the Ohio State University School of Medicine and funded through the Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation.  Applicants submit a proposal for a service project that entails at least 200 hours of service through an existing community agency.  They also work with an academic advisor.  Professor Jim Childs represents Trinity in Columbus and serves as an advisor for students.

Trinity student Bernard Cason was one of 15 students to receive the award in 2011.  Wharmby, a native of Canton, Ohio, is a 2012 graduate of Capital University, where she studied comparative religion, sociology and psychology.  She also works at the YWCA in downtown Columbus, helping people apply for food assistance, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and WIC, the supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children.  While her current role entails working with agencies, she ultimately hopes to work with individuals and families.

“The Schweitzer Fellowship is helping me reach my goal.  My interests are in developing community and community organizing.  So many great things come out of being in community,” said Wharmby, who would love to one day work with Lutheran Social Services.

A goal of the year-long project is to determine how to make it last.  “I would like to pull in Trinity students who could continue the community building; it is such an important part of ministry,” she said.

Seek and You Will Find Your Vocation

Trinity takes pride in helping shape the vocations of its students. Often those calls take the form of pastoral ministry in a congregation. Students and graduates of Trinity’s other degree programs have found equally meaningful opportunities in a variety of settings. Nick Bates landed a job with a state agency advocating for social justice; Sarah Ehrman-Thompson left her small Ohio town to direct youth and family ministries in urban Baltimore; and Ned Perwo found his dream job in Newark, Delaware. Their stories highlight the opportunities available to graduates in any one of Trinity’s Master of Arts and Master of Theological Studies degree programs.

Law and Theology Inform Vocation

batesWhen Nick Bates completed his bar exam in July, he wasted no time with the next item on his agenda: a job. He spent hours scanning the Internet and other media outlets for potential opportunities. His criteria included the following: Advocacy work for a non-profit organization committed to the welfare of others.

Nick is the first graduate in Trinity’s joint Master of Theological Studies/Juris Doctor degree program with Capital University. He graduated in May and now looks forward to a lifelong vocation that will capitalize on his knowledge of law (literally) and gospel.

“I see myself as an advocate, whether I’m in the lawyer role or the church role,” he said. The goal sounds simple and straightforward, but the road to Nick’s vocation was neither.

When he graduated from Capital in 2006 he had one year remaining in a two-year volunteer program with AmeriCorps VISTA. He would need to complete that term before moving on to graduate school.

With encouragement from Dr. Joy Schroeder, Bergener Professor of Theology and Religion with Capital University, and Dr. Gay Steele, then the director of Multicultural Affairs at Capital and chair of Trinity’s Board of Directors, Nick weighed the benefits of the dual graduate degree program.

“I visited other seminaries and talked with someone who received a degree in public policy and social work at the University of Chicago,” he said. His interest in advocacy work continued to intensify while working with homeless youth as an AmeriCorps volunteer.  

“When you have people suffering from hunger, a typical response is to have a food drive. Sometimes we need to ask how the summer lunch program is working, or how we understand food deserts—areas of the central city where no grocery stores exist. You have churches that want to do a community garden, but don’t understand zoning laws,” he said.

He sees himself as the one who could interpret those zoning laws, complete the necessary paperwork to establish an organization’s non-profit status, or help organizations use their money effectively.

Nick enrolled at Trinity in 2007. He continued his seminary coursework throughout the 2007-08 academic year and then began classes at Capital’s Law School in 2008-09. Beginning in 2009, he enrolled in seminary courses during the day and attended law school at night, continuing this pattern until his graduation last spring.

“There were a lot of similarities in the two degree programs,” he said. “Where they were different is, so much of law school is reading cases and trying to find the governing rule or principle in a case. Seminary had a similar level of reading, but you’re taking material composed in the past and seeing where it will take you in the future.”

Often he would notice a correlation between his classes. In a constitutional law class at Capital he studied the social reforms instituted by Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s, and in a class on the social gospel at Trinity he learned that churches had advocated for similar reforms long before Roosevelt’s plan.

“Both degree programs required very careful reading—that very, very careful reading that has you ask ‘Why was this word chosen?’ A helpful skill to have when you’re looking at something like zoning issues and regulations,” he said.

The same year that Nick enrolled at Trinity, he took a full-time position with the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio as the Youth Advocacy Coordinator for their Youth Empowerment Program. For two years he worked with youth who were homeless and aging out of the system, helping some of them apply for college loans. The position offered further insight into larger, systemic issues persistent in our communities.

“It definitely gave me a perspective of how non-profits, churches, and government interact,” he said.

“When you’re looking at public policy, you don’t necessarily need a law degree, but if you know how to pen a legal memo to present to a city attorney it helps. At the same time, I feel like I can talk to a congregation or non-profit group and say, ‘Here is why you need these particular documents.’ I can interpret the facts and a social situation and give a temple talk on, say, why Lutheran Social Services needs peanut butter.”

Amid the papers, tests, and transitions between seminary and law school, Nick and his spouse, Katie, had a son in the spring of 2010. The back-and-forth from seminary to law school never stymied Nick. It seemed a natural progression and helped reaffirm his faith.

“Seminary challenged me in a way that helped me understand what I believe,” he said.

“In law school we are asked the question, ‘Why do we punish, what is the purpose?’ The question doesn’t show up on a bar exam, but everyone should be asked: To rehabilitate? To protect society? To restore the community?” he said.

Such questions seeped into Nick’s conversations with law school colleagues who were working in the Public Defender’s office.

“My friends were struggling and it was helpful to offer a deeper, theological answer,” he said. “Yes, sometimes we need to lock someone up, but they are still deserving of our love. How do we love them and how does that impact public policy? How do we balance the community’s needs, the victim’s needs, and the criminal’s needs?”

The intensive job pursuit eventually paid off, and in September Nick landed a position as outreach director with One Ohio Now, a statewide advocacy coalition. His role is to encourage non-profits, churches, community groups and others to come together and advocate for social justice in the state budget this spring.

This spring he also expects to be approved as a diaconal minister with the ELCA.

“Ideally, where I see myself on this path is helping the church engage in the world,” he said. “When one in five babies is born into poverty, how are we going to engage the world? When there are shootings based on people’s beliefs, how are we going to respond? What is the church going to do?”

More than Youth and Families

youth gatheringSarah Ehrman-Thompson interviewed with 30 congregations in 18 states from New York to Alaska, before accepting a call to serve as director of Youth, Family and Outreach Ministry at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Baltimore, Maryland.

“In youth ministry there is a need to be flexible and move,” she said, noting that many congregations are just beginning to see the need for a full-time, theologically trained director of youth and family programs.

Sarah graduated in 2011 in one of Trinity’s newer degree programs, the Master of Arts in Youth and Family Ministry, and was well aware of the sometimes lean vocational opportunities. Yet her passion prevailed.

“I was really glad I was a newspaper reporter in a small town before this. I wasn’t getting rich doing that, but I learned to be passionate about something,” she said.

Sarah’s conversation is filled with passion for the people of St. Luke and for her role in the community surrounding the congregation. In addition to her work with youth and families in the church, she serves as “spiritual liaison” for a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program in Baltimore, and assists the Delaware-Maryland Synod in the promotion and planning of middle school and high school programs.

“Now that I’m in Baltimore, something happens every day that affirms my presence here,” she said.

Her position as director of Youth, Family and Outreach is new to the people of St. Luke, so the members and Sarah continue to grow into that role and its possibilities for her and the church.

“The way people understand my position is different based on who you talk to,” she said. “The pastor sees my position as providing outreach to youth and families in the community, to help connect them to our congregation. I see it as building bridges.”

This summer, Sarah engaged junior high youth in a “service camp” where the youth offered their time and talents and earned community service hours. She also accompanied several high school youth to the National Youth Gathering in New Orleans in August.

A couple of the youth who attended the gathering had not been attentive to their faith or church activities, but they returned home to become active participants in their newly formed youth group.

“That is not my success. I am just blessed to be a part of the growth and walk that journey with them and have the conversation,” she said.

Sarah is the first to admit that much of the last year has been a learning experience. She moved from the homogenous, predominantly white city of Springfield, Ohio, to the more diverse, urban Baltimore. She has worked with Christians and Jews and Rastafarians; those who are comfortable in church and those who are not.

St. Luke established a three-year plan for this new position Sarah was called to fill. “The plan was to bring in someone who could help generate more participation and activity among the congregation’s young families. At the end of three years, they will decide if they will continue the position,” she said.

 “I have this three-year time period to come in and help build things. If God says it is time to move on then, I want things to be together in such a way that they don’t fall apart. I want to see them stay interested in youth ministry,” she said.

Sarah initially formed a group for middle school youth and one for high school youth. This year, she added a group for elementary school age children, who along with their parents will meet four times during the school year to get a taste for what awaits.

“Part of the job is educating people in the congregation as to why it is important to work with youth,” she said. And she doesn’t have to look far for examples.

During her first year in professional ministry, Sarah encountered a variety of youth ministry issues, including school violence and sexual identity.

“Congregations turn to the youth and family people and ask, ‘How do we navigate this?’ I was so glad I had the background I had; we talked about this in seminary,” she said.

“We have some who have been going to church forever and are asking, is God real or is this something my parents want me to believe…Seminary gave me the ability to just be present with them, and to walk the faith journey with them,” she added.“At the end of the day, people may come to church because you have a really awesome Advent program or because of the choir, but they stay because people take time to care about them.”

Some members of her church’s youth group, along with their parents, serve meals at a local men’s mission. The congregation also is a meeting place for two Narcotics Anonymous groups and five Alcoholics Anonymous groups.

“I called Cheryl Peterson and told her that everyone at the seminary should participate in the Addiction Awareness Group on campus,” said Sarah. She is referring to the seminary group initiated in 2009 with the support of Dr. Peterson, associate professor of systematic theology. Addiction Awareness Group (AAG) meets regularly to learn about addiction’s impact in the life of pastors and congregations.

Sarah taps into all of her seminary training in her new role. She especially appreciates the lessons learned in Person in Ministry and Care of the Souls, and the course on music in the African- American tradition.

“I live in a racially diverse community, and that class proved to be really helpful to me,” she said.

Now that she has met other colleagues working in the field of youth ministry in her area, she is convinced of the value of her Trinity education.

“I have had people ask me what I learned in Person in Ministry or Care of Souls, or how to set up a curriculum. I know how to do that because of my seminary education – those two years really prepared me for what is out here,” she said.

Student Sings Praises of M.A.C.M.

organFew can match Ned Perwo’s enthusiasm for Trinity’s Master of Arts in Church Music program.

At the completion of his third Summer Term last June, he praised the program and gave the seminary credit for his recent call to serve as Director of Music Ministries at a large Methodist congregation in Newark, Delaware.

“To say that my musical and theological training at Trinity put me in the front of the pack is an understatement. Two days after a seven-hour interview process, I was offered and accepted the position at Newark United Methodist Church,” he said.

He now directs a program that includes two children’s choirs, a high school youth chorale, adult choir, three handbell ensembles, a concert series, and four diverse Sunday services. The church also serves as a recital and concert venue for the University of Delaware and the city of Newark.

Like many who end up at seminary, Ned’s vocational path did not lead directly to the church.

“If you asked me 11 years ago what my career goals were, you would have gotten a very different answer…I did what most music majors do upon graduation and applied for a full-time teaching position,” he said.

Equipped with a bachelor’s degree in music education, he taught music fulltime to elementary school students in New Jersey, beginning what he thought would be his vocation to retirement. At the same time, he served as a part-time music director for a Presbyterian congregation.

“Though I liked teaching, I was always disappointed I couldn’t give more to the church,” he said.

That disappointment eventually fueled his decision to quit teaching in 2004 and work fulltime as a music director at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. He followed that call with a position at Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Manasquan, New Jersey, where he directed children’s, youth, and adult choirs, youth brass, a contemporary worship ensemble, and music for Sunday services. The church’s children’s program also was affiliated with the Royal School of Church Music in America.

As Ned’s planning for the choirs and services progressed, he found himself engaged in wide-ranging liturgy planning. He also attended weekly meetings with the pastors and monthly worship committee meetings.  

“The role required more extensive knowledge of that intersection of hymnody and theology,” he said. As a result, he began to contemplate further education and initiated an Internet search of graduate programs in church music. Many of the programs he discovered in his initial pursuit required full-time enrollment. Then a Google search directed him to Trinity’s summer music program.

Trinity’s music students can complete the M.A. in Church Music program over four summers with additional online courses, or in two years of full-time study on campus. The summer program typically includes several one and three-week intensive classes.

“I already had a music degree, and I wanted something with a good mix of music and theology. I’ve always been really active in the church; I just wanted to go deeper. I wanted that theology piece,” he said.

Ned auditioned at Trinity in February 2010, and enrolled in his first courses that summer. Three summers later, his list of completed courses include a range of music, Bible, and theology courses. In addition, he has had the opportunity to practice on the highly regarded organs in Columbus’ St. Joseph Cathedral and First Congregational Church.

He has enrolled in everything from “Building Parish Music Programs” and “Music in the Contemporary Church” to “Choral Conducting” —the latter course three times. “I always learn something new,” he said.

In addition to the summer courses, he has added online courses through other seminaries, with course credit contributing to his Trinity degree. He hopes to complete all of his requirements and graduate after the 2013 summer session.

“As a church music director you have to be well versed in everything. Even if you don’t do everything, you have to be able to manage and direct other musicians,” he said.

Ned also appreciates the camaraderie and exchange of ideas generated among the students in the summer program. His classmates work in churches from New York to Florida and places in between. “Working in the church can be isolating, so it’s great to share ideas with others in the field,” he said.

When these music and choir directors return home after the summer term at Trinity, they meet again on Facebook and through e-mail, exchanging ideas and offering one another support.

“For classically trained musicians, everything revolves around perfection in performance. With music ministry we strive for excellence, but we never reach perfection. At a certain point you say this is going to be how it is going to be, and you let the Holy Spirit take care of the rest. The goal is to make it a worshipful experience,” he said.

Often church musicians have to work other jobs to make ends meet. Ned once had three other jobs in addition to his role as music director.

So why pursue a career in a field that requires long hours and offers few financial benefits?

“The joy that results from being part of something bigger than me and making an impact on all who come into contact with my congregation fuels my passion for church music,” said Ned.

“There is a desperate need in the field for musicians who have a strong theological foundation. A vibrant music ministry program completes the puzzle. Congregations who hold preaching, music, education, and community outreach in high regard find that their churches become a beacon that not only shines the light of Christ into the world, but feeds and nourishes the people within its walls.

 500 Years of the Reformation

2017 marks five hundred years since Martin Luther posted the Ninety-five Theses in Wittenberg, Germany. As we await this celebration in the church, we prepare for the milestone that 500 years is. In the coming months, we will feature different resources and publications here. We hope to engage you, in conjunction with Hamma Library, in celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation! For now, these two websites offer additional information about preparing for the anniversary and about the Reformation's history. 

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