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Reflections on sanctuary

October 7th, 2019

By Eric Howard

I was four years old when I became an American citizen. Those first few months were a lot to take in; I remember navigating feelings of confusion, fear, and doubt. I was an adoptee from Mexico with a new family in a new country having to learn a new language.

It was also a lot to take in for the American family that raised me. Making room for a new family member is no small endeavor. I can’t describe the depth of energy it took my family to navigate our immigration system and to finalize the adoption of (eventually) three children. It couldn’t have happened, though, without infinite determination, compassion, generosity, and a commitment to go through tough times.

These are American family values. I turn to them when I hear the immigration debate play out on television, on the streets, and in pews across denominations. Woven into the debate is the sanctuary movement and stories of churches and cities across the country taking part in this powerful call to action.

 

AS A CITIZEN, my perspective on “sanctuary” for a refugee family is woefully limited. I cannot imagine the depth and range of emotion immigrant parents feel every second in this time of great uncertainty.

Adoption, though, offers clarity on how radical hospitality can look when you not only see but also embrace a new family as your own. I received countless messages of belonging, and I was told repeatedly that there was always room in the family.

This is what came to mind when the ELCA took a historic step to become a sanctuary church body at its 2019 Churchwide Assembly. (Bishop Ann Svennungsen has offered some reflections the meaning of this action).

“I turn to American family values when I hear the immigration debate play out on television, on the streets, and in pews across denominations.”

Through my experience and family values, I see the memorial as a reignited call for three things as individuals and church communities:

  • First: Don’t just see, radically embrace, all families as our own, especially those vulnerable to deportation. I hope that, through our different expressions of hospitality, we will approach the unknown people from a perspective of the family values of compassion, generosity, and a commitment to hospitality.
  • Second: Lean into uncomfortable conversations; ask curious questions. I get it; leaning into tension can be tough. Most of us are not experts and many of us may feel underprepared to take new, meaningful steps to support migrants in this sanctuary movement. My question is always this: If we can’t have tough conversations in our faith community, where else can we have them?
  • Third: Stay engaged; refrain from indifference. The ELCA memorial called for strategies and practical tools for education and discernment in the coming years. Staying engaged with your energy, prayers, and imagination is so important to make sure this action feels genuine for your people in your setting.

Lutherans are now fueling a movement that people of faith have been engaged in for decades, and we are rekindling a fire sparked at the 2016 Churchwide Assembly when we adopted the Strategy to Accompany Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO). Embrace this moment with infinite determination, compassion, and generosity.

And the youth shall lead them

September 30th, 2019

By Meghan Olsen Biebighauser

This past August, 25 elementary-aged students from three Minneapolis congregations came together to spend a week building community. Literally.

Equipped with stacks of cardboard boxes, duct tape, markers, paper, and anything else they could get their hands on, the students carefully constructed an entire city on the floor of University Lutheran Church of Hope’s (ULCH) fellowship hall. They voted to name their creation Redfull City.

“The first step was to do some deep, holy listening to one another.” 

While they worked, we talked about God’s desire (and the synod’s mission statement) for all to “live in just and healthy neighborhoods.” As it turned out, though, just like our own neighborhoods, Redfull City was facing some systemic inequities. Some neighborhoods of the city were cut off from resources by natural and human-made barriers, and when disaster struck Redfull City shortly into our week together, those same neighborhoods were disproportionately impacted.

After a field trip to the Mississippi River, students returned to Redfull City to find that the rapid development of their city had a destructive impact on the Redfull River, which ran through the heart of the city. Sadly, the river had become polluted, animals were dying, and some neighbors were left without potable water in their homes. Campers were devastated by this problem, and even more upset to learn that their actions, even though they were unaware of the impacts, had caused the situation. But rather than becoming defensive, the residents of Redfull were ready to learn.

 

SINCE SOME RESIDENTS of the city were being more impacted than others, the first step was to do some deep, holy listening to one another. Nick Tangen, minister of faith in community at ULCH, shared the story of Nehemiah listening closely to those in his community to learn about what was important to them and what forces were preventing them from living in a just and healthy neighborhood.

Then the campers learned everyone’s favorite community organizing tool: one on ones! They paired off and asked one another bold questions about what was important to them about the community they built together, what the health of the river meant to them, and how they were suffering as a result of the river’s degradation.

“Nick Tangen shared the story of Nehemiah listening closely to those in his community to learn about what was important to them and what forces were preventing them from living in a just and healthy neighborhood.”

Ecumenical Water Initiative leader Anthony Galloway and eco-faith leader Allyson Green encouraged residents by leading the chant: “Don’t just pray about it, be about it!” They taught the community about the importance of buffer zones to protect the river from nearby development.

In order to secure buffer zones for Redfull City, however, residents would have to meet with their state senator in order to request her support. As it turns out, Redfull City is in Sen. Kari Dziedzik’s district (who knew?!) and campers got to work preparing for their meeting. Residents learned about power analysis – how we display the power we have as a community in relationship to those with power over policies.

Petitions were signed. Chants were learned. Speakers were prepped. Prayers were written. Murals were created. And then, the day of the big meeting arrived.

It wasn’t easy. Residents shared heartfelt stories about Redfull city and the life they envisioned there together. They shared with the senator about how their cultural or theological identities call them into deep care for creation, and for water in particular. They were brave – more brave than many adults would be speaking truth to power. And ultimately, they were successful. Redfull City was able to create buffer zones to protect their beautiful river.

 

I’VE BEEN THINKING ABOUT each of these campers this week as I’ve followed along with the Global Climate Strike, led by students worldwide. I’m not sure whether the campers from Redfull City will become youth activists or organizers like the students organizing the strike. I’m confident, though, that they left Redfull City knowing that this is the call of the gospel, the work of the church; and we need their leadership, vision, and courage.

How is your congregation following the lead of young people?

You Guys!

September 21st, 2019

By Pastor Deb Stehlin

As you might expect, I do I lot of thinking and reading and talking about evangelism. (I serve as director for evangelical mission.) It feels good to share what I learned in my work as a church planter. I continue to learn even more from my gifted colleagues. I read as much as I can. But in the last few months, I learned the most about evangelism from the Minnesota State Fair.

What’s so glorious about the state fair? It serves as a 322-acre platform for people to proclaim, “You guys!”

“You guys. I made this kayak out of sticks and Saran wrap. And it really works.”

“You guys. I grew this thousand-pound pumpkin. Isn’t that marvelous?”

“You guys. I have figured out how to make the perfect blueberry pie. Isn’t it a thing of beauty?”

 

FOR ME, EVANGELISM is about two things. The first is bearing witness.

Pastor Deb shares the wonders of the butter sculptures with her grandson.

The state fair is full of people who bear witness. They are there for the express purpose of telling and showing something that’s important to them. Their joy overflows so much that they have to tell others; they believe that what they offer will be a gift to their Minnesota siblings – some who never realized until that moment that, yes, indeed, stick-and-Saran-wrap kayaks, half-ton pumpkins, and blueberry pies are pretty darn amazing.

“Part of evangelism is inviting someone to experience what you’ve found in Christian community.”

I think we all know how to bear witness. I believe we can all learn to bear witness to the love and justice of God. It goes something like this: “You guys, you are loved and accepted by God — and we know this because of Jesus. You guys, Jesus offers us an upside-down way of living that embodies God’s love and justice. You guys, there is life after death, and healing for our brokenness, and an alternate story to live by.”

The second part of evangelism is inviting someone to experience what you’ve found in Christian community. I think we all know how to do that, too.

A woman at the fair was demonstrating how to cook with crickets. She was so excited to share what she knows about how nutritious crickets are and how it’s a sustainable way to provide important nutrition. On this day, she was showing how to make brownies with roasted cricket meal. And she made an invitation: “These brownies are so delicious, and they offer [insert long list of nutrients here]. Would you like to taste one?”

As amazing as cricket brownies and kayaks and pumpkins are, what we bear witness to and invite others into is even better. Let’s encourage one another to bravely and graciously bear witness and invite.

Someone did that for me, and it changed my life.

Baptisms from Jordan to Minnehaha Creek

September 18th, 2019

By Bob Hulteen 

As Jim Rice, my friend visiting from Washington D.C., and I crossed the parking lot at Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center, seeking the path down to the rocks that mark the source of the Mississippi River, we were welcomed with flies that seemed angry about the coming weather change even though this day the sun was beating down hard. We decided to seek shelter in the welcome center of Itasca State Park, and soon we were reading about the controversy over who “discovered” the headwaters, as well as learning that Mary Gibbs, at 24 years of age, was appointed the first female park superintendent of a state park in the nation.

JR located our spot on a paper mâché map of the Mississippi on what must have been a 20-foot table. We remembered that that same river runs blocks from my house, and that he and I had also stood on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi in both Saint Louis and New Orleans. This river united JR and me through the time and space of our friendship.

Contemplating that feeling of water as a unifying force, I recalled the 2016 Minneapolis Area Synod Assembly at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie. Bishop Ann had invited the dean of each of the 12 synod conferences to bring a jar filled with water sourced from a river, lake, or creek within the boundaries of each conference — from North Minneapolis to Rum River, from Western Parks and Lakes to the 394 Corridor. During the assembly’s opening worship, the deans had brought their jars down to the empty font and poured out a portion of its contents, mingling together trickles from various watersheds of the synod into one baptismal pool. The image was both symbolic of our congregations gathered and a tangible glimpse of the various “shades” of water in the watersheds, requiring our attention as disciples of the One who Created.

 

IT IS BECOMING MORE COMMON during baptisms, I think, for congregations to include the names of waterways and watersheds important to the baptizing family in the liturgical story of God’s faithfulness. In my home congregation, as the family stands in the center aisle of the sanctuary, we hear Rio Grande or Lake Superior or Minnesota River or Red River of the North, as the infant strains to watch the water being poured into the font. We know that Jesus was baptized in the Jordan. Mixing our own story with the Biblical story reminds us all of God’s love for Creation and for each individual created.

Mixing our own story with the Biblical story reminds us all of God’s love for Creation and
for each individual created. 

I had the honor of attending the installation of Pastor Regina Hassanally as bishop of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod last weekend. It was a service filled with beautiful music, inspiring words, and triumphant images, even as we together admitted the challenges that were facing the new bishop. The altar was filled with young ones of the children’s sermon and the receiving line was long, offering some sense of continued calling.

On the 75-minute drive back to the Twin Cities, I thought about the various watersheds I was driving through from Owatonna. Wouldn’t the naming of watersheds be a great addition to the installation of each bishop in the ELCA? “From Zumbro Falls to the Root River; from Lake Pepin to the Cannon.” Such connection to water would re-enforce the commitments of our baptism even as our new bishops are beginning their new calls. God’s promises in baptism then become the assurance of God’s presence in the ministry of the bishop. Recognizing our connection to the created order even as we celebrate new leadership and new opportunities could be a watershed moment for our church and for the world.

Between a Rock and a Healing Place

August 30th, 2019

By Emilie Bouvier

Early in the 20th century, photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson complained, “The world is going to pieces and people like [Ansel] Adams and [Edward] Weston are photographing rocks!” In a desperate retort, Adams replied that a rock was more socially significant than a line of the unemployed. Now that’s a bit far perhaps, but I think there’s something in this claim worth exploring – that rocks, in fact, have a lot to say.

Why and how might rocks be socially significant? If we stop and start to dig into it, we find that rocks are a part of a whole lot of systems – narrative systems of history, story, and place, as well as concrete ecological systems, the literal making and un-making of the landscape and the patterns of the life it holds. As we start to draw these circles of systems that hold these rocks together in their function and meaning, we start to situate ourselves in these same systems.

Siting in the fireside room at Holden Village, I can point these out from my vantage point in the Cascade Range. This valley was formed by glaciers tearing through rocks, sending them tumbling against one another. Deep gullies between peaks became places waters pooled and ran as glaciers melted, designating the many tributaries and flows of the watershed.

The buildings of the Holden Village itself are the vestiges of a mining operation, an extractive process that placed the value of the mineral resource above all else, leaving behind the powdered rock of tailings as a scar on the landscape. These same rocks are pieces of the lost homeland of the Chelan Tribe, tied to the violence and ugly threats that wrested the land from that community.

These systems we trace in the rocks are not apart from us; we are deeply embedded in them.

 

Still, by Emilie Bouvier

STILL, CARTIER-BRESSON’s critique – “the world is going to pieces and people like [Ansel] Adams and [Edward] Weston are photographing rocks!” – hits me in the gut pretty hard; I can’t lie. I mean, here I’m taking a leave of absence from the environmental justice organizing that I deeply care about and believe to be the most effective means for change in order to gallivant off in the mountains photographing the landscape.

Now bear with me, but at risk of self-justification, I do think there is something to be said for creating art that can unpack and support this risky and hard business of social change. Sharing some of my images with the community this summer has reassured me of this.

“As we unpack the photograph visually, we name the tensions and layers, the joys and traumas held in the land, and how they relate to our lives.”

One image in particular, Still, has been a beautiful springboard for conversation about land history, justice, and place. When I put the photograph up on the screen and start by just asking people what they see, the room fills with comments about tension and feeling unsettled, even as the image itself is simple and quiet. They notice the scars, the movement and death of the two trees offset, the abruptness and separation created by the lines, and the sunlight filtering through the branches. As we unpack the photograph visually, we name the tensions and layers, the joys and traumas held in the land, and how they relate to our lives.

I think the rub we find in Cartier-Bresson’s complaint is that photographs do their job when they stir us out of our comfort, confronting us with a truth that somehow alters us or motivates us to live differently. My deep hope is that we might look at rocks, land photographs, and even the wild edges of our own street corners and backyards in ways that help us better trace and tell our histories and systems, so that our actions might be ones not of destruction, but of healing.

Footnote: Author Emilie Bouvier says, “I’m indebted to the scholarship of Lucy Lippard for her reference of the Cartier-Bresson and Adams quotes in her book Undermining: A wild ride through land use, politics, and art in the changing West, to which I owe many broader insights have supported my own thinking as well.”

Bread vs. wine and other church conflicts

August 23rd, 2019

By Pastor John Hulden

It was 1970. The national convention for the American Lutheran Church (ALC) was in Minneapolis. (The ALC was one of the predecessor church bodies that formed the ELCA in 1988.)

It was at that 1970 gathering that the ALC voted to ordain women. The fight was tough. At a worship service at that gathering, my mom found herself the face of that heated debate.

Worship services at this – and all – national church gatherings were a really big deal. Central Lutheran hosted the worship service 49 years ago. Because my mom was the president of the Minneapolis Conference for the American Lutheran Church Women (one of the precursors to the Women of the ELCA), she was asked to be at one of the Holy Communion stations to serve wine.

“Women clergy – dozens and dozens and dozens of them – processed through the worship space, celebrating the upcoming 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the ALC and Lutheran Church in America.”

Back then, she would have proclaimed: “The Blood of Christ, Shed for Thee” (the words used in the Service Book and Hymnal, the precursor to the Lutheran Book of Worship and the Evangelical Lutheran Worship). As worshippers made their way up the center aisle, she saw a number of pastors (all male back then) look up at her, grimace, give her a dirty look, and step out of her line. Clearly, they did not want to receive “the remission of sins” from a woman.

This story came back up this week because my 92-year-old mom attended the installation of her daughter-in-law as the new bishop of the Western Iowa Synod. Regarding the 1970 incident, my mom also added, “After that worship service, one pastor was heard saying, ‘And she was even handing out wine, the most important element!’” Really.

 

A COUPLE OF WEEKS ago, I travelled by bus to Milwaukee with the synod’s voting members to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. (And, yes, I made them play bus games!) Many votes were taken; some have received more attention than others.

We also celebrated. ELCA Church Council members completing their terms were recognized and thanked. My daughter was up on the podium with the other council members. Of course, she stood out because she was holding my adorable eight-month-old grandson. I reflected that there are still Lutheran churches that won’t allow women to serve in leadership roles, much less on the national church governing board.

The biggest celebration in Milwaukee, though, was the worship on our second-to-the-last day. Women clergy – dozens and dozens and dozens of them – processed through the worship space, celebrating the upcoming 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the ALC and Lutheran Church in America.

“As worshippers made their way up the center aisle, she saw a number of pastors look up at her, grimace, give her a dirty look, and step out of her line.”

Fifty years ago was too late for my grandma Mildred Brenden – my mom’s mom. “You know,” my mom reminded us this weekend, “your grandma would have gone to seminary if it were allowed back then.” It’s true. Her mom, born a Methodist and joining the Lutheran ranks when she married my grandpa, was the church organist and choir director for Scobey Lutheran for decades. She wrote devotionals for Christ in our Home, bible studies for the ALCW, and spiritual reflections for The Lutheran Herald (one of the precursor magazines to The Living Lutheran).

When I attended seminary in the 80s, I always said I couldn’t imagine classes without my female peers.

It is truly meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and all places give thanks for women in leadership in our church. It’s just really too bad women could only be pastors in the last 50 years.


At the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in ELCA predecessor bodies was celebrated with a procession of women and femme rostered leaders during the Friday worship service.

Safe at home! How about at church?

August 20th, 2019

By Kris Bjorke

We’ve hit the point in the baseball season where it’s getting really interesting. To say I’m a fan wouldn’t be totally true, but I do love to go to games, to hang out with friends and family, and to watch a play or two.

Thankfully, the Twins seems to have a lot more wins than losses this year and post-season play is a decent bet. So, it’s safe to say I will jump on the bandwagon.

There’s little more exhilarating than watching a player on our local team steal home plate while the opposing catcher is trying to catch the ball and tag out the runner at the same time. As the dust flies, the hometown crowd leans on the edge of their seats in hopes of seeing the umpire’s arms extend into the “safe” position.

 

I AM THINKING MORE about being “safe” these days. We can mistakenly take safety for granted in the church, simply assuming that we are always safe.

It’s so easy to set aside conducting background checks on volunteers because it doesn’t seem as life-giving as other aspects of our ministry. And yet to skip this step is to miss the foundation upon which ministry can be built. If there is a breakdown or violation of trust, the rest of the relationships and teaching components are lost, not just for the moment, but for years. Without a solid foundation of safe practices, the house of ministry is built on sand.

“Without a solid foundation of safe practices, the house of ministry is built on sand.”

I hope we will take time to be intentional about how we keep our young people safe when they are in our care. Programs exist to help to empower our volunteers, while still setting protective checkpoints in place, so that young people have a space to learn and laugh and play and connect without thinking twice about the adults who support them. And adults can be empowered to make necessary adjustments to have healthy boundaries around young people.

If your congregation needs a way to provide education and background checks for your volunteers, the Minneapolis Area Synod can be a resource. It has partnered with Safe Gatherings to provide screening and to educate volunteers about how to prevent abuse of children, youth, and vulnerable adults. All Minneapolis congregations are already loaded into their system. If you would like more information or have questions about how to utilize Safe Gatherings for your church, contact me at FirstThird@mpls-synod.org.

For the sake of all creation

August 5th, 2019

By Brenda Blackhawk

Every year, on the last weekend of July, my family travels down to Winnebago, Nebraska, for the annual Homecoming Pow Wow. I’ve recently returned from this 153-year-old Pow Wow, which is a celebration of the return of Chief Little Priest, the last great war chief of the Winnebago (or Ho-Chunk).

Pow Wows have lots of parts. There are drum and dance competitions, a wilderness run, traditional (and fusion!) food stands, and vendors selling goods. And a lot more.

As I stood in the bleachers around the perimeter of the arena, I viewed so much tradition. Don’t get me wrong, we definitely enjoyed the modern conveniences of a sound system, Wi-Fi, and an air conditioned camper instead of tent or tepee. And I saw just as many kids playing on their parents’ cell phones as I do here in the Twin Cities.

“Generosity embodied by traditional indigenous, tribal cultures is a stark contrast to the world we live in today.”

But Pow Wow has so many beautiful pieces of tradition woven throughout the entire event. This is one of the only places in the world where you can hear Ho-Chunk being spoken and sung. You can see graceful women perform the Swan Dance and the men dancing a very entertaining Fish Dance. There are shared meals, the laying down of tobacco, and lots of prayer. And then there are the Giveaways.

Giveaways are a traditional part of tribal life for many indigenous communities. The general idea is that you give away your possessions to others in honor of a loved one. In many tribal societies, leaders were identified by who successfully accumulated possessions and gave them away. Generous individuals, not the greedy, had the most honor and prestige.

A Giveaway during Pow Wow is a whole process! First, you hear a speech from the giver(s). Then, one of the drum groups plays an honor song and there is a line of handshaking and dancing around the arena, during which time the giver(s) lay huge bundles around the arena. These bundles contain a wide variety of items: cooking utensils, toys, blankets, accessories, food, clothing, candy, and even money. The giver invites specific groups (often veterans/families of veterans or children) to come forward and take something, and then open it up to everyone.

 

LAST SUNDAY’S COMMON LECTIONARY reading is known as the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12: 13-21). In the story, a rich man who hoards his wealth is told by God that he is a fool for doing so, which to me sounds like criticism for those hoarding wealth instead of being generous with it.

As I read that story at staff devotions, I couldn’t help but think about the way that generosity is embodied by traditional indigenous, tribal cultures; how every year I sit and watch it happen at the Homecoming Pow Wow. It is a stark contrast to the world we live in today, where, according to the Oxfam International report, the top 26 billionaires of the world own more wealth than the 3.8 billion poorest people.

“Generous individuals, not the greedy, had the most honor and prestige.”

All peoples are Indigenous to somewhere and Indigenous, tribal cultures all share one common thing: community as a means of survival. We may live in a global community now, but I don’t think God sees the arbitrary lines we’ve drawn across the Creation. If that is so, maybe it is time for all of us to connect to our Indigenous roots, generously sharing what we have for the sake of the world.

Safe Harbors?

July 30th, 2019

By Grace Corbin

About a week and a half ago, an ecumenical group of 30 people ventured on a “toxic sites bus tour” of North Minneapolis. This bus tour, led by northside residents, brings people to some of most toxic sites for the water, air, land, and people in the State of Minnesota. The tour included Northern Metals Recycling, GAF, the site for the Upper Harbor Terminal project, and others.

Northern Metals, a metals recycling company right on the banks of the Mississippi River, was accused by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency of contributing to poor air quality in 2017. Because of years of outcry from North Minneapolis residents, Northern Metals has finally agreed to move outside of the Minneapolis area by August 2019.

When we drove into GAF, a shingles roofing company construction site, I could immediately smell a difference in the air. It felt a thickness in my lungs when breathing in and, even though we were only there for 5 or 10 minutes, I left with a headache.

 

ROSTERED AND LAY leaders share in the responsibility of care for God’s creation. Often we assume that concern involves hikes in the woods and visits to the beach. But cities, too, are part of God’s creation. And, urban centers regularly are the recipients of environmental racism — the most toxic aspects of our society are dumped on those most considered expendable by the powerful. (This bias was also true in the days of the prophets, and they reacted strongly.)

“Often we assume that concern about God’s creation involves hikes in the woods and visits to the beach. But cities, too, are part of God’s creation.”

Upper Harbor Terminal

The recent toxic sites tour was intended to give people of faith an opportunity to learn about a new development coming to North Minneapolis  — the Upper Harbor Terminal. This site, originally used as a barge shipping terminal, closed in 2014 and is now in the hands of Minneapolis elected leaders. The city has long been discussing what to do with piece of land. Leaders almost came to an agreement that would bring an outdoor performance venue, new units of housing, retail, and maybe a hotel to the 48-acre space.

Development has the potential to benefit a community. Unfortunately when mocking up the development of the Upper Harbor Terminal, input of those most affected by the new development —  northside residents — was not sought. New development, when it comes to an area that is already disenfranchised, poses the threat of gentrification, the planned displacement of residents who have long lived in the area.

The impact of gentrification was seemingly not considered when looking at the new development. Northside residents have been pushing back against this development due to the lack of community involvement which has caused the city to take a step back and receive more community input mainly through a new advisory committee.

People of faith who care about environmental, racial, and economic justice ask, “What is our role in walking alongside northside residents in this development process? How do we live out our values of justice?”

“When mocking up the development of the Upper Harbor Terminal, input of those most affected by the new development —  northside residents — was not sought.”

These and similar questions will be discussed at a conversation about what positive input people of faith can have in the Upper Harbor Terminal development project on August 18. Come join us for an important conversation about the Upper Harbor Terminal and our stake in its just development.

A hunger for hope

July 22nd, 2019

By Eric Howard

Last week, 200 national faith leaders descended upon Minneapolis and Central Lutheran Church for the 2019 ELCA World Hunger Leadership Gathering. It was a rare sight to see so many Lutherans gathered under a shared conviction that faith in action could end hunger.

At the heart of the event was its theme: “Creative Congregations, Courageous Leaders: Organizing for Change.” This event title knit together data and stories, scripture, and action in an inspiring, sobering way.

My recent move to downtown Minneapolis has demonstrated to me that homelessness and hunger are more visible than ever. At a gathering workshop, I listened to stories from my neighbors who spoke of times when they were homeless and were refused shelter, food, clothing, and safety. Their experience isn’t unique.

“I listened to stories from my neighbors who spoke of times when they were homeless and were refused shelter, food, clothing, and safety.”

ELCA World Hunger compiled data and resources to help our faith communities understand and teach the realities of hunger from a local and global perspective. The core factors of hunger — housing, employment, food security, food access — were a central focus. To bring it home:

  • On a given night in January 2018, 7,243 Minnesotans experienced homelessness (US Department of Housing and Urban Development);
  • In Hennepin County, 128,620 people are food insecure, with the second highest county in our synod being Dakota at 30,470 (Feeding America);
  • In 2016, only one farmer’s market sold food to people in Scott, Carver, and Sherburne counties (USDA).

 

AS A GLOBAL CITIZEN, I got a different kind of reality check. Food insecurity around the world has steadily increased since 2015. Climate change, sudden migration, and unstable governments are all significant factors that increase food insecurity.

My immigrant roots sparked a question: Where have I seen this?

I think we’ve all seen it under the surface in recent news about immigration. Families are fleeing their country, making the audacious trek across North America to seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. Like the local homeless and hunger stories I heard, we hear of people at the border refused shelter, food, clothing, and safety.

Where do we find hope? As people of faith, we turn to scripture; as advocates, we organize.

The recent Gospel reading was the parable of the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of St. Luke. The story admonishes people to put aside their differences and “help those who are in need.”

“My recent move to downtown Minneapolis has demonstrated to me that homelessness and hunger are more visible than ever.”

In my experience, how we “help” can be as complicated as the issue itself. That’s where organizing comes in. The act of organizing has an uncanny way of waking us up from indifference and moving us toward meaningful solutions, … one story at a time.

Our stories keep us grounded; being made one body in Christ means “those who are in need” are us. May God hold this conviction as we address hunger one story, one relationship at a time.

 

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