Pastor’s Post

We’re starting a new series of Pastor Posts called “I’ve Been Wondering…”

Over the last few months, I’ve had people ask about some of the subtle and not so subtle changes that have happened since I started. The conversation often starts out something like this, “I’ve been wondering…” I’ve appreciated people’s curiosity and willingness to ask questions. My suspicion is that if one person is asking, others are wondering about it too. So, this will give us all an opportunity to learn together. “I’ve Been Wondering…” will also cover other topics about faith and how the church works. If you have an “I’ve been wondering…” question, send me an email at pastorjason@augustana.com and I’ll do my best to address your question in an upcoming Pastor Post.

Click on the question to see the answer.

I’ve Been Wondering

How is our giving ($112,666) to the St. Paul Area Synod used?

It’s often difficult to see how we are connected as a synod and national denomination as the ELCA. I’m grateful to be part of a wider church that provides us connection and a sense of identity beyond our own congregation.

Much of what our gifts to the ELCA and Synod do is make ministry and relationships possible that congregations are not able to do on our own.

Roughly 40% ($45,000) of our benevolence goes to support the ministries of the ELCA national church, based in Chicago. The Churchwide ministries engage in ecumenical relationships and global work that congregations and synods cannot do on our own. They prepare and equip missionaries for global service. The ELCA advocates for Christian-based justice in the halls of government. They provide leadership and structure for more than 8000 ELCA congregations to relate to each other and provide a shared identity, as well as set standards for candidates for ordination as deacons and pastors.

About 60% ($67,000) of our benevolence stays in the St. Paul Area Synod to support the work of congregations and ordained leaders here. The synod supports congregations and pastors going through transition of calls and vets and supports people who want to be pastors and deacons through the candidacy process. Synod staff develop processes for congregational revitalization and renewal. The synod provides continuity and maintains the relationships we have with Tanzania and Guatemala on the regional and national church level so that congregational partnerships can thrive in the long run. The bishop provides a public Lutheran voice in events that affect our communities, represents the churches of this synod on Lutheran institutions, non-profit, and ecumenical boards, and leads the staff in their work.

Augustana has long been a leader in giving to the synod and ELCA. This leadership is likely tied to our roots in the Augustana Synod and the deep commitment and support congregations from that branch of the ELCA have had with the wider church. It’s in our DNA to care about how the church is a public witness to Christ and is a stronger witness when we gather the gifts of the whole church together to impact the world.

“I’ve Been Wondering”

Why are we hosting the ICONS in Transformation Art Exhibit?

As you may know by now, we are on the cusp of installing a temporary international art show called Icons in Transformation. Some people have wondered, “Why are we hosting this show?” or “What does this art have to do with our faith?”

First, art is a powerful way to express and communicate faith and who God is. This has been true for the church for centuries. It is also true of Augustana and our history. Many people new to our church often comment on how visual art is clearly a value for us. For decades, art has been one way this church has chosen to communicate the mysteries of God. It seems to be part of our DNA. Hosting this exhibit is a new way to live more deeply into our identity and invite the community into this experience of faith.

Second, icons have long been a doorway to encountering the divine. This art will augment our experience of Lent, and the journey to the cross. The images presented will provide new insights into our own spiritual journey with Jesus and invite us to slow down and reflect on Christ’s compassion and presence in the world. I had the chance to meet this week with the artist, Ludmila Pawlowska and her husband, Jan. I learned so much about Mila’s commitment to opening pathways into the soul through her art. It will be a blessing to transform our space and experience spiritual renewal through this art.

Finally, this is an opportunity to invite the wider community to experience peace and belonging. One of Ludmila’s purposes for being an artist is creating belonging and drawing people together from different perspectives to experience the divine together across differences. She seeks to participate in creating more peace and understanding in the world. As a former resident of Ukraine, she is compelled to create art that invites us to see the divine face of Jesus in ourselves and others. In a world that is too often drawn to division and extremes, I see this exhibit as an opportunity for us to participate in building peace and belonging along with the artist.

Art, is of course, subjective and provocative. When it is first installed it will invite emotion and response. Some will instantly love it, and others may not. I invite us to have a “beginner’s mind” about our first impressions. Be curious. Turn to wonder. Give the art time to speak to you and be open to what you receive. One of the dominant themes of Mila’s work is the eye. Eyes perceive light and darkness; they communicate emotion and are a window into the soul. Eyes in traditional icons are intended to give us access to the living God behind the image. Engaging with this art will be a blessing and a spiritual exercise.

I’ve Been Wondering

How do Lutherans view saints?

Maybe you’ve been confused by that too at some point. There are a couple ways to look at how Lutherans view the saints:

The first (and the most faithful to Scripture and our theological perspective) is that everyone who is baptized and trusts in Jesus Christ is a saint. The Apostle Paul often greeted all the people to whom he wrote letters as “the saints” of the church. These weren’t “super-spiritual” people, they were the baptized who committed to being part of the community of the faithful. This is why we name all the saints of the church who have died in faith in the last year. They were part of this faithful community who now rest in the mercy and eternal love of God.

The second part of this, is that many Lutherans, including those in the ELCA also recognize faithful people who have given witness to Christ and have suffered and died for their faith. In fact, the word witness is the same as the word “martyr” in biblical Greek. These are people of various Christian traditions throughout Christian history. If you’re interested in seeing a full list of people Lutherans recognize and remember as saints, you can click here.

I’ve Been Wondering

What’s the difference between a Deacon and a Deaconess?

We’ll each share our understanding of our calls to our respective titles and then try to give some context near the end for how this comes to play at Augustana.

Deacon

I (Deacon Stephanie) am a rostered leader of the ELCA. We would say that ELCA Deacons are called to word and service, at the intersection of the church and the world. This means that some Deacons serve in congregations, but many serve as hospital chaplains or for faith-based non-profit organizations, agencies, and institutions. I knew the call to Deacon was for me when I learned of the word my fellow Deacons were doing all over the ELCA. They were creating places of belonging wider than our margins; they were feeding the hungry, advocating for the oppressed, providing direct care to those in need, ministering to people on hospice care, and so much more.

Deacons in the ELCA are theologically trained through a seminary degree and complete the candidacy process through the synod, just like pastors. Pastor Jason and I have sometimes explained the difference in our calls as a Doctor and a Physician Assistant – they have slightly different training, but can both provide excellent care.

Deaconess

I (Deaconess Claire) am a member of the Lutheran Deaconess Conference, one of the communities of the Lutheran Diaconal Association (LDA). Deaconesses and deacons are people who serve. We understand ourselves to be called to serve Christ by walking with those the world easily forgets; the marginalized, the poor, the powerless, the sick. Some people have a desire to do this as professional ministry and enter a more formal training and formation process to become deaconesses and deacons. I knew the call to diaconal ministry was for me when I was eating dinner with two deaconess students at Valparaiso University and had my first bite of guacamole and they told me about the ministry they were doing and what other deaconesses were doing all over the world. Maybe it was the guacamole that did it or maybe it was the heart-to-heart conversation about wanting to love God’s people…all people. I’ll never know.

The LDA is an independent, multi-Lutheran organization that forms, sends and nurtures communities of deaconesses and deacons, and supports the whole people of God in Christ’s call to serve. Through a process of education and formation, LDA students study theology, practice hands-on ministry, grow in their own spirituality, and become members of a lifelong community of deaconesses and deacons.

So, what does this mean? Here at Augustana, it means that your generosity allows us to have professional, theologically trained leaders, both on our clergy team and on our staff. As you know, Deacon Stephanie joins Pastor Jason as your clergy. Deaconess Claire serves as the staff position of Children & Family Minister. The specific titles indicate slightly different credentials and communities of which we are a part, but in the end, we are both called to word and service; a commitment to relationship and ministry that is rooted in our understanding of God’s mission in the world.

Deacons, Deaconesses, Pastors, church musicians, parish nurses, custodians, camp directors, and all the baptized are called to lives of service in Christ. Some of us feel a certain call to community or training that equips us to serve those across the street and around the world in specific ways, but we all join the work of proclaiming Christ’s love to a world in need.

I’ve Been Wondering

Why Should Young People Confirmed? 

It’s probably been drilled into our minds that Confirmation is a rite a passage, the time when children become adults in the eyes of the church. And though 15-year-olds can discern more clearly what they might be starting to believe, let’s be honest – today there are no other healthy places in society that we expect 15-year-olds to be adults. In fact, in the early church, Confirmation was simply an act of a priest or bishop performing the laying on of hands and praying for the Holy Spirit’s presence in the life of the baptized. It happened at the same time as baptism, whether the one being baptized was an infant or an adult.

It wasn’t until in the modern age of reason (post-1500) that the church started assigning the meaning of Confirmation to a maturing faith and a rite of passage. In that time, Confirmation happening in the lives of 13–15-year-olds made sense. Most children were only educated through about 8th grade. After that, they were expected to work and contribute to family and society. It wasn’t uncommon, especially in rural areas of Europe and America, for teenagers to be married and starting families soon after that. So, aligning a spiritual rite was one way for the church to assign meaning to this seismic change in young people’s lives.

By the time many of us adults were going through Confirmation, the Rite had turned into a rigorous curriculum of knowing the meaning of the tenets of faith, expecting that knowledge equals maturity. It was memorization and (dare I say) monotony for most young people. Most of us still get the chills thinking about having to recite Luther’s meaning of each article of the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments. And though knowing these things and studying them is important to understanding what kind of God we are called to follow, it has been less than an ideal way of leading young people into a consequential faith as they mature to adulthood.

So again, why should young people be confirmed today?

It starts with what each of us needs from a life of faith: Community, Meaning, and Transcendence

So much of life is transactional these days. There is a metric for everything. Young people are tested from 1st grade on and ranked on how smart they are, how tall they are, how athletic they are. There are so few places where young people have refuge from metrics. The Church is that place. Through the process of Confirmation, young people experience a different kind of community. They come to know that whatever’s going on in their lives, or however they are measuring up, there is a community of people, including adults, who see them, know them, and love them just as they are – and that because of this community – they come to believe that God does too. You, the body of Christ, show these young people what it means to believe. And we celebrate this rite of Confirmation with them so that they may claim an identity that is rooted in God’s grace and open to the call that God has for each of them.

This kind of community helps shape identity and provides meaning. Because we don’t expect 15-year-olds to be adults, we have to take seriously that these young people are only starting to form a mature identity. The Confirmation process is a time in young people’s lives to ask questions, to be curious, and to grow their spiritual and theological imagination.

Whether we are conscious of it or not, there is a deep need for all humans to experience transcendence – the sense that there is something more significant than the material world. Confirmation, both the process and the rite, provides young people with language, community, and practice to experience the transcendence that faith in Christ offers.

One of the things we don’t talk much about in the church is that because Confirmation is not a sacrament, and its traditional function has been to affirm one’s faith – to say yes to the promises God makes to us in baptism – Confirmation is not something that can only happen once in life. God grabs our attention at many points in our lives. If you’ve had a profound experience of faith and would like to affirm your baptism (or be confirmed) again, or maybe you were confirmed when you were young and your faith means something different or is more meaningful for you now, you can always affirm your baptism again! Look for an opportunity later this year for a group called Adult Confirmation: Everything You Wish You Remembered this winter and an opportunity to affirm your baptism at the Easter Vigil in late March.

I’ve Been Wondering?

Why are we using the “contemporary version” of the Lord’s Prayer?

The Lord’s Prayer is special to many people because it is one of those prayers that is written on our hearts. We can pray it and not have to think about it. Many of us were taught from an early age the “traditional” version that starts, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” I’ll admit that version still roles off my tongue quicker than the “contemporary” version. So why adopt the more modern version?

There are two reasons, and a caveat, I think praying the contemporary version matters.

  1. Theology matters. When we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” in the traditional version, the prayer seems to presume that God may be the kind of God who would lead us into temptation if we did not pray this prayer. In the Bible, it is only God’s adversary (Satan, or the devil) who is portrayed as the tempter. So to pray, “Save us from the time of trial,” aligns with the kind of activity God is known for. God is a saving God. God is one who walks with us through times of trial or temptation. Praying this reminds us that God stands with us and not against us when we are facing challenging times.
  2. Language matters. It has been several hundred years since “thee, thine, and Thou” have been in the common language of everyday people. The traditional English version of the Lord’s Prayer was first published in 1662. For our children and young people learning the faith, using familiar language removes potential barriers for them to connect to the God who loves them and wants them to know the God we meet in Jesus Christ. And for what it’s worth, the contemporary version of the Lord’s Prayer was first published 35 years ago, in 1988. So, it’s definitely updated, but may not be as new as it might seem.
  3. The caveat: Variation is acceptable within a Christian community. Prayer is a deeply personal expression of our faith. Within a Christian community, it’s reasonable for there to be many different expressions of prayer. If praying the contemporary version feels so foreign to you that it prevents you from feeling like you are struggling to remain in an attitude of prayer, you are free to pray the traditional version. As much as theology matters and language matters, they do not save us – it’s God’s work through the death and resurrection of Christ that does the saving.

Office Hours &
Building Information

Monday–Thursday
8:00 am – 4:30 pm

Fridays
8:00 – noon

The main building entrance is located on the east side of the church and is open on Sundays and during the week. For security purposes, the north entrance is only open on Sundays and for special events.