See second Comment for March / April, Conversation and Connector by Stanley Olson
I will pour out the spirit on all flesh ... your sons and daughters shall prophesy ... and your young men shall see visions. (Joel 2:28)
I have some sad news. The magazine was part of significant budget reductions at the churchwide office last November. Therefore this is your last issue, both in print and online.
But before I go into more details, I would like to take you in a different direction. I have a story to tell.
My wife and I were driving our daughter, Laura, back to college in central Illinois for the beginning of her junior year in 2008. After helping her get set up in her apartment, we took a mini-vacation. Our first stop: Springfield, the capital of Illinois, to attend the annual State Fair.
State fairs are deeply embedded in the American soul. In the midst of the carnival rides, exhibitions of all kinds, and hawkers of innovative kitchenware, the fairs are celebrations of a state's agricultural industry. The fair in Illinois, one of America's leaders in agriculture, is no different.
We were exploring the various exhibitions and buildings housing prized livestock when one building caught our attention — a building with alpacas.
One usually expects to see dairy cattle, swine, poultry, horses, and sheep at these fair competitions. But alpacas? We entered the building, scanned the exhibits, and saw men and women moving alpacas from one place to another.
One image stood out: a number of adults were in a circle talking with one another. Among them, as if part of the group, were at least three alpacas standing calmly next to their owners, watching the humans talk. I actually wondered if the animals were about to join the conversation.
Not being a farm kid myself, I wondered what kind of large animal stands that peacefully among homo sapiens? We later found out that many Americans are raising these animals throughout the country today. Alpacas originally came from South America. Their fur is a highly desired commodity. (Check out the official Web site of the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association, if you would like to know more about these animals.)
We left the building and continued wandering the fairgrounds. My wife asked, innocently enough, "What do you think? You know my mother owns a farm. We could move in with her and start raising alpacas. Are you game?"
Am I game? As a teen, my wife detasseled corn for area farmers near her home in Illinois. And as a young child, she played with the piglets at her grandfather's farm. And for one summer, I helped Ralph and Loren, my father-in-law and uncle-in-law, plant corn on Loren's fields. Does that mean we both have the potential to enter the world of farming/husbandry? Forgive me for being a bit skeptical.
The following summer we heard about National Alpaca Farm Days, a week set aside to observe the raising of alpacas. We visited a few alpaca farmers in our area to find out what raising these animals really involves. What we learned was fascinating.
I really don't know if raising alpacas will ever be part of our life's journey. But it did make us begin to imagine and envision different futures of work and service. So today, our talking about alpacas has become a metaphor for "thinking outside the box," even if that box is downright crazy.
Reaching Young Adults
This issue of Lutheran Partners asks us to think outside our own boxes as we focus on sharing the gospel with young adults — young men and women between the ages of 18 and the early 30s. If you look at statistics, this is one group which seems difficult to reach and integrate into American congregations. (See Faith Communities Today 2008: a First Look, a national survey of congregations provided by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research1).
I do not pretend to have any special insight into how rostered leadership and congregations can make the gospel of Jesus Christ relevant and compelling for young adults. But the Hartford research underscored that while their findings are sobering, signs of congregational vitality remain. Some American congregations and denominations are finding new and innovative ways to reach out with the gospel to this generation, as well as all age groups.
Read features related to "Ministry with and among Young Adults," this issue's theme. Rob Norris-Weber uses the story of Eutychus from the Book of Acts to help us re-think what young adult ministry may entail. Tracy Paschke-Johannes points to the ageless and relevant core values of our faith. Yehiel Curry describes the ministry of Shekinah Chapel in Chicago, a mission outreach to young adult African Americans. Kyle Petersen, associated with Lutheran Men in Mission, focuses on what it means to minister with and among young adult men.
You may have heard of the emerging church movement in America which has proven helpful in young adult ministry. Read what campus pastor Jay Gamelin has to say about this faith movement. You can also read an excerpt from a new book written by Luther Seminary professor Andrew Root who presents an ecclesiology for "emerging adults," another term used for young adults. Finally, read online what Mark Johns, a pastor and professor of Communications Studies at Luther College, means when he contends that young adult collegians are really not "going off to college" anymore because of technology.
Book reviews and "Written on the Heart" continue the focus on young adult ministry. "Handiwork" author, George Murphy, examines the so-called "God particle" in his online faith/science column.
Many to Thank
After learning of the magazine's closure last November, the leadership of the Vocation and Education program unit (which is responsible for the publication of Lutheran Partners) and I wanted to honor the agreements with the authors and vendors already in the production pipeline. This would allow us to publish our January / February and March / April 2010 issues.
For some background on Lutheran Partners' history, turn to this issue's "Book End" feature. In essence, this magazine has, for a little more than three decades, invited rostered leaders to share their hearts, minds, and souls with fellow rostered leaders, all of whom have been called to the ministry of the gospel. And, along with Richard Koenig and Carl Linder, the first two editors, I have had the privilege of producing this magazine on your behalf.
I have many people to thank. I'll start with the current production team: ad representatives Jeannette May, Florence Torsell, and Jay Pavlik, of J. May Marketing/Media, Park Ridge, Illinois; freelance graphic designer Ann Rezny; copyeditors Andrea Lee (a freelance editor) and ELCA Communication Services staff Connie Sletto; ELCA Web designer David Scott; and ELCA administrative assistant Melinda Valverde. Special thanks goes to Augsburg Fortress Publishers who provided production assistance and other excellent services throughout the years.
I am grateful for the many columnists and feature authors I have worked with. Our current columnists and department editors include David von Schlichten, book review editor, Geoffrey Scott, video review editor, Stephanie Frey, "Written on the Heart" editor, and "Handiwork" columnist George Murphy.
Special appreciation also goes to Marcus Kunz, Carol Breimeier, Mark Wilhelm, and Linda Bets who, as members of the Publication Committee, provided inspiration to redesign the magazine (the redesign began with our January / February 2008 issue). Over the years, the members of this Publication Committee as well as those from earlier years, were the magazine's main advisors and consultants.
Likewise, the Editorial Advisory Committee helped me select relevant themes for each of the year's six issues. My thanks go to Susan Daniels, Rayford Grady, Tom Lyberg, and Jennifer Moland-Kovash.
I also want to thank ELCA executive leadership I have worked closely with over the years. This includes Stanley Olson, executive director of the Vocation and Education (VE) program unit of the ELCA, Mark Wilhelm, the head of the Education, Partnership and Institution (EPI) work team in VE (the work team which the magazine was most closely associated with), and Joseph Wagner, the first executive director of the Division for Ministry in the ELCA. Each, in his own way, has been committed to serving the rostered leadership of this church through this publication.
Because our advertisers have shared important products and services for leadership and congregations, Lutheran Partners has been able to cover its significant production costs over the last 22 years. My thanks to all of them for this very important service.
My final thanks goes to you, our readers, for your partnership. Sometimes, as editor, I have found the right mix of themes and content to assist you in your ministry and faith; other times, I have missed the mark. But many of you wrote excellent letters of critique and encouragement over the years which greatly assisted me in this work.
I encourage you to read Stan Olson's Comment following this one. He mentions that the churchwide organization would like to consider new ways to stay connected to the rostered leadership. What creative, "alpaca"-like, out-of-the-box ideas might you have? The production of a Lutheran Partners online archives is already in the planning stages.
I've been busy these last few months as my wife and I consider "what's next?" We're both longing for Spirit-inspired "alpaca moments" as we make our transition.
I've been busy these last few months as my wife and I consider "what's next?" We're both longing for Spirit-inspired "alpaca moments" as we make our transition.
You know people in your own congregations and other ministry settings who also have lost work and are in transition. I know that they are in your prayers. One suggestion — if your congregation hasn't already done so — is to let your minds think outside the box regarding how to assist individuals in your congregations who are unemployed. Are there others in your congregations who have God-given skills to provide encouragement and direction in the areas of job transition, resume writing, networking, or computer training to those seeking work?
In an issue focused on young adults, it seems fitting to dedicate this final issue to four seniors at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. In the middle of 2009, I was in conversation with Mark Johns, an ELCA pastor, who teaches at the college in the Department of Communications Studies. As part of his Communications and Public Relations class, he requires students to work with organizations to provide research for the organizations' communications needs. We worked out a plan with one group of seniors to do research on our online magazine in order to discover ways to improve it.
My thanks to Heather Lund, Mackenzie Carlisle, Kendra Halvorson, and Darin Schneider for your good work and effort. And thank you, Professor Johns, for your partnership.
With the liberty to combine parts of both the NRSV and RSV translations, I sign off by quoting from the Apostle Paul, a fitting summary of my prayer for you (Philippians 1:3–7):
I thank my God every time I remember you for your partnership in the gospel. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
- Faith Communities Today 2008: A First Look (Hartford Institute for Religion Research, Hartford Seminary, 2009). The Hartford research was conducted by the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership (CCSP). CCSP is a multi-faith coalition of denominations and religious groups hosted by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. See fact.hartsem.edu/Press/firstlook09.html.
William Decker is editor of Lutheran Partners and Lutheran Partners Online, Chicago, Illinois. He can be contacted at William.Decker2@gmail.com.
Dear pastors, associates in ministry, diaconal ministers, deaconesses and other ELCA servant leaders,
As editor William Decker reported above, this is the final print issue for Lutheran Partners. We are saying farewell and Godspeed to our esteemed colleague Bill and also to this magazine that has been a colleague in ministry for three decades. This is a very sad time. As head of the Vocation and Education program unit, I was responsible for finding ways to reduce the unit's budget by 20 percent during the course of 2009. Thus I was the one who finally made the decision that we could not continue publication of Lutheran Partners. The hardest part of these days has been saying farewell to excellent colleagues like Bill. The next most painful aspect of these reductions is losing vital and important ministries, including this high quality, award-winning, mission-effective magazine. It is appropriate and important to grieve these losses occasioned by reductions in Mission Support for the work ELCA congregations do together.
This is also a time for gratitude. Since its February 1979 inaugural issue, Lutheran Partners has been sent without charge to rostered leaders — first in the LCA (then called LCA Partners), then, anticipating the new church, also to ALC and AELC leaders, and since 1988 to those of the ELCA. Pastoral wisdom and wit have been shared on its pages. Theological insight has been shared here. Diaconal understanding, administrative savvy, preaching expertise, hints for many ministries, linguistic revelations, links into the riches of written, multi-media and electronic resources — they have all been found here regularly. Especially in the seven years that I have been responsible to oversee its publication, I've come to think of this magazine as an intentional conversation, a purposeful connector. As we have been saying in each issue, "Lutheran Partners connects those serving in the public ministries of the ELCA by publishing the real voices of real people doing real ministry in the real world."
On behalf of this whole church, I say a sincere "Thank you!" to all who have made the connections work over the years — regular readers, letter writers, occasional contributors, columnists, advertising, art and layout staff, and members of the publication and editorial advisory committees. Without you, the conversation would have been much less rich and fruitful.
I express this church's sincere thanks to Bill Decker, on Lutheran Partners staff since 1988 and our editor since 2002. Bill has led this ministry with wit and wisdom, with creativity, theological insight and journalistic excellence, and with a constant spirit of collegiality. He is closing his work with his usual grace, completing two fine, final issues in 2010. Thank you, Bill! In these years you have lived well your vocation as a journalist for the mission of Christ. And I thank his predecessors, editors Carl Linder (1987-2002) and Richard Koenig (1979-1987). They set this print ministry in motion and guided it well.
And this is a time to look ahead. We in the Vocation and Education program unit want your help to imagine what comes next as ELCA ministry leaders sustain connections. My e-mail address is Stan.Olson@ELCA.org. I hope you will write to me with ideas for continuing the communication mission of which Lutheran Partners has been a part. I said above that this is the final print issue of the magazine. There will still be a presence on this Web site where all past issues will eventually be available. We hope that the online presence can be something more than an archive, though at present we don't have firm plans or the funds to staff anything more. Yet there are always possibilities in God's world! What is working well for you to learn from others for ministry and to support others in ministry? Where do you get ideas and information? What small roles might the churchwide organization explore for the future in such connections?
This issue of Lutheran Partners will probably reach you in the season of Lent. There are seasons in our individual and shared lives when it is appropriate to dwell on the Good Friday themes of death and loss. Perhaps this is such a time, but even Lent looks toward Easter! May God continue to bless you for your vocations in ministry.
Stanley Olson is the executive director for the Vocation and Education program unit of the ELCA churchwide organization, Chicago, Illinois.