There and Back Again: A Pastor’s Reformation Sabbatical Adventure #12

Iona: Part 2

Ora et Labora – Pray and Work – is a basic part of the practice of Benedictine spirituality that was practiced in the second incarnation of the Iona Abbey religious community from 1200 to the mid-1500’s. It was also key to the efforts of George MacLeod to build community between the rich and poor of Glasgow as they worked to rebuild the Iona Abbey. So, it’s no surprise that “ora et labora” – prayer and work – is the foundation for the building of community in the third incarnation of the Iona Abbey today that began with George MacLeod.
Beginning with a late evening welcoming worship service on the Saturday evening you arrive and a service of Holy Communion on Sunday morning the next day; the week then settles into a rhythm of two chief worship services each day – one after breakfast and one after dinner; with another briefer prayer offered at 2pm each day. The services are for those staying at the Abbey but also open to Iona residents or anyone else visiting the island, and usually the Abbey church was filled by a mixture of all three.
The Iona Community is known for the words and music of its worship life. They have a large hymnal filled with songs produced by the Iona Community but that also includes many familiar (and unfamiliar) hymns and songs from other traditions. The music is good but the words for the spoken parts of the liturgy were the most striking to me. It’s written in everyday language that is down to earth, simple and understandable but also quite profound and affecting. In a Prayer of Confession we used most mornings first the leader and then the congregation confess:

“Before God
with the people of God
I confess to turning away from God
in the ways I wound my life
the lives of others
and the life of the world.”

And then each in turn respond
“May God forgive you, Christ renew you, and the spirit enable you to grow in love.”

In a “Response of Faith” a little later in the same service we would daily say:
“We affirm
God’s goodness at the heart of humanity
planted more deeply than all that is wrong. “

The most powerful service of the week for me was a service of healing on Tuesday evening. For the healing rite at the center of the service they set up a circle of kneelers in the middle of the worship space. Those who wanted to receive the laying on of hands for healing were invited to come and kneel there while three of the resident staff moved within the circle doing the laying on of hands. Others were invited to stand behind those kneeling and add their affirmation by placing their hands on the shoulders or back of those kneeling. And everyone was invited to repeat the prayer of healing as it was said over each person:

“Spirit of the living God
present with us now
heal you in body, mind and spirit
and free you from all that harms you
in Jesus name.

Simple words – but as I went from standing outside the circle with my hands on the shoulders of others; to kneeling as hands were laid on me; hearing and repeating those words over and over was most definitely an experience of God’s healing presence in and for and through my life. And it didn’t hurt that because of the time of day the sun was streaming in through the Abbey Church windows so that as you stood or knelt in and around the circle you were enveloped in beams of bright shining sunlight.

The other less obvious but I think equally important – as far as forming us into a community – part was the “labora” of our daily routine. We were divided into three groups – Seals, Puffins and Otters (I was a Seal). Each group was responsible for serving and cleaning up from one of the meals (the Seals had dinner each day). In addition everyone was assigned cleaning responsibilities to be done after morning worship. I was staying in the Abbots House – which neighbors but is separate from the main Abbey House and so my three roommates and I were responsible for cleaning the floors and bathrooms of that building – I was in charge of the showers. It was interesting how much conversation, laughter, bonding and camaraderie developed as I washed and dried silverware and cleaned bathrooms with my fellow pilgrims.

There were about 40 or so of us altogether. A mixture of nationalities and denominations but with a lot of North Americans (from the US and Canada (including a group of 11 from a Presbyterian church north of San Francisco whose pastor had come to Iona while on sabbatical last year and then brought a group from her church back with her again this year (hint hint)) and residents of Great Britain with a few Germans and Swiss thrown in for good measure. Other than some of the Germans (which included two Lutheran pastors) and me there weren’t a lot of Lutherans there. The majority were either Anglican or branches of the Reformed tradition ranging from Presbyterians to Reformed Church in America to the United Church of Canada (which is a union of several denominations in Canada including Presbyterians and Methodists). There were also (I think somewhat unusually) a lot of clergy in the group including a number like me who were there on sabbatical.

In addition to the regular routines of “ora et labora” Iona is a beautiful place with lots of places to walk and hike and there were special programs and activities offered each day that one could participate in or not. I attended a very striking and disturbing session called “When Mermaids Cry” about the ways in which we are filling and poisoning our world and ourselves with plastic (the tiny balls of plastic that all the plastic eventually disintegrate into are called “mermaid’s tears”). On Monday evening we had a “Ceilidh” – an evening of Scottish dancing – in the village hall. (I got to play the fiddle for it in a small live band made up of some of the other guests and staff!). Tuesday afternoon I went on a “pilgrimage” around the island led by the staff that included reflections, prayers and songs at various stops. And Thursday we had a boat trip to island of Staffa which in addition to being a striking geologic example (and includes a huge cave with water pouring in and out that makes a musical sound that inspired one of Mendelsohn’s symphonies) is a nesting place for puffins! Puffins it turns out really like humans because we scare away the seagulls (who like to kill the little puffins). So when you sit quietly as a group at the edge of the two hundred foot cliff bunches of them fly over and waddle around you on their little webbed feet – quite the afternoon of holy delight!

The other big event was the Scottish porridge that was offered every day and which my British friends told me was a must have. I did have it every day and it was good – but it reminded me a lot of oatmeal (which I think it actually is). There was also one bar in the village just below the Abbey with beautiful views of the water where we frequently ended the day – which also was helpful with the community building ?

“Am fear a theid a dh’l, theid e tri uairean ann.”
Gaelic saying about Iona meaning those who come to Iona will come, not once, but three times.

There and Back Again: A Pastor’s Sabbatical Adventure #11

Iona Pilgrimage – Part 1
Iona is a small island at the south end of the island of Mull – amongst the Inner Hebrides islands off the coast of Scotland. Based on archaeological evidence it’s thought to have been occupied since the late Bronze Age (@1000 BC). While the population peeked around at around 500 in the middle ages the current year round residents number about 150 – but it is enough for a local elementary school (that is currently adding an addition). However after elementary school the children go to a boarding school in Oban (on the Scottish coast – reached by crossing the island of Mull (which takes one hour) and taking a ferry (another hour) and just come home on the weekends.
Getting to Iona is a bit of a pilgrimage journey in itself. I began by taking a three hour train ride from Glasgow to the end of the line in Oban. Then in Oban I took an hour long ferry ride to the Island of Mull. There a bus picked us up for the 40 mile trip across Mull – which is quite an experience in itself. On the one hand because Mull is beautiful with green rolling hills, lakes and valleys dotted with sheep and long haired, horned cows and only the occasional house or small settlement. Buy in addition the double decker bus winds its way up and down the hills and over bridges on a narrow one lane road (on which the cows and sheep like to wander) with frequent pull outs that allow cars, trucks or buses coming the other direction to get out of the way so you can pass (After a number of what seemed like near misses and teeterings on the edge I made sure to buckle my seat belt). While the train and ferry ride were full of talkative travelers and sight-seeing tourists the ride across Mull enveloped us in hushed contemplation that was mostly about the beauty (but also a bit about the terror). The bus drops off at the settlement of Fionnphort where we caught another ferry that carried us across the mile wide gap from Mull to the island of Iona. Fortunately, a van met us at the dock to pick up our luggage and a guide then lead us the final half mile or so to our final destination – the Iona Abbey.
While it’s thought that Iona was an important religious site even in its pagan days Iona’s Christian history began when St. Columba (Irish – Colm Cille, “church dove”) in the 6th century left (either because he was forced to or he wanted to – the sources conflict on this point) Ireland with a group of 12 faithful followers to (escape? and) evangelize the pagans of the islands and also eventually Scotland. Columba was in his early 40s when he established his Abbey and had various (mis)adventures on his way to converting the Picts and becoming a saint. One involved one of his friends/followers volunteering(?) to be buried alive to quell the pagan spirits of the place so they could build a church (St. Orans). Another was banishing a large “river beast” to the bottom of the River Ness (aka the Loch Ness Monster!) after it killed a Pict and threatened to eat one of Columba’s followers as well. Still another were his late night conversations with angels on the “Hill of Angels” secretly witnessed by one of his followers.
After Columba’s death the Abbey flourished as a center of learning and also religious and political life in the area. Among other things the famous illustrated bible manuscript the “Book of Kells” was produced there (and later spirited away for safe keeping to Kells in Ireland). Because of it’s even pre-Christian identification as a “thin place” – a place where the space between heaven and earth is thinner than other places – not to mention the presence of the relics of St. Columba – it is said that in ancient times over 40 kings and great ones of Scotland were taken to Iona to be buried around (poor) St. Orans chapel which neighbors the Iona Abbey. According to tradition Shakespeare’s Scottish King, Macbeth and – the king he murdered – Duncan are buried there. For this same reason, most recently John Smith (not the lover of Pocohontas but the Scottish charismatic leader of the British Labour party (who died suddenly of a heart attack opening the door for the election of Tony Blair as the (Labour Party) Prime Minister of the United Kingdom))) was buried in the small cemetery.
The Abbey and community began to decline two centuries later when Vikings began periodically raiding the coast – pillaging the Abbey of its valuables and wealth and slaughtering the monks. This death, destruction and decline continued for quite awhile until eventually the Vikings were converted to Christianity and instead of continuing their pillaging ways settled on the island themselves.
Around 1200 the Abbey got a new lease on life when it was reestablished as a Benedictine monastery along with a sister convent of similar size just up the road. These grew and thrived as well until the middle of the 1500’s when the Reformation took hold (thank you Martin Luther?) and brought an end to all things Roman Catholic in Scotland including the Benedictine Abbey and Convent of Iona.
Over the next few hundred years the Abbey and Convent fell into ruin (as the Convent still is today) with periodic efforts to restore and renovate it. After one such effort, the Duke who ruled the area and owned the Abbey donated them to what is now the Historic Trust of Scotland at the beginning of the 20th century with the condition that the Abbey be used as an ecumenical worship space.
Not much happened with that until a Presbyterian minister in Glasgow – George MacLoud – got involved. MacLoud was concerned with bridging the gap in working class Glasgow where he ministered between the rich and the working poor. In order to do that he came up with the idea of taking groups of them to Iona where they would live and work together for a few weeks at a time in restoring the Abbey. They lived in tents on the property and spent their days praying (and playing) and working together which, while they were Presbyterians, goes very much along with the “ora et labora” – pray and work – ethos of Benedictine religious communities. The effort was such a success that MacLoud continued to bring groups of men to the Abbey for many years and the present day Iona Community was born.
One of the interesting things about the actual “Iona Community” is that it does not reside at the Iona Abbey. Instead, the community of about 300 is spread mostly around Scotland and England with a growing number of members in continental Europe and a few in North America (all of whom became members and then later moved to North America). While visiting the Iona Abbey and participating in the program there is probably what got all of them involved in the first place being a member means formally joining the community and making a commitment to the follow the Rule of the community. The Rule isn’t especially long or complex and chiefly involves committing to serving by working for peace and justice where you live; meeting regularly in your “family group” made up of other members for fellowship and prayer; and supporting the community financially. The Community has an elected leader (which is a full time paid position) and has a particular focus on working with the poor in Glasgow.
The Iona Abbey; the work, worship and programs that take place there; and all the music and worship resources that have been and continue to be produced and published are a by-product of the Community but not actually the focus of the life of what is formally/officially the “Iona Community.”

There and Back Again: A Pastor’s Sabbatical Adventure #10

Wittenberg Part 2

I have visited Wittenberg 4 times (I believe) before the week there with our Youth Group and Friends, but it was very meaningful to not just visit for a day or an overnight but to actually live there for a week…so that the Castle Church (where Luther nailed (or at least posted (or at least associated)) his 95 Theses on October 31st 1517 that got the Reformation ball rolling) and the City Church (where he regularly worshipped and preached) became not just iconic images but the regular landmarks by which I navigated my way around town.  Historic Wittenberg is not a particularly big place and except when you are inside there isn’t really anywhere in town that isn’t in view of one or both – and the Youth Hostel that we stayed in is actually part of the reconstructed castle of Frederick the Wise to which the Castle Church is attached. So it was almost like the most iconic symbol of the Reformation was our home for a week.

Along with that our morning and evening worship services alternated between the Castle Church and the City Church, and so they became not just places I visited and observed from “the outside” as a tourist, but places where I heard the Word proclaimed, prayed and sang about the meaning of life and faith. The Castle Church where Martin Luther (right in front of the pulpit) and Phillip Melanchthon’s (not 10 feet to the left of Luther) bodies are buried (and where Barlach’s “Schwebende Engel” hovers over the aisle); and the City Church with the amazing altarpiece and triptych of Luther, Melanchthon, Bugenhagen and the meaning of the Reformation by Lucas Cranach the Elder (a print of which hangs in my office at Good Shepherd) became not just museums I’ve visited but living, breathing worship spaces for me/us where God has sought me through worship.

Not unrelated to all that, walking the main street of Wittenberg that Luther and Melanchthon and Cranach and the others walked so many times; visiting once more Luther’s room at the Wartburg Castle where Luther lived and hid out for 10 months (and translated the New Testament into the language of the (German) people); and standing at the altar in the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt where Luther celebrated his first Holy Communion I experienced Luther in a new way – as a person not so different from (you and) me. It came into focus for me in particular at the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt when the pastor told us that the stained glass windows with their images of parrots and lions and roses (that some say were the basis for the seal of Martin Luther – the Luther Rose) were the same ones that were there in Luther’s time…..that just as we meditate Sunday by Sunday on the architecture and symbols of Good Shepherd…..these are the images and symbols Luther lived with and meditated on….and that the stone altar in the front of the worship space was the same one that had been there in Luther’s time…..the one at which he so fearfully celebrated his first Holy Communion.

I have been standing behind altars and looking out at congregations as I’ve celebrated Holy Communion (at times fearfully) for almost 30 years. After our worship at the Augustinian monastery I walked up to that altar and as I touched it looked out at the congregation as Luther would have and I felt this new (or perhaps renewed) connection to Luther. He was no longer just Luther the legend, but Luther the person and Luther the pastor.

I say “renewed” because it was reading and writing a term paper on psychoanalyst Erik Erikson’s book “Young Man Luther” (that is deservedly panned by historians for its inaccuracies) – which spends about a whole chapter on Luther’s fear and trembling when celebrating Holy Communion for the first time – for a seminar course in college that brought Luther as a real person alive to me for the first time. Among other things Erikson is famous for his writings about the “identity crisis” we all have to come to terms with as we move from child to adult in “Young Man Luther” he portrays Luther’s search for a gracious God as he moved through young manhood in those terms. Although Erikson does not get all the Luther facts right, I believe he still does a meaningful job of bringing Luther to life as a real person – one that I could identify with. That has shaped the course of my faith journey in significant ways including my decision to become a pastor…..and I felt a sense of renewal and return to that experience through my participation in the Luther500 event.

There and Back Again: A Pastor’s Sabbatical Adventure #9

Lutherstadt Wittenberg and the ELCA Luther500 Youth Event!

Part 1


Since you will no doubt be hearing directly from our youth participants about what we did day by day at the Luther500 Youth Festival, and since only they can tell you what it meant to them I won’t repeat or try to do that. Instead, I thought I would share some impressions and expressions of what the week meant to me.

The first  is how thrilled I am that God at work through Good Shepherd and in our youth ministry was able to pull this off! I know that God is all-powerful and all-knowing and can do all things but still…..this was a dream come true for me to have an event/opportunity/experience like this happen for our youth and families  at Good Shepherd. To God be the glory of course but I don’t think there is another congregation that is providing more varied and meaningful and quality programs/experiences/activities to explore the history, meaning and relevance for today of the Reformation than we are and have been for the past year and our Luther500 youth trip is another great example of that.

As you may know this trip represents the completion of one full cycle of summer youth trips that is an important component of our youth ministry strategy at Good Shepherd and one that I hope will continue to be an ongoing part of the program. The cycle involves a trip each summer that alternates between the ELCA Youth Gathering, a Mission Trip and an “adventure” trip.  We accomplished this beginning with the ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit in the summer or 2015; our Youth Works Mission trip to Mingo County, West Virginia last summer 2016 and now the Luther500 trip to Wittenberg that we have just completed.

With different emphases, each of these trips provide unique experiential opportunities for faith formation that include varying amounts of learning, service, worship, personal and spiritual growth, bible study and group building (with a lot of fun thrown in for good measure).  By their very nature trips like these are deeply impactful, transformative and create life long memories and connections to what our faith is all about for our youth (not to mention for the adults who accompany them (and me)).

We had a great group 10 high school youth, two middle school youth and one just one year out of high school young adult. I am also very thankful for the 7 adult leaders who were with us all of whom made significant contributions to the experience so that there was a minimal loss of blood, no broken bones, no one left behind at the Wartburg Castle and we all returned with our sanity intact (or at least as intact as it was when we left). It was especially nice to have Laurie Wilhelm’s mother Anne along with us – not just because she was such a consistently positive part of the group (not to mention such a surprisingly good ping pong player as some of our young men discovered), but it also meant I wasn’t the oldest one in our group ? – although I was the oldest one of our group on the high ropes course!

In addition I want to say a big BIG  thank you to our Youth Coordinator Lisa Long who along with God is the biggest reason we were able to accomplish this trip. Doing a trip like this is a huge undertaking from recruiting to fundraising to planning to organizing. I believe just about everyone in the congregation participated in some way in making this trip possible – whether by giving money or coming to the German dinner or supporting us with their prayers and advice but it would not have been possible without God at work through Lisa’s gifts and efforts. I came up with the idea and did a lot of cheer leading but it was all the rest of you and Lisa through whom God made this happen. Thanks be to God!

There and Back Again: A Pastor’s Sabbatical Adventure #8

There and Back Again – A Pastor’s Sabbatical Adventure #8

With a week of travel to meet our Luther 500 Youth and Friends and then a week with our Luther 500 Youth and Friends I’m afraid I’ve fallen behind a bit with my posts and am hoping to make it up with a couple of posts in a row. I’m currently in Vernazza – which Rick Steves calls the “jewel” of the Cinque Terre (literally “Five Villages” (I say “literally” but my Italian is quite a bit more limited than my relatively limited German)) – five (originally) fishing villages cut off from the rest of the Italian Riviera by the mountainous coastline that they sit within.  It’s a beautiful spot (which if I eventually figure out how to share my Facebook posts with Good Shepherd’s Facebook page you might even be able to see). Vernazza has no relationship to Martin Luther and the Reformation….but people said they hoped I also took time to just have fun occasionally on my sabbatical – so this is that ?.

 After four weeks in one place I said goodbye to Berlin on Friday, June 9th and began a roundabout week- long journey on the way to meeting our Youth and Friends in Rothenberg ob der Tauber on June 18th. I first went northwest (instead of southwest towards Rothenberg) to Schwerin the capital city of the German “Bundestaat” state of Mecklenberg-Vorpommern to visit a friend who lives in Maryland but grew up in Schwerin (when it was part of the DDR – Deutsches Demokratisches Republique (aka communist East Germany). For many years she has invited me to visit her beautiful home town when she is back to visit her family – which I did and it was! I spent the weekend at a sort of Seafarer’s International (elder) hostel on Lake Schwerin(?), the third(?) largest fresh water lake in Germany. It would have been perfect except that both nights the restaurant that was most of the first floor of the building I was in (but is not part of the “hostel”) was closed in order to host either one or two (Russian?) wedding receptions that went on till two or three (at least that’s when I finally fell asleep) complete with disco music and a bass beat that caused the whole building (including my bed) to vibrate.

Schwerin has a beautiful palace (what medieval German city doesn’t?….but this one is indeed exceptional). I’ve run into mentions of Schwerin a number of times in my travels. With the rest of northern Germany they accepted the Reformation early on; they were the place where Barlach’s “Hovering Angel” (more on that another time) was sent after it was removed from the Gorlitz Cathedral (and eventually melted down to make munitions for the Nazi war machine); and it was an active part of the “Peaceful Revolution” with (tens of?) thousands protesting in the streets that ultimately brought about the peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification of East and West Germany.

From Schwerin I went to Hamburg. Third largest city in Germany; a rival to Baltimore in the container shipping industry and the place where Lisa Long’s favorite musical group (the Beatles) rose from obscurity playing in the Star Club along the Reeperbahn. Like Dresden, Hamburg was destroyed by Allied (fire(?)) bombing in the apocalpytically named Operation Gommorah in 1943.  It’s also the birthplace of Johannes Brahms and I enjoyed a wonderful lunch time string quartet in the Brahms concert hall. An “Imperial Free City” it was a significant part of the powerful medieval/renaissance Hanseatic League trading association (which some say was an antecedent of the EU if not the United Nations. Although the Hanseatic league is no more it’s imprint can still be found today in trademarks like “Lufthansa” (notice the Hansa for Hanseatic in there).

After three nights in Hamburg I went on to Wurzburg – birth place of my colleague Pastor Julie Brigham who serves St. Paul and Mt. Moriah on the other side of South Mountain from us. Her parents were there as part of the American military presence in southern Germany after WWII. There, as in the rest of southern Germany, the typical greeting is not “Guten Tag” but  “Gruss Gott” which (I would say) literally means, “Greetings God.” While any Germans reading this can correct me I would like to think it goes back to Hebrews 13:2 which says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” We find and encounter God in the stranger, the other and this greeting acknowledges that.  I have not spent enough time in southern Germany to be used to this greeting. Everyone says it quite matter-of-factly and pretty much completely independent of any religious meaning. But when someone says it to me I’m taken aback and feel like we are suddenly having a conversation about God and faith.

Wurzburg is home to the spectacular “Residenz” – the mini (but not at all small) Versailles built by the Prince Bishop of Wurzburg to live in. He was called a “Prince Bishop” because like others he was not only a religious but also a secular ruler – given the title of prince by Barbarossa – Holy Roman Emperor Frederick 1 – in the 12th century. Spectacular as the “Residenz” is it shows one of the reasons that led to the Reformation. The church had become such a worldly and wealthy entity that it bore little if any resemblance to the life and way of Jesus of Nazareth. It was an oppressive and corrupt part if not leader of the rich and powerful systems that benefit the few and bleed and burden the rest. As such it was ripe for the picking (or reforming) when Luther came along.

One of the books I’m reading about the Reformation by Kenneth Appold makes the perhaps obvious but no less striking and fresh for me point that the rise and fall of the Christian church since the time of Jesus can be traced to the way in which ordinary Christians and church leaders have embodied the way of Jesus or not. The more they have lived Jesus way of serving, self-sacrificing, cross shaped love the more they have been a compelling force that draws people in. The times they have followed the way of wealth and power and Prince Bishops the more they have turned people off and away.

As we  sing, “They will know we are Christians by our love by our love. They will know we are Christians by our love.” Makes me wonder if there is any relationship between this principle and the struggles the Lutheran church in America is having today. It’s not all about numbers certainly, but are we obscuring in some way(s) the love, justice and joy of Jesus that is such a compelling and irresistible message when embodied as Jesus embodied it and as we the “body of Christ” in the world today are called to do as well.

In Wurzburg I also for the first time became acquainted with St. Killian – the patron saint of Wurzburg. Along with two companions he (and they) quite literally lost their heads in the 9th century when trying to convert the pagans of Wurzburg to Christianity. But it worked – that is to say that after cutting off all their heads the Wurzburgers must have felt guilty or obligated in some way to go ahead and join the new religion (because they did). Even though they all lost their heads, Killian for some reason became the patron saint. Now he and his companions (and others) (with heads reattached ) adorn (in statue form) a beautiful bridge across the river Main “die Alte Mainbrucke” – built around the time Luther was born in the late 15th century. Today tourists and locals gather every evening as the sun goes down to drink the local wine and chat under the gaze of Killian and company.

On the other side of the bridge from the town at the top of a long steep sweaty climb is the Marienberg Fortress which among other things contains the biggest collection of wood and stone sculptures by Tillman Riemenschneider including his famous Adam and Eve sculptures.  He was one of my most meaningful “discoveries” on this sabbatical. A great artist with a great life story that overlaps with Martin Luther’s in meaningful ways who spent most of his life and career in Wurzburg. Along with Ernst Barlach (another great “discovery” mentioned above) I hope to dedicate a post to just him.

In the “Remembrance Room” in the town hall I once again ran into the Cross of Nails community which Wurzburg joined as a town in the years following WWII. Wurzburg was pretty much leveled in only 20 minutes of bombing just 6 weeks before the end of WWII. The room contains a history of the rise of the Nazis and Wurzburg’s complicity in that and also are a series of devastating before and after the bombing photos. On the wall is letter written by the “Lord Mayor” George Rosenthal for the dedication of the Remembrance Room. After owning responsibility for the support for the evil of Adolph Hitler that led to the bombing, it also acknowledges there is something that is not right about the targeting and annihilation of civilian populations that was done by all sides in WWII. His letter ends with these words:

 “…. when the war was over the victors understood that they were not free of guilt either.

 What remains is mourning: the dead of the raid of March 16th 1945 will not return to life, the destruction of the city cannot be undone.

 What remains, as well, is the lasting admonition to us to stand firmly against war

against any reign of terror

and against racism.”

There and Back Again: A Pastor’s Sabbatical Adventure #7

The Coventry Cross of Nails Community

Twice so far on this journey I have stumbled across the Cross of Nails Community. First in the Kreuzkirche (Cross Church) in Dresden, and then as part of the Kirchentag worship at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin. Here is the story of the Coventry Cross of Nails Community and the ecumenical reconciliation community in German that is a part of it. With some minor editions the information comes from the Coventry web site and the Kreuzkirche in Dresden. I’ve included the Litany of Reconciliation at the end of these notes. In the wake of the second terrorist attack in England earlier this week it all seems even more relevant to me.

(From the Coventry web site) Following the destruction of Coventry Cathedral during a German air raid in 1940, Provost Dick Howard made a commitment not to seek revenge, but to strive for forgiveness and reconciliation with those responsible. During the BBC radio broadcast from the Cathedral ruins on Christmas Day 1940 he declared that when the war was over we should work with those who had been enemies ‘to build a kinder, more Christ-like world.’

The words “Father Forgive” were inscribed on the wall of the ruined chancel and two charred beams which had fallen in the shape of a cross were bound and placed on an altar of rubble. Three medieval nails were formed into a cross, and the Cross of Nails quickly became a potent sign of friendship and hope in the post war years, especially in new relationships with Germany and the developing links between Coventry and the cities of Kiel, Dresden and Berlin.

The Community of the Cross of Nails has its origins in this courageous vision, and today nearly 200 Partners form part of this Community as they work and pray for peace, justice and reconciliation within their own communities and countries. Their ministry may focus on politics, race, religion, economics, gender or sexual orientation; it may address war and violent conflict, post conflict restoration or healing; it can have broad and far-reaching, national or regional consequences, or it can make a significant difference to local communities and individual people’s lives.

CCN Partners can be churches, reconciliation centres, prisons or peacebuilding NGOs:  any body of people who have a heart and a need to pursue reconciliation in their own lives and the lives of others. Partners are encouraged to link up within countries and regions and to support each other – both practically and prayerfully.

(From the Kreuzkirche materials) The Cross of Nails challenges us Germans to continuously come to terms with our past and with the tensions of the present in the spirit of truth and reconciliation. In 1991 the German section of the Community of the Cross of Nails was founded as an ecumenical registered society bringing together already established Cross of Nails centers and individuals.

In the “spirit of Coventry” we are committed to work for the following aims:

              We aim to pray and to work in the spirit of reconciliation according to our common discipline

              We uphold the commandment “love your enemies” in concrete situations

              We promote dialogue between young and old, between locals and strangers

              We seek ways to resolve conflicts without violence

              We face German history and work within the communion of nations to grow understanding for each other

              We endeavor in particular to encourage the cooperation of young people all over Europe and support understanding of each other under the sign of the Cross of Nails.


The Coventry Litany of Reconciliation

The Litany was written in 1958 and focuses on the seven deadly sins. It reminds that when we pray about the problems of the world around us, we need to begin by acknowledging the roots of those problems in our own hearts. The Litany is prayed at noon each weekday in Coventry Cathedral. On Fridays, we pray the Litany in the ruins of the old Cathedral and are joined in prayer at that time by many of our partners around the world.


All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,


The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own,


The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth,


Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,


Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,


The lust which dishonours the bodies of men, women and children,


The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God,


Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you

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Copyright © 2017 The Community of the Cross of Nails.


There and Back Again: A Pastor’s Sabbatical Adventure #6

“Du siehst mich.” You  see me – that was the theme of Kirchentag (literally Churches Day) 2017. The theme comes from Hagar’s name for God in Genesis 16:13 (or 1 Moses as the German bible calls the first book of the bible). It’s the first time God is named in the First (Old) Testament. It’s a long complicated story, but just to give some sense of it – Hagar is the pregnant (by Abraham) slave of Sarah (Abraham’s wife). In anger and jealousy over Hagar’s pregnancy (which happens because Sarah gives Hagar to Abraham because in spite of God’s promise that Abraham will be the father of many nations Sarah herself cannot get pregnant (which also means of course that Hagar’s pregnancy is a result of something more like rape than consensual sex)), Sarah has been mistreating Hagar. In desperation and despair Hagar runs away. In “die Wusste” – the wilderness, where Hagar has lain down to die – the angel of God finds her and says, “Hagar, where have you come from and where are you going?”  And then helps and gives her hope. Hagar feels “seen” by God, and so in her prayer she calls God “El Roi” – the God who sees me.

            Another interesting piece of this that is lost in English is that “Du” as opposed to “Sie” is the familiar way you address a friend or intimate.  In English this familiar address was the “thee, thy and thou” language we no longer use. So Hagar is speaking to God (as Jesus taught us to as well) not as divine and majestic Lord of Lords, but as her closest friend.

           I had never heard of Kirchentag before but as I was preparing for my sabbatical and planning to be in Berlin over this period of time I stumbled across it  – and of course maybe God was involved in some way as well ?

          Kirchentag is an every other year gathering of the “Evangelische” chuches in Germany – which on the one hand is not just Lutheran (the Reformed (in the US this means Presbyterian, UCC and other churches that have Reformed in their name) are the main other group involved and on the other hand does not include the “Freikirche” – Free Churches – such as the Methodists, Baptists, Mennonites etc. (I’m not sure where the Anglican/Episcopalians fit in to this).

           As many probably know in Germany if you  belong to an Evangelische or Katholische (Roman Catholic) church you have about 3% of your income collected by the government as part of your taxes (the Kirchensteuer or church tax it’s called) and given to either the Evangelische or Katholische Church. This also means that membership in the church is not measured by attendance, communing or putting something in the offering plate (as it is for us) but only by whether you have registered with the government and pay the Kirchensteuer. It also means “the offering” is quite an anticlimactic event in worship. If it’s done (which it’s not always) it’s for some special cause (often/usually a social ministry effort) and consists mostly of people’s “kleingeld” coins (of course some of those are worth 1 or 2 Euros).

           This was the 36th Kirchentag (which means – if my math is correct – they must have had a few special ones because the first one was in 1949. This one was bigger than usual in celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.  According to Deutsche Welle there were 2500 events, 30,000 presenters and 140,000 participants (including me). While I at first thought the closest analogy would be a Synod Assembly it’s actually more like a Youth Gathering (except with more older people (but there were also lots of youth).

         Even though my German is still not all that great it was a tremendously meaningful, moving  and interesting event for me (and of course since English is something of the universal language they were many events that were partly if not mostly in English (including the sermon at the culminating worship service for 70,000 in Wittenberg) or had English translation. The energy, quality, liveliness and sheer numbers left me feeling that what we often hear about the death of European Christianity is greatly exaggerated (to paraphrase Mark Twain).

          It started for me at the opening worship service that was held at three different locations – I went to the one at the Brandenburg Gate (because it was billed as being in “simple German”) – and included about 100,000 people. Probably about 20,000 of those were “polizei” since as you might imagine security concerns were huge. I arrived at the Brandenburg Tor metro stop on time for the service but then spent 45 minutes walking to an acceptable entrance and getting through security. I made the same mistake the next day when I went to the same place to see a conversation about faith and the future between former President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Still it was inspiring and meaningful for me to see a church event that was so significant that Obama and Merkel participated and so worthwhile that so many people were willing to walk long distances and stand in long lines to get in.

           In addition to the opening worship on Wednesday evening I spent all day Thursday (which was a national holiday (for Himmelfahrt – which (don’t laugh) is the German word for the Ascension (Himmel = Heaven and fahrt is a form of the verb “fahren”  which means to go by means of something). Interestingly in secular Germany the holidays are literally “holy days” even though for most it is celebrated not in church but with men drinking all day in the parks)) and Saturday participating in Kirchentag events and all day Sunday in Wittenberg for the climactic worship service.

         It was something like going to an All-Star Game event for me (in a churchy way) – meaning there were more famous theologians, pastors and politicians in one place than I think I have ever experienced before. From Barak Obama and Angela Merkel to Heidi Neumark (amazing pastor from Manhattan who I’ve heard about and read for many years and who turns out to not only be eloquent about God’s love and call for justice but the granddaughter of Jewish victims of the Holocaust) to Nadia Boltz Weber (tattooed from head to foot founder and pastor of the Church of All Sinners and Saints in Denver who I heard speak at the ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans in 2012 – and who so perfectly embodies and expresses God’s grace for us in Jesus as the heart of what it’s all about) to Bishop Munib Younan (former Lutheran Bishop of the Holy Land and president of the Lutheran World Federation, who spoke and called so personally and passionately for peace in Palestine – “I do not ask you to leave here pro Palestinian or pro Israeli but pro peace and pro justice”).

          Before everyone falls asleep reading this…..a few final impressions. At the climatic Gottesdienst – literally God’s service – the German word for worship – not only was the sermon delivered by the African Anglican Archbishop of South Africa in English – but on the banks of the Elbe across from Wittenberg we did NOT sing A Mighty Fortress. At one point in the service there was a beautiful brief flute solo joined by other instruments to the tune of A Mighty Fortress while the view of the Castle Church across the river showed on the video screen. It was very moving for me. But that was all we heard of A Mighty Fortress – a song we American Lutherans sing any and every time we want to remember/celebrate/lift up Luther and the Reformation. It made me wonder if A Mighty Fortress was another victim of the grief and repentance of Germans and the German Lutheran church for World War II and the Holocaust….something we are more or less immune to in America. Not something one could sing in good conscience after the horrifying ways Luther’s anti-semitic writings were used by Hitler to support his evil. Nor something one could sing without choking on the words after the total devastation of two disastrous world wars. God may well be “A Mighty Fortress” but certainly not for Germany in WWI or WWII. However while we did not sing A Mighty Fortress, we did sing the Jewish folk song Hevenu Shalom Alejchem at the heart of the communion liturgy. I only vaguely know it but all the Germans sang it like they knew it by heart… they had sung this many many times as part of their Holy Communion services. This song that in Nazi days would have been not just unknown but despised because it was Jewish – and now they have placed it at the heart of their worship.

Finally, the song that I could not sing without getting choked  up was a song written by a young woman named Miriam Buthmann (who popped up from time to time to sing it) for this event. It was called “Hagar’s Song, “Du bist ein Gott du mich anshaut”- You are a God who sees me. I first heard and sang it at a wonderful ecumenical Ascension Day worship service on Gendarmenmarkt – a beautiful square framed by the German Cathedral, the French Cathedral (built by the French Hugenots (Protestants sheltered by the Frederick the Great in the 18th century after they were persecuted and expelled by the Catholics in France and the Opera House – that was held Thursday evening. It was sung in German which in spite and also perhaps because of my somewhat limited German translation skills it was very moving for me. “Fleeing, in desperate need and alone, your Word crossed over to my wilderness time.” “God heard and so began my hope. The worry stayed but no longer threatened so.” “All seeing God do you see me? Listening God, how do I listen to you? Through all my questioning you come after me, you hold and look after me and so my yearning awakes.” (Or something like that ?  )


There and Back Again: A Pastor’s Sabbatical Adventure #5


“Listen,” says the Spirit, “for you, for you, for you it was done.”


Yesterday I visited, “Raum der Stille” – Room of Silence – in the Brandenburg Gate. Raum der Stille is exactly what it sounds like it would be. It’s a place of stillness. It was modeled on a similar room that Dag Hammarskyold (a Lutheran worth googling and knowing about it you don’t) had commissioned for himself and his colleagues in 1954 in the United Nations building in New York that is still in use.

Established by a private/public partnership, according to its sponsors it has two purposes. Firstly, it provides a place for everyone independent of race, creed, politics or physical condition to enter and remain in silence for awhile to relax, be renewed or to remember the dark but also hopeful events that led the creation of the room in the first place – the rise and fall of the Nazi atrocity and the aftermath that included first the building and then the thing I never thought would/could happen – the fall of the Berlin Wall.

As everyone is invited to remain in silence and peace for a while the room is also meant to be an invitation to tolerance, brother and sisterhood of humanity embracing all nationalities and ideologies, a continuous reminder against violence and xenophobia –  particularly poignant as we once again live through the aftermath of innocents murdered by the intolerant.

The room is set into a structure connected to one side of the Brandenburg gate. Directly, across the square on the other side of the Brandenburg Gate is the United States Embassy. In the midst of all the other meanings and history of this spot this also has a very special personal meaning for me since it was in that embassy  (not the same building since the original was destroyed in the war but on the same spot) that my (American)  grandfather and (German) grandmother met in the swirl of events of the mid 1930’s leading up to the Second World War. She was a secretary and he was a low level embassy staffer of some sort. If not for that I quite literally would not be here today.

This prayer from the United Stations is given to those who visit the Raum der Stille – several different languages.

“Oh Lord, our planet earth is only a small star in space. It is our duty, to transform it into a planet whose creatures are no longer tormented by war, hunger, and fear, no longer senselessly divided by race, color and ideology. Give us courage and strength to begin this task today so that our children and children’s children shall one day carry the name of humanity with pride.”

A prayer never more meaningful and crying out to be answered than today.

There and Back Again: A Pastor’s Sabbatical Adventure #4


“I am like a lonely bird on a housetop” Psalm 103:7 (from Bread for the Day, May 17)


“Ich bin ein Berliner!” John  F. Kennedy famously said once from in front of the Berlin Wall. It actually means something more like, “I am a donut!” – he should have left the “ein” off, but the Berliners knew what he meant and loved him for saying it just the same. But, “Ich bin Berliner!” I can say – for the next month at least.  In fact when I mentioned to one of my teachers that  my mother was born in Berlin and that her mother was German, she said to me – “So you are halb (half) Deutsch.”

I have settled in at the German Language  School in Berlin where I am taking a four week intensive German language course. It is in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood in what was at one time East Berlin. I quite proud to say I got here from my cousin’s place ; Crimmitschau using only public transportation. I took a slow train from Crimmitschau to Leipzig; a fast train from Leipzig to the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) in Berlin; the S Bahn (Stadtschnellbahn (city fast train) from the Hauptbahnhof to Alexander Platz; the U-Bahn (Untergrund – Bahn) from Alexander Platz to Rosenthaler Platz; and the M1 Tram from Rosenthaler Platz to the Schwedter Str. stop directly in front of the school…all the while lugging my full of books and a few clothes suitcase. I only got off at the wrong place once – and realized it soon enough to get back on before the train left again – and only once got kicked out of my seat because it was someone else’s reserved seat. There’s nothing quite like managing the public transportation in another city or country to make you feel like you are a native.

I found GLS Berlin somewhat unscientifically so I am glad to say it is great! I live in a efficiency apartment on the campus that has lots of room – even for all my books. They have wonderful breakfast (that is included) each day and most  important of all – high quality German Kaffee virtually at your fingertips all the time. There are lots and lots of students of all ages (though most I would say in their 20’s and 30’s) from all over the world – many studying so they can pass a German language proficiency test in order to work in Germany at some point, but also others like me who just want to learn it for the sake of learning it. The classes are small, and I  have 7 in my class (which is an intermediate one “B1”) – one young man from Mexico; another from Columbia; two young women from South Korea; a nurse from Switzerland; a yoga teacher from Malaysia and me. While there are other Americans here (the wife of a Missouri Synod pastor for one), we are not the largest group by any means. The classes are all in German but interestingly enough the one thing most everybody has in common is the ability to speak English (although everyone but the Americans is also fluent in another language). One of the most interesting aspects of the class is discussing things from all the different international angles we come from – and hoffentlich at the end I’ll also be able to speak a bit more deutsch. We  have two 90 minute classes every morning taught be two different teachers (so we learn to understand two different German speakers) and then an hour or two of homework each evening.

Each afternoon there is an opportunity to take a “field trip” to something or other in Berlin (with longer trips on the weekends). Yesterday I went on one to the Topography of Terror museum. The museum is built on the site of what was once the most feared address in Berlin; the nerve center for the Gestapo (the Geheime Staatspolizei), the  SS (the Schutzstaffel – that began as Hitler’s personal bodyguard), and the SD (Sicherheitsdienst)  – the most despicable elements of the Nazi government. It’s one of the few memorial sites that focuses on the perpetrators rather than the victims of the Nazis. It traces the ways in the which Hitler and the Nazi’s rose to power, first through democratic election and then through various legal steps virtually eliminated the democratic institutions and centered absolute power in the hands of the embodiment of evil that was Adolph Hitler.

Part of the exhibit was a temporary exhibit detailing the ways Martin Luther’s anti-Semitic writings were used by the Nazi’s to justify and support their “racial purification” strategies. The 450th anniversary of Luther’s birth was the same week in 1933 as Hitler becoming the German Chancellor and “Kristallnacht” when Nazi supporters and followers burned and looted Jewish synagogues, homes and businesses across Germany happened on a anniversary of Luther’s birthday in 1938, a fact noted by some Lutheran pastors/leaders of the time as a meaningful way to celebrate what Luther was about. It is nothing if not chilling and sobering to see scenes of Luther celebrations at Luther’s home in Wittenberg and Luther’s birth and death place in Eisleben replete not only with Luther Roses and Ein Feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress) garlands but also prominently displayed Nazi flags with huge swastikas hanging over the crowds.

One of the more meaningful parts of the tour we took was that it was led by a young woman from Israel whose grandparents had escaped the Holocaust. She is living and studying in Berlin while working and doing graduate work at the Topography of Terror.

Afterwards I went to visit the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of  Europe” which is not far from the museum and just around the corner from the Brandenburg Gate. I remember that there was some controversy about it when it was first established and installed some 15 years ago. It’s a large area filled with rows and rows of huge dark rectangular blank blocks of stone. You walk into it and through the rows. On the edges they are only about knee high but as you walk in they become taller and taller until they rise 10 or  more feet over your head. It’s sort of like a combination of the walking through a graveyard and also walking out into the ocean. It’s somber  but also quiet and peaceful. While you do descend into the memorial and the blocks are close together they are set up in very straight rows so that you can always see your way out, and at the same time feel very much like you are walking through alone. While there is certainly no way to adequately memorialize the nameless horror of 6 million or more Jews murdered by the Nazis this installation  is certainly a striking and memorable experience.

There and Back Again: A Pastor’s Reformation Adventure #3


“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Genesis 12:1 (from Bread for the Day devotional book reading for May 11 given to rostered leaders in the synod by Bishop Gohl)


Today marks the first day of the rest of my sabbatical journey. After 11 days of touring the Lands of Luther (and a few other places as well) with 56 of my closest friends including Marc and Julie Howell, Karen and Terry Sewell, Nicki Cojocari, Carl and Michele Hyde – not to mention Pastor Ron Reaves – from Good Shepherd I am now on my own. Yesterday morning we waved goodbye to our travel companions as they headed off on a bus to the airport in Munich for their return journey. My daughter  Brynn and sister Karen were also on the tour (which was wonderful!) and saying goodbye to (almost) everyone –  especially them – left me feeling a bit bereft.

I say “we” and “almost” because one couple who were heading off on their own next stage of the journey stayed one more night in the hotel in Garmisch Partenkirchen as well. After a day of walking around Garmisch we had a wonderful dinner together with the incredible beauty of the Bavarian alps shining through the window. I had my most full experience and taste of “Spargel” (aka asparagus – but big thick white asparagus) with hollandaise sauce. Spargel was a huge thing everywhere we went in Germany as it was the two or so weeks a year of Spargel Wochen.

Gary and Barbara and I all took the same train from Garmisch to Munich but then parted ways. I’m now headed to Crimmitschau (between Nuremberg and Berlin) to stay with my mother’s first cousin (Marianne) and her son Lars (my second cousin) for the weekend. As many of you perhaps know my mother was born in Berlin to a German mother and American father (who both worked in the American Embassy). When the war was about to break out the embassy personnel were told to send their families home (to the US). So my German grandmother with three children in tow (my mother being the oldest at 4) sailed off to Brooklyn to live with my grandfather’s family until he would join them a year or more later (when there was an exchange of embassy personnel after a period of interment).

One of my mother’s most powerful early memories was seeing the Statue of Liberty as they entered New York harbor. Another was singing a solo of Stille Nacht for the Christmas Eve service at  the Lutheran church they went to in Brooklyn. Soon she would lose her German language ability as WWII was not a great time to be speaking German. And fairly soon she would also lose her mother who died in 1952 – years before I was born.

The German side of my family was from the Rostok area which after the war became part of the DDR – Communist East Germany – so the connections were pretty much lost until the wall fell in 1989. Following my mother’s death in 2002 It has been an especially  meaningful part of both of my sabbaticals (2008 and now) to reconnect with these (to us) lost parts of my mother’s family. One of the great things that has already happened on this trip was a dinner at my cousin Jens’s (Marianne’s younger son) house near Nuremberg when we stayed overnight there during the tour. Brynn and Karen were able to be a part of that as well. We not only saw Jens but met and got to know for the first time his wife Antje and two little girls Elisa (6) and Lenya (2).


“Take off your shoes. You are standing on holy ground.” Exodus 13 (from Daily Bread for today May 12)

There and Back Again: A Pastor’s Reformation Adventure #2

Today we visited Dresden – not so much a Luther site but a place of significant historical significance for Lutherans in Germany and also related to World War II, the Holocaust and what has happened since and I discovered today what is happening now.

The first time I visited Dresden in 2003 or so our guide told us, “Some would say Dresden is the most beautiful city in Germany,” and it is sometimes called the Florence of Germany. One of the striking features is der Furstenweg” – the March. It’s a huge long wall depicting all the Wettin rulers of Saxony including Frederick the Wise marching across history and is made of Meissen china.

My favorite place in Dresden is die Frauenkirche – considered by many the Protestant Cathedral of Germany. It was destroyed in the fire-bombing of Dresden (which happened on my birthday in 1945) – done apparently in retaliation for the destruction of Coventry early in the war since there were no military targets in Dresden. Tens of thousands died – many just incinerated without a trace because of the incredible heat. Many ran to the church for shelter thinking it would be safe but the doors and walls couldn’t keep the heat out. Miraculously – or so it seemed – the next day the church was still standing, but the supports that held the structure up were all damaged and weakened in the fire and within a day it collapsed.

Communist East Germany left it in ruins both as their comment on the uselessness of religion and a reminder of the horrors of the war Hitler had led them into and of what their enemies the British and Americans had done to them.

But 44 years later when the Berlin Wall and then East Germany fell the people of Dresden said that if the Wall could come down they could rebuild their church. And so they did – without government aid. Painstakingly, using computer and x-ray technology they used as much of the rubble as they could in the rebuilding. They even found the twisted and mangled tower cross that had been lost under  the ruins since those terrible first days.

The final step in the construction was to place a new tower cross on the pinnacle of dome which they did with a cross given as a gift and prayer for peace from the people of Coventry, England.

The church today is a wonder because of the mixture of darkened  and damaged stones with the new; the mangled tower cross that stands now in the nave and the beauty of the rococo architecture (if you like rococo architecture of course). It is also a tremendously moving place, and dedicated to the cause of peace and reconciliation.

Dr. Timothy Wengert  brought us to a place in Dresden I had not visited before – the Kreuzkirche (the Cross Church). It was likewise destroyed in the fire bombing of Dresden but has been rebuilt differently – some of the old is there but most is simple and plain. They also have a Coventry Cross of Nails. Crosses made of Nails sent from the ruins of the Conventry Cathedral to those who make a commitment to the work of peace and reconciliation.

But the most striking thing was a plaque on the outside wall that was a statement of regret and repentance and a prayer for forgiveness and “shalom” for the silence and complicity of the Christians in Dresden during the Holocaust. Over 4000 Jewish people lived in Dresden before WWII. Only 70 were left at the end.

As we waited in the town square around die Frauenkirche more and more police vans drove in (into a completely pedestrian area). Inside were 100s of heavily armed and garbed police who began to fill the space around the square.

 They were preparing for a demonstration  in favor of the anti immigrant right wing extremist Marie Le Pen in the French presidential election to be held the next day.  Luckily we were due to leave just as the demonstration was about to start so we did not get caught up in what was potentially a dangerous and volatile situation, but it was a striking reminder that the issues peace; reconciliation; tearing down the walls between us and them; and reaching out to the neighbor in need that die Frauenkirche and die Kreuzkirche are dedicated to are not things of past.

There and Back Again: A Pastor’s Reformation Sabbatical Adventure – #1

I’ve always thought that I would enjoy “blogging” or something like it because I like writing and reflecting on life and on my life, but I’ve never quite been able to figure it out or find my “voice.” I think I get caught trying to figure out what is between a personal journal (which I also keep) and something that is so “official” and bland that no one would want to read it (let alone write it!).

So, this sabbatical effort to post something fairly regularly about what I am doing and thinking will be an interesting discipline, that will hopefully get me over the hump.

I am writing from somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean on the way to Frankfurt, Germany to begin our Lands of Luther tour. I am a week into the sabbatical, and it’s been a bit of a crazy week packing and getting ready to be gone from home for almost 3 months.

My send off last Sunday on Holy Hilarity Sunday was wonderful. Janet Fisher told me after the 9am service that seeing Pastor Ron, Pastor Stacey, Julie Howell and myself up front leading and participating in the Liturgy of Sending and Blessing for the sabbatical brought tears to her eyes. I also felt moved and thankful to Good Shepherd for your generosity and commitment to my personal and spiritual well-being by granting me this sabbath/sabbatical time. In addition,  it was a great blessing to have my colleagues Pastor Ron and Pastor Stacey pronouncing such kind and wonderful words upon me. It felt like something larger than me was moving and at work in my life and in our life together. Knowing that I was leaving Good Shepherd in such good and capable pastoral hands was also quite a blessing. I believe good and great things will be happening not just for me but for the congregation over these next few months.

There was A LOT to do this past week. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I thought it would be a good idea to start my sabbatical a week after Easter. Although I have been working at it for quite awhile it was challenge to do much getting ready in the weeks before Holy Week.

This past week included a lot of packing, tying up loose ends, getting the house ready for my absence, and saying goodbye. In addition as anyone knows who got an email or note from me this past week (or Jan Marcus who has seen my haunting the Giant Eagle)  it was hard to let go of work and embrace sabbath. I also had a wedding to officiate at in Durham, NC over this past weekend. It was good to be back in a part  of the world that I love (I graduated from UNC – Chapel Hill), and the church I was married in over 30 years ago was just .8 miles from the hotel I was in for the wedding and I made a pilgrimage there. While my marriage did not survive the 30 plus years – it was still the best thing I ever did. It was also quite beautiful watching the bride and groom (whom I’ve known since he was a little boy) so overcome by the moment and their emotions they could hardly look at each other or speak while they were practicing their vows at the rehearsal

Just as the most challenging part of a wedding is getting everybody in and set at the start so the most challenging part of these trips is getting from home to the airport, through the check-in and past security. So now we are past all that, I’m enjoying a glass of wine after dinner and it’s all over but the shouting as they say.

It promises to be a great 10 day Lands of Luther trip. My sister Karen and daughter Brynn are along. Marc and Julie Howell, Karen and Terry Sewell, Niicky Cojocari and her sister Jean,  Carl and Michele Hyde and Pastor Ron (and myself) are here representing Good Shepherd, our former bishop (and my roommate for the trip) Wolfgang Herz-Lane – who as you might know or guess from his name grew up in Deutschland – and Dr. Timothy Wengert – the premier Reformation scholar in the ELCA – are with us along with pastor colleagues, friends new and old from other trips, our Luther book study and places ranging from California to Delaware and from Detroit, Michigan to Austin, Texas – 56 of us in all!

Bis bald,

Pastor Mark