On Holy Trinity Sunday Lamb of God Lutheran Church in Pleasant Prairie Wisconsin held its final worship service. It is never an easy thing for a congregation to close its doors. But the saints at Lamb of God decided that they would bring good out of their sorrow by helping two mission congregations: Emmaus Lutheran Mission in Big Timber, Montana, and University Lutheran Chapel.
Lamb of God’s congregational chairman, Mark Bernhardt said it simply: “Amid the sadness of dissolution, it is comforting to know those treasured things we collected from other congregations for use in worship at God’s Divine Service will pass to your congregation.” There is a bit of the resurrection in this. That which is passing away in one place will find new life in another.
Lamb of God’s gift to ULC includes among other items:
an altar with reredos and crucifix
a raised pulpit
a baptismal font
paraments and vestments
pews and chairs
These items will be used in conjunction with some of the items ULC retained from the old chapel (like our altar) and will help us create a beautiful liturgical space for our new chapel.
ULC also received a small pipe organ which will help tide us over until we can raise funds to build an organ of our own and generous gift of $25,000 from the sale of Lamb of God’s church building. These funds will be used to move and store the items given us and to help us build the new chapel.
What a great blessing the Lord has bestowed upon us through the members of Lamb of God! May He who brings life out of death and joy out of sorrow, keep them in His grace always.
You probably know that ULC has a reputation for encouraging young men to become pastors and sending them to study at the seminary. But did you know that ULC also has a long history of encouraging our students and members to support mission work in the church, go on mission trips (short and long-term) and even to become full-time missionaries?
Its true! Over the years ULC folks have brought the Gospel and the mercy of Christ to places like Turkey, Guatemala, Madagascar and Haiti. And we have supported missionaries, mission work, congregations and seminaries in Kazakstan, Kenya, Scotland, and many other places around the world. Our members and alumni are found among the latest crop of full-time missionaries being sent into the field by the LC-MS. (ULC alumnus, Rev. Ryan McDermott and family will be serving in Ghana. ULC members, Rev. Dr. Daniel Jastram and his wife, Joan, will be serving in Northern Asia.)
One of our members, Kristen Weber, has just returned from 6 months of mercy work in Nepal. She wrote the following article about her experiences, including surviving the recent catastrophic earthquakes in Kathmandu, for our most recent newsletter. I encourage you to read the entire newsletter to learn more about how involved our little chapel is in the worldwide mission of the Church.
Doing Good Work, Confessing Christ andSurviving the Earthquakes
Greetings Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In my previous two trips to Nepal, I heard occasional rumors that an earthquake was due to happen, but never gave it much thought. Disasters happened to other people, right?
I arrived in Kathmandu on February 15 to complete 5 months of service with a Christian organization called International Teams. I was acting as a solo agent, teaming up with multiple non-governmental organizations in Kathmandu. I worked alongside Nepalese doing sex trafficking intervention and teaching English classes to women at risk for prostitution. I also provided therapy several times a week to elderly women at one of the few nursing homes in the country. From the start I was very adamant about taking Nepali language classes several times a week.
Within a couple months, I had established a busy and beautiful routine. I had developed deep friendships, learned much about the culture, built a large network of contacts, and had been exposed to a wide variety of opportunities. My awkward Western tongue was moving to the rhythm of simple Nepali. I had gained the trust of the elderly women at the nursing home and was getting good at eating rice and lentils with my hands. It may sound simple, but it really isn’t!
The day of the big earthquake, I had joined a Swedish friend, several Nepalese, and two Americans and had headed out to the cliffs at Hattiban for a morning rock climbing trip. It was a beautiful day and we were happy to get out of the crazy wildness of Kathmandu. I was at the bottom of a cliff belaying my Swedish friend when the earthquake hit. In that moment, thousands of homes collapsed and thousands of people died.
I know full well I shouldn’t be there either. On or near a cliff is one of the worse places to be in an earthquake because of the loose rock at the top and the high risk of avalanches, but God wanted me around a little longer. No rocks fell as I quickly lowered my screaming friend to the ground. The side of the cliff held as we ran clumsily down the steep footpath to an open valley and joined the other frightened villagers. There we sat and prayed as we rode out a rapid succession of aftershocks for the next hours.
The next several days were a blur as we checked in with friends, called home, and navigated the new fear and danger of unexpected aftershocks. Slowly, I started to think and pray about what my role was, if there was one, in the disaster relief needs. Several recurring thoughts ran through my head. First, Christ was crucified for me and as a baptized child of God I know death is not the worst that can happen to me. Second, because I do not have a family or spouse to protect or provided for, I am in a position to take incredible risk to serve others. With these sobering realizations, I rolled up my sleeves.
Initially I tried to find an organization that was doing relief work, but quickly decided I didn’t have time or patience to deal with the bureaucracy of anything official. People had needs now and I had resources and connections to meet those needs. I set out with friends to start organizing our own trips to the surrounding villages. Yes, moving around Kathmandu to gather supplies and organize trips was scary. Buildings were cracked and rubble was everywhere, but I kept praying and working. We were able to make four trips out to different villages to bring tarps, food, clothing, medicine, and prayer if they wanted it. Some of the villages were easy to get to, but others required us to trek in the supplies on our backs. Every house in these villages was missing a wall, roof, or was simply collapsed. The people had such great sadness in their eyes.
As days stretched into weeks, supplies became more and more difficult to buy. Tarps used for shelter especially were a challenge because the only shop that sold them had raised their prices to profiteer rates. I had to get more and more creative in how and where we got supplies; including buying tarps directly from a manufacturer in far western Nepal and having them shipped by bus to arrive in the middle of the night in Kathmandu.
Two and a half weeks after the first big 7.9 earthquake, I was walking to Patan Hospital to donate blood when another aftershock hit. At first it felt mild, only this one got larger and stronger. There was a one percent chance of an aftershock over 7, but the odds were against us on May 12, when magnitude of 7.4 shook Nepal. The psychological impact of the second large earthquake was devastating. Before this quake people had cautiously started getting back to normalcy but afterward the hopelessness in the air was palpable.
My organization then made the decision to evacuate me. Two days later, I flew out of Kathmandu and landed jet-lagged, culture-shocked, and traumatized in Brisbane, Australia. I’ve been here for the past weeks recovering, processing, and praying. God has surrounded me with a Christian community that immediately welcomed me and showered me with kindness. Though I’m now in a much healthier space, my organization has decided it is best if I do not return to Nepal at this time. They are sending me to Athens, Greece for the last month of my assignment.
This probably sounds brave and exciting, but I’m confident you would have done exactly what I did in the circumstances. When you see needs, you do what you can to figure out a solution and you follow every possible lead to get the supplies so desperately needed in the villages. I was continually humbled and amazed by the resilience and tenacity of my Nepali friends. They soldiered on with a determination that was breathtaking. Their journey is not done. Nepal is still a bleeding country and it will be a very long road to recovery for them. Continue to keep them in your prayers.
I have had many insights during this experience and feel I’ve lived at least two years in four months. I’ve come to appreciate the Theology of the Cross to a depth only experience can give. It was such a comfort to know Christ was there in suffering. I was also repeatedly convicted of the incredible condescension and pride I held towards my fellow Christians of other denominations regarding theological differences. Yes, there are things we disagree on, but I’ve realized they are in the trenches toiling with me. And should I be martyred for the faith, their bodies will lie next to mine. Whether they are Lutheran or non-Lutheran, Nepali or American; they are my brothers and sisters in Christ.
By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down, yea, we wept When we remembered Zion. We hung our harps Upon the willows in the midst of it. For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song, And those who plundered us requested mirth, Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How shall we sing the Lord’s song In a foreign land? (Psalm 137:1-4)
Thus lamented the people of Israel while exiled in the land of Babylon. Their nation had been conquered, their city laid waste, their temple destroyed. How could they sing to the Lord in a foreign land, a land not only of foreign peoples, but of foreign gods? How could they praise the Lord while in such a state of misery and defeat?
And yet, they did. In the midst of their exile there was also blessing. God had sent them into Babylon, but He had not abandoned them there. Though their temple was gone, He was not absent. While chastising the nation for its unfaithfulness, He also preserved it and provided for His people — even in Babylon. And the faithful of Israel did sing the Lord’s song in that foreign land, a song of thankfulness in the midst of suffering, a song of hope in the midst of exile.
Daniel, before facing the lions of King Darius, is found doing this. “In his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days” (Daniel 6:10). When the Lord made us of Esther to save the Jews living in exile from the evil Haman, the Jews proclaimed a feast and gathered together in gladness. And while the Biblical book of Esther does not speak of God’s actions directly in this account, apocryphal Esther says: “This is Israel, who cried out to God and were saved. The Lord has saved His people; the Lord has delivered us from all these evils; God has done great signs and wonders, which have not occurred among the nations… God remembered His people and vindicated His inheritance” (10:9, 12). History tells us that it was during the Babylonian exile that synagogues were first established, places where the Jews, lacking a temple, could meet to hear the Word of the Lord and to sing the songs of Zion. And yet, even though God was present with them in that foreign land, even though He had blessed them there such that we could say that they thrived in exile, they longed for more. They longed for a return.
One day the Lord answered that longing by bringing them out of exile to Jerusalem. Sorrow was turned to rejoicing; hope, to blessed fulfillment. The nation was restored. The city walls were raised up. The temple was rebuilt. And the people sang:
When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, We were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, And our tongue with singing. Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, And we are glad. (Psalm 126:1-3)
In 1940 the Minnesota District Convention decided that there wasn’t a pressing need for a campus chapel at the University of Minnesota. It would be enough, they determined, to have a campus pastor who could conduct the ministry without one. Three years later, at the 1943 convention, they realized they had made a mistake. The motto of the 1943 convention echoed the theme of the exiles returning from Babylon: “Let us rise up and build” (Nehemiah 2:18). And while the convention essay rightly focused on the building that takes place through the faithful preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments, the convention delegates applied this theme to the needs of the campus ministry at the U of M, approving a resolution instructing the District Board of Directors to: “prepare plans and gather funds for the erection of a university chapel.”
In 2012, the Minnesota South District (though the convention was denied the right to vote on the issue) decided that the chapel that had resulted from that 1943 action was no longer needed at the U of M; that such a place was superfluous – a hinderance even – to the work of campus ministry. Three years later, at the 2015 convention, held just a few weeks ago, the District realized they had made a mistake. The delegates passed a resolution (with a 92% majority!) that recognizes: “University Lutheran Chapel (ULC) lacks worship space on or near the campus it serves,” and that resolves to put together a Campus Ministry Plan which will, in part, “Provide financial support for adequate worship space on or near the campus being served.”
Since 2012 ULC has been worshipping in exile, so to speak. God has not abandoned us. Indeed, like with ancient Israel, He has blessed us greatly during this time of exile. But it is an exile. We worship at an ELCA chapel where the foreign gods of post-modernity, social justice, and liberal theology are the chief deities of the land, whose images surround us in the art, architecture, propaganda and literature of the place. And though we are very thankful for a place to worship, it is not our homeland. We feel rather like the Jews in Babylon. While there is much rejoicing among us because of the Gospel we have and receive, as well as the fellowship we share in Christ, it is still hard sometimes not to weep “when we remember Zion.”
It took seven years from the time of the 1943 convention to build a chapel. We pray it will not take us until 2022 to build the new chapel. But we have an advantage over them in this: we have already raised 2/3 of the funds needed for the project. The land has already been purchased. A plan is already underway. Now the District has determined to help. We don’t know how much yet. But we do know that we continue to need your help too.
Our goal is to dedicate the chapel at Reformation 2017, the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses. Please help us rise up and build. Help us so that weeping may turn to rejoicing, and that we may also say: “We were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.”
This article appears in the Summer 2015 ULC Newsletter. You can read the rest of the newsletter here.
Your congregation is without a permanent place to worship. You’ve got enough money to buy a church somewhere. Why in the world would you purchase an old sorority house instead? Isn’t having a church building more important than setting up a campus ministry house?
Many have likely asked such questions about ULC’s decision to purchase Luther House on the U of M campus. Heck, our own congregation asked these questions before we bought it. And it was not the easiest decision in the world to make. But what it came down to was University Lutheran Chapel’s commitment to campus ministry, and specifically to campus ministry at the University of Minnesota.
Oh, we looked at other churches that were for sale. We considered moving off campus. And the purchase of any of the existing church buildings for sale would require (and still would require) a move quite a ways off campus. We thought about trying to establish ourselves closer to another campus, like St. Thomas or Macalester in St. Paul. We considered trying to purchase a warehouse or storefront along the light rail line being constructed between Minneapolis and St. Paul and setting up church that way in hopes that students from the U of M would come to us. We even thought about abandoning campus ministry altogether and just repackaging ourselves as the go-to congregation for liturgical Lutherans in the Twin Cities.
But we kept coming back to our roots – to the reason that our particular congregation exists, that is, to what makes it unique among the many fine congregations in the Twin Cities metro area. At it’s root our congregation is a campus ministry congregation; a congregation that not only grew out of campus ministry, but that also cares passionately about campus ministry now and the spiritual welfare of students today. A campus church is who we are, and who we want to be. How could we abandon our place at the University of Minnesota? How could we abandon our vocation here? How could we leave our students, and the students to come, to fend for themselves? How could we not be here to deliver Christ and His Gospel, His Word and His Sacraments to them?
And so, after much discussion and not a little debate, the congregation of ULC wholeheartedly decided to purchase that old sorority house and establish Luther House as our home base at the University of Minnesota. And we did so with clear intent to not just establish a campus house, but to build a church here too.
Some may say we put the cart before the horse – especially because we value the Divine Service so deeply and see it as the core around which everything else we do revolves. And it would have been a lot (a whole lot!) easier to have just purchased an old church some 2-5 miles off campus and then figure out the campus ministry part later… maybe… someday… But in the end we knew that we couldn’t do that. It would be a betrayal of who we are, and of the position God has put us in within and for His Church.
So here we are. Luther House is in its second full semester of operation. And it has become a hub of activity for our students and for many of our members. Many days the place is buzzing with people from morning through night. Other days it is a place of retreat and quiet study. Our students have really made the house their home (some of them literally so, as we have several young men in residence now), and are organizing their own activities there with friends and classmates along side of the “official” activities of ULC. And our Bible studies and midweek worship services have seen a big bump in attendance, yes, even over that which we had at the old chapel. Luther House has become a place of refuge and recreation, of community and friendship, of study and of prayer; a place where the Word of Christ is proclaimed and taught, and is at work in all who hear it.
Luther House is just the first step though. Though Luther House has become many good things, it is not a place fit for the Sunday service. There is no altar. There is no font. And it is just too small for the attendance we normally have. As I’ve said all along, our students and our congregation need a chapel on campus. We are working hard to make that a reality, right next door to Luther House. Yes, the members of ULC have chosen the harder path. But they can’t make it to the end of that path without your help and the help of the broader Church. Please support the Build-It-Back effort and make the dream a new chapel at the U of M a reality.
The theme of exile and return is one that runs throughout the Old and New Testaments. It first makes an appearance in Genesis 3, where man, on account of his rebellions and sin is exiled from Paradise. No longer would he enjoy the easy and fulfilling labor of tending God’s Garden, but would be forced to work land that resisted his efforts. No longer would he dwell in peace and safety. And, most important, no longer would he have free access to the Tree of Life. Adam and Eve, by their sin, had exiled themselves from dwelling in a right relationship with God. And therefore, lest they eat the Tree of Life and confirm themselves in their rebellion eternally, God sends them out, placing cherubim with a flaming sword to block their return.
The history of mankind since that dark day has been a quest to return to the garden, a quest which takes one of two paths. The first is to find or to create a paradise of one’s own choosing. This path is, in a word, sin. It is to continue down the path of rejecting the good God gives and embracing the supposed good one can find or make apart from His grace. It is a path doomed to failure. It makes not paradise, but hell.
The second path is one that man cannot find on his own. It is the path of faith. On this path God Himself reaches down to put one on the path, to lead and guide along the way, and to bring one at last back to the Tree of Life. This path does not appeal to man’s natural inclinations. And it does not have the appearance of good to the natural man. It is a path that is difficult, that requires suffering and sacrifice. Above all it requires the sacrifice of one’s own sinful will and desires, subjecting them to the will and grace of Christ. It is a path not of prideful climbing up to paradise, but of kneeling in humility that one might be raised up by God. But it is a path that brings one at last to the true Paradise as one is given to eat again of the Tree of Life, and to fellowship with God forever.
This world in which we live is our place of exile. Though we build houses here, raise our children here, and make our lives here, it is not our true home. The writer to the Hebrews says of the saints:
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”
Those who have been baptized into Christ and given faith are now citizens of a different homeland. And to that homeland we are always pressing. We live, therefore, in repentance; turning away from the sin that marks life in the world, and seeking the grace that marks life in the Kingdom – seeking Christ.
Our Lord has not left us to fend for ourselves on this pilgrimage home. He knows our struggles, having become a stranger and pilgrim Himself in His incarnation. He has fully suffered the pain and trauma of exile as hung upon the cross. And he has gone before us in His resurrection and ascension to prepare a place for us, so that we might be welcomed home at last and take our place among the saints around the throne of God, and eat from the Tree of Life.
And so He gives us outposts of the Heavenly homeland – places where He is present and brings the grace of heaven to us, where He even makes the Kingdom present on earth and where we find again the paradise of God. Here the flaming sword has been removed for us and we are given access again to the Tree of Life, even as we journey homeward toward it.
These outposts are the congregations where His Word is faithfully proclaimed and His Sacraments given to and enjoyed by the faithful. In these outposts, these oases, the faithful are refreshed and strengthened for the long journey home. In these places God Himself feeds His people from the Tree of Life, His own Body and Blood, in anticipation of our return at last from exile when in our true homeland we shall dine with Him eternally. +
Here’s a nice little article about a church built in Wisconsin recently and the importance of churches looking like churches and communicating the Gospel with the help of art and architecture. I don’t plan to share a lot of other blog posts here, but this is worthwhile. As Pres. Harrison says: “People need to know it can be done.”