Champions of PLTS: Dr. Judith K. Larsen | Champions of PLTS: Mountain View Lutheran Church | "By Means of Jesus Christ" | Woodberry & Harris Organ Dedicatory Organ | TEEM Student Profile: Wal Reat | Sabbatical Ventures | Alum Speak: Rev. John L. Vaswig | Alum Speak: Rev. Pat Reed | Alum Speak: Rev. Marcia Wakeland

Champion of PLTS: Dr. Judith K. Larsen

Dr. Judith K. Larsen in my book defines what it means to be a Champion of PLTS. She does not have a need to be in the spot light. That is part of what makes this so much fun tonight. She gives very generously to the basic support of the seminary year after year without fail and without fuss. She makes her big annual gift right at the start of the fiscal year in July, so no one has to worry about it or specially invite her to give. And she comes through in a big way when there is a special need – when it is a question of whether we will be able to add exquisite new lighting in the dining hall, or whether we will be able to finish the refurnishing of the classroom, whether the faculty will have what they need to launch on-line classes this fall. She prefers to make those kinds of gifts very quietly. But we are blowing her cover tonight. And she has put the seminary in her estate plan and actively encourages other to do so. Is that a champion or what?

Judy is a native of Minnesota, born in North Dakota, and a graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College. She received her master’s degree in engineering from the University of Syracuse and eventually earned her doctoral degree in engineering and market research from the University of California at Santa Cruz. She became a visionary in the earlier days of Silicon Valley, becoming an expert on the adoption of new innovations. In 1984, she co-authored Silicon Valley Fever, which put her on the map in this amazing emerging high-tech world.

How did she get involved with PLTS? Some years ago, when she was working for Data Quest as the Vice President of Worldwide Research, with a high-pressure schedule to prove it, she was approached by then PLTS Director of Development, Paul Brinkman. Fifteen minutes in the cafeteria were what she could spare. Seminary education was not her thing. At the last moment, Paul handed Judy a brochure for the TEEM program – Theological Education for Emerging Ministries. There was a picture of students of all colors and backgrounds getting the education they need to be come pastors in the places that need them most. That captured Judy’s attention and ignited her imagination about the importance of different paths to ministry in the Lutheran church.

After that, Judy began to help the seminary in its utilization of new technology, under President Jerry Schmalenberger, serving on the newly created Cabinet of Advisors. With Jim Carlson and Tom Kling she was part of organizing the PLTS Foundation and the Remember the Future society, recognizing those who put the seminary in their estate plans. She was inevitably invited to serve on the Board of Directors and completed 12 years of exemplary service. As a member of the board, she served as the Chair of the board of the Western Mission Cluster as well. And now she is PLTS’ representative on the Board of the Graduate Theological Union.

It is difficult to fully describe the work and impact of this woman, since it is so great and since she is so modest. While she is happy to chair this or that, she is the kind of Champion who never shies away from the hard behind-the-scenes work of keeping the minutes, digging into the records to find out what really happened, thinking ahead to what needs to happen next, and actually DOING the follow-up. Having Judy on your board is real help at an extremely high level of expertise. As her husband Nick says, “You could never afford the kind of help Judy gives you for free.”

Judy is careful about her commitments and obligations. She has been amazingly generous when it comes to the training up of religious leaders. She has also served on the board of Lutheran Brotherhood for thirteen years and as President of the San Francisco-based Vesper Society

Dr. Larsen is nothing if not persevering and loyal. She recognizes that the challenges to seminary education are long-term and must be addressed by faithfulness and reliability. She says she is privileged to have worked with so many fabulous people over the years. Well we are privileged to work with her. So please give a warm welcome to a member of First Lutheran Church in Palo Alto and a long-time supporter of this seminary, who is here to receive this Champion of PLTS award: Dr. Judith K. Larsen.

Champion of PLTS: Mountain View Lutheran Church

Mountain View Lutheran Church, located 6 miles from Pacific Lutheran University of Tacoma, is in a semi-urban area, surrounded by llamas and cows, and has a heart-breaking view of Mt. Rainier as you come out of the front doors of the sanctuary.

When Pastor John Vaswig, graduate of PLTS in 1985, came to Mountain View to be their pastor, he arrived with a continuing commitment for the support of PLTS. He had maintained contact up that point with presidents Stuhr and Schmalenberger, and was friends with board member Dale Soden, professor at Whitworth College in Spokane, the site of Pastor Vaswig’s previous congregation.

It did not take long for the people of Mountain View to cotton on to their pastor’s enthusiasm about the importance of forming pastors and leaders for the Lutheran church’s mission in the west, and of the importance of this institution in the west. The challenge for PLTS, as Pastor Vaswig articulates it, and which we here are committed to, is “to nuance the content of the gospel in the Western context without losing its particularity.” This context includes, but is not limited to, a large population of so-called “nones,” a movement away from organized religious life, the growth of interfaith sensitivity, and the emphases on inclusivity and diversity.

Mountain View Lutheran Church, whose first gift to PLTS was $2,000 over the course of a year, and their current giving has grown to over $15,000 a year. We are their second biggest receiver of benevolence, after the Southwest Washington Synod. Their giving directly to the seminary has now topped $125,000.

Their desire is to take some of the financial pressure away from the seminary so that we can concentrate better on training strong and faithful pastors and other leaders, who will be both confessional and relational, who will have keenness of perception but not become overwhelmed by the realities of either congregation or culture.

A few years ago, Mountain View determined to help take some pressure off of students by directly contributing to lower their debt upon graduation. This year, they were able to give significant gifts to the benefit of two students, Christa Compton and Eric Huseth.

"By the Means of Christ"1

On Reformation Day, Wednesday, October 31, 2012, PLTS held our fall Spirituality Day titled “Justification and Justice: A Day of Ecumenical Conversation.”

Celebrating the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s enrollment in a Catholic university and the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, PLTS offered a day devoted to ecumenical conversation with our Roman Catholic siblings in the hope that this day might open up new and more moments of ecumenical engagement in the GTU.

Following a time of fellowship over coffee and refreshments, students, staff, and faculty from the Franciscan School of Theology, Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara, and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary were gathered for a Service of the Word.  Associate Dean Christopher Evans set the tone for the day by preaching an All Hallows’ Eve sermon focused on the “Incarnation-fixation” of St. Irenaeus of Lyons with a lot of name dropping of the saints sprinkled throughout.  He used this early Church Father’s insight, “Jesus Christ came to save all by means of himself,” to revisit recent controversies over St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans in Chapter 3: Is our being made right with God by our own faith in Jesus or by Jesus Christ’s own faith?  Both, he proclaimed, because our own faith is pure gift to us of Jesus Christ’s faith working in us by the power of the Holy Spirit, and only this same Jesus can put together again his fractured Body.  He closed on the observation of the late Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, that “even our sin finally witnesses to Christ who breaks every barrier down,” and he called on all gathered to recognize our already being one in Jesus by Holy Baptism, so that we are able to make a common profession of faith said together using The Apostles’ Creed. 

Following the service, all gathered together for times of more formal and more informal ecumenical conversation.  The conversations for the day were guided by an expanded version of the late Bishop Krister Stendahl’s “Rules of Religious Understanding” as adapted by Dr. Robert Rees, who teaches at the GTU and is affiliated with the LDS Institute in Berkeley:

  1. When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.
  2. Don't compare your best to their worst.
  3. Leave room for holy envy.  What is something in the other tradition that you wish were a part of your own tradition?
  4. Don’t presume that what an individual says is true for all believers of that faith.
  5. Avoid distorting the other’s doctrines in order to make it seem twisted or evil.
A more formal opening conversation led by a distinguished group of panelists paved the way for the more informal conversations over lunch.  The panelists were The Rev. Dr. John Endres, S.J. of JST, Dr. Lisa Fullam of JST, Dr. William Short, O.F.M. of FST, and The Rev. Dr. Jane Strohl of PLTS.  Dr. Short opened the conversation with an examination of a late preface by Martin Luther excoriating a 13th Century Franciscan text and what this means for us today now that this thousand-pages-plus text will soon be made available to us in English.  Dr. Fullam continued the conversation by outlining points of contact and distinction between Martin Luther’s and St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Christocentric piety and experiences.  The Rev. Dr. Endres followed by showing us a copy of an 18th Century Luther Bible to emphasize  the ongoing ecumenical relationships that have developed among Roman Catholic and Lutheran Biblical  scholars at the GTU.  He remembered fondly the courage and friendship of saints gone before us, The Rev. Dr. Robert Smith, The Rev. Dr. Victor Gold, and The Rev. Dr. Robert Gaeser, and saints among us still, The Rev. Dr. Everett Kalin.  Finally, The Rev. Dr. Strohl closed with a historical-personal witness to the immediacy, experiential, and existential for me evangelical emphasis of Luther’s own reorientation of the Good News in Jesus Christ as expressed in the doctrine of justification by grace through faith.

Over a delicious meal of sandwiches, students, staff, and faculty engaged in more informal conversation with time to ask one another questions and to learn from one another about what gives them hope in and what is distinctive in their own traditions.  As lunch wound down, and folks slowly drifted away to other business of the day, many left wanting more ecumenical conversation in the GTU and beyond.  The presence of so many gone before us was palpable as we engaged in a catholicity that is ours as pure gift in Christ Jesus.

1 - St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses II.22.4

Woodberry & Harris Organ Dedicatory Organ

Over eighty people were on hand in the PLTS Chapel of the Cross on November 3 to hear a program and concert on the 1889 pipe organ that now resides on our campus, on permanent loan from First United Lutheran Church in San Francisco.

Jeffrey Johnson, PLTS student, showed the audience what he was capable of doing, starting out with the challenging Toccata, Adagio and Fugue by Johan Sebastian Bach.  Hands and fingers and legs were flying!  After some entertaining pieces by Vierne and Hamilton, Johnson finished with the Allegro Maestoso from the Sonata No. III in A Major by Felix Mendelssohn.

Orion Pitts, organist at First United, organized a series of readings by the late Rev. Dr. Robert H. Smith, former New Testament professor at both PLTS and Concordia Seminary. The readings centered around four “Reformation events.”  The first was Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 theses in 1517, the second about the creation of Christ Seminary – Seminex (“seminary-in-exile”) in 1974, the third about the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly votes for full inclusion of LBGT persons, and forth about PLTS in the 21st century.

The following reading was the last one, taken from a sermon on Noah and the Flood by Robert H. Smith at First United Lutheran Church on August 24, 2003:

The real story here is how this fellow Noah survived the catastrophe by resting on the everlasting arms, how the dove bearing the olive branch was sent to Noah as a sign that the threatening waters had receded, and how Noah was then given a whole new world.  The story of Noah, like the history of our own time, seems to be a story of chaos and ruin and things coming to terrible ends.

But our God is not a God of deaths and disasters and endings.  Our God is a God of new beginnings.  God’s mercies are new to us every morning.  That’s what we must learn to see.

Noah is secure because he sees more than the waters.  He knows that the day will come when God’s creative words, “Let there be!” will once more ring out across the whole wasteland of human history.  God will speak, and God’s speaking will bring all things to their promised goal, the ark to Mount Ararat, God’s children to eternal life, and all of history will be ushered into the presence of God.

Near the end of his treatment, [Helmut] Thielicke quotes a sentence that will serve as my final line:  “There is no escape . . . from the grace of God.”  Isn’t that a wonderful word?  This is what Noah teaches us:  “There is no escape . . . from the grace of God.”

TEEM Student Profile: Wal Reat

TEEM student Wal Reat is a gracious, smiling person who radiates a perpetual sense of calm. One would never imagine what he has been through en route to becoming an ELCA pastor in Minnesota.

Wal had a stable family life in east Africa, in Sudan, until 1983 when that country exploded in civil unrest. Over the next twenty years, marauding armies massacred some two million souls and ‘displaced’ an additional four million. Wal tells few people of what he witnessed and himself endured as a young teen. He summarizes his experience of the war thusly: “I lived in a refugee camp in Ethiopia from 1983 to 1989. An injury to my brother in Sudan led me to return to Sudan, where I stayed from 1989-1990. In 1990 I once again had to go to the refugee camp in Ethiopia. When the Ethiopian rebels overthrew that government in 1991, I was returned to the liberated area of Sudan. In 1992 we were bombed from the air by government soldiers and were forced to flee to a refugee camp in Kenya…..”

Wal came to the United States in 1995. He came first to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. However, to find work, he quickly had to move to Tennessee, where he also found a spiritual home in the Presbyterian Church.

Even as a small child in Sudan, Christianity and church leadership had reached out to him. His older brother led him to be baptized at the age of 5. At 11, he was chosen to be in the local church choir, whose members were expected to sing in witness of their Christian life and faith. So it is not so unusual that Wal immediately was encouraged to take a leadership role in his Tennessee Presbyterian church. Just two years later he was ordained there as a Presbyterian Elder.

In 2000, when Wal moved to Minnesota, he was drawn to Lutheranism. He began worshipping regularly at Lutheran churches in Minneapolis and then in Faribault, Minnesota. It was the Lutheran churches that really ‘spoke’ to Wal, and openly welcomed him and his community.

Wal tells of walking by Our Savior’s Lutheran in Faribault when he heard one of the church’s music groups rehearsing. He asked if he and some of the other Sudanese in the area could attend worship there. The immediate answer was Yes. So the local Sudanese attended Our Savior’s English-speaking worship services for about two years – until Wal helped add a weekly Nuer-language service. Nuer, the language of Wal’s homeland, has no written component, so it is doubly important that it continue to be spoken. To further honor the group’s origins, Wal spear-headed officially naming the Nuer part of the main congregation ‘Nile Our Savior’s,’ but also -- to deepen the already-strong relationship between the Anglo and Sudanese groups there – he developed a monthly shared Communion service, followed by a Fellowship Meal. Wal’s goal is for Our Savior’s eventually to become one dual-language congregation.

Again, Wal’s natural leadership abilities were recognized within the larger church group, and the Southeastern Minnesota Synod soon made him a Synodically Authorized Lay Minister. His home church, the synod and the ELCA then sponsored him into the TEEM program, to become a fully ordained ELCA pastor.

Working, studying in TEEM, and tending to his congregation already were very time-consuming for Wal, but – ever conscious of the Sudanese’ needs – he worked with many outside groups to give his people Lutheran spiritual homes. He now is President of the ELCA’s Sudanese Evangelical Lutheran Mission in

Minnesota, and he’s leading 4 churches in Minnesota, 2 in Iowa and 2 in Nebraska.

Nor has Wal forgotten his African homeland: The terrible wars now over, Wal returns to Sudan as often as he can, often in the company of his TEEM mentor, the Rev. Steve Delzer. [Photo] Wal is quietly proud that he’s established 10 ELCA Lutheran churches there, with more than 2,000 members and a number of young pastors in training.

Wal has been through much in his life, from the terrifying to the exultant. His early successes may have gratified his personal sense of leadership, he says, but nothing compares to being lifted up in the Lutheran church and guided into TEEM ministry. It has been this experience, he says, that truly has filled him with a sense of mission and call.       

Sabbatical Ventures

by Prof. David L. Balch

My sabbatical proposal included an agreement with Prof. Alicia Vargas that we would both study Latino/a interpretations of Galatians. She gave up her sabbatical, when asked to assume the Deanship. My study of post6colonial readings of Galatians took a surprising turn when my son, Justin, who speaks Spanish, invited me to go with him to a Spanish-speaking country. For several reasons, we settled on Argentina, where I studied Spanish and gradually began to be able to study Galatians in Spanish. Spanish was easier and more fun to study than any language I have ever attempted to learn.

Justin was recovering from hyper-activity in New York City, so we avoided big cities, but when he left for the States, I spent a month (April) at ISEDET, the interdenominational seminary in Buenos Aires, attending the seminars of Prof. René Krüger (the book of James, and another on the Resurrection Narratives) and Prof. Mario Yutzis (Faith and Culture). Krüger is Lutheran, but was teaching a seminar on James, which puzzled me; however, exegesis is always contextual. Some of his family, his students, and church members have trouble putting food on the table, and so René wrote a doctoral dissertation (University of Amsterdam) on “Rich and Poor in James.” For Prof. Yutzis, I wrote a paper on the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas, which I summarized in Spanish for the class. Another professor asked Prof. Mercedes Garcia Bachmann, the Lutheran Professor of Hebrew Bible, and I to teach on the household codes, the topic of my dissertation at Yale. I gave a short presentation, and when my Spanish became a problem, Prof. Garcia Backmann took over.

Alan Eldid, the Pastor President of the Iglesia Evangelica Lutherana Unido (IELU), the Lutheran church in Argentina affiliated with the ELCA (online, see “Argentina ELCA”), asked me to make a presentation to the annual pastors conference (April 20). My Spanglish was apparently comprehensible. There were about 50 persons in the audience, maybe 20 Lutheran pastors, including Susan Johnson, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, visiting from Winnipeg. Pedro Gonzales, a Columbian student, translated my presentation into Spanish. I took questions and gave responses after each of the three sections of my paper, which was the academic high point of my sabbatical. I gave the same lecture May 15th at the Seminario Evangélico, San Juan, Puerto Rico, a seminary sponsored by Pentecostal churches, but Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, and some Lutheran churches send their future pastors to study there. While there, I received and email from Shauna Hannan, Professor of Homiletics at Luther Southern Seminary, who was in San Juan for endorsement interview. We talked about the possibility of an online course sponsored by PLTS, LSS, and ISEDET.

June in El Salvador was the most important month of my sabbatical. Reading about poverty is not the same as living in a Melba Jimenez’s house, where we had frijoles, avocados, and planten (fried bananas) three meals a day. I spent time going to sites associated with Archbishop Romero, the one room where he lived, the small hospital chapel where he was assassinated, and the cathedral, where he preached every Sunday to overflow crowds and where he is buried. Late in the month Medardo Gómez, the Lutheran Bishop of El Salvador, invited me to spend a day with him. One of Bishop Gómez’s first acts (1986) was to ordain women, which meant that Missouri Synod missionaries left the country, and the ELCE stepped in to support the Salvadoran church. I attended worship at two other Lutheran churches, one some distance from San Salvador down very rocky country roads. I also spent two Saturdays at the Lutheran University of El Salvador, and economically poor institution that educates many who could not otherwise afford it. The high point of my time in El Salvador was a conversation with Jon Sobrino, the internationally famous liberation theologian. He was away at a conference in Vietnam when six of his fellow Jesuit priests and their two housekeepers were assassinated by the government (1989). After El Salvador, I am no longer content to teach that God justifies me, an individual, white, middle-class, North American male, but now insist that justification (the noun dikaiosune and the verb dikaioo in Greek) is related to justice for the poor. Professors at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley send some of their students to PLTS to study Paul with a Lutheran, and in turn it is important that we send some of our Lutheran students to study social ethics with the Jesuits. The GTU is great.

I am thrilled to have had the opportunity for this sabbatical, and thank the Board for the time to travel, to study Spanish, to write, and to publish.

Alum Speak: Rev. John L. Vaswig

by Rev. John L. Vaswig, MDiv ’85
Mountain View Lutheran Church • Edgewood, WA

I was walking along the “wall of fame”—you know, all those confirmation pictures—and decided to count how many of those 180 kids whom I had confirmed over the years were still involved in the church.  The percentage turned out to be about ten percent, here at Mountain View Lutheran or elsewhere.  Any other organization, business, or non-profit would determine the same return, if you will, to be an abject failure.

With the same epiphany and a willingness to call something what it is, I began, with congregational leadership, to put an end to traditional confirmation.  No more robes and carnations.  No more graduations from church, some even supported by parents who say, “Now it is your choice.”  No more pretending confirmation has a sacramental value.  Instead, it was time for a dramatic change.  But what?

At Mountain View, the answer has been what we now call the Rock Ministry.  This is a ministry designed to highlight the baptized life and the journey from younger to older.  We developed our own curriculum, designed for all ages from the youngest—“Flintstones” 2 and 3 year olds, “Little Pebbles” pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, “Rolling Stones” first and second grades, “Rock Climbers” third and fourth grades, “Dynamite” fifth and sixth grades, “Ignite” seventh and eighth grades—to youth in high school.  We mark within the lives of each group a milestone, an age-appropriate ritual in worship, in which the varying young people are publicly acknowledged and encouraged to continue their baptismal journey.  These milestones include the congregation giving Bibles to each second grader, acknowledging third and fourth grade acolytes, celebrating a Foundations Rite (our “replacement” of confirmation), and a Baccalaureate worship service for graduating high school seniors, as well as others.  Each milestone accentuates the life of faith, as adult mentors walk alongside each of God’s beloved and seek to witness meaningfully to the faith we hold dear.

The Rock Ministry, now in existence for three years, has revolutionized how we consider together the life of faith lived in community.  Grandparents, parents, guardians, baptismal sponsors, adult mentors, along with the children and young people, have begun to establish a faith training far beyond what any confirmation program I have encountered could establish.
We took a risk for living and teaching the baptized life.  The same has been an incredible journey as we continue to live and grow into God’s calling for all the baptized.

Alum Speak: Rev. Pat Reed

by Rev. Pat [Servi] Reed, MDiv ’01
St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church • Phoenix, AZ.

When I joined the Lutheran Church over 25 years ago, I began a journey of self-discovery that led me to God and my calling as an ordained minister.  As a Lutheran I understand that it was God who initiated the journey, but there was a lot of me in it.  Growing up as a Roman Catholic, God had to overcome my unwillingness and then utter amazement that God wanted to use all people – not just priests – to share in God’s work – the work of the church.  God also had to overcome my desire to be what the important people in my life thought I should be.  I was good at it – good at following the rules - but the real me was buried under too many ideas that didn’t fit. It took time, prayer, pastors, mentors, books, seminary education and friends to get through to me the beauty and joy of what is now one of my favorite Bible passages, Galatians 5: 1, “For freedom Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”  Those who know me know I still struggle to be free, but this isn’t about me.

It’s about the principles – rooted in my experience and Galatians 5:1 - that guide how I pastor the churches I’ve been blessed to serve.  I believe that each church – just like each person – has a God-given identity waiting to be discovered, uncovered or set free that is unique to them.  That’s a grace that’s hard for many churches and people to accept.  Too often churches struggle to be what they aren’t – struggle to be what a pastor or strong personality wants them to be – struggle to accomplish tasks they were never meant to do.  When something happens or a pastor leaves, they fall apart. I try to come into a community with an attitude of acceptance and openness - the same grace we all receive daily through Jesus Christ, who accepts, forgives and sets us free to serve God in a unique way.  It’s a journey of discovery rooted in God that’s destined to lead to joy, confidence and service in Jesus’ name.

By getting to know people in the community for who they are, by walking with them as they own their strengths and weaknesses and encouraging them to live out their God-given mission, I’ve seen joy, faith, perseverance and ministry blossom. I’ve also experienced the blessing and humility of having the community respond to me in the same way.    People – communities – set free to be come to life in ways that are incredible.  They celebrate what’s good and learn from what’s not.  I used to think of my ministry style as that of a mid-wife, birthing an already beautifully created congregation, but I’ve come to see that labor and delivery is only the beginning.  Continuing to grow in freedom is part of the journey too. 

Alum Speak: Rev. Marcia Wakeland

by Rev. Marcia Wakeland, TEEM ‘04
Anchorage, AK

This is a little about my ministry now at the outreach we have at the Downtown Transit Center in Anchorage. 

It was birthed at a spiritual directors conference in Vancouver B.C. in 2007 when I heard about a place called The Listening Post at the heart of the area they call “Ground Zero” in the City of Vancouver – its name implying everything.  I was attracted immediately to the simple intention of the ministry. As the sign said, 

Welcome to the Listening Post,
a place made sacred by your presence.
Listen to your inner wisdom, as you sit in silence,
meditate or pray.
If you wish to talk one-on-one,
someone is available who will listen with compassion,
respect, and in confidence.
The call to open a similar Listening Post in Anchorage was immediate and without need for discernment. It took another year to find the right space, train volunteers, arrange to be under the non-profit umbrella of Lutheran Social Services of Alaska, and to raise the funds. In September of 2008, we opened our doors to the community of people who use public transportation in our city.

We have about 2300 visits a year to our space and have an all-volunteer staff of about 30-40 people who work in pairs to keep a quiet place and a place of listening open to those who often are not heard. We do not advise, counsel, fix, rescue or set people straight. And we encourage, but we don't “cheerlead.” We try to accept people where they are and how they are.

Most of our visitors have some sort of addiction and/or mental illness, perhaps just released from prison or psychiatric care. We are privileged to hear the stories of those who are Alaska Natives who are struggling to maintain their culture after moving away from their villages to the city and those who are making their homes on the streets, in camps, or in shelters. 

A surprise of this ministry has been how many people want to volunteer to work with us. Much of my time is spent in training and support of the volunteers who primarily are upper- and middle-class community members who want to connect with the poor in a respectful way. However, there are big cultural and social leaps that need pastoral care. And I feel like Christ smiled when one of our volunteers said, “I used to drive through downtown and avert my eyes to the people near the Transit Center. Now I look to see who I know.”

We are often questioned for not preaching or evangelizing at the Listening Post, but as one volunteer said, “We are all part of the body of Christ, and we at the Listening Post are the ears.”

I could expound with many stories of how listening healed and affirmed, encouraged, empowered and even prevented suicide and violence in our community, but suffice it to say that I’ve come to believe the saying, “What everyone needs is a good listening-to.” By keeping our ministry very focused and not being seduced into providing other services, we have been free to deepen and hone the skills of an art that is not often practiced in our communities and culture – and one we feel leads to peace and hope. 

Thanks for listening!

These articles is from the November 2012 issue of Above The Fog, the PLTS monthly e-newsletter. Click here to subscribe, and receive great articles and seminary news right in your inbox.