Transformed to be Transformational | Time to Pick Up the Pace | Rev. Judith Rainforth ‘03 Participates in National Clergy Renewal Program | Interview with Rev. Steven Sabin | Alum Speak: Rev. Laurie McHugh, '92 | Wellness at PLTS

Transformed to be Transformational

Rev. Murray D. Finck, Bishop of Pacifica Synod and PLTS Board Member published a book, Stretch and Pray: A Daily Discipline for Physical and Spiritual Wellness, in 2005.  Bishop Finck shares “I never set out to write a book.  My life changed in 1997 as I was preparing to go on Sabbatical the following year.  Truthfully, I felt miserable; my back hurt all of the time from an injury that happened 20 years earlier.  Despite many trips to the chiropractor, an orthopedic surgeon, and a lot of Advil, the pain was something decided I was going to have to endure. I wanted to trek with a group for a month through Thailand, Nepal, and the Himalayans.”

Bishop Finck completed the trek.  On this month long adventure, something remarkable happened.  “Within 8 days, my pain disappeared and it has never come back in 14 years.  I can’t explain it other than a gift of God’s grace, but this experience was so life giving for me that it has motivated me to stay active, disciplined, and attentive to my physical health and care.  Although I was quiet at first about this transformation of my life, when I was elected Bishop, I felt called to share my story.  I would get up early every morning to stretch and pray and decided to invite others to join me during meetings and Synod Assemblies.  One of the most memorable times was a couple of years ago when the Pacifica Synod Assembly was in Hawaii.  About 80 of us gathered on the beach at 6:30 a.m.  Walkers and runners passing through stopped and would join in.  For the few days we were there, it helped start the day for so many people, including those who had never heard of the Lutheran Church before.  It was definitely a very effective and completely unplanned outreach time.”  Now Finck is asked nearly everywhere he goes to lead this time of morning meditation.  “I bring my iPod and candle.  People bring their towels.  In about 35 minutes, we go through 40 stretching and 5 prayer poses.”  The publication of Finck’s book and DVD are in response to participants’ requests for help in remembering the poses so they can do them on their own. 

In addition to leading stretch and pray sessions, Bishop Finck encourages congregations to incorporate wellness activities into their ministries.  He suggests displaying a framed copy of the wellness wheel so that we can always be mindful that we need to care for body, mind, and soul in a variety of ways.  Finck has also served on the wellness team of the ELCA and is hoping to rejoining it after a break while he served on the human sexuality taskforce.  “I miss it and I think it’s where I belong.”  When asked about a favorite, motivational Scripture passage, he cited Ephesians 4:1-16.  “I like it because St. Paul writes about being gifted by the Spirit to equip others for the work of ministry for the building up of the body of Christ and this is a part of my equipping.”

Time to Pick Up the Pace

by The Rev. Jeff Thiemann
President and CEO of Portico Benefit Services and Pacific Lutheran Seminary graduate (’05)


When I think back on my time at PLTS, I realize how important taking a whole-person perspective is to prepare for ministry. That means caring for ourselves fully — tending to our physical well-being, just as we do the other dimensions of well-being (spiritual, intellectual, financial, etc.).

The call to ministry is wonderful, exhilarating — but also draining. Stewardship of our health can be a challenge, and for most of us, physical activity is particularly elusive. A 2012 health assessment found that 60% of ELCA leaders and spouses with ELCA-Primary health coverage are at risk of getting too little exercise. 17% reported getting no exercise at all. As a community, we’re not as healthy as we could be, and the cost to us, our families, our ministries, and this church is high — too high.

While we live in a broken world, we follow the Redeemer who makes all things new. As the ELCA begins its 25th year of ministry together, Portico Benefit Services remains one of many parts of this church to encourage and sustain you in your ministry. This year, Portico invites you to join us in our new wellness activity, 30-A-Day. It’s a simple card designed to help you establish an exercise routine for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, for eight weeks and beyond. When you’ve finished the eight weeks, mail us your card to show you support investing in your well-being.

Find out more at PorticoBenefits.com.

Rev. Judith Rainforth ‘03 Participates in National Clergy Renewal Program

First Lutheran Church has received a grant of $37,739 to enable its minister, Pastor Judith Rainforth, to participate in the National Clergy Renewal Program funded by the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc. It is one of 147 congregations across the country that will support their ministers in the program, which allows pastors to step back from their busy lives and renew their spirits for the benefit of their ongoing ministries.

Now in its 13th year, the program invites Christian congregations and ministers to plan a period of intentional reflection and renewal. It gives ministers time to take a break from their daily obligations and gain the fresh perspective and renewed energy that a carefully considered “sabbath time” of travel, study, rest and prayer can provide.

Through this program, Christian congregations apply for grants of up to $50,000 to support a renewal program for their pastors. Working with their congregations, the ministers design their renewal programs to fit their own needs and aspirations. Pastors are encouraged to include their families in the renewal activities. Up to $15,000 of the grant may be used for the congregation to pay for interim pastoral leadership while the pastor is away, as well as for renewal activities within the congregation. 1,745 congregations have participated in the clergy renewal program since it began in 2000, including the 147 congregations in this round that received grants totaling nearly $6.5 million.

Pastor Judith will be studying and traveling in Europe as she learns more about her Lutheran and German Heritage. Pastor Judith will also travel to Atlanta, Georgia to spend time with Robert Lupton, author of “Toxic Charity” as she learns more about helpful outreach. In addition, she plans to go on a silent retreat at a Benedictine Monastery.

“Time and time again we hear that these renewal experiences are transformative for pastors, their families and their congregations,” said N. Clay Robbins, the Endowment’s president and CEO. “We intend for this program to enable pastors to live for a while at a different pace and in a new environment, in Sabbath time and space. Many pastors and their families return with a rich store of shared memories, having had large blocks of unbroken time together, uninterrupted by the 24-hour-a-day routine of the ministry.

“The wealth of imagination unleashed by this program is truly wonderful to see,” he said. “We can think of no better way to honor these hardworking, faithful men and women than to help them experience personal growth and spiritual renewal in ways that they themselves design and find meaningful.”

Interview with Rev. Steven Sabin

Rev. Steven Sabin has been very successful in his recent quest for a healthier lifestyle. He kindly agreed to share his story with us, which could easily be an inspiration to others to improve their own lifestyles.

Q: Would you describe exactly what changes you’ve been making in your life to improve your physical wellness?
A: I've adopted a discipline of increased exercise and decreased caloric intake. I track my food intake very carefully and also make sure that I get some exercise every day.

Q: What inspired you to begin this weight-loss program and why this technique? (you use a phone app, right?) Had you tried other techniques before?

A: My doctor and dietician had been encouraging me for years to lose at least 15 lbs. I'd make half-hearted attempts to do so but it just never clicked. My father was diagnosed in January of 2012 with stage four, terminal cancer. I made frequent trips to Iowa to visit him in the last six months of his life and I started to consider my own health. The day after I returned from what turned out to be my last visit with him while he lived, I was to have a routine visit with my physician. Before I went for the appointment I stood on my scale at home and discovered that I weighed 199.8 lbs. This was the most I'd ever weighed and I resolved at that moment that I "would never weigh 200 lbs." I started a diet and exercise program that day. For the first week it was very difficult, but then I decided that I would try using an iPhone app to help. I selected the "Lose-it" app. 

Q: Are there any tricks that you use to stay motivated or focused?

A: Using the iPhone app provided a great deal of assistance with motivation. The app was easy to use, contained nutritional information on a great many foods, contained menu information for many restaurant chains, and would even enter food data by scanning the bar code on food packaging. The app calculates my calorie budget for the day to meet my weight loss or maintenance goals. It tracks my food intake and lets me know how much more I can eat for the day. If I exercise, the app adds calories burned to my daily budget and allows for me to eat additional food. The app also sends weekly summary reports to my e-mail and sends encouragement emails from time to time as well.

Q: Why do you think physical wellness is important?

A: The most obvious reason is the improvement in my general health that losing 40 lbs. has brought about. My blood pressure is now normal, and my cholesterol numbers have moved to near ideal. I feel much better. I have more energy. I don't huff and puff going up stairs. I also see physical wellness as an important part of stewardship.

Q: What connections do you think exist between physical wellness, emotional wellness, and spiritual wellness?

A: The connection to stewardship is that God creates us to be whole in our physical/emotional/spiritual lives and relationships. They are all interconnected and ignoring any part of the whole adversely affects the whole of my being.

Q: Since beginning your physical wellness journey, what positive effects have you seen in other aspects of your life?

A: Being intentional about diet and exercise has helped me be more intentional about other parts of my life. I feel that I pay closer attention to every aspect of daily life.

Q: What words of inspiration would you share with someone just starting out?

A: Stick with it. Every change can seem daunting at first, but if you take each day as it comes, break your overall goals into daily portions and stay focused on the small steps, the larger battle takes care of itself. Additionally you need to be gentle with yourself, recognizing that some days will be easier than others and some days more productive than others, but it is the long term that matters.

Q: Do you have a favorite Scripture or other motivational piece that you might share?

A: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4

Alum Speak: Rev. Laurie McHugh, '92

Singing, writing, praying, and journaling are but a few of the ways in which people take time to reflect on their lives and let God hear what is on our minds and speak into our hearts.  In the spirit of a new calendar year, when many are making resolutions, we invite you to consider choosing one that provides regular time and space for reflection and prayer time with God. 

People ask how it was that I, a PLTS graduate approved for ordination in the ELCA, became United Methodist minister.  I usually respond, “It’s a long story.”   When pressed, I summarize: I fell through the cracks of the ELCA call system in a year when California was experiencing a recession.  It was not a good year to be a married woman of childbearing age when churches were tightening their belts.  My husband was also looking for a job in a tight market, and eventually I “put myself on hold” until he could find a fulfilling position, working, in the meantime, in the PLTS Office of Seminary Advancement.  I had also, thanks to a “shirttail relative,” found a part-time, cross-cultural church job in a wonderful United Methodist congregation, and I was eventually wooed over by the warmth, diversity, spiritual practices and commitment to social justice of those I encountered in that denomination.  I’ve surrendered to, and sometimes suffered under, the whims of an itinerant system.  I am currently appointed to serve a delightful little small-town congregation north of Santa Rosa, while my husband lives and works in Sacramento, and my son lives with friends while completing his senior year in Palo Alto.  I’ve caught both thrilling and painful waves on this surf-ride of parish ministry, and while I still don’t know if there will be enough of a denomination left by the time I’m set to retire, or if I might need to consider tentmaking or another line of work altogether before long, this is definitely “home” for me.   I most miss chanting, but find an outlet in Taize.  And some hymns set to different tunes will never seem “right” -- so I usually avoid choosing them.

My Lutheran seminary background has served me well, particularly in the areas of liturgy, biblical study, and preaching.  I have a sort of internalized sense of structure that has proved an asset in working with Methodist colleagues.  When developing innovative approaches to worship, I can articulate purpose and flow in a way that often wins over skeptical traditionalists.   When I first read John Wesley, he sounded much like Martin Luther writing for a different context, two hundred years later.  And I am touched that Wesley’s “heart warming,” conversion-like experience at Aldersgate happened after a small group meeting reading Luther’s commentary on Romans.

Rev. Laurie McHugh ’92 is currently serving Windsor Community United Methodist Church in Windsor, CA. She has written two songs which reflect our yearning as children of God for vision, direction, and peace that we are indeed on the right path.  We give thanks for this gift of music and may we all find the ways in which God inspires our souls to sing! 

Wellness at PLTS

A campus student group, PLTS Being Well, provides a space for students to gather, share ideas, and support one another in efforts to live holistically healthy lives. When asked why fitness is important, Laura Stephenson '13 answered, "Fitness is important to me because it allows me to think. When I'm on my bike or doing my yoga I have my best ideas. I also value the time alone. There can be real pressure to be social all the time in the church, but I'm more introverted, so I need the time to think and process." Laura is also participating in the 2013 AIDS LifeCycle, a 545 mile, weeklong bike ride in June from San Francisco to Los Angeles that raises funds and awareness for HIV/AIDS foundations in California. PLTS Being Well is primarily organized through a Facebook page, various groups meet regularly for fun. This fall, Frisbee players met on Friday afternoons at the Rose Garden and walk/runners went for a stroll on Saturday mornings, enjoying scenic courses at the Berkeley Marina, Point Isabel, Cesar Chavez Park, and Tilden Park. Other fun activities and adventures have included yoga, hiking, sight-seeing trips, and a community garden at the Delaware apartments. In October, PLTS sent a team to the GTU kickball tournaments at San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo. In addition, there is a small workout room in Beasom Hall that is open to students. And to celebrate the conclusion of the fall semester and ring in Christmas, Stacey Siebrasse '13, Dominique Noel '16, and Sara Wilson '13, participants in the weekly walk/run group, ran the Jingle Bell Dash 10K on December 15th in Orinda.

Community Lunch on Wednesdays following worship provides an opportunity for fellowship and nourishment with healthy food. This time, described by head cook Sean Raghailligh, is "important because it's a time where we can continue in fellowship and conversation after worship." Sean grew up with a love for cooking and has many fond memories of sharing the gift of hospitality with people around the dining room table. He is excited to share his gifts at PLTS and is thankful for an experience he had in Tucson a few years ago where he says he came to understand emerging ministry as "one where our traditions and theological roots of the first century continue to be lived out in our post-modern world. And I would love to do ministry someday where I can cook and share with people how easy and fun it is to cook and eat healthy." Sean, along with assistant cooks Ryan Eikenbary and Thomas Voelp, share their gifts of hospitality and their love for cooking each week when serving Community Lunch. We give thanks for their caring spirits, care for our nourishment, and for sharing a favorite recipe for Turkish Spinach Lentil Soup! Please join us on Wednesdays for worship and community lunch when you are in town.

These articles is from the January 2013 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.