God’s Work, Luther’s Hands

By Sheila Freed

Lutherans frequently refer to our wonderful  tradition of “speaking out in the public square,” of participating in public discourse. We who do advocacy have proudly claimed Martin Luther’s practice of “speaking truth to power,” of holding those in authority accountable to a moral standard. I recently learned something new about Martin Luther courtesy of Living Lutheran magazine.

In 1522, Luther joined with others to establish the Wittenberg Common Chest.  The Common Chest was a joint effort of church and state to provide financial support to the poor, interest-free loans or refinancing of high-interest loans, education or vocational training for children, and job training for adults. The Chest later provided funding for a town physician and paid medical costs of the poor. Wow! This sounds like the forerunner of Lutheran Social Services!

Many of us have read of Luther’s care for those around him, and the tradition of service to neighbor is with us today. The Common Chest shows that Luther did not view government as the enemy. Luther’s approach was not just to criticize those in authority, or even tell them what they “should” do.  Rather, he got together with them to solve problems.

Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada tries to take the same “both-and” approach. We don’t just hang around the Legislature firing off morally indignant diatribes. We work for engagement on the part of parishioners, by doing education, since knowledge of the issues leads to better policy decisions. We hope that knowledge of the issues will also lead to involvement by parishioners, both in advocacy and service.   At the Legislature, LEAN likewise works toward engagement with elected officials. Our “citizen legislators” are not always very informed on issues. We at LEAN try to offset the effect of paid lobbyists to educate legislators in balanced, factual ways. But we also provide that moral perspective. Luther believed every citizen should help public officials to succeed in their vocation.  For LEAN, this can mean providing “political cover” to legislators who face pressure to act on behalf of special interests, rather than the common good. Committee testimony from someone in a clerical collar can be a powerful thing.

The Legislature will not convene again until February 2019. We don’t know what the important issues will be at that time, but some perennials are sure to be back: Taxes, education funding, criminal justice. The public good is a work in progress, so things change and we need to revisit the same topics repeatedly. At least one bill draft request has reportedly been submitted in response to the shooting in Las Vegas.  Between now and the next legislative session, LEAN hopes to hear from parishioners. We want to know what concerns you, what insights you have to share, and what solutions you’d like to see. Let’s follow Luther’s example and focus on engagement.

Contact LEAN or email me at scf1@charter.net.

Nevada Lutherans, Catholics Remember The Reformation

The year 2017 marks 500 years since Martin Luther famously nailed his “95 Theses” to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  Although he did not intend to start a movement, his action is recognized as the start of the protestant Reformation. Over the past 50 years, Catholics and Lutherans have been working to overcome centuries of division.

To recognize the progress made and to look toward a collaborative future, a Commemoration was held on Oct. 9 at St. Therese Little Flower Church in Reno. Rev. Jorge Herrera and Rev. Michael Patterson presided and the sermon was delivered jointly by the Most Reverend Bishop Randolph R. Calvo and Rev. Kathryn Gulbranson while other clergy of both denominations, and a combined choir from local parishes also attended.

In 2013 Catholics and Lutherans issued a joint statement titled, “From Conflict to Communion,” which recognized that the beliefs that unite are far greater than the differences. Included in the joint statement are five “Imperatives,” or goals, for which each member of both denominations should strive. One is “Catholics and Lutherans should witness together to witness to the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world.” Both denominations recognize that service to the world includes caring for those in need in our own community.  Offerings received at this joint commemoration will be divided between Catholic Charities and Faith Lutheran Food Pantry, for the benefit of hungry people in this area.

Lutheran Engagement and Advocacy in Nevada exists to bring to public attention the needs of disadvantaged people.  LEAN advocates at the Nevada Legislature to reduce barriers that keep people in poverty. However LEAN also works in the community, and to that end, will donate $1,000 to the offering for the commemoration, to benefit Catholic Charities of Northern Nevada. LEAN will also donate $1,000 to Lutheran Social Services of Nevada, to reflect LEAN’s commitment to address hunger and poverty in southern Nevada, the most populous part of our state.

Lutheran Social Services began serving the Southern Nevada community in 1985 with a simple clothes closet and food pantry.  The agency has since become a leader in providing healthy, nutritious food in innovative ways.  It is led by Executive Director Armena Mnatsakanyan.

In 2012, LSSN pioneered the Open Air Market to provide fresh produce and other nutritious food to those living in “food deserts.”  In 2014, LSSN launched a Senior Meal Program.  In 2016, LSSN received the Agency of the Year award from Three Square, the umbrella food bank in Southern Nevada. The agency was recognized for starting DigiMart, the first online digital food pantry in the west. LSSN has been recognized by the Governor and Lt. Governor of Nevada for outstanding community service.

Additional information about Catholic Charities is at www.ccsnn.org. Additional information about Lutheran Social Services of Nevada is at www.lssnnv.org.

Sierra Pacific Synod Bishop Speaks Out on Las Vegas Shooting

Note: Following is a slightly updated version of an e-mail message sent by Sierra Pacific Synod Bishop Mark Holmerud in the wake of the horrific Las Vegas shooting. Below it is a 2013 message regarding violence from the ELCA Conference of Bishops.

Like most of you, I awoke Oct. 2 to see the horrific news of the shooting massacre in Las Vegas just a few hours before. This is, according to news reports, the deadliest such shooting rampage in U.S. history. Sadly, it is not the first, nor will it be the last such incidence of gun violence. Over four years ago, in the wake of the Sandy Hill School Shooting, the Conference of Bishops published a pastoral letter encouraging prayer and advocacy, with resources for use in congregational and community conversations.

I am sending this message to you because many of the statements it contains and the resources it provides will be helpful, I believe, as we once again become communities of prayer, peace, hope, advocacy and deliberation.

  • I encourage all of us to ponder how we can be “public church” in this moment, for such a time as this, to stand with sisters and brothers of faith and good will as we pause to pray for healing and reflect on the pain and suffering of those whose lives will forever be altered by this event.
  • I pray we will make ourselves visible at vigils and remembrances to let Christ’s light shine through our presence, care and compassion.
  • I hope we will use our voices to advocate for legislative initiatives which will finally stem access to weapons such as those used in this massacre which have but one purpose – to visit upon hundreds, thousands of innocents this kind of carnage.
  • I lament yet another senseless tragedy, which calls to mind a school shooting which took place in Stockton where I was serving in 1989, and so many other such incidents since that time. Please join me in not forgetting that these senseless acts of violence cannot and will not be the last word in this moment. Let a last word be our voices calling for a change in gun and ammunition laws which makes these acts possible. Let a last word be that we advocate for mental health services and other means of services for those who need such assistance. Let a last word be our commitment to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Let a last word be our “Amen” to the light of Christ which shines brightly through us, even and especially now.
  • Thank you for your work and witness in all things, and in this time.


Bp. Mark

A Pastoral Letter from the Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

March 4, 2013

“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Jeremiah 31.15 and Matthew 2:18

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: Every faithful caregiver who sits with victims of violence knows what we know – as God’s church, we are called to reduce violence and should, in most cases, restrain ourselves from using violence. Whether or not statistics show that overall violence has declined in recent years, every person wounded or killed is a precious child of God.

As bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we lament the tragedy of gun violence in our country. We are grieved by the way violence threatens and destroys life. We affirm the current soul searching and shared striving to find a way to a better future. While the church grapples with this call to reduce violence, and make our communities safer, we recognize that before God we are neither more righteous because we have guns nor are we more righteous when we favor significant restrictions. Brokenness and sin are not somehow outside of us. Even the best of us are capable of great evil.

As people of God we begin by confessing our own brokenness – revealed in both our actions and our failure to act. We trust that God will set us free and renew us in our life’s work to love our neighbors. In this time of public attention to gun violence, local communities of faith have a unique opportunity to engage this work. As bishops, we were thankful to recognize the many resources our church has already developed (see below). We begin by listening: listening to God, to Scripture, and to each other. Providing a safe place for people to share their own stories, together we discern courses of action. Together we act. And together we return to listening – to assess the effectiveness of our efforts to reduce violence.

In the Large Catechism Luther says, “We must not kill, either by hand, heart, or word, by signs or gestures, or by aiding and abetting.” Violence begins in the human heart. Words can harm or heal. To focus only on guns is to miss the depth of our vocation. Yet, guns and access are keys to the challenges we face. We recognize that we serve in different contexts and have different perspectives regarding what can and should be done. But as we live out our common vocations, knowing that the work will take many forms, we are committed to the work of reducing and restraining violence. This shared work is a sign of our unity in Christ.

We invite you, our sisters and brothers, to join us in this work:

  • The work of lament – creating safe space for naming, praying, grieving, caring for one another, and sharing the hope in God’s promise of faithfulness
  • The work of moral formation and discernment – listening to scripture, repenting, modeling conflict resolution in daily life, addressing bullying, conducting respectful conversations, and discerning constructive strategies to reduce violence
  • The work of advocacy – acting to address the causes and effects of violence, knowing that we are not saved by this work, we undertake it trusting in Christ Jesus, who laid down his life for the world and who calls us to be peacemakers, to pursue justice, and to protect the vulnerable. In this, as in all things, Christ is with us. Thanks be to God.

Important Resources: