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APRIL 24, 2017

But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.

[Luke 24:21]

ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN!

As you read these words I am on the way to Pokagon State Park in Angola, Indiana, and our Region Six First Call Theological Education Retreat. 

For the next three days, pastors and deacons in their first call, along with mentors, bishops and bishop staff, will gather to share experiences, learn more about this ELCA church body in which they serve, and refresh and renew their sense of call. The goal is to support our leaders and equip them with resources that will enhance their ministry and enable them to better serve the people of God.

One can find a wealth of statistics on the internet as to how many pastors or church leaders are leaving the ministry and the innumerable reasons why. It is difficult to determine which ones to believe. It is even more challenging to determine how to best support them as they go about doing the mission and ministry of the church.

One point that I continually stress, especially at the installation of a pastor, is that our expectations of pastors are often unrealistic. Once a pastor is installed, many congregation members abdicate their responsibility for that mission and ministry and leave it up to the paid professional. Nothing could be further from the truth. We all are called to participate in God’s ongoing and miraculous work to heal, comfort, and restore this world.

This upcoming Sunday is the Third Sunday of Easter. We hear the Gospel story from Luke of the two disciples who make their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus, passing the time and “talking with each other about all” that has happened, including the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb. It’s important to note that although we hear it two weeks after the Resurrection, this story takes place on the same day of the Resurrection.  So the sad events of Good Friday and the mysterious discovery of the empty tomb are still fresh in their minds. 

They are joined on their journey by a seemingly clueless and out-of-touch stranger, and they begin to recount to him “the things about Jesus of Nazareth who was a prophet mighty in deed and word.”

The unknown visitor on the road listens patiently to the story of Cleopas and his companion. They talk about Jesus, recalling who he was and what he had done the preceding three years. They had expected Jesus to liberate them from political oppression.

They even talk to Jesus, who walks with them for seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Nonetheless, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him,” blinded by their mistaken expectations about what God was doing in Jesus.  

The three words that always jump out at me in this reading are, “WE had hoped…”

“WE had hoped…” therein lies the key.  Our hopes, our plans, our expectations are often quite contrary to God’s plans and expectations.

In the waters of Baptism, God calls each and every one of us to be God’s chosen people. As Lutherans, we subscribe to the doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers.” Ministry is the responsibility of all the baptized, not just professional clergy.

The pastor cannot do the ministry of Christ’s church alone. Your support is needed. Your support is vital. That is how God has meant it to be. We all have the power to make a difference in the lives of the people around us, not just the pastor. In our actions and in our words, we, too, can reach others, helping them understand the presence of the resurrected Jesus.

I pray that you will keep your pastor and the rest of your congregation’s staff in your prayers daily, and that your spiritual gifts can be added to the mission and ministry of your congregation, so that God will be glorified through you.

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This coming Thursday and Friday, April 27-28, I will be in Columbus at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, attending the 26th Annual Nelson W. Trout Lectures, celebrating African American preaching. This year’s theme is Preaching and Moral Imagination. The featured presenter is The Rev. Frank A. Thomas, Professor of Homiletics and Director of the Academy of Preaching and Celebration at Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis.    Presentations are free and open to the public. The Trout lectures, established in 1991, honor former Trinity Professor, the Rev. Dr. Nelson W. Trout (1920-1996), who was the first African American Lutheran bishop in the United States.

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Saturday, April 29, the Northeastern Ohio Synod Council meets at Martin Luther Lutheran Church, in Youngstown.

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Sunday, April 30, I will be with the people of God at St. Stephen Martyr Lutheran Church in Canton, as they celebrate their 50th Anniversary.

May you be filled with the abiding hope of the empty tomb, as Christ walks alongside and among you this week and always!  

+Bishop Abraham Allende

 

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APRIL 10, 2017

I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

[Jeremiah 31:3]

It’s Holy Week.

This is one of the busiest, if not the busiest, weeks for pastors, deacons and church leaders. There’s a lot of planning that has already gone on and will continue to go on until Sunday.

I am hoping that, along with all your other plans, you are making plans to welcome people who have not been to church for a while. For those who come to church on a regular basis, it is easy to be cynical and look down your nose at those who attend on a less frequent basis. But that is not what Christ asks of us.

I confess here that I wrote some of these thoughts for a parish newsletter several years ago, but I feel they are worth repeating again.

As I read through the readings for this Lenten season from the Gospel of John, I was struck by how Jesus basically walks up to strangers and engages them in conversation, while others (his disciples, mainly) stand back and pass judgment.

Jesus and the Samaritan woman

Take, for example, the woman at the well, which we heard on the third Sunday in Lent (March 19). Although it was not customary for a man to approach a woman, nor for a Jew to engage in conversation with a Samaritan, Jesus casts aside convention and asks her for a drink of water.

Jesus heals a man born blind
Jesusmafa.com

The fourth Sunday in Lent, again, Jesus’ disciples were casting judgment on a man who had been blind from birth, wondering who was to blame for the man’s condition. Jesus, instead, walks up to him and heals him of his blindness.

In both cases, the people that Jesus encounters realize that He is the Son of God. They undergo a conversion experience.

There are many examples in the other Gospels. I chose these two because they are current in our lectionary for this year and this season. But consider overall of the criticism Jesus regularly received for “eating and drinking with prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners.”

People are lonely. They often feel like outsiders. If they do make it to a house of worship on a Sunday morning it is not to meet friendly people. It is to find friends!

I wonder what, if anything, would change in our own lives and the lives of our congregations, if we were to practice that kind of genuine love for the stranger? That stranger God has placed in our path for a purpose.

This coming Sunday, we will see many faces we have not seen in months, even years. We will also meet newcomers who have never entered the doors of your church. At some point, you may have been one of them. You found your way and were welcomed into your congregation. It is easy to forget that experience and the impact it had on you.

So, let us prepare for Easter. Make way for the coming of our Lord. Make way for the transformation of hearts, not only yours, but the person you welcome as well.

Have a blessed Easter!

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A quick reminder for rostered ministers that tomorrow morning, Tuesday, April 11, we will gather at Trinity Lutheran Church in Kent for our annual Renewal of Vows liturgy in which we renew our vows of ordination, or consecration, and bless the oil which we’ll use for anointing during the next year.

It’s also the Home Opener of the baseball season for our beloved Cleveland Indians. But that is at 4:00 p.m., so it should have no bearing on your attendance.

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Thursday, April 13, at 7:00 p.m., I will join the people of God at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Newcomerstown, as we observe Maundy Thursday, which recalls Jesus’ last meal with his disciples the night before his arrest, trial and crucifixion.

But the story does not end with his death. The sadness of Thursday and Friday will convert to amazement, disbelief, and joy on Sunday as we learn that Jesus is not dead, but alive. 

Sunday is the first day of a new creation.  Jesus Christ is risen!

May you experience the love of God in your comings and goings this week and always!  

+Bishop Abraham Allende

 

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APRIL 3, 2017

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

[Philippians 2:5-8]

The United States Capitol

I am back on familiar territory after a productive three days in Washington, D.C., where ELCA Bishops, church and community leaders, gathered to advocate for immigrant rights and refugee resettlement. Instead of my usual reflection on the upcoming Sunday readings, I offer today a review of my days on the Hill.

Gathered under the theme of “Renewed in Christ to Witness,” what was noteworthy about this event was the spirit of collaboration between the ELCA Advocacy office and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS).

ELCA Advocacy has developed the AMMPARO strategy, a response to the plight of unaccompanied minor children who began crossing the border some years ago to escape violence and poverty in their countries of origin.

LIRS has been resettling refugees for more than 75 years. Both issues intersect. So it was only practical that the two agencies combine their efforts. (To learn more about the work of these agencies, I invite you to click on the links above.)

LIRS is a pan-Lutheran agency, so this endeavor also brought together three church bodies who are not always recognized for working together; the ELCA, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and the Latvian Lutheran Church. As the palmist said, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” [Psalm 133:1]

After opening worship on Monday evening, we spent the next day centering our message in preparation for our visits to congressional leaders on Wednesday. We asked two things of our senators and representatives in congress:

(1)   Maintain the United States’ position as the world leader in protecting the most vulnerable by insuring the full and continued operation of the refugee resettlement program, and

(2)   support compassionate policies that provide immediate protection for Central American children and their families, and faithful solutions to the conditions that cause people to flee.

Senator Brown (3rd from right) with the Ohio delegation

The Ohio delegation included Nick Bates, Executive Director of the Hunger Network in Ohio; Carmen Colón-Brown, Synodically Authorized Lay Minister, Iglesia Luterana Vida Eterna, West Chester, Ohio; and the Rev. Dr. Kristine Suna-Koro, Associate Professor of Theology, Xavier University.

We met with the two Ohio Senators, Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, as well as legislative correspondents for Representatives Joyce Beatty (DOH03), and Warren Davidson (ROH08). The two senators and the aide for Representative Beatty seemed attentive and supportive. With the Democratic legislators, Senator Brown and the aide for Representative Beatty, it was like preaching to the choir.

Admittedly, I was surprised by the congeniality of Senator Portman. Though it was more of a photo opportunity than a sit-down conversation, he seemed to genuinely listen to our concerns and paid little attention to the aide who was pressuring him to move on to his next group.

As expected, the aide for Representative Davidson, though civil, could not mask his indifference. He seemed ignorant on the issues and responded with the usual rhetoric of the need for better vetting of refugees. I, of course, politely, but firmly, pushed back on that claim. As Americans, we, too, want to protect our country from those who wish to do us harm. But refugees go through a rigorous and secure vetting process. Half the world’s refugees are children. So, the reality does not equal the rhetoric. 

This was our last visit of the day and cast a pall on the euphoria of the first three meetings. But overall, it was a good day. There is follow up to be done, especially in the case of Representative Davidson. We invited him, through his aide, to visit Vida Eterna, and meet the people who are affected by the current administration’s attitude. Whether he will or not remains to be seen.

I know I begin to sound like a broken record, but refugees are humans, created and loved by God, who are looking for new place to call home and a chance to build a new and prosperous life.  As Lutherans, we know the importance of welcoming vulnerable migrants. Following World War II, one out of every six Lutherans in the world was either a refugee or a displaced person.

As people of faith, we are called to welcome the stranger. We heed the Bible’s call to love our neighbor as ourselves. The Gospel demands that we speak for those who have no voice.

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Holy Week begins next Sunday, April 9, with Palm/Passion Sunday. We will celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and within minutes, hear the narrative of his suffering and dying. This same man who rode into Jerusalem on this day on a borrowed donkey to the shouts of, “Hosanna,” will, within days, hear the same crowd yell, “Crucify Him!”

Our generation is much like those who were praising Jesus on that first Palm Sunday.  We frequently see the mob mentality at work today in the political arena. More often than not, we give in to the mind of the crowd, rather than act out of personal convictions.  We want to be on the popular side, the winning side, we want to side with the majority.

As we enter this so called Holy Week, consider the following questions.  How much have we advanced as a society?  Do we treat the stranger or anyone different from us with respect or disdain?  Are we a society that cares for its poor, its ill, its aged, or the stranger, with compassion and concern or indifference and apathy?

I realize these may be uncomfortable questions for some, and I don’t ask them lightly. I pose these questions to us because it was in this way that Jesus challenged people with in his day, and it rings true in our time.  We worship a God who became one of us and was killed for, among other things, suggesting that we owe our first loyalty, that we owe the best of what we are, to something that is greater and more eternal than any government or nation ever could be. We owe it to ourselves and we owe it to our creator to ask these hard questions so that we know where our true loyalties ultimately lie.

Jesus modeled for us a life under God’s reign, a life of equality, unity, harmony and peace, a life governed by the commandment to love God and love our neighbor.

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·   By now you have heard that our Director for Evangelical Mission, the Rev. Terrance Jacob, is resigning his position to accept a call to a church in the Florida-Bahamas Synod. I invite you all to join us in wishing Pastor Jacob Farewell and Godspeed on Thursday, April 6, here at the Lutheran Center beginning at 5:30 p.m. 

·   Next Tuesday, April 11, rostered ministers of the Northeastern Ohio Synod are invited to gather at Trinity Lutheran Church in Kent for our annual Renewal of Vows liturgy in which we renew our vows of ordination, or consecration, and bless the oil which we’ll use for anointing during the next year.

Pastor Doug Fidler, and the people of Trinity, Kent (600 S. Water St.) will welcome us with their gracious hospitality and offer us lunch following the service.  Cost of lunch will be $5, with retired rostered and their spouses offered free meals.  Please contact the Trinity church office (330-673-5445 or info@trinitykent.org) by April 5, and let them know you plan to stay for lunch.

May God’s Holy Spirit encourage and strengthen us to live together in Christ, motivated by compassion and a desire to serve others today, tomorrow, and always.

+Bishop Abraham Allende

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MARCH 27, 2017

[God said:] “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

[Ezekiel 37:14]

As you read this week’s musings, I am on a train bound for Washington, D. C., where for the next three days, I and many other ELCA bishops, churchwide staff, church and community leaders from across the United States, as well as several international partners will take part in ELCA Advocacy Days.

Senator Sherrod Brown (center), with the Ohio Delegation at the ELCA Advocacy Convening in 2015

During this time, we will engage with our elected leaders on matters of importance to the ELCA; issues such as protection of vulnerable migrants, refugees, asylum seekers. and unaccompanied minors.

You may wonder why we do this.

As our ELCA Social Statement, The Church in Society: A Lutheran Perspective, states: “The Gospel does not take the Church out of the world but instead calls it to affirm and to enter more deeply into the world.”

As Lutherans, we feel called to live out our unique contribution to public witness. At this time in history, we are living in a country utterly separated by partisan politics, by contentious rhetoric, by the color of the state, and by our stubborn refusal to even hear the other side and to try and work together for a common good. Our challenge as Christians and as the Church is to demonstrate to the world that there is a better way.

No matter how distressed, forlorn, hopeless, despairing, discouraged, or despondent a people may be, it is our firm conviction that God can change situations. The movement of God’s strangely mysterious Spirit acting in our world has the power to change everything when we least expect it.

If you observe the history of this world, or even your own life journey, the futures have all taken strange twists and turns. I certainly never expected to be where I am at this point in my life. God’s Spirit always surprises us.

God’s presence within history is a mysterious force that turns expectations into disappointments and disappointments into new expectations.  The readings for this upcoming Fifth Sunday in Lent affirm that.

You will note that they all deal with death and resurrection. We hear the story of the raising of Lazarus in our Gospel lesson. Our Old Testament reading is the well-known valley of the dry bones narrative from Ezekiel. And the apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, ties those two stories together perfectly by stating: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”

These lessons invite us to reflect on what it means to embrace Jesus as the resurrection and the life and ask ourselves, what impact does that have on the shaping of our Christian lives?

Let me suggest these thoughts: Jesus’ life penetrates the world’s despair, darkness and death. Jesus is a pillar of confidence among a sea of doubters. Jesus is a model of faith for those whose faith is wavering.

As we have been making our way through Lent’s Forty Days we have heard the accounts of signs that Jesus performed so that people would believe. And I can’t think of a better way of closing this week that with the words of the apostle Paul once again. This is one of my favorite verses, which I often use as a final blessing:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  [Romans 15:13]

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·   This coming Sunday morning, April 2, I will be visiting with the people of God at Zion Lutheran Church, North Canton.

·   That same Sunday afternoon, I will install Pastor Bradley Ross, called to serve the people of God at Triune Lutheran Church, Broadview Heights, and the Lutheran Church of the Covenant, Maple Heights. The installation will take place at Covenant at 4:30 p.m. All rostered ministers are invited to vest and process. The color of the day is purple.

This installation will be somewhat emotional for me. As many of you may recall, I served the Lutheran Church of the Covenant for five years before being called to the office of Bishop. I have many fond memories of the people there and the ministry that was carried out in Jesus’ name.

Both Covenant and Triune have waited longer than usual for a new pastor. I pray for all God’s richest blessings on the two congregations as they begin this new life and partnership together.

+Bishop Abraham Allende

 

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MARCH 20, 2017

“The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

[1 Samuel 16:7b]

A few weeks ago, a man walked into a suburban Kansas City bar and opened fire on two men from India, killing one of them and seriously wounding the other. The shooter, a 51-year-old Navy veteran, hoped to kill more dark skinned foreigners.

The two victims were engineers who worked at Garmin, the company that developed the GPS technology. The shooter apparently thought they were of Middle Eastern descent. He yelled, “get out of my country,” before pulling the trigger.

Another 24-year old bar patron intervened, possibly preventing more loss of life. He, too, suffered injuries in the catastrophe. When asked why he stepped into the middle of danger, he responded, ““I just did what I felt was naturally right to do… I was just doing what anyone should have done for another human being. It’s not about where he’s from, or ethnicity. We’re all humans.”

The valiant young man is also a military vet, having served in the Marines. He is Lutheran, by the way; but that has little bearing on this story.

The point is that two men, both created and loved by God, saw two other of God’s creatures in a remarkably different light. For me, the connection between this horrific incident and the themes in the readings for this upcomign Fourth Sunday in Lent was inescapable.

The Old Testament reading tells the account of the selection and anointing of David as king of Israel.

The Gospel narrative is the story of Jesus healing a man who was blind from birth.

There is a lot to “see” in these readings; in particular, the lengthy Gospel narrative. Last week the grace that Christ offers the world was likened to water, and by now you may have gathered that this coming week the thematic link between the readings is that God’s mercy is likened to sight and light. The eyes are more than organs of the body.

We live in a culture that is oriented to image and appearance. And that becomes our downfall. But God sees in us what we cannot see in others and, for that matter, even in ourselves. God loves you for your whole being, not as you outwardly appear.  And our challenge as people of faith is to try to view others as God views them. Jesus comes to bring light in the midst of our darkness, to open our eyes and give us sight to both see and honor him as the Savior of the world. And for that we say, “Thanks be to God.” 

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This is quite an active week for me:

·  Wednesday, I travel to Sterling Heights, Michigan, for the funeral of the Rev. Diane Lundgren, at Christ Lutheran Church, the congregation where she was ordained. Pastor Lundgren, who died Monday, March 13, was rostered in our synod, although she had been on medical disability for several years. Please keep the family of Pastor Lundgren in your prayers.   

·  Sunday morning, March 26, I will be visiting with the people of God at St. John Lutheran Church, Canal Fulton.

· Later that afternoon, I will be in Cleveland at the celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Formula of Agreement, which brought the ELCA into full communion partnership with the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America, and the United Church of Christ. This service of Holy Communion will be held at 3:00pm EST at the Amistad Chapel located at 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115. Our preacher for the service is our own Presiding Bishop, the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton.

·  Following that service, I will be off to Washington, D.C. for our ELCA Advocacy Convening from March 27-29. We will gather under the theme, “Renewed in Christ to Witness.” ELCA Bishops and other church and community leaders will discuss and implement advocacy priorities and engage with our elected leaders on matters of importance to the ELCA. We will also visit our congressional offices and urge Congress to address urgent needs, including protection of vulnerable migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

May the light of Christ shine brightly within you this day, the remainder of this week and always!

 

+Bishop Abraham Allende

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MARCH 6, 2017

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

 [John 3:17]

This coming Sunday is the Second Sunday in Lent. Even though the majority of our Gospel readings in this year are from the Gospel according to Matthew, the next four weeks we will hear from the Gospel according to John. These four readings are some of the most vivid in all the gospels. Each one includes an encounter between a potential new convert and Jesus Christ. This week, we hear Jesus’ discussion with the Pharisee Nicodemus, which includes the best-known verse in all of Scripture, John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

While nearly all Christians know John 3:16, not many are aware that it is part of Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus. I also happen to have a particular preference for the closing verse of this passage, John 3:17 [cited above].

The Gospel of John in its entirety is a presentation of God’s love for us, and Jesus’ call for us to love one another. It might very well be known as “The Book of Love”, because from start to finish, John tells us that the entire life of Jesus is an expression of God’s love for God’s children. It is especially important to be mindful of this as we navigate the tense political climate in which we find ourselves these days. As people of faith, we are called to be a reflection of God’s love as Christ modeled for us and for all humankind.

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As I write these musings I am at the Conference of Bishops. I’m reminded that this is where I was five months ago, when I began these weekly reflections.

For the last several days our 65 synod bishops, together with the staff of the Churchwide office have gathered to discuss issues of importance to the life of the Church. We’ve had constructive conversations around the issues of leadership and congregations; and what it means to be church together. We’ve framed those conversations around questions that hopefully will help clarify roles and expectations of each other as the three expressions of the church: the congregational, the synodical, and the churchwide expression.

These are ongoing conversations. But then, difficult issues never are easily resolved in one meeting or one sitting; or, even at one level of discussion. The entire church should and must be involved. That’s the rationale behind Called Forward Together in Christ, a process of discernment that will determine the priorities of the church. We are about to enter the second stage of that process, and we’ll have more to say about that at our Synod Assembly in June.

Our time together began on Thursday morning, March 2, with regional meetings for the purpose of assigning graduating seminary students to synods so that they can begin interviewing for calls. We are happy to report that two seminarians will begin their first calls to parish ministry in Northeastern Ohio.  We welcome Katherine Jacob of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, and Cynthia Striker of Trinity Lutheran Seminary; and we give thanks to God for their willingness to serve and for the gifts they bring to the church.  

That first day was capped off with a spirit-filled service of common prayer with our Roman Catholic brothers in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. What a joyous celebration it was! The service was followed by a festive reception and dinner. If you didn’t get to see it on live stream, you can still watch it by following this link. I encourage you to take 90 minutes to view it by following this link [HERE]

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Although it is not a church commemoration, March 8 is International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. On a national level, in 1987, Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month.

Several women are commemorated this week on the Lutheran calendar of commemorations.

On March 7, the Church commemorates Perpetua and Felicity and companions, martyrs at Carthage, (202). Vibia Perpetua was a noblewoman, and Felicity her slave, who were catechumens at Carthage, northern Africa. They, with four other catechumens, had defied the Roman emperor who had forbidden conversions to Christianity, and were put to death in the amphitheater.

Harriet Tubman

On March 10, the Church commemorates Harriet Tubman, (1913); and Sojourner Truth,  (1883); renewers of society

Harriet Tubman, born into slavery, helped about 300 others to escape slavery until the institution was abolished. Sojourner Truth, whose birth name was Isabella, was freed after slavery was abolished, and discerned a call to be a preacher. Taking the name Sojourner Truth, she set out on an evangelistic journey, where people found her testimony to be deeply moving.

We give thanks to God for the faithful witness of these women and their contributions to society.

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I look forward to being with the good people of Messiah Lutheran Church in Fairview Park this coming Sunday.

May you be filled with, and be a reflection of God’s love this week and always!

 

+Bishop Abraham Allende