The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Coming home to N Street Village

This week begins the 100th birthday observance of German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose “ecumenical vision” was the topic Randolyn Kay Gardner explored for her master’s thesis. Gardner received her degree from Wesley Seminary, Washington, D.C., in 1999.

I’ve been on an extraordinary journey since I left seminary. And Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been with me every step of the way—including to the doorstep of N Street Village, a D.C.-based shelter and social services agency for homeless and low-income women. This remarkable organization, where I work as a grant writer, lies within the shadow of Luther Place Memorial, its founding congregation.

At the time I first became familiar with N Street Village, I was an editor at a high-end publishing house, contemplating the next move in my life. Once I read Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, I knew I would finally attend seminary, a lifelong dream.

Raised a Lutheran, I was aware of Bonhoeffer’s life story, especially his commitment to living faithfully in the world. Like other Lutherans, I was touched by how he faced overwhelming challenges with steadfast courage amid a global war and disintegrating society.

It wasn’t until I began to read his works, though, that I found a kindred spirit in him, especially his firm belief that the church must be present and witnessing to the wounded of this earth. I was so taken with Bonhoeffer that I focused my master’s thesis on his ecumenical efforts, especially the struggle to preserve the church as a manifestation of God’s kingdom.

Which brings me to N Street Village. After graduating from seminary with a master’s degree in theological studies, I chose to work within the nonprofit sector as a professional fundraiser. After stints at several organizations, I learned of the opportunity to serve at N Street Village, where I had volunteered a decade earlier.

I knew the village had started as an outreach effort by a socially aware Lutheran congregation in downtown Washington, D.C., located a few blocks from the White House. Luther Place parishioners and then-pastor, John Steinbruck, invited the homeless into the church for shelter and comfort. They believed it was unconscionable to leave the poor on the streets every night. Practicing a theology of hospitality, Luther Place exemplified “the Church of the Word,” a designation by Bonhoeffer to describe a Christ-centered community.

Since 1973 N Street Village has expanded from a makeshift shelter operated by Luther Place to a full-fledged, nonprofit organization serving more than 600 homeless and low-income women every year. Today it encompasses a night shelter, day center, wellness center, case management, rehabilitation and employment services, group homes, and low- and moderate-income housing for families and individuals.

With the support of the community, N Street Village completed an ambitious capital campaign, resulting in the construction of a 150,000 square-foot administrative building and housing complex. Out of the congregation’s humble endeavor to care for its neighbors sprang a comprehensive outreach program to the homeless that now serves as a model.

Getting reacquainted with Bonhoeffer led me back to my faith and the church—a living, breathing community that reaches out and embraces the dispossessed of the earth. Passing Luther Place every day on my way to N Street Village reminds me of Bonhoeffer’s witness and our call to be faithful servants to our brethren in need.

This week's front page features:

The March issue of The Lutheran magazine is now available on-line.

The little church that could: Chicago congregation breathes new life into Roman Catholic school, rectory. (Photo at right.)

Memorial held for ELCA hostage: Family believes he was murdered in Iraq.

Stop, look and listen: South Carolina youth learn creative prayer.

Faith and science. Lutheran scientist: 'How I search for pieces of the creation puzzle.' (From the February issue.)

Also: To prevent famine, Kenyan Lutherans seek help.

Also: Change starts now.

Also: God of surprises.

Visit our front page to read these articles > > >

This week in our discussion forums:

Robert H. Kraus Jr. (right), a member of the ELCA Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology, is leading an already lively discussion about faith and science in our discussion forums.

He's taking questions and comments from The Lutheran's readers today through Feb. 14.

Join the discussion > > >

This week on our blog:

Eavesdrop on the discussion around The Lutheran staff's water cooler as Andrea Pohlmann (right) and Julie Sevig both share their reflections on this year's Super Bowl commercials, especially the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty ad.

Amber Leberman blogs about press freedom and responsibility in light of the controversy surrounding editorial-cartoon portrayals of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

Elizabeth Hunter, who has just returned from a family trip to Denmark, shares a recipe for Danish rye bread.

Sonia Solomonson writes about the anxiety that surrounds us during times of transition and uncertainty.

Tell us!

The Lutheran's readers helped us decide what types of stories we'll tell this year. (Choose "future issues" at our front page to find out more.) Now it's your turn to help us shape two upcoming articles.

How does faith change?
Describe your faith journey, giving special attention to events in your life that have shaped it. What tools (practices, passages, elements of worship, hymns, etc.) have been helpful in strengthening it? Send 300-400 words to Julie Sevig by Wednesday, March 1.

Why you stay, or why you’ve left …
Are you someone who has deep disagreements with the church and remain connected to it anyway? Tell us why. Or are you someone whose sharp disagreements with the church caused you to leave? Tell us why. This can be why you as an individual or family stay or left, or written from a congregational perspective. Send 300-400 words to
Julie Sevig by Monday, May 1.

Looking for a speaker?

Is your congregation, synod or organization planning an event? Do you need a speaker? The staff members of The Lutheran would love to bring our perspectives to your organization.

We've traveled around the world, reporting on what's happening in the Lutheran church, and we keep our finger on the pulse of the ELCA in our daily work.

We've given sermons, participated in panels, led adult forums and prayer breakfasts, and given workshops.

Call us at (773) 380-2540 or e-mail us to find out how we might meet your needs.

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February issue


Embracing diversity