The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Birkenstocks or high heels--it's all community

In 1995 a friend told me: "You know a 'Lutheran Girl' by her flat hair and Birkenstocks." I looked around me—sure enough, there were Lutheran Girls everywhere, including in the mirror.

I was as Lutheran as you could get. From the time I was baptized, I went to a Lutheran church, a Lutheran college, worked at a Lutheran Bible camp, did Lutheran Volunteer Corps and went to seminary at (you guessed it) Luther in St. Paul, Minn. This was all followed by participation and employment at various Lutheran churches around the country.

Naturally, when my husband got a job teaching at a small Wesleyan college in western New York, my first query on www.elca.org was "Congregations in or near Houghton, N.Y." Nothing. So for the first five years in New York, we commuted 90 minutes to attend a church where we felt comfortable and where my husband served as the choir director.

We managed to keep the folks in our community at arms-length during this time. What could we possibly have in common with a bunch of conservative, evangelical Wesleyans? And why would they want to befriend a couple of Democrats from Minnesota?

Our family (which now included three children) faithfully made the trip once a week to our beloved church. Our pastor there preached to us about what it meant to live in community and to be accepting of one another. My husband and I soon found ourselves having the same conversation on the drive home each week: was our calling as Christians to get together and huddle around people who thought the same, dressed the same and got teary-eyed at the same hymns? Or were we being called to be part of our own community and possibly provide a voice for deeper conversations?

Membership in a congregation where we felt comfortable was what was appropriate for us at the time. It fed us in ways that we needed to be fed. However, week after week we heard messages from our pastor and other voices that kept nudging us back to our little community.

Finally, we decided to stop hiding in what was comfortable and safe. We began to attend the church in our town. Now we attend Sunday school with the same people who brought us bread and cookies when we moved into town. We pray with the same people who prayed for me when my father died. And our kids learn the stories of Jesus with the kids they've been playing with their whole lives.

We still disagree about certain issues with some of the folks in our congregation, but that's OK. We are learning how to maintain a respectful dialogue with our friends and remain friends at the same time. And we are learning that some issues aren't worth fighting about relative to the "big picture." That is, liberal or conservative, Lutheran or Wesleyan, Birkenstocks or high heels.  Christians are Christians. We share the simple, common purpose of loving one another in Christ Jesus. 


Gerry Miller

Gerry Miller

Posted at 12:24 pm (U.S. Eastern) 10/12/2010

This article speaks to me but my situation is somewhat different.  I am a member of a very conservative ELCA congregation and as a social justice Christian, I struggle with being an outsider in my home church.  Thanks for your helpful words!

Note: Gerry Miller edited this post at 1:53 pm on 10/12/2010.

Paul & Mary Knapp

Paul & Mary Knapp

Posted at 5:56 pm (U.S. Eastern) 10/12/2010

The last line in this article says it best but I do not believe it is healthy to continue indefinitely in an uncomfortable situation.  Loving them forever, obviously, clearly, and no matter the disagreement is appropriate in my view until such time as you find comfort for yourself or see better choices clearly and confidently.  God has not called me on the phone to confirm this view but I suspect He will let you know when you have "finished the race" and can move to something that supports you more comfortably.  My, my I do run on..... 

Gary Sterner

Gary Sterner

Posted at 5:41 pm (U.S. Eastern) 10/13/2010

A good article with an interesting, arguable point about loving your neighbor. We are asked to do this all the time, i.e., to avoid subjects of disagreement, like politics. I sometimes worry about avoiding too much but then remember that I chose and married someone whose politics are quite different from mine. It has worked for us for 50 years this Fall. 

Julian Grev

Julian Grev

Posted at 1:02 pm (U.S. Eastern) 11/23/2010

A great sharing! Called to be a witness! If they are willing to hear you, you do well to embrace your differences. Think what a sad sound it would be if a violin had only one post. Remember, what a boring book the Bible would be if there were not so many differences within and between the books. Embrace the diversity, sing in harmony, avoid unisong.

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