“A Tale of Three Seminaries”…A Reappraisal

As a progressive post-fundamentalist evangelical at Bethel Seminary – having began in 2008, but having served 2 elca congregations as well since ’08 i totally agree with what Sara has outlined here. I didn’t have the insider scoop she has, but when i read Tony’s blog i thought, come on dude, you’re better than that. We desperately need all 3 schools in the Twin Cities, and the world. All 3 have important parts to play and they are succeeding and failing to the degree they are supported by the rise or fall of their home bases. Lots of re-imagining to do… Don’t give up.

PS – Sara is the reason I was at Bethel in the first place, she was an amazing honest admissions person – and she is the reason i stayed when I knew my political and theological ideology didn’t match the school’s mission 100%. It is a very ecumenical school, it’s not marketed as such, and i still would highly recommend it – loudly, over Luther – any day.

Sara Wilhelm Garbers


This post has been a long time in coming. Since 2008, like many of you, I’ve witnessed the conversations about the future of theological education online, in print, and in person…and specifically, have seen a lot of recent talk about the three Protestant seminaries of the Twin Cities (esp. on FB). Much of the discussion is doomsday, and I’ve wanted to counter it because I think it’s misguided (and maddening), but I haven’t taken the time. My reticence to say something changed the moment I read Tony Jones’s 9/9 post on Patheos, entitled “A Tale of Three Seminaries” … and so I decided it was time to speak up.

My Connection to this Conversation

I’m joining this conversation because I love Luther, Bethel, and United. I am a M.Div. graduate from Bethel Seminary (2011), and during my time there I took three classes at United Theological Seminary. Additionally…

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Bonhoeffer – some thoughts on the Psalms

I’m taking Leading Congregational Worship at Bethel Seminary (St Paul) with Prof. Andy Rowell. A good theologian. One of our readings this week was part of Bonhoeffer’s “The Prayerbook of the Bible.” 

As 1 of our class assignments, we’re reading 5 Psalms a day for 30 days to go thru all 150 and writing a short reflection each day for accountability. A good practice i’ve fallen away from and glad restore. 

Bonhoeffer says,

Every day we should read and pray several psalms, if possible with others, so that we read through the book repeatedly during the year and continue to delve into it ever more deeply. We also ought not to select psalms at our own discretion, exhibiting disrespect to the prayerbook of the Bible and thinking that we know better than even God does what we should pray. In the early church it was nothing unusual to know “the entire David” by heart. In one eastern church this was a prerequisite for an ecclesiastical office. The church father Jerome says that in his time one could hear the Psalms being sung in the fields and gardens. The Psalter filled the life of early Christianity. But more important than all of this is that Jesus died on the cross with words from the Psalms on his lips. Whenever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure is lost to the Christian church. With its recovery will come unexpected power.

p. 162

The humbling frustrating exhilarating part of being a youth worker in 2014


A grandma of one of the confirmation students came into the office today. She’s a rocking grandma (well all grandmas rock, but this 1 is particularly cool). Recently she was talking to her grandson who had just arrived home from going with a pal from another church’s mission trip to Duluth. She asked him, doesn’t our church have anything like that, though?

He said he’s never heard of anything – no, he was pretty sure we don’t have anything like that.

Okaaayyyyy – I’ve only spent most of my hours since March trying to line up summer stuff (events, trips, serving opps, whatevs) for my families and here’s where it always always always falls apart. We’ve got a wordpress. A twitter. A flickr. I send out tons of Constant Contact emails (probably more than i should, but their templates are too fun and i love being able to spy on who has opened what and when…). We have a Remind text-blast system. We have a closed Facebook group. I put announcements in the church bulletin each week. Short of going door-to-door, sky writing, carrier pigeons, or phone banking (please God don’t ever make me phone bank again, yuck), in my opinion, it’s very difficult to not know what’s going on.

But my lament doesn’t count. It doesn’t matter, because here’s a family i was called to serve and for any number of reasons, they aren’t getting my notices. No email template will make a difference here. Whatever fonts i chose and pictures i selected matter. Reality is, this kid didn’t get the note – and he’s not connected.

You know, so of course i pull up the family’s email to make sure they’re on our list and then check their history (yes they are on the mail list and yes they’ve been sent tons of emails the last 2 years we’ve been e-blasting) – and most have not been opened, but some were. Tried to explain to grandma – this is life now. I fully know i’m one of MANY pieces of communication that family receives, and … if they choose not to worship with us (where they would probably see this stuff in the bulletin) and choose not to communicate with me… well…?

Every youth worker knows what i’m talking about. She wasn’t exactly mad or accusatory – but it calls into question a lot of things. I get a paycheck every two weeks, and sometimes i have to be honest – i worry someone’s going to be like, dude, there’s nothing going on for youth here… Even tho i plan so much stuff. What do we pay her for? [I am being super vulnerable to admit that, but it comes with due cause – I was laid off once and left 2 churches in part because of finances.)

I told grandma – times have changed. These families today have at least 3 awesome valuable offers for every night of the week (not counting reality tv – which i really miss, because Wednesday nights are usually good show). I don’t fault the families for not staying connected – they want to do everything! It’s not because kids are stomping their feet saying they hate church and don’t want to go. Most of the time its because the schedule is over-crowded and something had to give. And we are Lutheran so there’s that stupid grace flag flying over the whole thing and messing up my chance to be law! (That was a joke – if you think i’m saying grace is stupid, you don’t read this blog very regularly). And the missing piece? Her grandson never made any friends at our church, so why would he want to be connected?

He had a connection to a friend at another church, and i didn’t exactly earn my paycheck when i chose to rejoice with her instead that he found a church that was fun, a friend to go with, and had a transformational experience on a mission trip. I know the youth director at the at other church. They are much bigger than us, have had a lot more stability in staffing than we have had, and their ministry has a ton going on, bearing fruit. Part of me wanted to say, please encourage him to switch to over there – friends make all the difference. I can’t give him friends here. 

Ready to launch another ministry year (i hate the “launch” concept – that’s another blog post tho), and it’s my expectation that we’ll do better at connecting students this time around. Lessen the excuses: “We have students from close 40+ schools going here, but no more than 3 at any school…” “Parents are to blame, they lost the priority of Church!” “Sports took over the world…”

Nah, i want to just keep kicking at the gates of hell and say – no matter what I’m here to serve and i want these students to affirm their faith loudly. Let’s do it!

Do you know someone suffering from depression? This is partly what it’s like…

People who have depression are like people who are all tethered to machines and are quarantined in the ICU – only they have to take their machines and wires and cables and charts and spend all their energy hiding it all day long to make everyone else at ease. It takes all the energy we have and it scares off anyone who would come as a doctor or nurse to check our vitals and write things on charts.

Someone who lives with depression knows all the coping mechanisms, the medicines, the time alone, the cloud that won’t leave, the anxious voices that come racing at times, those are all part of the equipment that goes with us everywhere we go. To unhook from 1 part or any of it only means increased sickness and more darkness.

A person suffering from depression doesn’t know how to ask for your help and doesn’t need your judgement or your home remedies. They live under the weight of their own negative self-talk 24/7 and have come up with more home remedies than you could ever imagine. They don’t need you to say “why can’t you just be the way you were” or “why can’t you just feel better? You have so much going for you! You have a good life.”

They might need a quieter you. They might need a more loving or accepting look. They might need some hand holding. They might need a text instead of a phone call. They might need just someone to go for a walk with and talk about whatever is on their mind, even if you think it’s ridiculous and skirting the issues. Let them go on about politics or blogs they are reading or things that are masking how low they feel. Engage that – if you can. Unless you are their therapist, don’t prescribe cures.

The best thing you can do is remain and pray. If you can’t – the best thing you can do is be honest about that and get your own help. Be a support – choose to love.