Spring/Summer 2023

Volume XXXVIII, Number 1

In this issue

How we do church tillsammans in Malmö by Barb Swanson and Steve Swanson

This is the text that Pastor F. M. Johnson used to begin his sermon at the 1885 organizational meeting of the Covenant Church—though I am certain that he read those words in Swedish! It speaks to the deep call to unity which marked those faithful pioneers. That same spirit of unity in Christ has impressed me as we have lived and worked in Malmö, Sweden for the past six years.

General revelation and Bible reading on tough topics by Mark Safstrom

It has been my habit lately to begin the day by reading the lectionary texts and the newspaper, both on my smartphone. The lectionary I find on sites like WorkingPreacher.org, through Luther Seminary, and my newspaper of choice has been a Washington paper, the Kitsap Sun (whose editor happens to be Pietisten’s own David Nelson!). Having these resources available wherever I am has made this double reading habit rather easy to maintain and inexcusable to miss. Though the news headlines can be disquieting, having some word or phrase in mind from a psalm or other scripture passage usually brings a calming reassurance or needed change in my perspective.

Walking by the spirit by Donna Ahlberg

Early in the pandemic, I went to my first silent retreat—I mean there wasn’t much else going on socially, right? I found the experience to be so profound that I participated in another one. My spiritual experience could be summed up by saying that “God speaks in the silence if you listen.” When life quieted down to the point where I could really just shut up and listen, the spiritual lesson became “the Living Word comes alive in the life that happens around you.” God has been showing me through life events that scripture comes alive all the time if we open ourselves to seeing it.

Created in the image of God by Ryan Eikenbary-Barber

It is always an honor to preach the Gospel. Today’s scripture is a strange passage to speak on for any preacher. Yet, a wise, old preacher named Glen Wiberg coached me to preach out of the lectionary especially when it feels uncomfortable. Glen taught that the Holy Spirit moves in wonderful ways when we submit to the Word of God, rather than trying to make the Bible fit what we want to say.

Remembering Dachau: PFC Norbert E. Johnson by Stephen E. Pitts

On April 29, 1945, Dachau concentration camp was liberated by the 42nd Division of the US Army. Among the soldiers of the “Rainbow Division” as it was better known, was nineteen year old PFC Norbert E. Johnson of Gladstone, Michigan. Like other liberating troops, Private Johnson saw firsthand the thousands of dead bodies; many just lying around and others in box cars filled with the dead and dying. Some of the troops were so shaken and appalled by what they witnessed that they machine gunned some of the remaining Nazi guards (most had fled) before officers stopped them. The next day, Army officers insisted that nearby residents come into the camp to take responsibility for burying the bodies that were, in most cases, piled on top of each other. It was a hellish scene as the realities of the “final solution” were encountered.

“Love your enemies…” by Steve Elde

“I say to those of you who listen,” Jesus said, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and if someone takes your coat, give them your shirt as well…If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even sinners love those who love them.”

To be determined by G. Timothy Johnson

This recent season of commencement speeches reminded me of my own “career” giving such speeches. From 1975 to 2009 I was the Medical Editor of ABC News and therefore very much in the public eye. One result was receiving many invitations to give commencement speeches. I quickly adopted a policy of each year accepting the first two who called.

Quiche by Bonnie Sparrman

If any food has ever suffered unfair slander, it’s quiche. Hard to say whether that’s due to its cutesy two-hundred-year old moniker from a remote corner of Alsace, or to the fact that it’s nearly impossible to find a truly excellent one at a restaurant, or because in the eighties an author who satirized masculinity claimed quiche was strictly ladies’ food. Some of you may remember Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche (1982).

Let’s hear it for conventicles by Greg Asimakoupoulos

Recently I came across my old student pictorial directory from Fuller Seminary. I browsed the yellowed pages of that black-and-white photo album, complete with snail mail addresses and landline phone numbers. It dawned on me how technology has become part of our lives. Turning the pages, I realized this was the original Facebook—just a book of faces. And young faces at that!

Summer Dusk by Ann Boaden

Stones of help by Gregory Sager

My father and my mother were both born in Buffalo, New York and were both raised in the working-class suburb of Buffalo called West Seneca. My father in particular grew up on the western edge of West Seneca, a stone’s throw away from the Buffalo city line. His neighborhood was called Ebenezer, and my father attended Ebenezer Elementary School as a boy.

A Pietist's Bookshelf by John E. Phelan Jr.

Reading Isaac Sharp’s The Other Evangelicals was like revisiting my entire life. Although he begins with the fundamentalist/modernist debate of the early 20th century, the focus of the book is upon the post-World War II neo-evangelical movement. The contentious efforts to define and delimit evangelicalism, to say who was in and who was out, were all quite familiar, and in some cases, painfully familiar to me.

An open letter to the ECC congregations

In November 2022, a group of Covenant clergy circulated an open letter, inviting other clergy and laity to voice faithful dissent in the pending vote at the Evangelical Covenant Church’s 2023 Annual Meeting (“Gather”) on the removal of two churches over LGBTQ inclusion. Quest Church withdrew from the denomination voluntarily, prior to the annual meeting, but Awaken Community was removed involuntarily by vote of a majority of delegates. Pietisten is reprinting this letter here, with permission, as a resource for our readers.

Opening statement to the Covenant Ministerium by Micah Witham

This statement was given by Covenant pastor, Micah Witham, at the meeting of the Ministerium of Covenant clergy during the denominational annual meeting in Kansas City, Missouri in June 2022. Under review at that meeting was the removal of the pastor’s credentials, the background for which is given below. The subsequent vote failed to reach the necessary two thirds majority. This statement is reprinted with permission as a resource for Pietisten’s readers.

Statement on Quest Church’s disaffiliation with the ECC by Gail Song Bantum

This public statement was made prior to the Covenant Annual Meeting in June 2023, where the congregation’s involuntary dismissal would have been voted upon. The congregation decided instead to disaffiliate voluntarily. This statement is reprinted with permission as a resource for Pietisten’s readers.