Tag Archives: ELCA

The Faces of Grief

James H. Scott Apr 15, 1940 - Jul 2, 2004

James H. Scott (Intern Jennifer’s father)
Apr 15, 1940 – Jul 2, 2004


A few days ago (Saturday, July 2nd) was the anniversary of my father’s death. And I must confess that with the busy-ness of my life this past week, I did not even realize it until I saw a Facebook post from my sister talking about how much she missed him. And that made me think about the one and only time that I have ever tried to visit my father’s grave.

It was on a Memorial Day a few years ago… my mother asked if I would go with her to the cemetery. It was a breezy, sunny day… one my father would have enjoyed. I was surprised by my mother’s request at the time. You see, neither she nor I had visited this grave since my father passed away nine years before. We lived only five minutes from the cemetery (and I passed it at least once a week on my way about town), but in all of these years neither of us had gone there even once.

Out of respect for my mother’s request, I agreed. And then I found myself walking up and down the rows of gravestones, looking for where he was buried, wondering what I would do or say once we found him. I mean, I hadn’t been here in nearly nine years… what did that say for me as a grieving daughter, one who still misses the sound of his hearty “belly-laughs” and still wishes I could feel his arms around me in that bear-hug that lifted me off my feet?

The Women of the ELCA has a resource called The Faces of Grief. The opening of this resource begins by reminding us, “When we grieve, we each walk a different journey. No one can tell you how to grieve. Your process is your process.”

So, perhaps my way to grieve is not sitting at the foot of a gravestone and thinking of the day of my father’s funeral. I’d like to think that my grieving takes form when I hear one of “our” songs or when I hold a letter he wrote me in my hands and trace his “Love, Dad” with my fingers. I’d like to think that my grieving is less about a visit to the cemetery and more about pausing for a moment whenever I think of him.

We never did find the gravestone that day… but as we walked each row, we thought about James Hugh Scott… father, husband, grandfather and friend. And we felt connected to him in those moments…

As The Faces of Grief says, “What does grief look like? It comes in such a variety of colors and hues, and it wears many faces.” Mine is just one version. What is yours?


JMichael 3This is Intern Jennifer Michael’s final blog post.  She and her pug, Squishy will be returning to Dubuque, Iowa next week to begin her final year of seminary at Wartburg Theological Seminary.  She wants everyone to know how deeply grateful she is for the time she spent with our congregation at Trinity.  She will be missed!

Who is Christian?


In college I took Modern Jewish Thought, a course covering the last few hundred years of Jewish theology in one semester. It required a hectic pace and a lot of reading, much of which I failed to do. At one point, Prof. Benjamin assigned an essay “Who is Jewish?” Like any good liberal arts student, I avoided giving a direct answer. But as I worked though my texts and resources I realized that, for once, my vague answer was completely correct! It turned out that there was a very active discussion among Jewish theologians with answers including maternal lineage, observance of practices and law, physical traits, degree of importance placed on Zionism, and many others. I concluded that this was an open question, because none of these answers seemed quite right. They all cut out some people who didn’t fit the offered definition, yet clearly were Jewish by any intuitive understanding.

So why don’t we see this question in Christianity as often? Are Christians too free spirited to settle on a definition? Is defining who is Christian a pedantic and pointless exercise? Are we so individualist that we let anyone who finds it convenient to join or leave our group to do so as often as they choose to self-define? Does God’s new covenant with the Gentiles through Jesus and the Spirit preclude humans attempting an earthy definition? Some other reason?

Intuitively, we know Christians when we see them do Christian things, and voice Christian beliefs. This matches up nicely with the Catholic doctrine of being saved through works, and the Protestant doctrine of being saved through faith and grace. Christianity doesn’t have the complex cultural, geographic, and hereditary elements, that Judaism does. So maybe we got lucky, and the definition is easier, like my biology professor’s tongue-in-cheek definition for a species:  If it acts like a duck and talks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck!

I still think there needs to be a proper definition for what makes us Christians, but until then, we can make do with the tongue-in-cheek definition even though it doesn’t cover every Christian:
If it acts like a Christian and believes like a Christian, then it’s probably a Christian!

“Quack!”… Excuse me, I meant, “Hallelujah!”



Charles Nye, (MS Geology, BA Religion, BA CompSci) is a research scientist with the Carbon Management Institute. He is currently evaluating alternative Rare Earth Element resources around Wyoming.

Me and We


Last week, Sally and I celebrated our 44th wedding anniversary. What was going to be a fancy Italian/French dinner for the two of us at Bella’s in Saratoga ended up with four friends at the Bear Tree Tavern and Café in Centennial. (I can highly recommend both!) As they say in small town newspapers, “A good time was had by all.” Interestingly, the four guests represented three couples, with two of them having lost spouses. So, out of the four couples of us, all have or had marriages of 40 years or more. And, while the national divorce rate is around 50%, most of our friends are in their first marriage. Some of that is generational. When couples got married in the 60s and 70s, the anticipation was that you would stay married. Since most of our friends are of that age group, that anticipation was the norm. Sadly, I don’t think it is that way anymore. (One other interesting factoid, Sally and I were 22 when we got married. As this is our 44th anniversary, it means we have been married for two-thirds of our lives… to each other! Or another way of thinking of it, we’ve been married twice as long as we haven’t! Pretty neat!)

So, why is it that most of our friends have beat the national statistic? Easily, I would say that most of them have a church (or synagogue or mosque or temple) association. But, what is it about that association? I don’t think it is specifically the rejection of divorce that most religions profess, but rather the outlook of ourselves in relationship to God and to the world. It is a sense of something greater than “just me.” When we are “me” oriented, relationship becomes secondary. When we are “we” oriented, that relationship is our definition. Hence, serving others reflects into serving me as well. It is a gift to the other and a gift to ourselves. The belief system also gives a way for forgiving those sins, great and small, that we live with daily. Sally has sometimes intimated that I may be a little difficult to live with on rare occasion. Go figure. But there is also a way forgive those ills that I do. Forgiveness acts as a pressure relief valve to keep the relationship from blowing up!

It reminds me of a saying that I heard long ago and remembered. “Love is not two people together looking lovingly into each other’s eyes, it is two people standing next to each other looking the same direction into the future.” My view has always been to the West, across a wide prairie, to some mountains and a red/golden sunset that we see from our living room. God is good.



Thomas V. Edgar, P.E., Ph.D., F.ASCE, is an emeritus professor in Civil Engineering after teaching at UW for 34 years. He received the Ellbogen Lifetime Teaching award in 2014. He and wife Sally have two adult children, Erik and Elizabeth.

Being honest with God…


Psalm 27 begins with these confident words of trust: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” The psalmist continues in this vein for a good while and even says, “God will shelter me in the day of trouble and set me high upon a rock.” It seems like nothing can cause him to waver.

But then comes a crack in that shield of confidence. “Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger… do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.” The ache in this plaintive cry for help is almost palpable. The psalmist is so beset by his enemies that he fears that God has forsaken him. How can such disparity in thoughts and feelings be contained in the same prayer?

This contradictory mix has a beauty all its own. Why? The psalmist feels comfortable being honest with God. Without reservation he expresses the tangled muddle of his experience. Underlying this honest expression is a trust that God hears and will answer. How reassuring this is on those days when my thoughts swing from buoyant confidence to hesitant second-guessing.

This is why Psalm 27 is one of my favorites. It reminds me that real fear can live alongside honest faith. Doubt can hold hands with genuine trust. In fact, both are essential to an authentic relationship with God. It comes down to this: God expects us to ask our deepest questions and to voice to our most troubling doubts. And… God promises to listen.

The psalmist knows that holding this tension between doubt and trust involves a good bit of patience. He concludes his prayer with this: “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord.”

Thanks to Lindsay P. Armstrong’s for inspiration in her commentary on Psalm 27 (Feasting on the Word, Lent Series C)


Pastor Rachel Larson is the pastor of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Laramie, Wyoming.  She is spouse of Don Holmstrom, mother of Susanna Holmstrom, and caretaker of Dooley the dog.

Living out your faith…

Andrea with kids

My journey toward affirming my faith started in the summer after 7th grade when my class went to Luther Park Bible Camp for a week. I am still in touch with some of my counselors from that week. In 8th grade, my class was taught by the associate pastor, and in 9th grade, we were taught by the senior pastor. I remember showing Pastor Chet how to hold a softball bat correctly (he tried holding it like a cricket bat), and I remember Pastor Sjolie keeping me after class so I could hunt through the Bible to find the scriptural basis for the text of “This is the feast” (perhaps to test if I would be seminary-worthy a few years later?). Other than that, confirmation was pretty uneventful, and I made public affirmation of my faith in September, 1988, at the same church where my mom and her mom were confirmed.

Fast forward about 14 years. I was on internship at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Richland Center, Wisconsin, in 2001-02, and I was tasked with teaching 8th grade confirmation. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t challenging! I had a class of nine or ten very active, very honest, very loud kids, wrangled in cooperation with one of the adults of the congregation. We went through a lot together—9/11, the sudden death of one boy’s Lenten mentor, one student leaving mid-year because of personal issues. We had a lot of fun interpreting key Bible stories in ways we all understood. When illustrating the day of creation when God created the stars in the sky, one student drew Brett Favre in his Packer uniform—particularly painful for me, a diehard Vikings fan! At the end of the year, the Mountain Dew Code Red ban was lifted, hot dogs were grilled, and we played five-a-side soccer on the church lawn.

It has been a delight to stay in touch with those young people throughout the years. Some have struggled more than others, but they are all certain of the vocations to which God has called each of them—graphic artist, neuroscientist, cake decorator, computer engineer, occupational therapist, to name a few. They are all living out their faith in different ways. They all knew that their confirmation day wasn’t their graduation from the church, but rather the beginning of a new journey of discovery and continued faith formation, a journey that will never really end. It’s the same for all of us. We learn how to hold a softball bat, how much caffeine is in a bottle of Code Red (a lot!), why <insert quarterback name here> is the best QB in the history of <insert your favorite team here>, how hard it is to lose the Wilmers in our lives, and how the Holy Spirit guides each of us in our journey of faith.


andreaAndrea Toven is a radio broadcast engineer and head of electronic component sales for Smiling Dog Systems. She and her husband Shane, an applications engineer for Linear Acoustic, live in Laramie with their four-legged children Callie, Leo, and Norman.

Finding Sacredness


As a young boy attending worship, I sat on the front pew next to my Aunt Frances, who played the organ and piano at the small Baptist church.

The pastor was Clyde Majors, a seminary graduate serving his first parish. (Dr. Majors would become a learned and highly regarded professor in a Baptist college.)

Clyde Majors was a very good preacher but an even more memorable song leader. He conducted the congregation in singing each hymn. As the organ played the introduction, he would stand at the front of the center aisle. And then, his hands tracing the air in graceful flourishes, everyone joined in singing, especially Brother Majors himself, whose head was lifted high as his voice boomed throughout the nave.

Because of him, I became fascinated by the hymns and songs of the Church. “Love Lifted Me” and “The Old Rugged Cross” I found thrilling. Later, when I joined the Lutheran Church, I discovered a whole new set of wonderful hymns.

Inspired by what I heard, I started writing hymn texts myself. Later, my friend and colleague Chad Winterfeldt set the words to music.

All this is to say that a time of worship can be inspirational in many different ways. Through the preaching, singing, and praying, through the artistry of paintings and stained glass, through the lovely delicacy of candle flames or through the simple act of sitting in a pew surrounded by friends in faith, we are inspired—inspired to live the Christian life.

A recent hymn text I wrote, “Our Graceful Day,” speaks of this inspiration.

Our graceful day comes with the Son,
Our Holy Christ, the Risen One!
And death itself has been denied
By Love enfleshed, the Crucified.
The Spoken Word brings forth the earth
And fills this life with holy worth,
And lifts the hopeless from the dead
Let us rejoice that night has fled!
We merit not the gifts received,
If tis not so, our faiths deceived,
And we would be most surely lost
And in the restless waves be tossed.
We lift our hands in prayerful praise,
For it is God who fills our days
With love and peace and endless grace,
Forever held in God’s embrace

May you experience “love and peace and endless grace” as you worship.


Don Holmstrom is a pastor of the ELCA, having served most recently at First Lutheran Church in St. Peter, Minnesota. He also writes novels, hymn texts, and musicals for youth. He’s a native of Texas, husband of Rachel Larson, father of Susanna Holmstrom, caretaker of Dooley the dog.

This is what I believe…


In my 38 year teaching career, I taught Soil Mechanics I about 60 times. I remember spending an immense amount of time developing my first set of notes, but the outline I produced by the second year remained the basis for the rest of my teaching career. Every time I taught it, I would actively think about how I could make improvements on the notes, the presentations and the labs. Once I got that first set of notes completed, however, every subsequent change was merely incremental. A new procedure had been developed to include, a new concept or insight gave me something I could tweak. But, my early notes folders looked pretty similar to my later notes folders.

I was often asked if I ever got bored teaching the class that many times. My answer was always no. The topic was something I felt was fundamentally important to civil and architectural engineers and that their understanding of the material was significant to the “safety, health and welfare of the public”, the focus of the First Canon of the Code of Ethics of the American Society of Civil Engineers. To those that would understand, I said that teaching the class was “like teaching confirmation…This is what I believe”.

Visiting different Christian churches has a similar feeling. Usually the basic structure of the liturgy is similar, occasional parts are different, or there, or not there. But in all liturgies, a creed is always spoken, either the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed. The Apostle’s Creed is based closely on the “Old Roman Creed” which was first referenced in the 2nd century. Legend has it that the Apostles wrote it before they left Jerusalem, each contributing one article of the whole. The Creed has been consistent in all languages, times and theologies since the 8th century with essentially no tweaking. It also is a statement of “This is what I believe.” To me, it is a miracle of the faith we can profess a statement so simple yet so profound that defines to all who we are as Christians. Thanks be to God!



Thomas V. Edgar, P.E., Ph.D., F.ASCE, is an emeritus professor in Civil Engineering after teaching at UW for 34 years. He received the Ellbogen Lifetime Teaching award in 2014. He and wife Sally have two adult children, Erik and Elizabeth.

The Time-Traveling Capability of Grace


The concept of time has always fascinated me. From early elementary short stories I wrote in Detroit to high school “space” poetry I created in the rural countryside of Southern Ohio, time has always been there to push my imagination. However, it was not until my Spring semester of my Freshman year at Albion College that I realized Christ held time just as important in all of his actions.

Putting into action Albion’s liberal education model, I took my first philosophy class as an elective that fateful Spring: Logic 101 taught by Dr. Ned Garvin. Little did I know that single class would change my life forever. Within the course of 60 days, I would change my major to Philosophy, Dr. Garvin would remain my mentor and good friend for another ten years (when he unfortunately passed away at too young of an age), modern thought and news reporting suddenly became illogic rubbish, and I would spend the next four years neck-deep in contemplation over one subject: time.

And the first place I examined this concept of time was within a subject I had studied most of my life before that Spring in 1997: Christianity. As many of you already know, Christ constantly refers to numbers in his teachings and the Bible consistently uses these same numbers throughout the Old and New Testaments. Furthermore, you may also realize that seasons and festivals, all of which our Church calendar is still based, continually have significant importance to Christ’s actions and words. So, Christ cared about the time of year (i.e. Passover), the importance of numbers (like 3), and the passing of time (such as hours and days). However, since Christ was God, he not only lived within time, he also lived outside of it in the realm we call infinity.

Take the Transfiguration for example. Matthew 17 is a truly fascinating chapter in the history of Christ, not only as a foretelling of Christ’s resurrection and stature as the Son of God, but also in how Christ transcends the concept of time. Within the same sliver of time, Christ interacts with a living Moses and Elijah, as well as the currently living Peter, James, and John. Considering Moses died on earth about 1500 years before Christ was born, this is a feat only Christ could accomplish in his role as the Son of God. Add in the facts that John the Baptist was there with his head intact (as the returned Elijah) and God the Father speaks to the witnessing disciples, and we have one of the few times in history that a breach in time—a true wormhole—is openly experienced and recorded.

But what does this mean to us now? Well, the ability of Christ to be in all moments of time, at the same time, means that his death on the cross, his glistening robe of forgiveness, is as fresh for you today as it was back in the year 33 CE. Christ’s grace blankets each person who did, does, and will ever breathe, no matter if it is Adam in the garden or the last of our kind on the day of Judgement. Within one single event in time, when Christ breathed his last on the cross, the blood of forgiveness seeped into the very marrow of each second that ever ticked on the clock of eternity. Henceforth, no matter when you sin, even if it is the second after your confession on Sunday morning, you are truly forgiven. And there is no better gift for all of time then this eternal forgiveness.

So, I challenge you to read the Bible not in the everyday chronological order, where Christ only shows up towards the last part of the book. But, look at it as Christ is alive and interacting with all of those recorded on its pages no matter what chapter you are reading. For Christ was there at creation (the Word), he is with us when we commune each Sunday, and he will be there when each of us come to our last breath here on this old earth. Amen.


James Photo

James Greening is the Parish Secretary for Trinity Lutheran Church and a wannabe poet, artist, musician, and anything else that sounds interesting. He is made a better man by his wife, Kacey, and together they are always on the hunt for a new adventure in life.

“What do you think?” – Repost

Today Pr. Ralph Rohr was scheduled to be our guest blog writer. So, we thought it a fitting tribute to Ralph’s life and legacy to reprint this post he offered on the subject of heaven many months ago. We love you Ralph… and we are grateful you are still teaching us.



Being a pastor for 42 years has given me the opportunity to engage in conversations with a lot of people, about a lot of different subjects. These chats have been interesting and enjoyable. The one question, though, that I find most interesting is when someone asks me, “What do you think heaven is like?”, and off we will go about our thoughts and beliefs!

Rarely do people want my theological thoughts about heaven. More often than not, they want my nitty-gritty, down-to-earth view of what I think it will be like. My answer is usually the same, and it is based on three things, all meaning “peaceful” to me.

First, my view of heaven is based on my love of growing things, be they plants or relationships. I love the simplicity, and the complexity, of seeing things grow and change in God’s world. So part of that growing means to me that there will be dirt in which to garden. An older member of Trinity Lutheran Church, Malvina, and I had an ongoing discussion about what would be lining heaven’s streets. She always said “gold”, and I always said “dirt”. Our dialogues were fun and meaningful. Malvina died a few years ago at age 86, and I miss her, and I miss our talks. As with Malvina, my relationships with other people on my journey have also helped me to see what heaven might be like. And it is peaceful.

Second, my view of heaven is based on my love of animals, particularly dogs. I have a running debate going with a longtime friend, Sam, about whether or not dogs have souls. I’m not so sure that they do, but I believe that my little dogs who have graced my life will meet me at the “Pearly Gates”. And it is peaceful.

And third, heaven is a place of peace because of the warm, cozy, safe place that my parents provided for me as I was growing up. I have wonderful feelings of that home and my childhood, and I believe the same feelings are part of heaven. And it is peaceful.

So, what do I think heaven is like? I, of course, like everyone else, am not sure. But I do know that it is what it is. And for me, it will be peaceful because of my memories of God’s good earth and my earthly companions, my animal friends, and my comfortable childhood home. And I believe that, for me, leads to peace.

Oh yeah – and God is there. The source of all peace!

Pax, Ralph

Ralph Rohr was an Ordained Pastor in the Lutheran Church for 42 years. He served as the Pastor of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church for 25 years. He is survived by his wife, Judy as well as his two children, their spouses, and five grandchildren. We all miss him so much.

A lasting legacy…


Rachel’s text message arrived between services in Cheyenne where I was serving as a substitute preacher: “Judy Rohr called at 7:30. Ralph Rohr died suddenly this morning!”  Then, moments later, she texted: “We are all in shock.”

Death has the ability to shock us. But particularly when death comes unexpectedly to a dear friend. Ralph was a dear friend to many—not only members of Trinity Lutheran, where he served as pastor for twenty-five years, but also the many pastors he trained as internship supervisor, as well as a plethora of other folks who appreciated his gracious friendship.

From the moment Rachel and I arrived in Laramie, Ralph and Judy have shown us kindness and welcome—offering friendship and encouragement in a variety of ways.

Two weeks ago on Good Friday, I was sitting in the Gruver Room reading, when Ralph came in carrying Easter lilies for Easter Sunday.   His greeting was the usual—enthusiastic, kind, smiling. He sat down and we had a good visit, swapping pastor and family stories. Lots of laughter. He apologized for missing Maundy Thursday service due to other obligations but was pleased to hear that it went well. “We’ll be here tonight,” he said. And Judy and Ralph were, and for Easter Sunday, too. They were always here for us all.

Ralph was a new friend, but quickly seemed like someone I had known for a long time. That’s the way he was. I grieve his loss and offer my deepest sympathy to those who have known him long and well. His legacy at Trinity Lutheran will not be forgotten.

This past Sunday morning, the morning of Ralph’s death, the Thirtieth Psalm was appointed for the day. How appropriate.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.…Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning…You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

We praise God for the gift of Ralph Rohr. May God comfort all who mourn. And may joy come with the morning.


Don Holmstrom is a pastor of the ELCA, having served most recently at First Lutheran Church in St. Peter, Minnesota. He also writes novels, hymn texts, and musicals for youth. He’s a native of Texas, husband of Rachel Larson, father of Susanna Holmstrom, caretaker of Dooley the dog.