Matt Beebe and Keith Allison

The two runoff candidates for Texas House of Representatives District 121 sat next to me in the fireside room during the candidate forum we sponsored a few weeks ago.  I now have a common experience I can reference if I ever need to interact with them as elected officials. 

A major reason for having such forums is to establish relationships with those interested in holding public office before they are elected.  It provides a foot in the door for the future, regardless of which office they may hold.

From Mainline to Ecumenical

For years, certain historic Protestant churches have called themselves mainline Protestants.  Now these churches are in the minority and are being encouraged to call themselves the ecumenical churches.  I plan to adopt the new language.

The seven denominations involved are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, The Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the American Baptists, and the Disciples of Christ (Christian Church).


My Lai

This massacre in Vietnam occurred fifty years ago this week. 

Living in San Antonio for 22 years, I know many Vietnam veterans here feel unappreciated for their fighting in Vietnam and this city strongly supports its unappreciated veterans.

But I read recently of another city where a crowd gave a spontaneous standing ovation, not to those who fought in Vietnam, but to those who protested against the war and refused to fight.

My generation will always be divided over Vietnam.  The wounds on both sides are still raw.

What do you think helps a nation heal after a divisive war?

Congregational Vitality in the ELCA

The ELCA Conference of Bishops received a report from a task force studying vitality.  "The project was created to deepen the ELCA's understanding of congregational vitality, what it means, how vital the ELCA is now, how vitality can be cultivated and how the ELCA can foster cultivation.  Key findings identified in the report include: The most vital congregations can be any size or shape; vitality is not directly connected to numeric growth nor is it related to congregation location; more vital does not mean more sustainable."

This study on vitality shows what is not important now in the ELCA but was important in the past.  Size is no longer most important.  Growth in membership is no longer most important.  Location is no longer most important.  Being able to pay all of its bills without outside support is no longer most important.

The old congregational model is being abandoned in this new era.  We are now living in a post-Christian world.

What do you think of having vitality identified as the most important characteristic of a congregation?

Faith Leader Letter on Immigration

I signed a letter from an interfaith group of American clergy which begins as follows:

"Dear Members of Congress:

As faith leaders and faith-based organizations from many different traditions, we call on members of congress to cut funding for immigration detention, deportation, and border militarization.  We ask that instead of fueling unnecessary, dangerous detention and deportation policies, Congress immediately enact a pathway to citizenship for immigrant youth without compromising family unity or undercutting other immigrant populations.  Communities and families across the nation are suffering due to overreaching, extreme immigration enforcement.  We call on Congress to use the 'power of the purse' to protect immigrants as you determine funding for the rest of this fiscal year and prepare spending bills for fiscal year 2019.

Our concern about current spending on immigration enforcement stems from shared values rooted in all of our sacred texts that remind us to love our neighbor and welcome the sojourner among us.  We are mandated to recognize and respect the dignity and humanity of all or our immigrant community members, and we have a faithful responsibility to ensure our government institutions protect and promote the well-being of all persons."

How Would You Answer This Question?

I received the following this week from Bread for the World:

"Dear Paul,

President Trump's 2019 budget request includes $1.5 trillion in cuts to programs that help people struggling with hunger and poverty.  If churches and charities tried to fill that budget gap, they would have to raise more than $428,000 annually for 10 years.

Could your church make up the difference?"

Undocumented in Bexar County

I got these statistics at a recent meeting on immigration sponsored by a member of city council:

Bexar County has an estimated 71,000 undocumented.

86% of these people are from Mexico.

39,000 are over age 35.  San Antonio is not a hub for recently arrived undocumented youth though Houston and Dallas are hubs.

43,000 have been here over ten years.

45% are female.

Most have no children.

In general, San Antonio has a large number of low-skill immigrants who have been here a long time and have been working for years in landscaping, hospitality, and similar businesses.

Priorities of San Antonio

At a recent meeting with city religious leaders, Mayor Ron Nirenberg listed the following five priorities for the City of San Antonio : 1) economic progress, 2) housing, 3) transportation, 4) public safety, and 5) ethical responsibility.

Church Leaders Support Jerusalem Churches

The ELCA released the following March 14:

"Addressing recent efforts in Jerusalem to confiscate church lands and tax church properties, the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), along with leaders from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Armenian Church of America and The Episcopal Church have sent a letter of support to the heads of churches at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

In addition to Eaton, the letter was signed by His Eminence Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; His Eminence Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, ecumenical director and legate, Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern); and the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop and primate, The Episcopal Church.

The letter expressed 'fervent solidarity with you, your churches and the entire Christian community in the Holy Land as you face repeated challenges to the Status Quo that ensures a Christian presence in this most holy of places.'

The four church leaders also sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat expressing concern about the recent proposals and tax plans.

The letter states, 'If enacted, these measures would have the effect of creating a situation that jeopardizes the very survival of the Christian community in the Holy Land.'"

The Status Quo refers to a group of understandings among the parties of the Middle East which have made it possible for the people in this area to live in relative peace for decades. 

Partly because of the unilateral decision of President Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the American embassy there, other parts of the Status Quo are now being challenged.  Because it was the American president who made the decision, American church leaders are having to get involved in issues they have not had to address in recent decades. 

This is another example of how political changes in the United States in the last couple years have forced American church leaders, including parish pastors and priests, to spend more time and effort on issues of public policy and have less time and energy for traditional church activities.


School Music Program

MacArthur Park Lutheran School had an excellent pre-Spring Break program last Thursday and the sanctuary was full of parents, grandparents, and others for the half-hour presentation.  If you have not attended one of these programs before, I encourage you to come next time.  Arrive early if you want a prime front row seat.

Meeting with Samantha Wickwire

I had a meeting this week with the City Council District 10 Neighborhood Engagement Officer.  I asked for the meeting to discuss the closing of the local Walmart and the problems other businesses in the area are having with shoplifting and loitering high school students.

I learned the problem is well-known by City Councilman Clayton Perry and he has had his staff gathering data on the problem.  His assistant will be asking him to call a meeting of those involved, including MacArthur High School officials, the San Antonio Police Department, neighborhood leaders, and area clergy to discuss next steps.  There is a consensus we do not want to lose any more neighborhood businesses because of problems attributed to the students.  Student thievery is often cited as the reason Walmart closed its store.

It is also recognized the immediate neighborhood has little to offer students as they leave the campus.  Garner Middle School has a public library next door which is kid-friendly.  What does Mac Arthur High School have?

Apparently the area around Churchill High School had a similar problem a few years ago and community leaders came up with some solutions which helped all involved.  We will see what the MacArthur High School community can do.

Dvorak's 8th

I was given a free ticket to the San Antonio Symphony last Friday and enjoyed sitting with a retired pastor who also enjoys music. 

The crowd was small so I can understand some of the financial problems our symphony faces.  San Antonio is just on the edge of being able to support a first-class symphony orchestra.

"On Your Feet!"

I attended this Broadway musical at the Majestic this week and enjoyed the contemporary music and variety of sets. 

I continue to notice how many people do not get up at intermission but spend all of the time on their cell phones. I have no trouble getting in a lot of walking during intermission.

Focus of Lutherans and Episcopalians for March 21 Pray/Fast/Act

Pray for our nation's elected leaders to courageously invest in programs that address the needs and basic human rights of women and girls, as well as provide opportunities for them to thrive.  We also pray for the men and women who continue to work tirelessly to improve the lives of women and girls around the world.

Fast in solidarity with women and girls across the globe, who continue to face gender inequality and other challenges in many aspects of their lives.

Act by urging our elected leaders to support strong investments in programs that help prevent gender-based violence, educate and empower adolescent girls, discourage child marriages, increased leadership opportunities for women, foster women's inclusion and economic empowerment.  

City Preschool Meeting

Rev. Ann Helmke and I represented the ELCA at a meeting of local religious leaders March 6 to discuss expanding preschool education in San Antonio.  Mayor Ron Nirenberg spoke and he encouraged religious communities to get more involved. 

A summary of the meeting is in today's San Antonio Express-News.  I was introduced as a person who advocates on behalf of preschools and has such a school in the congregation I serve.

March 24 March for Our Lives

Today I had Debbie Kennedy forward an email listing over 60 ELCA bishops who are encouraging support for the march.  I understand that a local event will take place at noon in front of city hall and as chair of our conference public witness committee, I am trying to coordinate efforts among those Lutherans who plan to participate.  So far I have heard from three clergy who plan to participate with their families.  I have also heard from one college student.

If you would like to participate with other local ELCA Lutherans, please let me know.  I am trying to figure out how many will be participating so I can help another volunteer arrange transportation and the like to the event.

Funeral of Billy Graham

When planned ten years ago, it was assumed all living former United States presidents in good health would attend Graham's funeral.  While two did drop by during the week to extend condolences, no living former president actually attended the funeral.

Many hoped having all of the former presidents and President Trump together at the same time would have helped heal some of the nation's deep wounds.  But there was no such photo op or conversation.

The religious attendees were almost all from the religious right or conservative evangelical subset of Christianity.  Graham had tried to reach out to a wide spectrum of Christians during his ministry, but at his funeral, the attendees were from a narrow spectrum of the faith.

I think it is significant that I received no acknowledgements of Grahams' death or expressions of sympathy from the large number of religious leaders and organizations I have on my email list. It was like he had been totally forgotten.

Franklin Graham has certainly hurt the memory of his dad.  Things would have been different a few years ago. 

The divisions in our nation, both political and religious, are hard to deny.  I continue to pray for more unity.  We just lost an opportunity for that unity to blossom.

A Sunday of Contrasts

I faced extreme contrasts this past Sunday morning.

Early in the morning I was at MacArthur Park for a service with over 180 in attendance, many of them staff, school children, and family members. I could feel the excitement and hope in the group.

A couple hours later I worshiped with fewer than 30 at a combined service of the English speaking and Spanish speaking congregants at Gethsemane Lutheran Church.  I realized how fortunate I am since the ELCA has far more congregations like Gethsemane than like MacArthur Park in San Antonio.

At MacArthur Park, I was among the elders in the service.  At Gethsemane, I was in the middle of the age spectrum.

Before Gethsemane had a special congregational meeting to deal with a budget concern, I was able to recruit a possible volunteer for the synod's Peace and Justice Task Force.  I feel fortunate since that congregation has significant leadership needs among its own membership.

Clergy Endorsing Political Candidates

With primary election day tomorrow, I am seeing a large number of clergy making it obvious on social media how they are going to vote. 

I know pastors need to have private life, but I also know of some local clergy who have lost significant credibility by getting involved in partisan electoral politics instead of issue-centered politics.  I have been told one of the major reasons I am asked to represent Christians and Lutherans in the city is my unwillingness to be partisan in social media or post bumper stickers on my car or signs in my yard. 

I wish our synod had a church and society committee where religious leaders could get guidance on how to function in a time or extremely partisan and divisive politics.

2903 Nacogdoches Rd.     San Antonio, TX 78217    phone: 210-824-7135  fax: 210-826-5146