By Hannah Peterson, 2021-22 Hunger Advocacy Fellow [about the author]
I am not a practicing Lutheran. Although many of my relatives and ancestors are, I grew up in a secular family, attending church only for Christmas Eve services and the occasional baptism or funeral. As you might imagine, it was an unusual path that led me to this year of being an ELCA Hunger Advocacy Fellow, of learning to navigate through new communities, new opportunities and new insights.
“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).
Last spring, emerging from a difficult and confusing year of confinement and isolation as I completed a graduate program in a foreign country during a global pandemic, I was feeling particularly lost in the wilderness of my life. Like many, my plans had been derailed, and the way forward seemed especially unclear. I had spent the past several years buried in my books, in an academic life of writing and contemplation that no longer seemed meaningful to me in the same way.
It was during this time that my “new thing” sprung forth—that my part-time job doing editing work for a small non-profit organization became the opportunity that I have devoted my time to for the past many months. When I took the job of an Hunger Advocacy Fellow, I thought of myself as an editor only: my interest and experience were in rhetoric, language and communication, not so much in the content of what was being written. But what began as a way for me to use the academic skills I had honed through my education had been slowly changing over the months as I learned more about the organization of my placement (Lutherans Engaging in Advocacy Ministry New Jersey).
I began to learn about the intricacies of New Jersey politics and the particular struggles its residents face. I began to learn about the ELCA and the relationship between faith and advocacy. I attended Hour of Advocacy meetings, engaging with others who valued both contemplative discussion and practical action. I learned about Lutheranism and the ELCA’s approach to advocacy with the other Hunger Advocacy Fellows. I read the ELCA’s social statements and messages, and learned again how reflection on spiritual questions could inform the concrete, grounded activism that I was beginning to involve myself in.
First, we learn. I had that part down. But next, we must do.
The opportunity that sprung forth for me was not only a chance to work in advocacy or among people of faith, but an opportunity to connect my contemplative self to practical, meaningful work in the world. I feel a connection to Philippians 4:9, which begins: “As for the things that you have learned and received and heard and noticed in me, do them…” For me (and you, I hope!) advocacy is a way to take what we have learned and do.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hannah Peterson is an ELCA Hunger Advocacy Fellow placed with Lutherans Engaging in Advocacy Ministry New Jersey (LEAMNJ), a state public policy office in the ELCA advocacy network. She recently graduated from Columbia University with a master’s degree in History and Literature, following her undergraduate degree from St. John’s College. Peterson’s internships at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and the National Museum of American History inspired her passion for identifying stories that have not yet been told and lifting up the voices of those in need. She hopes to continue her work building connections between people of different faiths, traditions and backgrounds.