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Talks At The Desk Season 3 Premieres TONIGHT!

Celebrate Black History Month with season three of “Talks at the Desk,” a four-part video series by African Descent Ministries of the ELCA. This season focuses on the Reclaim Gathering and will explore its themes: reclaim, embolden, embody and liberate. A new video will premiere each Wednesday in February at 7:30 p.m. Central time beginning Feb. 7. Watch live at



A first-of-its-kind education for Indigenous leaders: Theological Education for Indigenous Leaders program launches

The following is cross-posted from Living Lutheran. The original post can be found here.

The inaugural cohort of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary’s (PLTS) Theological Education for Indigenous Leaders (TEIL) launched on Oct. 9 with an opening ceremony and shared celebration attended by leaders from across the ELCA. Photos: Courtesy of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary

Larry Thiele, a pastor in the Eastern North Dakota Synod, teaches a TEIL course as one of the program’s wisdom keepers.

Some of the Indigenous leaders and wisdom keepers of the TEIL program with Moses Paul Peter Penumaka, director of Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (far right); PLTS Rector Raymond Pickett (center); and Francisco Javier Goitia Padilla, director of theological formation for seminaries and schools of the ELCA (second from right).











Centuries after colonial models of education were first forced on Indigenous people in North America, their effects are still keenly felt. Western theological education has remained the default methodology within the church, including the ELCA. This fall, Native leaders from across the ELCA, in partnership with leaders from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (PLTS) of California Lutheran University in Berkeley, are seeking to change that with the launch of the Theological Education for Indigenous Leaders (TEIL) program.

“The TEIL program is a historic and first-of-its-kind opportunity for Indigenous leaders and for our church,” said Vance Blackfox, ELCA director of Indigenous Ministries and Tribal Relations. “It gives students an opportunity to access education and leadership development—and possibly become ordained—so that they might be even more effective leaders in their communities and congregations.”

Though modeled after PLTS’ Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM) certificate program—which is offered in collaboration with Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., and the Lutheran Center of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod in Indianapolis and aims to prepare students for ordained ministry in the ELCA—the TEIL program is distinct in groundbreaking ways. “While the timeline looks like the traditional TEEM program, the content and teachers look very different,” said Blackfox, a partner in the development of TEIL and one of its instructors.

“Ninety percent of our instructors, whom we call wisdom keepers, are Indigenous, and the students will experience Indigenous pedagogy, or ways of learning about ministry and biblical studies, that are not offered anywhere else in our church,” said Blackfox, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.

The TEIL curriculum was designed by and for American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) leaders, with their leadership and ministry formation and Indigenous theologies in mind.

“Students will experience Indigenous pedagogy not offered anywhere else in our church.”

The program gave its developers the freedom to look at why some of the courses traditionally offered in TEEM weren’t relevant to Indigenous students’ ministry and context, and what would be meaningful for their experience, said Moses Paul Peter Penumaka, director of TEEM.

“One of the first classes we offer in TEEM is ‘Ministry in Context,’ but TEIL leaders named it as ‘Ministry in Indigenous Context,’” he said. Other classes offered in the 16-course curriculum include “American Lutheranism and Indigenous History” and “Truth and Healing.”

“This program that the wisdom keepers put together is their own program,” Penumaka said. “They are defining what land, context, ministry and theology mean to them, for their own communities and their own people. So it is very unique, authentic and charismatic.”

In many seminary courses, the gospel is read through a Western lens, said Penumaka. The TEIL program offers students “an education that can empower and enlighten them, that’s not enforced upon them,” he said.

Blackfox has a personal understanding of the model’s importance. “There has never been a time in my own studies where the class was made up of 100% Native students, from early childhood until graduate-level seminary classes,” he said. “So for the students in TEIL to have that opportunity is unique and will be, I believe, invaluable to the ways they learn and what they learn.”

“Strengthening our ministry”

The inaugural cohort of TEIL, comprised of 10 students representing a range of ELCA Indigenous ministries and congregations, began their program on Oct. 9, Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The program was launched with in-person classes hosted at Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland, Ore., and an opening ceremony and shared celebration attended by leaders from across the ELCA.

“The ELCA has committed to supporting Native-focused and Native-led leadership and education, and to developing future Native leaders, pastors and theologians,” said Elizabeth Eaton, ELCA presiding bishop. “The Theological Education for Indigenous Leaders program is one important way to honor that commitment. Our Indigenous leaders have vital gifts to offer this church, and the TEIL program is an opportunity to meaningfully support their development.”

Joann Conroy, president of the ELCA’s American Indian Alaska Native Lutheran Association (AIAN), agreed. “We’ve been invisible people for too long,” she said of AIAN members and leaders of the ELCA. “Being able to have TEIL is something that not only strengthens our ministry, wherever we happen to be situated, but strengthens the church and recognizes the gifts we bring to the church.”

“The ELCA has committed to supporting Native-focused and Native-led leadership and education.”

Conroy, an Oglala Sioux Lakota pastor who serves as a TEIL wisdom keeper, began meeting with Blackfox and Penumaka several years ago to decide how the program would take shape. Eventually that group broadened to include a team of Indigenous leaders who helped determine what the distinctive courses would be.

“We discussed what the Indigenous pedagogy might look like for each of those classes and who would lead them,” Blackfox said. “We met multiple times to develop this Indigenous learning experience together.”

Blackfox identified several primary goals for the program. “One would be providing quality and appropriate classes and experiences for Indigenous students that empower them to be even stronger ministry leaders in their communities, congregations and Indigenous ministries, both as ministers and with their fellow lay members,” he said. “Two, to allow for their experiences and tribal life ways to also be contributing gifts to their learning environments while in the TEIL program.”

He also hopes to “continue to connect the church at large—the churchwide organization, synods, congregations, individuals—with ways of supporting Indigenous ministries in our church. And this is one tremendous way in which that can happen.”

Seeds planted

The TEIL program is open to lay leaders and those on the ordination track alike. “Students don’t have to be candidates for ordination to be in the program but will be introduced to candidacy in case they do want to pursue ordination,” Blackfox said.

TEIL student Amanda Vivier, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, had been looking for just such a program. “My heart has been yearning for this connection and acceptance as an Anishinaabe leader and as a follower of Christ Jesus, so it was a no-brainer when the opportunity presented itself,” she said of enrolling in the program.

Vivier has served as spiritual director and minister for The Way (formerly Native American Christian Ministry) in Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn., since 2017 and is seeking ordination. “This is a huge blessing to the Indigenous population of followers of Christ Jesus,” she said of the TEIL program. “It has opened the door for me to pursue becoming a pastor while still [being] very engaged with my family and ministry.”

She has already found her TEIL coursework directly applicable to her ministry context. “In the short first week I spent in TEIL, I picked up teachings I was able to bring back to The Way that following Sunday,” she said. “It has also actually encouraged me to look at the Bible in my lens of an Anishinaabe kwe [woman] and share it in a language that becomes more relevant for the population I’m serving.”

“This is a huge blessing to the Indigenous population of followers of Christ Jesus.”

Gabe Wounded Head is an Oglala Lakota student completing his undergraduate degree at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks this year. He has also applied what he is learning in TEIL to his college campus, where he is a chapel service leader and an active member of Campus Ministry. “I have learned that the idea that there is one path down any road, whether it be education style, church service style or leadership style, is false,” he said. “This program provided me with a unique opportunity to take advantage of a new alternative viewpoint in biblical exegesis.”

In his ministry experience, Wounded Head has found that “most of the people who have turned away from their adolescent churchgoing habits have done so because they’ve learned a new perspective of history, one of the colonized people, that church leaders have historically desired to keep under wraps.” But he believes that TEIL can help enrich people’s faith while also inviting new members by offering important context.

“A historical context creates a picture that the good news was not just meant for the European church, and it wasn’t just meant for the American church—it was meant for the people of God, worldwide,” Wounded Head said. He believes the seeds being planted with TEIL will invite more voices into the ELCA, both from Indigenous communities and beyond current church membership.

When Conroy was in seminary, she experienced that lack of context as a missing piece of her education. “A lot of what I was being taught was very white-focused—my cultural understanding wasn’t being taught,” she said. “TEIL is now bringing those things to the table for our young leaders, where their voice and their cultural relevance can finally be applied to theological learning.

“If you look to the future of the church, if you look at [Indigenous] elders, children, young adults, it really is necessary to keep working toward this. It’s important.”

John Potter
John Potter
John G. Potter is content editor of Living Lutheran. He lives in St. Paul, Minn.

A Conversation with Rev. Alejandro Mejia: In Celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month

The following is cross-posted from Living Lutheran. You can find the original post here.

Para celebrar el Mes de la Herencia Hispana, del 15 de septiembre al 15 de octubre estamos hablando con luteranos de ascendencia latiné para amplificar las voces de nuestros hermanos en Cristo. Hoy estamos hablando con Rev. Alejandro Mejía, director de la misión evangélica del Sínodo de Delaware-Maryland.

Las respuestas han sido editadas para su publicación.

¿Cómo está usted conectado a la ELCA?

Nací y crecí en Colombia, América del Sur. Mi familia siempre ha pertenecido a la iglesia luterana. Recuerdo estar presente en conversaciones en las que se mencionaba el nombre “ELCA”. Cuando me hice más activo en la iglesia, aprendí sobre los fuertes lazos que hay entre la Iglesia Evangélica Luterana de Colombia y la ELCA. Recuerdo haber visto o escuchado de líderes como Mary Campbell, Rafael Malpica Padilla, por mencionar a algunos que son conocidos y que todavía están entre nosotros. Tiempo después, cuando ya servía a una congregación, me llegó una invitación del Sínodo de Carolina del Sur de la ELCA en los Estados Unidos para servir como desarrollador de misiones entre la creciente comunidad latina.

Todo eso es para decir que la ELCA siempre fue parte de mi jornada de fe, gracias a su asociación con la iglesia en Colombia. Por supuesto que nuestra conexión se ha vuelto directa y más fuerte desde que me mudé a este país.

¿Cómo cree que la ELCA puede amplificar mejor las voces latinés?

Creo que, juntando las caras con las historias, explicando los puntos fuertes de nuestra gente. Debemos fomentar atención y empatía en nuestra iglesia hacia las necesidades y realidades de nuestros hermanos latinés, pero también es necesario que publiquemos historias sobre las habilidades, los puntos fuertes, el poder que existe entre nuestra gente. Somos luchadores; nunca nos echamos para atrás. Eso es algo que hay que mencionar. Por supuesto, aún hay tantas necesidades por satisfacer. Sin embargo, hay tanto que podemos ofrecer para hacer más fuerte a nuestra denominación. Así como contribuimos a la grandeza de este país, también podemos hacerlo en nuestra denominación.

¿En qué formas puede la ELCA ser más inclusiva de la comunidad latiné?

Es importante abrir espacios en la mesa de toma de decisiones donde se sientan los poderosos. Pero no se trata de traer a una persona latiné porque existe la necesidad de cierta diversidad. Se trata de traer suficientes personas de una comunidad en particular, en este caso la comunidad latiné, para que haya una voz más fuerte y asertiva. Para una persona de color es intimidante estar en la mesa con probablemente otras dos o tres, pero en la que todavía somos una minoría.

También es importante tener presente que América Latina está formada por varios países, cada uno con tantas culturas diferentes que nos hacen únicos. Los líderes de nuestra iglesia deben confiar en nosotros, escucharnos, y aprender con nosotros y de nosotros. Podemos prosperar si lo hacemos juntos.

Es esencial ser conscientes de nuestra presencia proporcionando formas en las que podemos sentir que pertenecemos. No porque necesitemos ayuda, sino como iguales. Un ejemplo de ese enfoque podría ser ofrecer interpretación simultánea al español en reuniones como la asamblea de toda la iglesia, entre otros espacios importantes para nuestra vida como iglesia; poniendo a disposición material de adoración, de formación en la fe —por mencionar unos cuantos— en español, escrito por líderes latinés.

Necesitamos más y más líderes latinés listos para servir; por lo tanto, debemos crear formas de capacitar y equipar a las personas de nuestras comunidades facilitando el acceso a la educación. Y no solo seminarios; hay otras profesiones que se necesitan dentro de nuestra iglesia que pueden funcionar por el bien de nuestra comunidad latiné.

Hay muchas oportunidades y maneras que nuestra iglesia podría implementar para poner en práctica el hecho de que todos son bienvenidos, con el fin de que podamos sentir en nuestros cuerpos que, en efecto, somos vistos y apreciados.

¿Cómo ve a la comunidad latiné representada en su sínodo e iglesias locales?

Soy muy afortunado de trabajar con el obispo William Gohl. Él me ha dado la oportunidad de ocupar una posición de liderazgo dentro de nuestro sínodo. Me encantaría ver que esto sucediera en otros sínodos. Me encantaría ver a más ministros latinés en la lista como pastores principales o como diáconos a cargo de programas sólidos dentro de congregaciones y sínodos. Directores juveniles, directores musicales.

¿Qué le da esperanza?

Hay comunidades y ministros en la lista que, a pesar de los retos (inequidad, falta de recursos, racismo), se despiertan cada mañana para trabajar duro y prosperar. Ellos y sus comunidades están marcando una gran diferencia en esta iglesia y esta nación. Tengo esperanza al ver a niños y jóvenes diciendo que aman a la iglesia, y se identifican como cristianos luteranos.

Sé de familias que se suben al automóvil y conducen varias millas solo por la oportunidad de reunirse en torno a la palabra y el sacramento porque sienten que pertenecen. Madres que vienen con sus hijos porque necesitan ser nutridas por el amor de Dios hecho realidad a través de la comunidad. Dios nos ha inspirado a seguir adelante, a nunca echar para atrás, sino a levantarnos si caemos. Y nos levantamos más fuertes, porque no estamos solos.

¿Por qué cosas ora usted?

El fin de la mentalidad patriarcal, de supremacía blanca y despreciativa con la que muchos están acostumbrados a mirarnos. Oro por oportunidades para que nuestras nuevas generaciones sean quienes son, que promovamos el bilingüismo, que fomentemos el aprendizaje de otros idiomas, que nuestras iglesias sean espacios seguros, no para asimilar la cultura dominante, sino para afirmar que la diversidad es uno de los dones más preciosos de Dios y la esencia de Dios.



In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 we are speaking with Lutherans of Latiné descent to amplify voices of our siblings in Christ. Today we are speaking with Rev. Alejandro Mejia, director for evangelical mission with the Delaware-Maryland Synod.

Responses have been edited for publication.

How are you connected to the ELCA?

I was born and raised in Colombia, South America. My family has always belonged to the Lutheran church. I remember being present at conversations in which the name “ELCA” would be mentioned. When I became more active in the church, I learned about the strong ties between the Iglesia Evangelica Luterana de Colombia and the ELCA. I remember seeing or hearing about leaders such as Mary Campbell, Rafael Malpica Padilla, just to mention some who are well-known and still among us. Later, when I was already serving a congregation, an invitation came from the ELCA South Carolina Synod in the United States to serve among the growing Latino community as a mission developer.

All of that is to say, the ELCA was always part of my faith journey, thanks to its partnership with the church in Colombia. Of course, our connection has become direct and stronger since I moved to this country.

How do you believe the ELCA can better amplify Latiné voices?

I think putting faces and stories together, explaining the strengths that our people have. We need to promote mindfulness and empathy among our church toward the needs and realities of our Latiné siblings, but we also need to put stories out there about the abilities, the strengths, the power that exists within our people. We are fighters; we never step back. That is something that has to be mentioned. Of course, there are so many needs still to be satisfied. However, there is so much that we can offer to make our denomination a stronger one. As we are contributing to the greatness of this country, we are also able to do it within our denomination.

What are ways in which the ELCA can be more inclusive for the Latiné community?

It is important to open spaces at the decision-making table where the powerful sit. But it is not about bringing a Latiné person because there is the need for some diversity. It is about bringing enough people from a particular community, in this case the Latiné community, in order that there is a stronger and assertive voice. It is intimidating for one person of color being at the table with probably another two or three but where, still, we are a minority.

It is also important to keep in mind that the Latino America is made of several countries, each having so many different cultures that make us unique. Leaders from our church need to trust us, listen, and learn with us and from us. We can thrive if we do it together.

Being mindful of our presence by providing ways in which we can feel we belong is essential. Not because we need help, but as equals. One example of that approach could be offering simultaneous interpretation to Spanish at gatherings such as a churchwide assembly, among other important spaces for our life as a church; making available worship, faith formation material—just to mention a few—in Spanish, written by Latiné leaders.

We need more and more  Latiné leaders ready to serve; therefore, we need to create ways to train and equip people from our communities by facilitating access to education. And not only seminaries—there are other professions that are needed within our church that can work for the sake of our  Latiné community.

There are many opportunities and ways that our church could implement in order to put into practice the fact that all are welcome, so that we can feel in our bodies that we are indeed seen and appreciated.

How do you see the Latiné  community represented in your synod/local churches?

I am so fortunate to work with Bishop William Gohl. He has given me the opportunity to occupy a position of leadership within our synod. I would love to see this happening in other synods. I would love to see more Latiné rostered ministers as senior pastors or as deacons in charge of strong programs within congregations and synods. Youth directors, music directors.

What gives you hope?

There are communities and rostered ministers who, despite the challenges—inequity, lack of resources, racism—wake up every morning to work hard and thrive. They and their communities are making a huge difference in this church and nation. I have hope by seeing children and youth saying that they love the church, identifying as Christians Lutherans.

I know about families who get in the car and drive several miles just for the opportunity to gather around word and sacrament because they feel they belong. Single mothers coming with their children because they need to be nurtured by God’s love made real through community. God has inspired us to move forward, to never step back, but rather to rise if we fall. And we rise stronger, because we are not alone.

What do you pray for?

The end of the patriarchal, white supremacist, patronizing mindset from where many are used to looking at us. I pray for opportunities for our new generations to be who they are, that we promote bilingualism, that we encourage learning other languages, that our churches are safe spaces not to assimilate the dominant culture but by affirming that diversity is one of God’s most precious gifts and God’s essence.