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Deaconesses Express Radical Love with Poor People’s Campaign

By guest blogger Katie Thiesen, Deaconess Community of the ELCA candidate from the ELCA New England Synod

The Deaconess Community of the ELCA is using prophetic diakonia – or service that leads to social change that restores, reforms and transforms – to do the work of justice with the Poor Peoples Campaign (PPC). This movement encourages us to be grounded in the thousands of scripture verses that call God’s people to the work of justice.

We claim as Lutherans that we are loved. We also know that being personally loved is only part of the story. Being unconditionally and radically loved is not an end. We more fully realize that radical love when we see the sacredness and love for ALL.

“Every stranger I meet is a part of me I don’t yet know – and I a part of them. Together, strangers, inextricably connected, we live into God’s reign on earth.” – Sister Davia Evans

After hearing the scriptural call to radical love, I have struggled with what it means to do the work of charity. If I see you hungry and feed you one meal, knowing that you will again be hungry later, where does that leave my relationship with you and with God? Matthew 25 connects us to Jesus in the encounter – “when you saw me hungry.” One meal begs many questions, including: Did not God create this world in abundance for all?

I am learning I must never stop with acts of charity. We all need to have daily needs met now, so we need charity now. Yet charity is only needed because we do not have justice and will only be needed until we have justice! Matthew 25:31-46 and James 2:15-22 call us out when we leave one another without needs met. Micah 6:8 calls us to justice.

Hear in this two minute video names and reasons including Emmett Till to Sean Reed “and the too many murdered just because they were black” that compel this deaconess to participate in the PPC: “The Poor Peoples Campaign is a vision and a movement for right now. That’s why I am going.” – Sister Ramona Daily

At a small PPC gathering in 2018, organizers called us together in a circle, asking us to stand next to people we didn’t know. We were then asked to turn to our left and then turn to our right and say, “Hello Image of God!” Even typing this brings me to my knees two years later.

This immediately consecrated everyone in the room! No one was more the image of God than another, and no one less. I felt a surge of the Holy Spirit moving about that space, affirming we all belonged, we all were loved and able to love in return, and we all wanted to be part of each person’s complete wellbeing.

We are not all the same, as 1 Corinthians 12:26 shares, but in all of our beauty and diverse gifts, we are ONE. I do not have all the answers of how to do and be this moral fusion work, but it grounds me and crosses every line of division.

The Deaconess Community of the ELCA endorsed the Poor People’s Campaign in 2019. “For over 130 years our Community has been acting on our call to prophetic diakonia – we can do this better with the Poor People’s Campaign, A National Call for Moral Revival fusion movement,” said Sister Noreen Stevens, Directing Deaconess, of work carried forward with the movement begun by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington on June 20, 2020 will be a digital gathering of poor, dispossessed and impacted people, faith leaders, and people of conscience, marshalling collective voices to demonstrate the power of our communities, and you can register from this link.

“The PPC is a moral call to take care of all of God’s people in an equitable way. The prophets called out injustice, and Jesus stood with the most vulnerable. It is our mandate to follow the command to Love your neighbor. This campaign addresses the root causes of injustice, and we are called through our baptisms to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.” – Sister Dottie Almoney, Chair, Board of Directors of the Deaconess Community

You already have a place of belonging in this movement as we are all doing the work of being the one body we were created to be.


Learn more about PPC and the June 20 event from
Learn more about The Deaconess Community of the ELCA from

Responding to our sorrow with action

UPDATE 7/12/2019 – Our communities are bracing for nationwide raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to begin on Sunday. Planned raids are reported to focus on 10 major cities where the Department of Justice has sped up immigration cases for thousands of recent arrivals.

Mindful of the biblical call and our strong Lutheran history of welcoming the stranger, our faith community strives to love our neighbors as ourselves. Since original posting, additional ways to respond include:

    • ELCA AMMPARO is collecting signatures on a letter addressed to Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan. It opens: “We are faith leaders from all across the country who are deeply troubled by the implementation of inhumane border policy by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Today, we call on you to respect asylum law and protect the rights of asylum seekers and children.” Read the letter in full and consider adding your name as a faith community member (clergy or lay), from Facebook.
    • ELCA partner Church World Service offers the #SacredResistance network for houses of worship that are willing to resist the raids on the local level through rapid response, creating safe spaces to accompany partner organizations in deportation defense, accompany undocumented community members through public facing safe spaces that can provide shelter, food, clothing, legal service and assistance in family reunification when possible. More information online.

ORIGINAL POST 6/28/2019 – Recent news stories of appalling conditions at immigrant detention centers and of deep human sorrow on our country’s southern border have many of us desperate to be part of change.

Lutherans have a deep-rooted history in refugee and immigrant issues. One of every six Lutherans in the world was a refugee or displaced person after WWII. The God-given dignity in all people and value of family unity have been cornerstones of ELCA faith-based advocacy, and we understand that many immigrants, as well as their families, are both afraid and confused by recent developments. Daily experience of ministries, Lutheran organizations and members “keep before us – so that we do not forget – the grim realities many immigrants face and the strength of character and resourcefulness newcomers demonstrate,” notes the ELCA social message, “Immigration.”


At the meeting point of our knowledge and values, here are some ways Lutherans have acted and can continue to respond.

  • JOINT STATEMENT – Ecumenical and inter-religious partners joined the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, ELCA presiding bishop, in a joint statement addressing concerns over the well-being of children who cross the U.S. border seeking safety from danger and threats in their home countries (6/6/19). Read at .
  • LETTER TO ELCA COMMUNITY – Earlier, Bishop Eaton wrote to our ELCA community (5/28/19). Read at . In part, it said:

“We follow a Lord who instructed, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs’ (Matthew 19:14). As we continue to serve and love our neighbor, we pray for the well-being of children and families in detention, and we urge the presidential administration to seek alternatives to the detention of children.”

  • AMMPARO – Ministry through the ELCA Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO) strategy is present in countries of origin, transit, and the U.S. with our neighbors in Central America. Actions include presence of pro bono lawyers who provide services and monitor detention center visits, and resourcing people in their countries of origin with proven programs that result in fewer choosing to take a difficult migration journey. Consider a gift to ELCA AMMPARO. Donate to this ministry from

In the ELCA Advocacy Action Center, Action Alerts are available for you to customize with your message to your member of Congress. Begin from the following.

  • Take action to secure funding for humane and just immigration system” – Use your voice as funding decisions are made.
  • UPDATE 7/12/2019 – Comment period has closed. “Protect the housing rights of mixed-immigration status families” – In a tight timeline before July 2, consider using this Action Alert facilitating public comment to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), on a proposed rulemaking that would prohibit mixed-immigration status families from living in federal affordable housing programs.
  • Other ways to urge U.S. immigration enforcement policy to recognize human dignity, uphold human rights, ensure the safety and well-being, and treat all individuals and families fairly and with respect, are to:
    • Call your Member of Congress at (202) 224-3121 to connect with your two Senators and one Representative. Find our who represents you from .
    • Tweet, and tag @DHSgov and @POTUS or other official.

Additionally, congregations and individuals may want to take further steps.

  • WELCOMING CONGREGATION – Consider becoming a Welcoming Congregation in the ELCA AMMPARO network, making a commitment to spiritually and pastorally accompany migrants in our community congregation; physically accompany migrants as needed to medical, legal and pastoral resources; pray for the children and families; and prayerfully consider participation in ELCA advocacy.
  • GUARDIAN ANGEL PROGRAM – Consider participating in the Guardian Angel Program of ELCA AMMPARO, providing spiritual and physical accompaniment of unaccompanied migrant children and families through their immigration court process. More at .
  • CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY – Check your investments. Private companies are managing the detention of children.
    • The ELCA Private Prison Screen “recommends no investment in private, for-profit prisons including firms involved in prison privatization of the criminal justice system.”
  • KNOW YOUR RIGHTS – Share “Know Your Rights” information, providing critical facts about legal rights during encounters with law enforcement.
    • Cards give quick tips and can be printed in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Hmong, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese from .
    • In Spanish and English, resources about rights at home, in public, and in the workplace are available from .
  • FIRST STEPS GUIDE – In English and Spanish, the First Steps Guide from Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) helps refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants navigate the complex system of laws, agencies, and public and private systems they must master by providing important information on legal rights, responsibilities, and eligibility for services and benefits such as healthcare and education, according to immigration status.
  • SANCTUARY MOVEMENT – The Sanctuary Movement is a growing movement of immigrant and faith communities in the current political climate. “Sanctuary: A Discernment Guide for Congregations” from the Presbyterian Church USA may facilitate discussion of this possible involvement in your congregation.
  • SHARE STORIES AND PRACTICE ACCOMPANIMENT – Create opportunities to gather and hear the stories of immigrants and migrants in your congregation and community and respond to their requests for partnership and solidarity.

We hold in prayer the many migrants imperiled and struggling. We also pray for those on the forefront including ELCA congregations in U.S. border communities who are providing spiritual and physical sustenance, as well as border patrol officers, resettlement staff and many others charged with implementing our nation’s policies compassionately. During Sunday worship, in personal devotions, or by hosting a prayer service with faith partners to generate awareness within your local community, here are some resources as we turn to God for wisdom and strength.

From the ELCA social message on “Immigration,” incorporating affirmations from the social statements For Peace in God’s World and Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture.


Celebrating Juneteenth: Remembering the past while looking forward

By guest blogger Judith Roberts, ELCA Program Director, Racial Justice Ministries

On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation freed 3.1 million of the nation’s 4 million enslaved people. On June 19, 1865 enslaved Africans in the state of Texas and parts of Louisiana received word of their emancipation 2.5 years later. The celebratory date is known as Juneteenth (June plus nineteenth).  The date is honored by remembering the legacy of enslaved African ancestors, worship services, family gatherings and speaking out against racial injustices. Over the years, Juneteenth has become a widespread celebration in over 41 states. From formal gala events that raise funds for academic scholarships; to family day events filled with music and good BBQ; to soulful gospel Sunday brunches–Juneteenth calls us to remember the journey of the past while looking forward with hope for a brighter future.

Four hundred years after the first arrival of enslaved Africans to Fort Monroe, Va. in 1619 in what would become the United States. America is just beginning to face the hidden truth of its painful past. I recently visited the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration in Montgomery, Ala.  Located on the site of a former slave auction warehouse, the museum exists to break the silence and present the history of slavery from the perspective of enslaved people. Moving through the historical timeline of the domestic slave trade; to the creation of Jim Crow racial segregation; to remembering the victims of lynching; to the mass incarceration of black and brown bodies; the museum exposes the past and present realities of racism today. The Emancipation Proclamation might have legally ended the practice of chattel slavery, but racism has been described as the gift that keeps on giving.

As a descendant of enslaved Africans–it is my duty to never forget this history. It is my responsibility to work to end unjust policies, practices, beliefs and laws that continue to perpetuate racism within society and the church.  And it is my right to sing halleluiah in shouts of jubilation to the end of the most violent, oppressive, dehumanizing system of human bondage the world has ever known. For, “I am the dream and the hope of the slave[from Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise”].


Caring for Shishmaref and all of God’s creation

By Nathan Detweiler

Shishmaref’s receding shorelines. Photo credit: HelenMarie Bessi Sinnok

“Climate change is the biggest challenge that we face. Because of climate change we are forced to relocate within three decades,” Esau Sinnok said during a recent phone interview about Shishmaref. Esau was born and raised in this village in Alaska. He has recently become an outspoken advocate for Shishmaref and environmental conservation.

The island village has recently gained national attention for its historic decision to relocate. On Aug. 16, by a narrow majority of 11 votes, the village decided to move to the mainland.

Shishmaref residents were driven to this decision because of the unique and challenging circumstances of its environment. Located north of the Bering Strait, the Inupiat island community has struggled for decades with receding shorelines. Rising temperatures have reduced the sea ice, which has historically protected Shishmaref from storm surges.  “The ice has started to melt a lot earlier [each] year,” Sinnok said.

Climate change has led to increased flooding and erosion. In addition, the permafrost, on which the island stands, is slowly melting. As a result, Shishmaref is one of the most dramatic examples of a population effected by climate change. Shishmaref is  “two good storms away from being underwater,” said one resident.

The Rev. Thomas Pastor Richter performs a baptism.
Photo courtesy of Thomas Richter

Thomas Richter, a Lutheran pastor, shepherds the only congregation in town, which on a typical Sunday morning sees around 50 people in worship. The relocation vote has left the village “a community divided,” he said. Many residents feel that the outside world has abandoned them.

So what are the options available to Shishmaref? Old Pond and West Tin Creek Hills are two potential sites on the mainland that could house the village. But relocating would be an expensive endeavor, costing an estimated $180 million. And just relocating would not immediately solve all the problems. Amenities and infrastructure would take time to develop, and the suggested site doesn’t have barge access, a critical flaw for a population that is isolated from traditional transportation.

“Our battle is not unique nor is it something that only applies to those in far off, hard to reach places. The sinking sands of Shishmaref are the same sinking sands of the rest of the world. This is our planet that is melting because of us. If the people of Shishmaref become climate refugees, we are all climate refugees.”

The residents are also concerned that relocating risks diluting or losing aspects of the community’s unique culture. Pastor Richter said of the challenges facing the community, “The biggest challenge is preserving the culture.” The traditional language has slowly been lost as more residents interact with other parts of Alaska and the world. Shishmaref is also a renowned hub for art. The carvings of bone and walrus ivory are sought throughout the United States. Moving to new locations may frustrate this carving industry as the resources become more difficult to acquire.

Not all are against relocating. Sinnok thinks the relocated community could be preserved. While the current location holds many dear memories, he emphasized how grateful he is for the chance “to move as a community so that [we] can still be called Shishmaref. And our 4,000-year culture can stay alive.”

Fishing in Shishmaref. Photo credit: HelenMarie Bessi Sinnok

Residents of Shishmaref are part of a growing group of “climate refugees.” Earlier this year, a community in Louisiana received a $48 million federal grant to relocate because of the effects of climate change on their environment. As climate change is increasingly felt by communities around the world, climate refugees will increasingly be displaced from their homes.

While support for Shishmaref has been shown by some church groups, more support from other people and groups will be needed for relocation. Pastor Richter said that support from the lower-48 states is paramount to helping Alaska transplant Shishmaref. Thinking more broadly, Sinnok emphasized the importance of everyone recognizing their impact on the environment and trying to reduce it. He encouraged people everywhere to raise awareness of the effects of climate change with their peers and to be more social in the outdoors. Being outdoors reduces the energy resources used and improves sustainability.

The Rev. Shelley Wickstrom, bishop of the ELCA Alaska Synod, said the synod will accompany the community through prayer and support as it relocates. In particular, she mentioned the need for a new church and parsonage when the community relocates.

Everyone who was interviewed emphasized the importance of raising awareness of Shishmaref. As people of faith we are called by our social statements to recognize that “care for the earth [is] a profoundly spiritual matter.”[1] In raising awareness of Shishmaref, we are both fulfilling our duty to love our neighbors and committing to care for all creation. This commitment to creation involves us as individuals, congregations, advocates and members of a larger community.

coastline II
Shishmaref’s coastline. Photo credit: HelenMarie Bessi Sinnok

One way to raise awareness is by writing to lawmakers about the importance of supporting legislation that helps communities affected by climate change. ELCA Advocacy has an easy-to-use toolkit for writing your members of Congress. Please consider advocating for Shishmaref and other communities like it. By encouraging policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, encourage using renewable energy resources and promote energy efficiency in all sectors of society, we send a message that Congress needs to act. In addition, if you or a community you know faces challenges associated with climate change, please contact us at Finally, we can advocate for Shishmaref through prayer. We may face despair, but we remember that as people of faith we are called to be hopeful while committing to doing God’s work through our hands.

Pastor Richter’s parting remarks carry a call to action and an affirmation of the interconnectivity of all of God’s creation: “Our battle is not unique nor is it something that only applies to those in far off, hard to reach places. The sinking sands of Shishmaref are the same sinking sands of the rest of the world. This is our planet that is melting because of us. If the people of Shishmaref become climate refugees, we are all climate refugees.”

May we heed his words and work for God’s justice throughout creation.


[1] ELCA social statement “Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope, and Justice” (1993)

Photo credit: HelenMarie Bessi Sinnok and Thomas Richter


Into His Harvest Field

Greetings from our nation’s capital!  I join the ELCA Washington Office as the new Director for Grassroots Advocacy and Communication, where I look forward to working with Christians as we connect faith and public life.

Humbled by Christ’s constant inclusion of people living on the margins of society, Christians identify with and support the vulnerable through prayer and public witness.  God’s inescapable call to his people to lift up the sick, welcome the stranger, and aid the poor follows us outside of our church walls and in to our communities, our wider nation, and our world.

Christians in the United States have unique opportunities to work through political channels on behalf of the vulnerable.  Through advocacy ministries, the Church intercedes and creates space for the voiceless by engaging governments to aid immediate need and shatter deeply imbedded cycles of injustice.  This citizenship and view of government was central to the Reformation and remains important today.

My work here in Washington is based on an active partnership with you and your congregation.  I very much look forward to hearing your vision, and it is my hope that you will share your advocacy ministries with me and our larger Church body, as well as your communities and elected officials.  We seek to keep you informed of governmental action, and our office can provide resources to assist you in standing up for God’s most vulnerable children.

Everyday the God of our fathers and mothers, the Lord who always lives and is always near, goes with us as we collaborate to carry out Christ’s work on earth.   Jesus tells us, “The harvest is plentiful and the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.”   Today we ask the Lord of the harvest to call us, unite us, and work through us to shape public perception and policy affecting Creation, the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the stranger.