ELCA Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations
by Kathryn M. Lohre

Photo of Kathryn M. LohreKathryn M. Lohre, Assistant to the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, is Executive, Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations and Theological Discernment. This article is adapted from that office’s newsletter.

I am writing to you from my makeshift “home office,” which is nothing more than a plastic folding table facing out a window. Next to me is the stack of books and papers I brought home with me from the Lutheran Center nearly two months ago, along with my eldest son’s pile of middle-school math worksheets. My beloved predecessor, Bp. Don McCoid, often encouraged me to embrace life’s multiple vocations, but I’ll admit this feels like a master class.

So much has changed for all of us in such a short period of time, and is changing daily. Shifting our ecumenical and inter-religious relational work from in-person to virtual spaces has its challenges and limitations, and we are finding new and innovative ways to engage. While ongoing dialogues and activities are convening virtually, novel educational opportunities and large-scale prayer and advocacy events are also taking place online—reaching people way beyond the choir. Our endeavors toward Christian unity, mutual understanding and the common good have not been canceled!

All of us have experienced or undertaken new projects aimed at amplifying love, hope, and solidarity amid this crisis, and providing resources to people in need. Here are but a few recent examples of our engagement:

• The National Council of Churches, Christian Churches Together in the USA and Churches Uniting in Christ collaborated on an unprecedented common Easter statement and witness.
• The World Council of Churches hosted a webinar, “Church Apologies for Racist Past: Moving From Statements to Prophetic Action,” and dealing with the realities of racist rhetoric and violence in light of COVID-19 and with the churches’ response.
• ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton invited Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Dr. Sayyid Syeed, president of theIslamic Society of North America, to cooperate on a video message, “Interfaith Solidarity in the Midst of a Global Pandemic,” that was posted on the eve of Passover, Holy Week and Ramadan.
• The World Council of Churches’ Thursdays in Black Ambassadors issued a statement and video message addressing the “dual pandemics of COVID-19 and sexual and gender-based violence.”
• The ELCA presiding bishop and consultative panel on Lutheran-Jewish relations sent a Letter of Solidarity With Jewish Partners and the Asian American Community to Jewish signatories of a solidarity letter addressed to Asian American and Chinese communities.

Creativity is contagious, and in a time of physical distancing it is the connective tissue among us. Our relationships may be best in person, but we are finding that they can flourish in other settings, too. Virtual spaces are now firmly part of our rapidly changing ecclesial, ecumenical and inter-religious landscape. In this 50th-anniversary year of Earth Day, we might begin to see the benefits for our beloved planet when we spend more time on Zoom than in airplanes. We are laying the groundwork now for a bold future of experimentation and risk-taking seeking unity, justice and peace.
Two weeks ago, when the national Christian–Hindu dialogue convened via videoconference, participants were invited to share their experiences and insights in light of the pandemic. Dr. Lo Sprague of the Guibord Center — Religion Inside Out told us how participants in a recent online interfaith youth event said they did not want to get back to the way things were or even a “new normal,” but that they “wanted to get back to better.” Yes.

The global pandemic has touched all of us directly, whether through anxiety, fear, illness, racism, death, or grief. The body of Christ, the human family and the whole inhabited earth are suffering and ill. Please know that I have been praying for you and your families, that you are safe and healthy and have what you need. I have never been more grateful for the real-life relationships we share in this virtual space.

Ministry Spotlight: Lavada Woods

Photo of Lavada WoodsLavada Woods, OSL’s Financial Assistant for the past ten years or so, has retired from Our Savior’s as of June 30.

Her cheerful demeanor and faithful dedication will be missed. Thanks, Lavada, for all you’ve brought to OSL!

Ministry Spotlight: Pr. Ray Engh

Photo of Ray Engh

The OSL community was saddened to learn of the death last month of the Rev. Ray Engh, whose long ministry service included pastor at Our Savior’s and Assistant to the Bishop of the South Dakota Synod. This is adapted from the full obituary found at millerfh.org.

Raymond H. Engh, retired minister and formerly of Sioux Falls, died in Minneapolis at the age of 87, on June 7.

Ray was born October 11, 1932, in Conrad, Montana, to the Rev. Harold and Evelyn (Larson) Engh. He grew up in Florence, South Dakota, and attended Augustana Academy and Augustana College. At Augustana College he met Joyce H. Sunde, whom he married in 1954 on his graduation day, June 7.

After serving in the army, Ray attended Luther Theological Seminary in St, Paul, graduating in 1960. He was called to parishes in Hadley/Chandler, Minnesota (Hadley/Trinity Lutheran), Sioux Falls (Our Savior’s Lutheran), and Fort Dodge, Iowa (St. Olaf Lutheran). During these 16 years as a parish pastor he was especially involved in youth and camping ministries. This led to four years as the director of Lutherdale Bible Camp near Elkhorn, Wisconsin. After a short time with the national ALC office (DLMC), Ray served as associate in the South Dakota Synod Office for 15 years until his retirement, traveling extensively with roles in churches and Bible camps throughout South Dakota.

As a father, youth and parish pastor, camp director, and synod staffer, Ray impacted thousands of people with his quiet compassion, wit, and wisdom. His work with the youth of Our Savior’s created lifelong friendships and guidance. He accompanied hundreds of youth to outdoor camping programs each summer, and nurtured a thriving youth group during turbulent times of the Vietnam War. He played key roles in integrating the Bible camps of NeSoDak, AMR/Outlaw Ranch, and Klein Ranch into the organization Lutherans Outdoors in South Dakota.

Ray is survived by his wife, Joyce (Sunde) Engh, children Michael (Susan), Richard (Gabriele), Daniel, and Judy (Tim Bowman); brothers Ken (Solveig), Phil (Marlys), and Jim; sisters Dorothy (Bill) Harstad and Lois (Byron) Hildahl; seven grandchildren and three-plus great-grandchildren, along with many nieces and nephews and their families.

For those who wish to honor his memory, gifts to Lutherans Outdoors in South Dakota or other Lutheran outdoor ministries would be most appropriate. Other fitting charity gifts could be to Save the Boundary Waters, Augustana University, or Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls.

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