Vocation of Lutheran College Conference Devotions 2019

Here’s a little background on the upcoming set of posts. You may not know this, because I surely didn’t know until I was called to campus ministry at an ELCA College, that every year there is a conference on the Vocation of Lutheran Colleges and Universities at Augsburg University in Minneapolis. Last year the theme was on the work of diversity, equity and inclusion that is done on our campuses. Each year, one of the campus pastors is asked to lead the devotions during our time together, approximately 36 hours. Last year I was asked to do the devotion (this was not shocking). The conference is usually held during this time in July, but was cancelled due to Covid-19, so I’m sharing with you the devotions I led last summer. They continue to be timely.

Psalm 25:1-5

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. My God, I put my trust in you; let me not be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. Let none who look to you be put to shame; rather let those be put to shame who are treacherous. Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long.

When Psalm 25 is used in Christian liturgy, the refrain is taken from verse 4: Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths. The writer knows there are more ways to see the world than just one. The psalmist is asking directly for eyes that can see new things in a new way. There is a desire to take a new trail.

You can read this as a brave ask of the psalmist or – as I read it – a nervous one. Show me your ways, but please, please, please remember that I’m in deep need of your compassion, love, forgiveness, grace and justice.

In the summer of 2018, when I was attending the Vocation of Lutheran Colleges conference and saw the 2019 topic “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” printed in the back of the program book, I knew that an email or phone call would come with a request. You see, there are two non-white pastors within the Network of ELCA Colleges and Universities: Pastor Hazel Davidson of California Lutheran University and me. I’m the only Black campus pastor at an ELCA school and that is why I was pretty sure I would be asked to lead devotions at the “Diversity” gathering. I almost said no, because, well, sometimes it can all be too much to be the token Black pastor in the room.

So why did I say yes? Because the other side of, “it can be too much” is the fact that in order for the ELCA to move beyond privilege and into equity and inclusion, we need to get used to people of color being in the front of the room. Non-white leaders need to be the ones to share their stories, which is our story. It is time to see people of color, as Rev. Dr. King put it, not simply by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character – by their own individual stories that, although part of our whole story, can still stand on their own.

So what is it like to be Kara Skatrud Baylor in the ELCA? It can be amazingly welcoming.  It is amazingly welcoming because of the wideness of God’s grace through the sacraments of baptism and communion.  The theology of the ELCA, when we live it out, is so life giving that I can’t stop proclaiming it, even when I think being a manager at the local Kwik Trip sounds like a good option as my new vocation. Our theology, so deeply rooted in saved by grace through faith, is so powerful that it overrides for me all the years that I have spent making folks in the ELCA comfortable with my presence.  The other part of what it is like to be Kara Skatrud Baylor in the ELCA is feeling the need to have to explain who I am.  Not just because you are curious, but because you are uncomfortable until you know:  

  1. Yes, Dale is my uncle.
  2. Yes, Roger is my Dad.
  3. Yes, Ellen is my cousin. All pastors of the ELCA.
  4. And yes, I was adopted, which is how I thought a Black person became Lutheran, until I went to seminary and learned other stories.
  5. Yes, I’m from Wisconsin, one of the hubs of Lutheranism and I know about the meatballs, the lutefisk, and most importantly the lefse.   

Oh – Ok – she is more like us than was first assumed.  It is ok, she can be our pastor.  I have never struggled to get a call (well, ask me about my first job interview in Valley City, ND) and it hasn’t taken me long to make you comfortable, but I had to do it to feel okay in the room.  To feel safe in the room.

My desire – to share my story simply because it is what makes me, me.  I want to share it because I believe you can learn more about God in the world by walking in my shoes and seeing the world in a new way. I don’t want to feel like I have to share my story to make you comfortable. 

We are about to go into a session about Black and Brown faces in the White spaces of our institutions.  I’m going to dare to say that we all have students of color who want the same thing that I want – to be seen for who they are, for their story to be heard, for you to be willing to have them show you the way, to be new path, that is wide enough for us all.  

Time in conversation: What is that you want people to know about you and not just assume about you?

Closing Prayer

Written for the International Commission on English in the Liturgy for the book Sacramentary  

God of justice, you adorned the human race with a marvelous diversity, yet clothed each of its members with a common dignity that may never be diminished.  Put within us respect for that dignity and a passion for the rights which flow from it, that we may always champion for others the justice we would seek for ourselves.  Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever. Amen 

These devotions were printed in Intersection, a bi-annual publication of the Network of ELCA Colleges and Universities. There are over 50 issues to read. Check out this wonderful resource.

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