On May 5-6, I had the unique opportunity to represent Lutheran Services in America at the Climate Action 2016 summit in Washington, DC. The summit was a two-day event designed to drive high-level engagement with global leaders addressing how to deliver on climate commitments and how we can embed changes across the globe in government, key sectors and among the general population. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon opened the gathering by proclaiming, "Together we can build the world we want."
Two years ago we laid out a new vision for our network, and we're seeing that vision realized more and more each year. Today, we are stronger and more connected, working together to innovate and transform lives. The reason we can do this – and what sets us apart as a network – is our common mission: our Lutheran legacy of caring for our neighbors that reaches back more than 150 years, and, most of all, our shared values. We have our North Star.
In February I attended a forum with a forum with some of the nation’s leading experts on family policy and child well-being. This was my second hill forum as an intern for Lutheran Services in America. The event was sponsored by The American Academy of Political and Social Science and The Annie E. Casey Foundation. The American Academy of Political and Social Science is one of the nation’s oldest learning societies, and is dedicated to the use of social science to address important social problems. The Annie E. Casey Foundation is devoted to developing a brighter future for millions of children at risk of poor educational, economic, social, and health outcomes. Their work strengthens families, builds stronger communities, and ensures access to opportunity that children need to succeed.
The Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition (IDAC), a program of AAPD, is proud to count Lutheran Services in America among its members. Together we work to mobilize the religious community to take action on disability policy with Congress, the President and Administration, and society at large. Currently we're mobilizing people of faith across America to sign a letter encouraging candidates to address disability concerns in their campaigns.
As someone steeped in the rich Lutheran tradition of service, I have known about this essential calling for a long time. I observed it as I watched my father and mother work in Lutheran schools and learned about it as I attended Lutheran schools and the Lutheran campus of Valparaiso University (Valpo).
As we reflect on the season of Lent, I'm reminded of what a special time this is for the Christian world. I am grateful for this time for reflection, renewal and repentance as we prepare for the joyous arrival of Easter. But this can also be a time to think about how we can recommit ourselves. Recommit ourselves to our faith, to our families, and to the missions that fulfill us.
As a nationwide network of Lutheran social ministry organizations, we walk alongside our neighbors every day as we answer the call to live out our faith in service to others. I ask you to pray during this Lenten season for the people we serve – the homeless, refugees, people leaving prison, children in the foster care system, families in crisis, communities recovering from disaster, persons with disabilities, seniors without strong support systems – we pray that we can help them lead lives of dignity, independence and abundance.
To be at the table and to be talked about at a table are two very different things. I attended the Lutheran Services in America Disability Network (LSA-DN) meeting in Carefree, Arizona last month. I have served in a number of leadership positions related to disability ministry for the ELCA. My experience there had proven to be some of the most inclusive environments I have ever encountered. When I accepted the invitation for this meeting, I expected to enter a group that had a long-standing history of representatives with disabilities, similar to my experience with the ELCA. Instead, I found a group of administrative leaders gathering regularly to talk about us without us.
This week marks my seventh full week of my Washington DC semester, and I find myself already having to think about scheduling my flight back home to Minnesota. To say my DC experience so far has been great would be an understatement. Seven weeks ago I had no idea that I would have the chance to meet so many kind people, navigate my way around DC and feel a part of the team at LSA.
Not only was moving to a new city an exciting, yet an anxious milestone in my life, beginning a new journey with a faith-based organization was as well. Having recently worked on policy at the state and federal level at the Annie E. Casey Foundation as a National Urban Fellow, I quite frankly did not know what to expect when it came to working for a national, faith-based organization. Over the past 60 days, I have had the opportunity to learn about what grounds each of the social ministry organizations in the LSA network. I believe myself to be a man of faith, and like many, strive to develop a closer relationship with God and understand my purpose in life. In these first 60 days, the values, vision and mission of LSA have come to light for me. The values of LSA have resonated not only in the development of my own faith but I see and feel them in the work each of our members do across the country.
"If you’re not around the table, you’re on the table." These were words of wisdom imparted by Diakon’s President and CEO Mark Pile at the recent LSA 2016 CEO Academy, which was held in Carefree, Arizona, Jan. 31-Feb. 3. 55 leaders from within our national Lutheran social ministry network gathered for three days of networking, fellowship and learning around the issue of "Leading Through Innovation."