rev. ellen meissgeier
Background: My name is Ellen Meissgeier, I’m a pastor at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Horsham, Pennsylvania and I also work part time as the Director of Mobility for our synod, and that means that I oversee the work of pastors when they either go to a new church or when they are retiring so that the congregation isn’t left without some kind of pastoral leadership. So I may work in a team of people, but oversee that whole process.
Faith: My faith… Well, I’m one of those people that are perhaps rare in that I don’t I remember a time in my life when I didn’t have some kind of faith, that I didn’t believe something. I grew up in the church as a little kid then there were some years that we really didn’t go to church a lot, but I often went with friends because I was always somehow drawn to people of faith because they always had a story to tell. Sometimes the stories I didn’t like because the truth is sometimes people of faith, out of fear and misunderstanding, can be pretty prejudice people, but I think I learn from people regardless of where they are, so I listen to stories. But I was always again drawn to people who were people of faith because there was a depth to them that maybe some other people didn’t have. And so I’ve always had a sense that there was something greater than I am and that whatever that is, and for me that’s God, would help me to define a purpose. You know, why am I here? Why are you here? I think God can help us be the best people we could possibly be. So, I went into education in college, thought about ministry but in those days there weren’t a lot of women pastors. I taught Junior High for eight years in a Lutheran school and it was there that the kids used to say to me, “Ah, you’re going to be a pastor!” I always felt called to do it but I just wasn’t ready and then in 1984 I went to seminary so, here I am, 26 and a half years later as an ordained person, I’ve been ordained for 26 years.
Aspects of your life which have shaped your faith: I think seeing how faith communities working together for the good of others sort of affirmed that that’s an important thing to do, although, you know other groups do things to help people. Faith is about community, it’s about relationship and it’s a way that we can do that. You can have relationships in a community but there is something different and deeper about it in for me in my experience because connected with that is a prayer, which I have seen so many powerful experiences where prayer has made a difference. Just the connection of people with prayer, when people say, “Would you, would you pray for me?” That connection to that person, whether you’re promising to pray in the future because that person has shared with you a concern, “grandma’s sick, could you pray for grandma?” Or whether the person says, and it’s more likely to happen to me particularly when I’m wearing a color at the hospital, I’ve had people stop me in an elevator and say, “Would you pray with me?” and we pray right then and there. And so there’s really a strong connection and bond that’s formed even though I may never see that person again but there was a powerful connection that took place because we both believe in the power of prayer. So there is something really cool about that, and then to encourage other people to do that. A woman from my former congregation called me up once and said, “I can’t believe you made me do that!” and I said, “What did you do?” and she said, “I was in a doctor’s office and there was a woman really upset, you know kind of it was obvious,” and she said, “I remembered you once said that we should offer to pray with even strangers, that we should care for the strangers in our midst,” and so she said, “I went over and sat next to her and said, “are you ok? Could I pray with you?’’ And she said the woman said yes and so then I had to pray and then she talked about what a powerful experience that was for her and then for the woman because prayer is really an intimate thing, and so here she is with a stranger, holding her hand and praying. So that was kind of neat, to have somebody say, “I listened to what you said and it was powerful.”
Do you feel included with your peers? I feel included although I am well-aware of the fact that due to various circumstances, a lot of it having to do with the mess with the Catholic Church and the abuse of priests. There was a time when to be a representative of the Christian faith was kind of like a status thing, not that I care about that, but we’ve gone to the other extreme where people don’t trust the church anymore and so I represent something in society that a mass of people distrust and hate and that’s difficult but I get it and I understand why because the church has done a lot of things wrong through the ages. There’s still a few people once in a while I’ll encounter, again particularly wearing a collar, who will say women aren’t supposed to be priests or pastors. I don’t get a lot of that, but every once in a while because there’s still traditional to not ordain women so they say, “No! You shouldn’t be doing that,” but I blame God and say, “it’s not my fault, it’s God’s fault, he called me.” But overall, I think people for the most part are still respectful, but I’m aware that the credibility is gone but I think we need to prove ourselves because the church has for so long been exclusive and even this congregation that I serve, I’ve been here for 20 years, we had to work little by little by little to say, “Are we going to be an open and inclusive community for all people and what does that mean and what would that look like?”
A time when you felt included: I think one example was, it’s almost two years ago, my niece asked me if I would do her wedding and that in itself was sort of huge because her grandfather is also a pastor and he’s the pastor of the Lutheran Church Missouri senate and they don’t ordain women and so all the baptisms and things like that, her grandfather has done. And so when her brother got married, her grandfather did that wedding. So Linda and John came and said to me, “Will you do our wedding?” So it was like, you know, “Wow, yea, if you want me to I’d be glad to do it.”So they were having a…I guess it was an engagement party, or something before the wedding obviously, for an opportunity for everybody to get together and meet one another and it was at a restaurant and I got there a little bit early and I walked in and right away somebody from John’s family, her fiancé, knew that must be the aunt that’s going to do the wedding, and this woman took me by the hand and started introducing me to everybody and I felt instantly like I was a part of this family that I was just meeting for the first time and that was really such a lovely feeling that they had such a sense of hospitality and knew how to welcome me in and I almost felt like wait a minute, you’re treating me like a celebrity, I’m not the bride or groom! But it was just a wonderful feeling to walk in thinking I don’t know anybody because nobody from my family was there yet and for these people to just embrace me like that, it was really kinda cool.
A time when you felt excluded: I’m having more difficulty thinking about a situation like that because I try to let go of the negativity. Well, I’ve been in situations a couple of times. Particularly I have one sister, three brothers and one sister, and my sister is really not into church kind of stuff. And so there have been times when I have been in a group of people, let’s say it could be at her house but not necessarily there and not always, but in a group of people and people start talking and then, you know, it’s sort of like “Well, what do you do for a living?” And it’s like, “I teach” or “I work in computers” or whatever and sometimes when you say you’re a pastor….quiet. And so people are either uncomfortable with you because they think you only know how to talk about God or you’ll hear someone say, “Oh, we gotta watch our mouths now, there is a pastor among us. Don’t anybody say, you know, any of those words!” And so then I feel uncomfortable, thinking I’m not asking you to be anything but what you are and who you are. So then I just kind of, in certain settings like that, have felt excluded and mostly I don’t like that because I don’t pretend to be something that I’m not and I’m just human. I’m just a person with the same, you know, I fall short all the time and what you see is what you get so I don’t like to be made uncomfortable because of what I do.
Overcoming exclusion: I think the best way to do is by, in my life, trying to include everybody and to model inclusivity instead of exclusivity, and I think you do it best when you do it naturally. I mean, I have friends that are young and old, and black and white, and gay and straight and, you know, so that just becomes natural for who I am and hopefully when people see my comfort level with other people, they’ll get that sense too because I think it’s contagious. When you’re comfortable in a setting, people can say, “oh, I can be comfortable in this setting too” and when you’re really anxious because of who you’re with, that’s contagious too so I try and just be accepting of people, to the best of my ability, and that’s what I do.
Advice for someone who is feeling excluded: I think I would say you matter. You matter to me, you certainly matter to God and you need to find people who will remind you of that every single day. You can always find somebody who is going to try to tear you down but you can also find some people who will see the value in you, your self-worth. In scripture, Jesus talks about how his body is the temple and Paul goes on to write about we are all temples of the holy spirit and so I even said this Sunday in my sermon that when I harm you in any way, whether it’s physically if I punch you, or when a man rapes a woman, that is violation and desecration of the temple that is you, but that also counts if I say something terrible to you that crushes your spirit, if I crush your spirit, if I say, “I think you are so stupid.” That crushes you, that violates you, it desecrates the temple and that if we would think of all, you know, of all people as equally worthy temple’s of the holy spirit, I think we would treat people far better.
Advice to the people doing the excluding: I think that it’s time for, particularly the church, to step up and say, “we’ve been wrong about that and we’re wrong when we do that.” Our responsibility is not to be gatekeepers. Our responsibility is to bring all people to the good news of God and Christ and that includes everybody. So it’s not for us to judge who gets in and who doesn’t, but I think it takes education too. I think we have to say to people, the reason that we excluded people in the past is out of fear, out of ignorance, and you know, the fear of the unknown, we don’t know what those people are like and we use “those people” in “us” and “them” language which is wrong. We’re all God’s people. And then I think in the back of our mind was, and if we let them in, they might want to start being in charge. So it’s power, it’s fear of power, ignorance, all those things and that’s what happened in the church with people of color, it’s what happened in the church with gays and lesbians, and still happens today because if we let them worship in our churches, what happens if they want to serve on council? What happens if they want to be a pastor? You know, like where do you draw the line? But, the real questions is, well, why can’t they serve on council and why can’t they be our pastors? But we have to teach that to the people who aren’t there yet and say to them, “they have as many good ideas, they are children of good, made in the image of God, and we have to accept that and our job isn’t to be the ones to keep them out.” We let everybody in and then God decides, not my job.
One thing to make the world a more inclusive place: I believe strongly in the concept of pay it forward. I think about people who have done things for me, that I didn’t expect, and wow, it really mattered and so I think, I try to look for ways of doing something for somebody that they can’t pay me back but hopefully they’ll remember that and down the road do something for somebody else. And I may never know about it but it doesn’t matter but those little things, you know it’s that whole butterfly effect, same thing so pay it forward.
“I think that it’s time for particularly the church to step up and say, ‘we’ve been wrong about that and we’re wrong when we do that.’ Our responsibility is not to be gatekeepers.
Our responsibility is to bring all people to the good news of God and Christ and that includes everybody.”
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