Out and About

Glen and Jane Wiberg’s Farewell at Salem

On the last weekend of 1991, a fine community of pietists and mission friends gathered at the Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, Minnesota. We were invited, actually, by the congregation of Salem to help in the celebration of Jane and Glen’s ministry in that community, which was ending on New Years Day. This ending also marked Glen’s movement into retirement from pastoral ministry. Indeed, the celebration was about forty years of ministry that these two remarkable people have provided throughout the Covenant church.

Forty years! It seems like a reasonable amount of time with which to make some assessment, which seemed favorable as one listened to the words of many who have been touched by Glen’s work. The whole room was filled Saturday night with tables, and excellent food, and lots of people representing places where Jane and Glen have served: Haddam Neck, Princeton, Youngstown, North Park, and Salem. The very images of these churches, painted by Lavonne Ecker in intricate detail, helped set the stage for this gathering to affirm their work and connectedness within our little Covenant. It was a great party—like Babette’s Feast—rich in memories, food and fellowship, song and spirit, life and hope!

On Sunday morning, Glen preached his last Sabbath sermon at Salem from the closing doxology of Romans 11. He connected the text to the last discourses between Job and God as all things become gathered up into the whirlwind in one grand Gloria to the Holy one, blessed be he. Glen might have chosen to speak about himself and what forty years have meant to him. Instead, we got the Gospel, which he always has delivered full of passion and straight out No deflection! Amen!

Sunday afternoon we concluded the party with an exuberant concert by the Minneapolis Gospel Sound—an African-American gospel group. Soon even the mission friends were on their feet, clapping, and singing, and swaying—a sight and sound that drew many of us back to memories and stories of early revivals. It was the right way to conclude the celebration. Throughout the weekend, we had moved through many levels of feeling: from tears to gratitude and back again. Yet, in the end, we acted as Glen had urged in his sermon, and like the old man who lifted his arms in gratitude following the feast crafted by Babette, we too shouted, Hallelujah!

I must reflect on a question that lingers with me after the party. I am not aware of a biblical concept of retirement. Others out there who know better might write us about the matter. It is true that forty seems to be of significant consequence. For example, there is much debate about how old Moses is when he discovers the bush burning (no one knows how long it had been burning until someone had found it). Some suggest 40 and others 80. No one sets forth an age like 25 or 30. One text has an eighty-year-old Moses confronting Pharaoh. Either way, with 40 years of ministry under his belt, Glen’s timing seems to be biblically correct even if we may not be able to tuck him into the strange realm of retirement. It does raise the real possibility that, somewhere in the road ahead, a bush is waiting to be seen and a voice to be heard. Get ready Glen. It ain’t over ’til it’s over, and maybe not even then! DH

With Runar Eldebo

If you have been slow in getting out and about, host a guest who is a stranger to your town. If the guest is from another country, all the better. If the guest is Runar Eldebo from Lidingö, Sweden, you have the best of all worlds.

During the third week of November, Runar Eldebo and I were out and about in the Twin Cities. Our travels included listening to Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg play the violin at a Schubert Club Concert at the Ordway Theatre in St. Paul, visiting with Dr. Paul Sonnack, retired professor of Church History from Luther Northwestern Seminary, attending a Rotary Club breakfast at the Minnesota Club in downtown Minneapolis, gathering for a Pietisten editorial meeting, visiting the Training and Development Research Center of the University of Minnesota where Sandy Johnson works and studies, and eating lunch with Glen Wiberg, Pastor of Salem Covenant. I can’t possibly cover all these experiences, but I want to report a few reflections.

Runar Eldebo is Dean of Students at Lidingö Seminary, the seminary of the Covenant Church of Sweden. In addition to his teaching and other duties at the seminary, he does much travelling and preaching, and he consults with Swedish businesses. Shortly before coming to America, Runar spent some time in Russia listening, learning, and consulting in a community beyond the Ural Mountains.

Runar is not given to converting people, but he is deeply given to evangelizing. He comes as a learner. He comes seeking friendship and understanding. He spreads good will in a gracious manner. From such a person, people learn much about themselves as well as what Runar has to share.

Runar is ecumenical personally as well as denominationally. Though broad in his vision, he is Covenant and he takes the Covenant seriously. He joins no camps. Rather, he engages with people.

Usually, when preachers and leaders talk about evangelizing, the starting premise is that we are deficient, in the wrong, and under judgment. Numbers are thrown around, and the discussion or program being promoted seems to rest on the assumption that if there is one non-Christian left on earth, we have not done what we ought. In former days, I was told to think of the mass of humanity rushing toward a cliff. As the ones in front fell off, they fell into Hell. How could I or anyone sit still while that was happening?

I haven’t heard that metaphor recently, but it is probably still current. Whether or not this metaphor is explicitly in mind these days, the assumption that Christians must convert everybody to fulfill the Great Commission seems to be implicit. Among other things, this ignores the fact that the Holy Spirit of God is everywhere ahead of us, and we would do well to appreciate the various manifestations of the Spirit’s work without being so eager to change people’s religion or culture or to get members for our church.

As Christians and as churches, we invite all who would to come. We make it known that our doors are open, we seek to minister, and we seek to flourish in God’s love through Jesus our Lord. There is no substitute for an open hand and heart if we would be true to the evangel. There is a big difference between a generous hand and lassoing with a lariat.

Lunch with Glen Wiberg—his treat—at the Pannekoken Restaurant in New Brighton was one high point of the week with Runar. It was fun to visit with these gentlemen, to listen to the extent of their knowledge of the contemporary church scene, and to sense their warm pastoral spirits.

The ambiguity of life is one of Runar’s major themes. After enjoying one another for almost a week, we came to the moment of parting. Sandy and I were sorry to see Runar go, ebut the time to move on had come in all its ambiguity. PJ

Couple Communication

If you are like I am, you have a resistance to abstract words and curative techniques. Even though I am a counselor, I have generally kept my distance from words like communication, therapy, co-dependence, and the like. I prefer personal conversation and everyday words. For example, I prefer words like talking with someone or conversing to communication. Given this bias, which l trace to my free-church roots in International Falls and the no-nonsense practicality of my dad and oldest brother, I have been surprised recently by how much I have learned from some of the people who speak: this different language. It has taken about 20 years for ee to get around to taking seriously the couple communication program developed by my old friend Sherod Miller.

Sherod and I met in 1965 at a planning meeting for a city-wide missionary conference for Covenant Junior Hi-Leaguers. Sherod, Phyllis, Sandy, and I have been friends ever since. Sherod is President of Interpersonal Communication Progams, Inc., formerly of Minneapolis and now of Littleton, Colorado. He is a graduate of Wheaton College and earned a doctorate at the University of Minnesota. Sherod has co-authored several books: Alive and Aware and Connecting With Self and Others are two examples. These books and the Couple Communication program that Sherod and his colleagues have developed grew out of study and research done by them during the 1960s and early 1970s in the department of Family Sociology at the University of Minnesota under the direction of the late Dr. Reuben Hill.

Friday, January 24, Sandy and I attended aworkshop for teachers of Couple Communications at the Kelly Inn near the state capitol in St Paul.At the heart of Sherod’s work is the Awareness Wheel. Recently he came up with the idea of imprinting the Awareness Wheel on a mat so that the speaker can stand on the aspect of the issue she or he is addresing. I was surprised, as 1 was coached to the right spots, at how it helped me understand what I wanted to say and to say it more clearly. 

Sherod says that one of the important things about the discipline of identifying thoughts, feelings, data, and so forth is that it slows down the conversation and enables people to express themselves more clearly and completely. I have seen and experienced how valuable slowing down is. It is surprising sometimes to discover that a couple has consistently misunderstood each other for years and have mistaken the misunderstanding for a difference of opinion. Good communication does not eliminate differences of opinion, though it does help to keep the nature of the differences clear and to avoid confusing them with misunderstandings.

Sherod and his colleagues have developed the tools and pedagogy for teaching couples how to talk better with one another and how to resolve conflicts. I think Couple Communication Classes can be a valuable part of a church’s ministry to families.