Lutheran Seminary Program of the Southwest (LSPS) is a program of Wartburg Seminary and the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. LSPS prepares leaders for Hispanic ministry contexts in the borderland of the Southwest and other cross-cultural ministries. The following interview took place in Dripping Springs, TX outside of Austin. Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Stein interviews Rev. Carmen Retzlaff, a former student of LSPS, who is now serving as a pastor and mission developer at New Life Lutheran Church in Dripping Springs, TX. Rev. Retzlaff has been serving New life for more than two years.
Rev. Retzlaff describes her ministry setting: New Life is an outdoor worshiping community on a 12 acre piece of land in the beautiful Texas hill country; it is easy to feel close to God there. The ministry started in a pizza parlor which was closed on Sundays, and then the worshipping community rented a space in a strip center. One year ago a decision was made to move from the strip center onto the 12 acres of land and become an outdoor worshipping community. The outdoor worship space offers a place where many people can have an experience that they already have of finding God in nature and yet being in community. We believe that you can have both and that they are
not in contrast to each other.
Dr. Stein: It sounds like you are excited about this ministry. Is there something in particular that excites you more than anything else?
Rev. Retzlaff: I am really excited. It is the two things of being out in the community and being in creation. There is an enthusiasm about being a part of a mission church, a new start, where we are by definition creating things that are different and thinking outside the box. In this particular setting at this particular place it has included this gift of being out in creation and deeply living into those ideas about environmental stewardship, about theology of creation and where we fit into it, about interactions with other cultural understandings of how we relate to creation, how we connect to our human neighbors as well as our animal and plant neighbors. It is an opportunity to think about our stories of being God’s people, of tabernacle, of wandering in the desert when you are really in the desert. Thinking of Jesus’ ministry being outside, teaching and being mobile.
Dr. Stein: I am aware as we sit outside for this interview, the background noises of the birds singing, airplanes and emergency vehicles. How do you deal with that in your worship setting?
Rev. Retzlaff: Often times the bird song, or the rabbit or the deer cutting across visually is perfectly wonderful and appropriate. When you are silence and in prayer and you hear bird song it is astonishing. Other things force us to feel like we are more in the community, both the natural community and the human built environment. I try to talk about sirens and emergency vehicles
that are more audible when there are no walls between you, as an opportunity to pray for our neighbors and be mindful of the first responders. And sometimes when wind is loud we talk about the Holy Spirit or sometimes when the rain is loud, I say that it is a better sermon than I would have preached and we listen to it for a while. Actually it is related to our theory of welcoming children. We have a place for them to go to do work that is related to the topics that we are discussing. We have a table in the worship area and so we have gotten used to distractions and making them a gift rather than a subtraction. We have made them an addition.
Dr. Stein: Share about how your call was shaped.
Rev. Retzlaff: My previous career was in public health. I did a lot of HIV/AIDS, violence prevention, and migrant farm worker health work. My call came as the parts of my life as a parent, as
a community member, and as a person working in public health came together thinking about how we relate to our neighbors. My own spiritual journey connected. LSPS has been a part of that. As I was discerning my call to ministry, I discovered LSPS and this was a wonderful place for me to come and to dig deeper into those ideas of who was our neighbor and where God was calling me to serve in this exciting time and place.
Dr. Stein: What aspects of the LSPS community have you taken with you into your ministry site?
Rev. Retzlaff: I have taken some concrete things like: language skills. I can preside in both English and Spanish — bilingually. Being able to talk more comfortably in pastoral Spanish with my neighbors. The main thing that I have taken with me, that I see other graduates of LSPS also have taken with them, is a perspective on interacting with the world. A global perspective, an ability to imagine all the points of view that are coming into play in every conversation in every community. Being on the lookout for that; being aware of that. Hearing those different voices and perspectives is the main thing that I take from LSPS.
Dr. Stein: Now that you have you have been serving in ministry for a few years, what excites you most about God’s call and how has that compelled you to share with others?
Rev. Retzlaff: What excites me most about God’s call, is being involved in mission development. I didn’t expect that. Being a part of a new start is very exciting. Again, I credit LSPS for some of this. The way of thinking contextually. I honed some of those skills at LSPS but I am still honing those skills. It is still a challenge and an exciting part of my call to continually ask, ‘What is
the Holy Spirit up to in this place at this time?’ And, ‘How am I participating in that and how is this community participating in of that?’ We are being challenged and called to go deeper into environmental ministry; we are being challenged and called in Dripping Springs to go deeper into real concrete thinking about how we relate to our neighbors including our immigrant neighbors from the south. As well as who the Holy Spirit brings to this community. The thing that excites and challenges me is to be open to changes in direction or other calls that come from other people who join us.
Dr. Stein: The mission of LSPS is forming leaders to minister in a globalized world. What would you say about the importance of this mission for the future of the wider church?
Rev. Retzlaff: I think it is crucial, not just in terms of numbers of people in the pews, but crucial in reminding us of our call, our mandate from Christ to serve our neighbor. It involves knowing our neighbor. Those are skills that we must learn and practice. How to know our neighbor; How to engage with our neighbor who may not be the person that we normally engage with. We must practice crossing those bridges and building those bridges. And coming up against the other, whoever that might be for us, in order to teach us more about ourselves, and about God and how to be in relation with each other. The mission of LSPS grounds us back into our mission as Christians.