Seminary Autobiography #1

Autobiography – Faith Statement
Steven Biedermann

My present relationship to the church is a healthy one in which we both benefit. Being a college student I don’t live in the same place all year, thus I have more then one church that I attend. When I am with my parents I go to where my dad is a pastor at HTLC, a ELCA Lutheran church in Ankeny. While at school I have attended chapel on campus, service at St. Pauls Lutheran in Waverly and served as a youth director for Zion Lutheran in Readlyn. It is hard for me at this point in my life to point to any one church as my home congregation however, this situation has given me opportunities for growth that I would not have found with a single home church. I find my relations with all my home churches to be mutually beneficial and I am drawn to the unique community of believers at each location. I think all churches have certain obligations to social justice and acts of service as a means of striving to accomplish the great commission. For the most part, churches that I have been a part of have done a good job of this, but I still think we as Lutherans are hesitant on how to share what we believe with others. We are hesitant because we fear coming across as judgmental or forceful. We are called to be bold and faithful witnesses, myself included.

I feel like I am a strong candidate for church leadership. Many of my spiritual gifts lend toward a career in the helping profession. I feel that being a pastor is a particular niche that God is calling me to fill and is equipping me for the role. I feel that I am equipped to encourage people in their faith journey for several reasons. I am a good listener and I enjoy listening largely because I am a patient person. One of the highest compliments one could give me is to tell me that I am a patient person. I feel strong leaders are ones who know when to listen and when to speak. It seems that when people see they are being really listened to it gives them a sense of self-worth. It is my patience which breeds kindness–understanding of the worst of people, of trying to feel their pain. I feel called to help people by being a model of understanding and forgiveness, but also by being honest in my brokenness and doubt. I enjoy liturgy, tradition, music and the spirit of worship. If there were one area of limitation in my journey of ministry it would be my introverted-ness. I am not painstakingly shy, rather being around people does not energize me. I enjoying spending quality time with people but I realize I need time for solitude to reflect and gather myself.

Luther Seminary seems like an excellent place for me to discover my calling, become equipped to serve God and enter into the world of ministry. Like the Luther Seminary website says, “God could use someone like [me]”. I know God could use someone like me and Luther seems like a good place to figure out the details. You have an impressive faculty and course selection to guide me down academic avenues of interest. You also have a nurturing faith community that I hope will both challenge and nurture my heart in Christ. I have been brought up as an ELCA Lutheran and I am strongly connected with their tradition and beliefs, so it makes sense that I would go to an ELCA College and seminary to prepare for ministry in the Lutheran church. I would like to stay near the Midwest for seminary so I can still visit my family and friends in this part of the country, but post seminary I would be willing to travel anywhere I feel God is calling me.

I know I want to be a pastor; the exact details and emphasis thereof will hopefully be explored in seminary and my early career. I do not yet know if God is calling me to urban ministry or rural ministry, assistant pastor or missionary, etc. These are callings I am already prayerfully considering, and hopefully seminary will help in the process. I am looking forward to being in community with people from a variety of experiences in the pastoral field. This will allow me to get a sense of what different professions in ministry are like so I can narrow down my own calling. I do know that I want my future church to be a hospital for sinners. I would like for their mission to reflect the mission of the early church in the great commission. I would encourage whatever faith community I am in to find their identity in relation to the narrative of scripture.

I believe Jesus Christ (the word, the way and the light) is the Son of God and has died to forgive the sins of humanity. I believe in the Holy Spirit as counselor and great advocate for the Christian community. These three, God, God’s son and the Holy Spirit, are revealed in the words of the Bible. For me, the Bible is the Word of God, to be interpreted in light of its historical context and the Church’s teaching. The historical context of the Bible should be read in contrast to our own context in a continuing dialogue. This dialogue is shaped by each generation by the faith of believers of the past. Each generation is asked to define God in their lives, using scripture, faith (heart), Religion (hands) and Theology (head).

I agree with Paul Tillich, who defines faith as, “that in which we place our ultimate trust.” For where your treasure is there your heart will be also. I also agree with the definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Although I have never seen God, I have seen God working in the hearts of those who are to God’s self.  Faith is personal, but transcends the self. It is based on hope and can be both possession and journey. Faith for me is like a work of music. There is comfort in the refrain of music, but much of the beauty can come from variation.

For me religion is the structure of community based on belief. I think a lot of times religion can be as simple as the “human movement toward God” (Barth). Religion is a means for us as a community of believers to express faith in the world. It is the means by which we humans, imagine, live and act our ultimate meaning. I think individual spirituality is a wonderful idea, but it falls short of coming together as a community of believers to support others, and ourselves with the love of Christ.

For better or for worse theology is the reason behind religion. Literally it is the study of the character of God. Theology is important to faith and religion, as it begs the two to define themselves. For me theology is about asking the right questions. I enjoy studying theology, because I feel doing so helps me understand the convictions of my own faith, religion and opinions of God. In doing so I am then able to present God in a way that is applicable to the hearts and minds of those who are in my life.

Given my history, most people would assume I would become a pastor. I come from a long line of German pastors all named Eric Wilhelm (William) Biedermann. Even at a very young age, members of our congregation would ask me if I wanted to grow up to be like my dad. I would normally tell them that I wanted to be an inventor/artist/professional guitar player, but that being a pastor wasn’t entirely out of the question. So for me discerning the call to ministry began at a very young age, even if it was not an entirely conscious one. I was never reluctant about becoming a religion major headed to seminary, but it definitely required some discernment along the way.

I was born near LaCross, Wisconsin in 1986. My dad was a pastor of a two-point congregation there. As a baby and toddler my mother would take me to either South Prairie Lutheran or Northwest Prairie Lutheran, depending on the Sunday. I was baptized at the latter when I was barely a month old. To this day when people ask when I accepted Jesus Christ into my life and heart, I point them to the date of my baptism. Just as I don’t remember my baptism, just so I am not able to remember a time in my life where choosing Jesus into my life was a conscious decision. Jesus chose me and marked me with the water of his new covenant. Throughout my life, I have had continuing opportunities to choose Jesus on my journey. Each one of these subsequent choices on my behalf began with one on God’s behalf. To this day I am still responding to that initial choice of baptism. Since the time of my baptism the renewing waters have repeatedly washed away my sin, saved me and introduced me as a member of the body of Christ. For my entire life, the waters of my baptism will continue to be a special means of God’s grace by which He gives faith, forgiveness and salvation.

I grew up going to Sunday school in Marshfield, Wisconsin. I read my children’s Bible and loved going to our summer vacation Bible school program. I learned about Noah and the flood, Abraham and Issac, David and Goliath and the woman at the well from brightly illustrated books. Sunday school teachers and upbeat songs accompanied by guitar got me excited about the stories of scripture. God seemed like a lot of fun when I was a kid. I believed like a child and lived like a child and had a blast practically living in church as a pastor’s kid. I think those positive memories of my faith as a child are what inspired me to be a camp counselor in my college years. I wanted to share with children the joyful faith I had as a child.

Middle school in Cedar Falls, IA was a very testing time for my faith. I learned a lot of facts about the Bible through confirmation, but, like many middle school tweens, God felt distant and not applicable to my life. My moral ideals and commitment to non-violence made me a target with little to no friends. Although God felt distant, I prayed more during that time more then I had prayed in my entire life. For the first time in my life, I experienced what it was like to be depressed and it is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Through help from my middle school guidance counselor, I was able to re-evaluate negative thought cycles that prevented me from being vulnerable to God’s purpose for me in my life. I also started to realize aspects of my life I had been taking for granted, namely a loving family. Sounds simple enough now, but it wasn’t. Although I didn’t have the words for it at the time, God was teaching me that doubt is a very big part of faith. From that time on, I feel like I have been able to empathize with people struggling with depression and times when things don’t seem fair. More than anything I want a career where I can help people and Jesus seems like a pretty good way to go about that.

I went to high school in Ankeny, IA. There I learned a lot about service and hard work through my youth group, jobs, extra-curricular activities and schoolwork.  My first and most memorable service trip was to a Native American reservation near Red Lake, MN. We painted houses in the hot sun and watched over kids who didn’t want supervision. I saw the Christian faith shaped by Native American tradition and realized for the first time in my life not everyone’s picture of Jesus needed to look like mine. What matters is that he washed people’s feet. Part of the service program at Red Lake was literally washing other people’s feet, and it was strangely one of the most spiritual experiences of my life. Humble acts of service say so much about the Christian faith.

I feel my faith has undergone a great deal of development in my college years. After a year of trying to be an English major at Wartburg College, I found my interests were drawn more to my religion classes. I fell in love with discussing topics such as source criticism, historical context and different types of language used in the Bible. Religion classmates became my friends and roommates. In our free time, we would pontificate about all sorts of blasphemous things late into the night, testing each other’s knowledge of theology and philosophy without stepping on any toes.

I began to search for outlets in which I could share my faith and help other people with their faith journeys. I ended up becoming a camp counselor at Riverside for the past two summers and working as a youth director/music leader for a church in Readlyn during the year. The community at Riverside was very dedicated to teaching third graders through high school students about Jesus by loving them, giving them a sense of a strong faith community then equipping them to go back out into the world. I think one area that camp really helped me was noticing where other people are at in their faith journey. Once I was able to understand where they are and what they believe, I could then continue spiritual dialogue without talking over them or offending them. Through being a religion major I have acquired a lot of knowledge about the Bible, but Riverside helped teach me organize and apply that knowledge so it could speak to the hearts of a variety of people. It was also a place of constant prayer and devotion for the staff—edging on legalistic, but no place is perfect. My job at Readlyn was a wonderful to experience on site experience of what it might be like to be a pastor some day. I was able to better see how my personality and creative skills fit within a church setting though I was dealing with children. I am not necessarily interested in youth ministry as a career, but I think there are a lot of skills that are transferable between teaching children about God and teaching adults about God. If one can put things simply enough that they can speak to the heart of a child, those same words can turn an adult heart to childish belief. There is the old joke that sometimes the congregation will get more out of the children’s sermon then the adult one, but occasionally there is a grain of truth to that.

Wartburg gave me the opportunity to study abroad in Tanzania during the fall semester of 2008 and I came back a little different. As least I see things differently now. It is striking how much abundance we have! I am still figuring out what the experience means to me. While in Tanzania, I was able to worship with the Massai/Waswahili and see a Lutheran church that is growing exponentially and giving hope and common ground to many. Some things that TZ taught me that are relevant to my faith journey are: being joyful in worship, true hospitality, person is people, humility and living simply. These are things that I feel always knew, but Tanzania brought them into the forefront of my conscious and displayed them in a beautiful way.

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~ by Steve and Lindsay on February 12, 2009.

5 Responses to “Seminary Autobiography #1”

  1. Good paper – well written and thoughtful.
    Dad

  2. I’ve read your excellently written paper a number of times and am impressed with its content and insight into your present status. Aside from a couple “Ron Huber” notations it certainly is well written. Naturally as one of the “Eric’s” in your lineage I have a growing interest in those who have preceded us. Age seems to have that kind of influence. I was the 28th in the Biedermann lineage to become a pastor which would, of course, make you the 30th. You would join a lineage of 6 generations. In addition, almost the same can be identified in your grandmother’s Adix lineage including the frequency of the name “William”. All of the ministers have served in the ELCA or it’s antecedents except one. He was a Methodist who married the Lutheran minister’s daughter.

    It is interesting that over 50 years ago when I was preparing for the ministry I was little aware of this extensive heritage in the ministry. However, I was aware that the ministry was a dominant choice for the men in our extended family. In the 1950’s at Wartburg College there were over 300 of us men enrolled in pre-theology courses preparing for some kind of vocation in the church. Needless to say, we were a very prominent presence on a campus numbering less than a thousand students. My moment of decision to prepare for the ministry came during a conversation with my academic adviser, “Snuffy” Wiederanders, Phd. (a common name in the history of the ELCA) At the end of my Sophomore year I submitted to him my proposal to enroll in a double major of Education and Theology. He immediately dismissed that idea by saying it couldn’t be done and that I must choose between one or the other. I chose pre-theology with a major in Social Work. I learned later that I could have, indeed, gotten an Education degree in addition to pre-theology. I hold nothing against Dr. Wiederanders for his insistence upon me making a decision between teaching and the ministry. However, I do feel that I would have been well-served by having a teacher’s certificate along with my B.A. gp B

  3. I woke up this morning with an unrelenting curiosity consuming my attention. I’ve wondered why so little attention was given to God the Father in your paper. The issues associated with creation are many and varied within religious communities, our society and our public education system. Whether your omission was inadvertent or intentional I’m sure you have an understanding and interpretation of the creation and God the Father which is both Biblical and academically acceptable for, indeed, the two need not be in opposition to each other. Then, too, we have the issue of “the feminine” connected with Fatherhood to consider. So, this comment is probably more for my own benefit than yours, just to get it off my mind. gp/b

  4. I focused more on that aspect in my candidacy paper. Thanks.

  5. This is quality. I believe in you and what you are doing Steve! Good luck next semester and enjoy LA!

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