February Staff Pick

Written By: Pastor Jan Peterson

In 1965, Lutheran Film Associates and director, Bill Jersey, filmed A Time for
Burning a documentary focused on racial tensions in the Lutheran church. The
documentary follows Augustana’s pastor, church leadership, and community
members as they discuss sharing meals with members of an all-black church and
having exchanges with the youth groups from Augustana and another all-black

Current members of Augustana who were here at the time of the filming, express
feelings of being blindsided by the speed at which things happened – all the
events happened in a two-week period. They also noted that though racism
existed in the congregation as is reflected in the film, voices of members who had
a history of fighting for inclusion of other minority groups were not reflected in the

Though some would prefer to forget about the documentary, it is a part of the
history of Augustana, and part of the formation of who the congregation is today.
At the end of the documentary Pastor Youngdahl says: “That our ministry is
centered not in the midst of stained-glass windows but in the areas of life where
people reach out for justice, love and understanding.”

This is the ministry of Augustana Lutheran Church today. Shortly after release of
the documentary the congregation began a children’s program that reached out
to kids in the neighborhood. Fifty-six years later Project Embrace continues as a
six-week summer program for youth preschool through age 13. Seeking to be the
church that welcomes those others exclude, in 2004, Augustana became a
Reconciling in Christ congregation extending God’s extravagant welcome and
genuine invitation for acceptance and full inclusion to people of every age, class,
color, ethnic origin, sexual orientations, gender identities, ability, or marital status.
In 2016, Augustana began sponsoring seminary interns with a preference toward
an intern who identifies as part of the LGBTQIA+ community and in 2018 we
opened our Center for Reconciling Action aimed at providing educational
opportunities for congregations with a goal of helping others provide safe spaces
and full inclusion for worshippers who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+

Almost sixty years ago Ray Christensen, the Augustana member most featured
in the documentary, responded to the statement that “People aren’t going to get
to the place he was overnight” said: “There isn’t many more nights left the way I
look at it.” Over 21,000 nights have passed and still people are being shot
because of the color of their skin. Almost sixty years and still Black, Indigenous,
people of color (BIPOC) in the city of Omaha are faced with acts of racism nearly
every day – both subtle and overt.

As we celebrate Black History Month once again may we commit ourselves anew
to becoming anti-racist. Attached to this article are links to a video of A Time for
Burning accompanied by a leader and discussion guide to direct your time
together. May they be tools by which all congregations can further their journey
toward seeking justice for all God’s children!