National Lutheran News

Minnesota pastor leads Bible study at Women of ELCA gathering

The emphasis of the 2008 Triennial Convention of the Women of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (WELCA) had already been selected
before the Rev. Karen Bockelman was asked to be the Bible study leader. But
she couldn’t have been happier about the theme: “Come to the Waters.”

“I chaired the Sacramental Practices Task Force on Word and Sacrament in the
mid-90s,” said Bockelman, “and that’s when I got much more interested in
baptism.” This task force wrote a statement for the 1997 Churchwide
Assembly, “Use of the Means of Grace,” that was passed overwhelmingly.
“That document then was the grounding statement for the Renewing Worship
project, resulting in the new hymnal [in the ELCA],” she added. “That’s why I
think the planners of the WELCA assembly thought of me to lead the Bible
studies.”

The assembly Bible study leader provided a three-part series for Lutheran
Woman Today, a monthly publication of WELCA. Bockelman was invited to
present the first part of the study, water imagery in the Bible, at Lutheran
Church of the Good Shepherd in Minneapolis, the congregation in which she
was confirmed.

“There was water before there was light, according to the creation stories,” 
Bockelman told participants. “Water is often part of creation and part of new
creation. It is present in destruction and in Israel’s deliverance from slavery
into freedom.”

Bockelman quoted author Loren Eisley, saying “If there is magic on this
planet, it is contained in water.” She added, “I wouldn’t use the word ‘magic,’
but I do understand that water hits us at the core of our being.
“Without water we can’t live, even though sometimes it brings death,”
Bockelman said.

This aspect of water became very clear even as she was finalizing
preparations for the Triennial assembly. She received an e-mail from a friend
living in Decorah, Iowa, where one congregation’s circle the night before had
used the LWT study. But on that morning, the dike system, which is geared to
keep water at 18 feet, was already at 17 feet, 9 inches. “My friend said the
references to water as a matter of life and death were too close.”

But that is also where the connection between water and baptism coalesce,
she says. “We are reminded that in baptism God brings us out of death into
life, by joining us to the death and resurrection of Jesus.” So water themes are
central themes for Christians.

“If you want to see how wet the Bible is, read the Psalms or the Gospel of
John,” she challenged participants.

“A renewed sense of our baptismal calling might lead us into action,
particularly as it relates to issues of water,” she says, as The U.N. Declaration
on Human Rights includes concerns over water. Bockelman says, “Billions
have inadequate access to water; women walk miles daily for clean water; the
next generation of war will be about water.”

Bockelman argues that water — and baptism — are increasingly matters of life
and death. She hopes our baptism motivates us to be actively seeking water
justice for people who are vulnerable.