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The Rev. Heidi Neumark addresses holding faith in the society

The Rev. Heidi Neumark was the featured speaker for the Johnson Symposium on Faith and Society. Metro Lutheran photo: Bob Hulteen

Location, location, location. Normally that little saying is associated with real estate speculators. A quick way to make a quick profit is to buy property when no one wants it, and either wait for it to become desirable or manipulate the market to make it more immediately appealing.
The Rev. Heidi Neumark, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church of Manhattan (ELCA) and formerly pastor for 19 years at Transfiguration Lutheran Church in South Bronx, thinks location will affect how the Bible is read and lived out. She challenges individuals of means to “re-locate” their vision in a way that broadens their ability to understand the Bible and challenges them to act in solidarity with those who struggle.
Neumark was speaking at the Johnson Symposium on Faith and Society, a program of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Minneapolis. The symposium is named after Ronald Johnson and Stacy Johnson, former pastors at Holy Trinity.
Noting the work of Theodore Hiebert, McCormick Theological Seminary, Neumark explained that, although the word “dominion” is out of fashion, “it is very relevant to members of my congregation.” Like the people to whom the Genesis passage was addressed, her members are not often in control of their environment. So, “to hear the words ‘created in the image of God,’ and ‘have dominion’ are empowering words.” She said her members are more used to hearing “sit down and shut up” or “lie down and take it.”
Realizing that it was a matter of faith for the women of the congregation to gain some aspect of control, or dominion, over their lives, they had a zeal to confront the powers and principalities that were impinging on their lives — like the local grocery store that was selling only rotting vegetables.
The women, empowered by the gospel, she explained, were able to put on uniforms resembling those of food inspectors and go through the store, pointing out what was unacceptable. Their actions caused a change in the living standards for themselves and for others in the neighborhood. “They were living for the sake of the world,” Neumark said.

Talking together with intention

Of course, the courage required didn’t come solely from the reading of biblical texts. The congregation has also launched a “listening campaign,” much like some congregations might begin a stewardship campaign. Leaders in this small congregation set up one-to-one meetings with 304 people — both members and non-members who lived in the community — to hear, “really hear,” what was important to people. Through intentional conversations, the congregation was able to be much more present to the needs of those around them.
Asked recently if experiences like this caused her to be an idealist or a realist, Neumark resisted the temptation to choose. “Community organizing allows us to analyze the real world and engage our ideals at the same time,” she reflected. “With analysis and passion, we can then put legs on hope.”
Neumark believes Martin Luther demonstrated a similar resistance to accepting separation in his theology of the sacraments. “Luther preached, ‘The Holy Sacrament produces two things: one is that it makes us brothers and fellow heirs of the Lord Christ, such that it makes us one cake with him; the other that we also become common and one with all other people upon earth and also all become one cake,’” Neumark explained.

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