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30 January 2007
  A Time for Burning

Last night I watched the movie A Time for Burning, it is a documentary about two Lutheran Churches in Omaha, Nebraska. One was a white congregation and the other a black congregation. The movie takes place in the late '60's; I think it was around 1967.

The pastor at the white church decides that he would like to open a dialogue between his church and the other church. Here is the description of the movie from The Internet Movie Database:
In the mid-1960s, 1200 White people attend Augustana Lutheran Church in Omaha, Nebraska. Nearby, Negro Lutherans worship at Hope Lutheran Church. Reverend Bill Youngdahl, Augustana's pastor, proposes that ten couples visit ten Negro families from Hope. It's a controversial idea; within weeks, Youngdahl resigns. The camera observes: Augustana parishioners discuss the idea, the social ministry committee meets with Hope leaders, and Hope youth talk about race and religion. Ernie Chambers, a Negro barber, predicts Youngdahl's failure, and Chambers' implacable questions help lead Ray Christensen, an Augustana social ministry member, to a conversion.


I know that for most of my life I had never seen a "black-Lutheran." The first time I had met an black Lutheran was when I attended the Denver Youth Gathering. I ended up rooming with three black kids from Chicago, I think, because my group had an odd number of guys. I didn't mind. They were nice guys, for the life of me I can't remember their names, though.

I wasn't sure how I would feel about this movie. Its a free flowing movie. There is no narrator so it takes a little while to figure out who the major players are. There are three: Rev. Bill Youngdahl, Ray Cristen, and Ernie Chambers.

Ernie Chambers is a black man, who eventually becomes a very powerful senator in the Nebraska Senate. Ray Cristen is the head of the "social ministries" at Augusta Lutheran church. Cristen is an interesting guy. At first he is against the idea completely, but he eventually comes the value of the whole "excercise." Sadly, and this is a spoiler, I apologize, Rev. Youngdahl is removed from his ministry by his congregation of the episode. It is said he isn't a good "fit" for the congregation.

This movie is mainly video of meetings and chats between these three men.

It is an interesting movie, but tough to follow at times. It's a history that many Lutherans might not like to see or be reminded of, sadly, it might even present a present that many Lutherans might not like to be reminded of.

A Time for Burning is about an hour long. I'd say its worth an hour of your day or evening and would give it an A-.

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Comments:
In Milwaukee, there are numerous African-American Lutherans. A lot of churches that were once in old German neighborhoods are now in black neighborhoods. Some of these were sold to more traditionally black denominations, but others evangelized the neighborhood residents. Other black Lutherans are the result of intermarriage.

There are a number of Lutheran Grade Schools in Milwaukee that are predominantly black. From what I have heard, a lot of black Lutherans don't stay Lutheran after the kids graduate, but a lot of them do stay. But, what we don't have a lot of is black pastors. When we get more of those, we'll have a more stable African American Lutheran population.
 
A situation similar to what happened in "A Time for Burning" happened at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Mobile, Alabama in the late 1960s. In 1966 a new seminary graduate, Rev Ned Milner, was sent to be the new pastor at Holy Cross. He was involved in the civil rights movement. There was resistence from the congregation to his advocating the civil rights movement. In June 1968, Pastor Ned was arrested for participating in a civil right march in Pritchard, a black suburb of Mobile. The bruhaha at Holy Cross resulting from his arrest led to him resigning from his position as pastor and joining Faith Lutheran Church, a black congregation in Mobile. The next year, Rev John Thies became pastor of Holy Cross and a time of healing began between black and white Lutherans in Mobile, where the LCMS has 6 congregations, 3 are all white the other 3 are all black.
 
In 1960's, there were many Black Lutherans thanks to Rosa Young who with Lutheran support, founded schools followed by churches in Alabama. They were completely segregated. I was arrested in an attempt to make a statement before Holy Cross(white)was decimated as the result of a joint communion service on Maundy Thursday with Faith Lutheran Church (black).
 
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