Story Magazine - Fourth Quarter, 2004

2005 Faithfulness in Ministry Cross Honorees

by Heidi Kramer

The Faithfulness in Ministry Cross award was established in 1991 by the Luther Seminary Alumni/ae Council to "identify, recognize, celebrate and give thanks for alums, both clergy and lay, who have lived lives of faithfulness in ministry." Candidates must be alumni/ae of Luther Seminary or its antecedent schools, and are nominated by fellow alums or other colleagues. It is with thanksgiving that Luther Seminary honors this year's recipients: Alvin Erickson,'61, Delmar Gusdal, '58, and Theodore Vinger, '57.

Alvin Erickson, '61:
Specialized Ministry

Alvin Erickson's prophetic voice bellows in the wilderness of modern-day pornography and prostitution. "It is very human to believe that the destructive realities of prostitution and pornography will never touch people we care about," he says. "That assumption misses a major theme in the Psalms that shows treachery--ambushing the unsuspecting and vulnerable--is common in human history."

For 23 years, Erickson has tirelessly combated commercial sexual exploitation first-hand. He initially learned his trade while volunteering for one year in Hollywood "on the sidewalks and streets, listening and learning [while] he worked with the least, the lost and the leftovers of our society," says James Hanson, a retired pastor from Tuscola, Texas.

In 1982 Erickson moved to inner city Minneapolis to begin a street ministry of his own, the Grass Roots Ministry Alliance. The ministry grew slowly and Erickson and his wife endured "ridicule, physical attacks, attempts to burn their home and car, and rocks and gunshots into their home," says colleague Rev. David Teff. But despite this "they hung in there, persevering, ministering, helping and caring," adds Hanson.

By the 1990's Erickson concluded that rehabilitation efforts alone could never heal the horror of sexual exploitation for both victims and their families. He refocused on prevention and set out to educate the public, especially church leaders, by calling them to prayer and action. Today, Erickson pursues this mission through the nationwide reach of his ministry Adults Saving Kids (ASK) and his faith-based six-lesson curriculum Wise As Serpents, a carefully constructed teaching tool designed to equip junior high youth to deal with the burgeoning sex industry.

"Al has been a courageous fighter, challenging the corrupt system which profits from using kids' bodies... working to rescue kids from the enslavement of pimps, and bringing comfort, hope and reconciliation to the families caught in this nightmare," says Bruce Kuenzel, pastor at Granite Falls Lutheran Church in Granite Falls, Minn. "[He is] an imaginative, creative grass roots leader...and a prophetic voice in his call to change the legal, economic and social systems that fail to protect kids from sexual predators."

To learn more about ASK, visit their Web site at www.adultssavingkids.org

Delmar Gusdal, '58:
Urban/Suburban Ministry

Delmar Gusdal hinged his ministry on mission development in African-American communities and providing services to the poor. "We have been richly blessed by the gospel and Luther has clearly taught us as part of our thanksgiving that 'God has no need of my goods,' therefore serve the needy," says Gusdal. It is a call Gusdal takes very seriously and has dedicated his life to it.

The turbulent civil rights movement of the 60's, especially in 1968, convinced Gusdal of the need for greater ministry to African-American communities. As pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Chicago, Gusdal began reaching out to African-Americans, eventually turning Trinity Lutheran into a majority African-American congregation. Since then, Gusdal has inspired African-American congregations in Illinois, Florida and Alabama to transform and grow as well. "Delmar has always had a commitment to sensitize pastors and congregations to the need and importance for inner city social ministry and word and sacrament," says Michael A. Steinke, a ministry peer and pastor for Westville Correctional Facility in Westville, Ind.

In his quest to serve the poor, Gusdal has transformed many community and human relations organizations into effective social ministry hubs. In 1977, Gusdal became executive director of Florida Lutheran Council on Social Ministries (now Lutheran Services of Florida), where under his leadership "the agency grew rapidly, with innovative programs for indigent elderly, guardianship, employment training and job procurement, medical, educational and economic services for Haitian [immigrants] and numerous other creative responses to human need," says Paul W.Weber, a colleague from Sarasota, Florida. As a result, Weber notes that today Florida has one of the strongest social ministry agencies in the nation.

"[Gusdal] has been a developer with a vision for mission, an eloquent preacher, an articulate teacher and, most of all, God's humble servant with a unique sense of discipleship," says Weber. Steinke echos this sentiment: "As I reflect on his ministry over the years, I am reminded of a pastor who is always concerned about the poor and the plight of minorities and one who is willing to challenge the status quo in an effort to move church folk to help those in need."

Ted Vinger, '57:
Rural/Small Town Ministry

Ted Vinger, knows just how to weave unobtrusively into the fabric of a community, providing consistent, compassionate support and excellent word and sacrament ministry.

For 35 years Vinger brought to rural and urban congregations, both small and large, "a ministry that fits the needs of God's people in that place," says Duane Hoven, a retired pastor from Rochester, Minn. "Wherever he has lived with his family, Ted has immersed himself in the local community...reaching out to people and conveying a genuine interest in them." Hoven notes that even in retirement in the small town of Zumbrota, Minn.,Vinger is frequently requested to preach for pastors of various protestant denominations who are on vacation or leave because "he knows 'the turf' and has become a vital part of the local scene."

Vinger's relational gifts have also helped him to effectively shepherd church leaders and spread a deeper appreciation of Lutheran theological education. He has created books and resources for pastors and lay leaders and mentored many pastors, guiding them in reflection about their ministries and leading them in textual studies. "His personal characteristics have always been exemplary--a deep religious faith coupled with a sturdy intellect, a fine ability to synthesize, coach and lead, and an extraordinary compassion for people," says Herbert Stellner, Jr., of Kasson, Minn.

From Vinger's point of view, however, his ministry is not about what he has accomplished, but rather what God has accomplished through God's steadfast love and the gift of endless new beginnings. "I have failed many times," says Vinger, "but the Lord of the Church has never failed...In ministry, one finds it very important to remember who one is--a baptized child of God--and to remember that one's real calling is faithfulness to a word and sacrament ministry within the framework of the gift of our Lutheran heritage."

Michael Lockerby, pastor of Holden Dale Lutheran Parish in Kenyon, Minn., sums up Vinger's years of faithful service to God's call for his life: "Ted has seriously and joyfully served the church ... He has been a steadfast and skilled laborer in the Lord's vineyard."