Neither life nor death shall ever from the Lord his children sever;
Unto them his grace he showeth and their sorrows all he knoweth.
(Children of the Heavenly Father – verse 3 ELW)
Happy Father’s Day!
When I was a small boy, even before my first day in Kindergarten, my parents became divorced and my father, for the most part, was estranged from me for the remainder of his life. I was blessed with strong grandparents who supported my single mother’s responsibility to raise two young children. While I had a nurturing home life, I remember often feeling slighted and ashamed when my schoolmates would warble about wonderful times being spent with their dads on weekends or on vacation. My family life was stable, but I was made to feel like I was missing out on something important to a young boy growing up.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I found myself attached to the Christian faith. I had a yearning to be in relationship with someone I could call father, someone who would never abandon their fatherly commitment to me and someone to whom I could turn when I was afraid or in trouble. I became encouraged by the characterization of God as father in the bible, and by the promises to which that image was attached – promises of eternal love, of presence in my life, of fearing no evil, of goodness and mercy flowing all the days of my life. I was reminded over and over again that I was baptized into this relationship with my Heavenly Father and received the promise that St. Paul wrote to the Galatians: “for in Christ, you are all children of God, by faith.
God promised to be a fathering presence in my life, and I can say that as more than just a platitude of faith. When I realized this longing for God the Father, I was brought together with a man who was both the presence of God and the presence of a true father in my life. I remember that man especially today: Pastor Theodore Wittrock.
I met Pastor Wittrock as a teenager when I began to attend Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Bronx, NYC. We built a relationship that lasted through young adulthood, marriage, and child-rearing. At each step, he filled in all the gaps, all the longing for an earthly father that I had been missing. I loved spending time with him, and even though he’s been hanging with the Heavenly Father for 14 years, not a day goes by where I don’t remember him – something he said, something he did, some love he shared, some person he cared for.
He encouraged me to consider preparing for ordained ministry, and I am about to honor that encouragement by becoming a Lutheran Pastor sometime in the next few months, and may be shepherding a parish in New York City, where Ted Wittrock saw a “little corner of paradise”. He remains my guide, my model for parish ministry, my friend and my dad. I feel his presence often, as much as I sense the presence of the Heavenly Father in all my days.
And so, I want to shout Happy Father’s Day, Ted…uh…Dad. And tell our Heavenly Father to do the same, OK?
Devotions for Week of June 19, 2016
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Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (GA) in New York City has been chosen as one of eight internship congregations to participate this year in a church-wide initiative designed to increase our understanding of Holy Scripture and most importantly, to cultivate our engagement with it. In partnership with The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Vicar John Heidgerd will be working to develop innovative ways to deepen our faith formation and sense of discipleship for the sake of ourselves and our communities.