February 17, 2019

I have been reflecting these past few days on what a gift it is to have friendships with those who are different from me. As many of you know, Pastor Jim Stender from St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Vancouver died on Thursday night, February 7. Pastor Jim was not only a wonderful pastor and a friend to the community, he was a personal friend to me.

We met back in 2012 as we worked together on a project to establish a day center for homeless people. Pastor Jim already had a lot of experience in this area of serving the homeless. St. Andrew had been (and continues to be) the host church for the Winter Hospitality Overflow Shelter (WHO).

We hit it off and soon began meeting regularly for breakfast with another Lutheran pastor, Chris Nolte, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran in downtown Vancouver. Later Chris moved away and Jim and I continued getting together for breakfast. Pastor Jim also introduced me to an interfaith clergy group that meets monthly for lunch. It was out of this group that the Interfaith Thanksgiving Eve Service was created.

Since Jim’s death, I have been reflecting on how what we shared in common was much greater and much more important in our friendship than what we held as individuals. What we shared as Christians, in other words, was much more important to our friendship, than how we differed as a Lutheran and a Catholic.

This has been true of those I know in the interfaith clergy group as well. Friendships with those who are Jews, Muslims, Methodists, Episcopalians, and others has enriched my life, increased my knowledge of other faith traditions, and has drawn me deeper into my own faith.

I am also aware that this gift of being in relationship with those who are different from me, or see things differently from me, goes beyond just differences in religion. As pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Joseph and Our Lady Star of the Sea, I have had the privilege of getting to know and to serve a diversity of people. I have friendships with people across the political spectrum. I have been enriched by people of different cultural backgrounds and life experiences. I have learned to value those in my life who see things very differently from the way I do.

My friendship with Jim helped me to appreciate how differences can enhance my own understanding of life and faith. And as I reflect on what he taught me and what our friendship meant, I hope and pray that a similar kind of care and respect for others can take hold in our faith communities and the wider community of our state, nation and world.

We seem, at this point in our history, to be caught in a terrible cycle of demonizing those who are different from us. But faith-filled people can choose a different path. We can choose to see the other as a beloved child of God, whether the other is a Lutheran, a Muslim, a Republican, a Democrat, a conservative, a progressive, an immigrant, a rich person, a homeless person, or any other category of people that we create.

In October of 2017, we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation with St. Andrew Lutheran. One of the events in that celebration was Pastor Jim and me sharing how each other’s faith tradition has impacted our lives. Jim shared what the Catholic tradition has meant to him and I shared what the Lutheran tradition has meant to me.

It seems to me that this could be a useful model that can help us to move beyond demonizing those who see things differently than we do. Seeking to understand the other, to appreciate the other, to honor the other is not only a great basis for friendship, it is a great basis for building a society that reflects the values of the reign of God.

I will always be grateful for what Pastor Jim taught me about the gift of friendship and what is possible when we celebrate what we share in common. May this good and gentle shepherd, this loving husband, father and grandfather, this good friend, now rest in the loving arms of God. 

Pastor Jim’s Service will be Saturday, February 23, at 1:00 pm at St. Andrew Lutheran in Vancouver.

Fr. Gary Lazzeroni