Augsburg Fortress

The Bush Still Burns: How Spirituality and Organizing Transformed a Pastor and Congregation

The Bush Still Burns: How Spirituality and Organizing Transformed a Pastor and Congregation

Terry Allen Moe came as pastor to Redeemer Lutheran, a traditional, working-class congregation in a poorer, mixed-race neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, in 1981. Five US presidents, six Portland mayors, and four Lutheran bishops later, Redeemer had been transformed into an innovative, spiritual-not-religious, member-based nonprofit called Leaven Community, and a new ELCA congregation--Salt and Light Lutheran--nested in the midst of Leaven.

This is the story of how an intertwining of spirituality and organizing transformed a pastor and congregation. Using the metaphor of paying attention to the voice of God in the burning bush (Exodus 3), Moe describes how he and the congregation turned to the burning bush of deepened spirituality coupled with hard-nosed organizing embodied in the IAF network. The process was not easy or smooth, but the pastor and people changed, and together they impacted the larger Portland community.

This is the story of listening, discerning, acting, and evaluating to address the upstream causes of pressing issues and of identifying and lifting up the public dimensions of people's pain. This is the story of prayer circles that addressed societal challenges contributing to people's private struggles. This is the story of unearthing and confronting the impacts of political decisions, overcoming the mentality that "church and politics don't mix." Sunday worship shifted to include the stories of addiction, job loss, rising energy costs, and ecological grieving from the members and their neighbors.

This book demonstrates how the power of spiritual discernment and community organizing can transform a community of faith. It's timely inspiration for congregations struggling to find their way out of decline and the immobilization caused by fear and lack of creative leadership.

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  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781506468693
  • Age/Grade Range Adult
  • Dimensions 6 X 9
  • Pages 232
  • Publication Date March 23, 2021


"Don't miss this riveting account of Pastor Moe and his congregation's spiritual journey. Starting as a mostly white Lutheran church in a Black neighborhood, they went beyond the standard church structure, beyond providing traditional community services, to the foreign realm of community organizing to challenge those in the halls of power. They confronted city councilors, mayors, bad landlords, and red-lining banks, and along the way created a unique church-community structure that everyone who wants to make a difference in the world should pay attention to."

Jeff Merkley, US Senator for Oregon and former member of Pastor Moe's congregation

"Terry Moe's vision, creativity, courage, authenticity, and collaborative spirit shimmers through the pages of this book--a primer in how to grow into formidable spiritual leadership with our struggling neighboring communities and challenged mainline congregations. Blending the wisdom of cutting-edge community organizing, ancient spiritual practices, and intentional congregational life, Pastor Moe's work is and always has been well ahead of its time. Read this! You will discover a wise companion and mentor for your own journey."

Laurie Larson Caesar, bishop of the Oregon Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

"An insightful, self-revelatory chronicle of Pastor Moe's thirty-year odyssey in which both he and his faith community were transformed through contemplative organizing. A valuable resource for clergy and lay leaders who are committed to courageous renewal for their congregations."

Dennis Jacobsen, author of A Spirituality for Doing Justice (Fortress Press, 2021)

"A compelling story about what is possible when leaders are broken open from the inside out to discover the mystery of God's transforming power. Over four decades of pastoral ministry Terry Moe has been integrating spirituality and the practices of community organizing to engage congregation and community. Much practical wisdom here for how to do transformational ministry in this time between what the church and world has been and the new reality that is trying to emerge."

Ray Pickett, Rector, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary

"Not every person sees fire along their path. Not every congregation organizes for mission. Our gifts are unique. Our communities complex. The Bush Still Burns is filled with the miracles of Christian mission. It is about the tenacious vision of one pastor and the faithful journey of a single congregation. You will find your passions reflected here, and your imagination pried open."

Rev. Dave Brauer-Rieke, former Bishop, Oregon Synod, ELCA

"In a world threatened by kleptocracy and environmental plunder, Terry Moe harks back to the early rabbinic sentiment that God created and dismantled many worlds before arriving at this one. Courageously, his own three decades' experience of taking apart and remaking his own parish links discerning political organizing with the discovery of Spirit outside the walls of church and synagogue. Like a bush on fire, he suggests, there are human stories waiting to be told, if we pay attention. We can go on worshiping tepidly, but his own humble narrative points us toward what's more incandescent, our wish to make the world more just and kind."

Joey Wolf, Rabbi Emeritus, Havurah Shalom, Portland, Oregon

"Pastor Terry Moe weaves the stories of his life with the stories of his parishioners, colleagues, and friends into a narrative of his personal and professional journey, and the gradual transformation and ultimate death and rebirth of the church he pastored for thirty-two years. With candor he describes his own and the congregation's successes and failures as they use tools of community organizing and practice of spirituality to engage in local community issues like drug houses in the neighborhood or the financial burden city of sewer development placed on homeowners, and confront the internal struggles of a dwindling blue collar Lutheran congregation. Anyone concerned with the engagement of the church in the world or the need to transform church structures in our changing society should read this compelling memoir."

Monsignor Chuck Lienert, former Vicar for Clergy and Vicar for Pastoral Planning, Portland, Oregon

"Part memoir, part organizing primer, part spiritual wisdom, Terry Moe's beautiful storytelling invites us into what it means to act in the world as it is on behalf of the world as it should be. The depth of honesty in these pages shows us the best of courageous leadership, reminds us again that transformation is possible, and offers inspiration for all of us trying to lead the church in these complicated times."

Jessica Tate, Director, NEXT Church

"A must-read for local leaders of spirit-communities and community organizers: how story-based relational organizing transformed a 1950s working class Lutheran congregation and its pastor; how Terry Moe, with his people, engaged scripture, ancient and modern spirituality, and public life; how, as a result, Redeemer faced its own death--and transformed into new life."

Dick Harmon, former Director for IAF Northwest

Table of Contents

Foreword by Susan L. Engh
Part One: Meeting the Burning Bush
1 The Transformation Begins
2 Burning Bush: The Fire of Spirituality and Organizing
3 Turning Aside: The Bush All Aflame
Part Two: Walking on Holy Ground
4 Removing Our Sandals
5 Becoming Mindful of the People
6 Bricks, Straw, and a Red Piano
Part Three: The Egypt Within
7 Crying, Weeping, Wailing
8 Who are We?
9 Confronting the Egypt Within
Part Four: Making a Way through the Wilderness
10 Walking into the Wilderness
11 Making a Way in the Wilderness
12 The Bush Still Burns
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