Affirmations of Faith at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church

Westminster Presbyterian Church Chapel

Another important part of the worship services at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church is the congregational unison recitation of an Affirmation of Faith. This is usually done on the second and third Sundays of each month.

There are many sources for such an affirmation: the Bible and confessions and statements of faith from the Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and from other denominations.

Here are three examples of such affirmations.

On September 9, 2012, the following passage from Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians was used:

  • “Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible. All things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn of the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” Amen. (Col. 1:15-20)

On September 16th we recited the following New Creed of 1968 from the United Church of Canada:[1]

  • “We are not alone, we live in God’s world. We believe in God: who has created and is creating, who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh, to reconcile and make new, who works in us and others by the Spirit. We trust in God. We are called to be the Church:  to celebrate God’s presence, to live with respect in Creation, to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil, to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope. In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.”

On October 14th we used the following passage from the 1983 Brief Statement of Faith of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): [2]

  • “In life and in death we belong to God. Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, we trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel, whom alone we worship and serve. . . . With believers in every time and place, we rejoice that nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

[1] The United Church of Canada is the largest Protestant denomination in Canada with nearly three million people in over 3,500 congregations. The United Church was inaugurated on June 10, 1925 when the Methodist Church, Canada, the Congregational Union of Canada, 70 per cent of the Presbyterian Church of Canada and the General Council of Union Churches entered into an organic union.

[2]  The Brief Statement of Faithwas prepared in 1983 at the time of the creation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) by the merger of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America with congregations in every state and the Presbyterian Church in the United States, whose churches were in Southern and border states. The Brief Statement was intended to unite the new merged church with one agreed upon statement of faith.


In Memorium: Rev. Dr. Henry William Andersen,1925-2012

Rev. Dr. Henry W. Andersen
Hank Andersen


Rev. Dr. Henry William Andersen, a retired Presbyterian minister, died in Portland, Oregon on Sept. 3rd, surrounded by his beloved family.

Born on Jan. 16, 1925, in Omaha, Nebraska, he studied at the University of Nebraska before serving in the Army in WWII.

Hank was an infantry squad leader, and on Christmas Eve, 1944, he was on the troopship S.S. Leopoldville in the English Channel on the way to Cherbourg, France to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. He led a group of 15 or 20 soldiers to go up on the open deck to sing Christmas carols. A German torpedo struck the ship, killing many troops below deck before it sunk. A British destroyer pulled along the sinking ship. Andersen leapt across the gap, and his carol-singing comrades followed. Later on shore, an all-black unit fed and comforted the survivors. One of the carolers and thus saved from death was a Jewish man. This event is commemorated in a Dec. 23, 2011, PBS News Hour report.

This experience along with battle scars; a Purple Heart; and other citations changed the direction of his life from law to the ministry.

After the war, he returned to University of Nebraska, where he finished his undergraduate degree and met and married Mary Esther Dunkin, who survives him. He then went to McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, where he graduated with honors. Later Hank was on the Board of Trustees at McCormick, which established two annual Henry W. Andersen Awards in Pastoral Ministry and in Preaching. He did post-graduate study at Yale Divinity School and at Mansfield College, Oxford, England. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree by Buena Vista College and received the University of Nebraska and McCormick Seminary Distinguished Alumnus awards.

Over the 40 years following seminary, Hank served four Presbyterian churches as pastor and head of staff: in Ellsworth and Wichita, Kan., LaGrange, Ill. and Cleveland Heights, Ohio. In every church he advocated for racial, economic and social justice. He believed that love and justice were inseparable, that love of God and love of one’s neighbor were necessary to establish a just world, and was committed to working for social change to create a world in which the poor would have justice, not mere charity. He held numerous local, national and international church positions and was active in the greater community.

He inspired international religious, medical and business leaders to work on concrete solutions to problems facing the developing world, and in 1982, he delivered the keynote address at a United Nations conference on developing nations. From 1982 until 1991, he served on the Nestle Infant Formula Commission, chaired by former Senator and Secretary of State Edmund Muskie. In service to this Commission, he engaged in on-site inspections of Nestle’s practices around the world. The Commission’s work led to a lasting change in Nestle’s practices.

Hank wrote many articles for religious journals and wrote and spoke on the German theologian and WWII martyr, Dietrich Bonheoffer, a personal hero. I was privileged to hear one such presentation in Minneapolis.

I got to know Hank and his wife, Mary, when they lived in Minneapolis and attended Westminster Presbyterian Church, where their son, Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, was the Senior Pastor.

I can attest that an obituary accurately said, “Hank loved life and sought to engage it fully and faithfully in every role he assumed. His sense of humor and wonderful laugh endeared him to everyone. He was present with each person he met and made each one feel special. He was sweet, kind, and gentle, but powerful for the greater good and for social justice. He was down-to-earth yet filled with an inner light which unceasingly radiated to all. His impact is lasting.”

He is survived by Mary, his wife of 65 years; children Jennifer (Rhys) of Vancouver, B.C.; Henry Thomas (Jessica) of Salem, Oregon; Timothy Dunkin (Elizabeth) of Minneapolis; and Barbara (John) of San Antonio, Texas; nine grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

A memorial worship service was held at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Portland, on September 15th. Other memorial services will be held at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church on Saturday, October 13 at 10 A.M. and on Saturday, October 20, time to be announced, at Fairmount Presbyterian Church, 2757 Fairmount Boulevard, Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

Memorial gifts may be sent to the Henry W. and Mary E. Andersen Global Awareness Fund at McCormick Theological Seminary, 5460 S. University Avenue, Chicago, IL, 60615. This fund helps the seminary increase opportunities for international students and provide all students with opportunities for cross-cultural experiences across the globe.

This obituary is drawn from others in Oregonlive, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the McCormick seminary website.



“How Do We Know God: Human Community”

Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen
Westminster Presbyterian Church

On September 23rd, Rev. Dr. Timothy Hart-Andersen, Senior Pastor of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, delivered the sermon with the above title.

How do we know God?

Two weeks ago we answered that question by looking at the story of Creation found in Genesis 1 [: 1-25]. The beauty and majesty and wonder of the natural world and its inhabitants, the creatures – all of that, we concluded, introduces us to the Creator. . . .

But the ancient Hebrew account of Creation doesn’t stop there, with the mountains and rivers, with the birds in the air and the creeping things on the earth and the fish of the sea. The old stories take us, eventually, to the creation of humankind.

There are two accounts of creation in the Hebrew Scriptures.

One of them, the better-known seven-day version in Genesis 1 [:1-25], ends with humankind being created in the image of God – ‘male and female, God created them,’ . . . – and that happens after . . . the heavens and the earth, next the waters and the dry land, then the plants and animals [are created]. . . .

[This passage in Genesis 1: 27-28 goes on to say that “God told them to ‘be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth [and subdue it] . . . . ‘ [This passage is often used  to argue that] “the very design of humanity . . . revealed God’s intention for male and female to procreate [and, therefore, that gay marriage was against God’s will.] . . . [Rev. Hart-Andersen agreed that] giving birth is a wonderful and necessary part of life, but there’s more to the biblical story of creation.

The second account [of creation], from Genesis 2, puts the human being on the earth before the plants and animals, and humanity does not come in a pair this time, but, rather, as a singular, non-gendered person. [As Genesis 2:7 puts it, ‘the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground.’]

[In other words,] God bends down and scoops up the dust of the earth – the Hebrew word for the dust of the ground is ha adamah – and, like an artist working with clay, God forms a new creature. Arms and legs and head, hands and feet, each little toe, every joint, eyes and mouth, ears and nose. Then God blows breath into the nostrils of the mud-creature – and ha adam, the earthling, the one made from the adamah, the dust of the river bank, stirs to life. God then uses the same soil to form the creatures of the earth, to whom the earthling, gives names. There is no gender identity to the earthling at this point. That enters later in the story, when the Hebrew changes to ish, man, and isha, woman. It’s simply not correct to use the English term man as the translation of adamah. . . .

I think it’s best to hear these texts not as technical descriptions but, rather, as stories told around the campfires of desert dwellers, repeated during rituals, shared by parents with their children. They’re narratives of profound and lasting significance, telling us who our God is and how God has been with us since before the beginning of time.

It’s not a question of which version is correct; there’s wisdom in both stories. Both accounts contain deep and ancient truth about God and our relationship to God. From my vantage point each of the old stories holds at least one deep truth.

First, in Genesis 1, when God decides to create the human being, the big news is who they look like. God says, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26)

The chief point of this account is not the business about being fruitful and multiplying – it’s the astonishing claim that every human being, male and female, is made in the image of God. That’s a breath-taking, life-altering declaration.

How do we know God?

Take a look around. Look into the face of another, look into a mirror, and you will see something of God. That claim revolutionizes religion: the God we worship and serve is as close to us as the next person. No one – not our enemies, not those who hate us, not those ‘on the other side,’  not those we despise or fear or view with revulsion – no one is excluded from the image of God. Everyone bears it alike and is, therefore, worthy of respect and honor. . . .

We may be introduced to God by the dazzling wonder of the natural world, but we know God most completely in our fellow human beings. That, above all else, should compel us to strive for fullness of life for all people. The pursuit of justice is not simply some vague prophetic imperative – it is how we come to know God.

If the linking of the divine image with every human life is the salient point of the first version of creation, the second account yields another great theological truth. When God has formed the one earthling and placed that creature in the garden, God is not satisfied. Everything else in creation up to then had been deemed good, but when God sees that the human creature lacks a companion, God says, “It is not good that the earthling should be alone; I will make the earthling a partner as a helper.” (Genesis 2:18)

The human creature needs a companion. God throws everything at the earthling as a possible partner – birds, beasts, fish of the sea, and nothing sticks. The earthling needs a companion of its own kind. The human creature is not meant to be alone. Human beings need community. Do we not all understand that, from our own experience?

Three weeks ago today, in the early morning darkness, I was in my father’s room on the skilled nursing floor of the retirement community where my parents live. I was alone with him, and lonely, as he was moving toward death. All was quiet, save for his raspy breathing. It was 1:30 in the morning in Portland, [Oregon,] but I needed to be in touch with someone.

It is not good for the earthling to be alone.

I decided to send a text message to my colleagues on staff, to tell them my dad was nearing the end. I knew they would be waking in a few hours to prepare for worship at Westminster and I wanted this community to include us in prayer that day.

[Tim immediately received a response that he had sent it to a wrong number, but the recipient also said that he was sorry to hear about Tim’s father.] We continued our texting back and forth, this stranger and I, for some time [until after his father’s death on September 5th].[1]

Whoever it was sensed I needed someone by my side, and he or she was willing to stand with me through those lonely hours. We were created to be in community, and I needed it that night. The stranger mediated for me the divine presence. How do we know God? We know God in human community, in the love that binds us to one another, even when we may not know each other. . . .

It is not good for the earthling to be alone.

The Sunday after my father’s death I received an email from our partner church in Matanzas, Cuba. . . . It was a very long email, with a string of personal messages from every member of the congregation who was there that day. Very few of them have access to email, and regular mail service to the U.S. is not reliable, so they patiently lined up in the church office and one by one typed in their words of love and support on that old, slow computer.

We come to know God through the love of others. . . .

It was a summary of the truth found in the two accounts of creation: we bear God’s image – because of God we are – and we are given each other – because of God we are one.

We cannot exist, God realizes in this account of Genesis, apart from one another. Here we see an early indication of God’s own Trinitarian nature – even the divine being exists only in community. Remember the Word that was in the beginning with God? The Spirit that brooded over the dark waters was there, too. “Let us make the human being in our image,” God says, “according to our likeness.”

Relationships matter; in them God looks back at us.”

The full text of the sermon is available online as is a video of the service.

[1] A subsequent post will set forth an obituary for Tim’s father, Rev. Dr. Henry William Andersen.

“What Do Our Hearts Treasure?”

Westminster Presbyterian Church


Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian

This was the title of the sermon by Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian of Minneapolis’ Plymouth Congregational Church at Westminster Presbyterian Church on September 16, 2012. A prior post examined the Processional Hymn that day–“O Holy One and Nameless”–which was written by Rev. Gertmenian. A video of this service is on the web.

The sermon was based upon two passages from the New Testament of the Holy Bible.

The first, Luke 10: 25-28, says: “Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.’Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ [Jesus] said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ [The lawyer] answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind’ and your neighbor as yourself.’ And [Jesus] said to [the lawyer], ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.'”

Rev. Gertmenian said the lawyer, at least on the surface, wanted to know how he might gain eternal life. “It is what we all want, I think, though we use different languages to describe it. Not length of life, really, not just simple persistence into some imagined future heaven, but something that endures by virtue of its depth, by virtue of a quality that transcends time. Our faith tells us that God, the eternal one, has somehow touched us with that quality, that the life spark in us means that we partake of or are connected to the enduring, the unquenchable, the forever.”

The second Scriptural text for the day, II Corinthinians 4: 16-18, states: “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this momentary slight affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

Yes, said Gertmenian, ”but what are those unseen things? What lasts?”

He said, “Our lives . . .  are over in a flash; we burst forth, sparkle, glimmer, grow dim, and then are gone. In the cosmic scheme of things, flesh is practically as ephemeral and evanescent as vapor or gas; only rocks, ice, dust, and space endure.”

“What lasts? What do our hearts treasure? What is eternal? More specifically, what have been the eternal moments in your life? I don’t mean the big moments, or even the most memorable ones, but the deepest ones which, by virtue of their depth, make the passing of time – and even memory – irrelevant?”

Gertmenian offered two moments in his own life that upon reflection he regarded as eternal.

One was spending time with his eight-year-old daughter having ice cream after watching Halley’s Comet. “I know that for the momentary gift of [my daughter’s] hand in mine, for the frivolous pleasure of tasting ice cream, for this odd adventure on a warm evening, I will gladly, willingly, joyfully embrace the limits of my life: its brevity, its fragility, its impermanence. It is rich – this life – rich like found treasure and meant, I think, to be spent extravagantly and with exuberant gratitude to God.”

“Eternal life consists in this: in taking even one moment and living it so prodigally, with such abandon, that we do not grudge its going. One moment lived like that is eternal. One moment, lived like that, is heaven. Jesus draws this truth to its deepest level when he says: ‘Whoever seeks to save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will save it.'” (Matthew 10:39.)

“Think about your own life, your own self. What lasts? What [does your heart] . . .  treasure? What is eternal?”

“Maybe you’ll take a few moments . . . to think about these things. And as you mull them, remember how Jesus replied to the man who wanted eternal life. Ultimately, he said, after obedience to the core commandments, the way to eternal life is in giving up what you have, in opening your hands and releasing the things you cling to. Not just possessions, but everything. Even time.”

I have pondered the question posed by Rev. Gertmenian and will share those reflections in a subsequent post.


“O Holy One and Nameless”

Westminster Presbyterian Church

“O Holy One and Nameless” was the beautiful and moving Processional Hymn at the September 16, 2012, worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian

The lyrics were written by Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian, Senior Minister of Minneapolis’ Plymouth Congregational Church, and are set to the “Munich” hymn tune by Felix Mendelssohn.[1]  Rev. Gertmenian said in writing this hymn he “wanted to use images and themes which, while rooted in the Christian tradition, spoke of a more universalistic vision. All religions are not the same, and we need not adopt a goal of amalgamating the great families of faith, but humanity’s future depends on our ability to see that the taproots of religion are sunk in common soil and draw from the same nutrients of spirit and truth.” Here are the hymn’s lyrics:

O holy  One and Nameless Who wears a thousand names,

Throughout the ages changing, yet steadfastly the same;  

We gather here to worship in hopefulness and praise,  

Recalling all your mercies that magnify our days.


In awe we humbly witness that your are greater still

Than any human language could compass or fulfill.

We praise your for the myst’ry in which your truth is sealed.  

We praise you for the story that is your truth revealed.


That story’s long unfolding from temple, mosque, and church,

Grows ever wide and deeper and sanctifies the search

That leads to your dwelling within the common place,

Where all the world is holy and radiates your grace.


And yet this wider story is told a thousand ways,  

With each a matchless vision with each a certain praise

So ev’ry human family and ev’ry human soul  

May know you in their language and, knowing, made whole.


For wisdom free from doctrine, for faith transcending creed,  

For simple, true compassion, for love enshrined in deed:  

We offer up our bodies, our hearts, our hands, our minds    

To find our truest worship in serving humankind.


This hymn was especially appropriate at this time in light of the recent Muslim rage about the trailer for an outrageous movie about the Prophet Mohamed that apparently was created by individuals who said they were Christians.

I believe that all religions and all religious institutions, leaders and followers are human and, therefore, imperfect or flawed. They all have their positive qualities, and they all have their negative or sinful qualities. We have been seeing too much recently of the latter for Islam and Christianity. This hymn reminds us of their positive and common qualities.

Rev. Gertmenian also delivered the sermon that day, “”What Do Our Hearts Treasure?,” that will be covered in a subsequent post. The entire service, including the Processional Hymn and the sermon are available in streaming video on the web.


[1] This hymn was written on commission for the 300th anniversary in June 2011 of Green’s Farms Congregational  Church of Westport, Connecticut.  The most well-known lyrics for the “Munich” tune are “O Word of God Incarnate.”

Jazzy Music at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church


Westminster Sanctuary

Westminster‘s September 2nd worship service opened with a jazzy set of three organ preludes entitled “Organ, Timbrel, and Dance,” played by Melanie Ohnstad, the church’s Organist and Director of Music and the Arts.

The three preludes were based on German chorales as reinterpreted in jazz idioms. As a lover of German organ music and American and Latin jazz, I was fascinated and moved by the three pieces:

  • “Swing Five” used the rhythms of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” for the chorale “Erhalt uns, Herr” (Lord, Keep Us Steadfast).
  •  “Bossa Nova,” the Brazilian rhythms for “Wunderbarer Konig” (Wonderful King).
  • “Afro-Cuban,” the rhythms and melody of Leonard Bernstein’s “America” from West Side Story for “In dir ist Freude” (In Thee Is Gladness).
Johannes Matthias Michel

The composer is Johannes Matthias Michel, who was born in 1962 and grew up at Lake Constance (Germany) and who studied piano, church music, and organ in Basel, Heidelberg, Frankfurt and Stuttgart. He has composed many pieces for organ, and his organ discography includes more than a dozen CD recordings. One is of these three preludes, and there is a YouTube video of Michel playing these preludes.

Michel teaches artistic and liturgical organ playing at the University for Church Music of the Protestant Regional Church in Baden (Hochschule fur Kirchenmusik Heidelberg). Affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the University is in the city of Heidelberg in the historical region of Baden on the east bank of the Rhine River. Baden is the western part of the Baden-Wurttemberg state of Germany.

Christuskirche, Mannheim

Since 1999 he also has been the director of music at Christuskirche in Mannheim, which also is located in Baden. This is a Protestant church in the Oststadt district of the city. The church’s building was built in the early 20th century in the Art Nouveau style with Neo-Baroque accents. It escaped major damage in World War II. At Mannheim Michel also conducts the Bachchoir Mannheim and the chamber choir Mannheim and teaches organ at the State Academy of Music (Staatlichen Hochschule für Musik) in Mannheim.

Melanie Ohnstad

Melanie Ohnstad has served Westminster as organist since November 1995. She received the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Minnesota. She also holds the Master of Music in Organ Performance degree from Arizona State University and the Bachelor of Music degree from St. Olaf College.

A streaming video of the Westminster worship service is available on the web so you too can hear this amazing set.

A Powerful Prayer

Last Sunday (August 5th) at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church I heard the following powerful prayer as the text of an anthem ,”God Be in My Head:”

  • God be in my head,

    Westminster Presbyterian Church
  • And in my understanding;
  • God be in my eyes
  • And in my looking;
  • God be in my mouth
  • And in my speaking;
  • God be in my heart
  • And in my thinking;
  • God be at my end,
  • And at my departing.

(A video of this worship service is available on the web.)

Sarum Primer, title page, 1555

I was surprised I had never heard this prayer or anthem before. The church bulletin said this text was from the Sarum Primer of 1514, which meant nothing to me.

After I returned home and goggled “Sarum Primer,” I discovered that it was a book of prayers and Christian worship resources in the Roman Catholic Church that was collected by the clergy at Salisbury Cathedral in the south central part of England. It was published in 1514 in the “Book of Hours” (Cambridge) and republished as the “Sarum Primer” in Salisbury in 1558. (“Sarum” is the abbreviation for Sarisburium, the Latin word for Salisbury, which was and is both a city and a diocese in England. “Primer” is the Middle English term for a Book of Hours.)

I remember the beautiful Salisbury Cathedral from a visit in 1962. To the right are photographs of its interior and exterior.

David Evan Thomas

The composer of the anthem is David Evan Thomas, who was born in Rochester, New York in 1958 and holds degrees from Northwestern University (B.A.) the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester (M.A.) and the University of Minnesota (Ph.D.). He lives in Minneapolis and in addition to composing sings in the city’s Plymouth Congregational Church Choir. I was surprised to discover that he had been a composer in residence at my church (Westminster Presbyterian Church).

I pray that God will be in my head, understanding, eyes, looking, mouth, speaking, heart and thinking. And eventually in my end and departing.