USA: Justice advocacy from grassroots to global

4 Apr 2024

In this Voices from the Communion, Rev. Amy Reumann shares her passion for justice, as well as her work as a gardener creating places for connection and community building.

Amy Reumann

Rev. Amy Reumann, ELCA’s senior director for Witness in Society. Photo: ELCA

Voices from the Communion: Rev. Amy Reumann, head of advocacy for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 

(LWI) - As the daughter of a pastor and seminary professor, Amy Reumann grew up in the United States, travelling with the family for sabbatical years in Germany, Britain, Israel-Palestine and India, which gave her “a sense of the global church from very early on.” 

But it was a series of encounters with Christians in the former East Germany which challenged her to see faith in an entirely new light, realizing, as she says, “that I had been convicted by a faith so deep, it took you to places that required courage and clarity about who God is and what we are called to do and be.” 

Four decades on, she shares her passion for justice through her work as senior director for Witness in Society with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), leading advocacy on a wide range of issues around migration, peace, human rights, poverty and climate justice, as well as the corporate social responsibility program. She also uses her skills as a master gardener to foster communities built around the gospel values of radical welcome and inclusion. 

Can you start by introducing yourself to us? 

Yes, I come from a long lineage of Lutheran pastors on both sides of my family, although I was the first woman to be ordained. My father’s great grandfather came as a missionary to German-speaking Lutherans in New York State and Pennsylvania. My father was a pastor and professor of New Testament at the seminary in Philadelphia, so that shaped me growing up in a community of theologians and students with their questions, their curiosity.  

My mother was also from a family of pastors who brought the experience of a small-town farm community identity and ministry that is rooted in service to local people. My mother was also very committed to social justice issues like anti-war, peace and human rights and her example has stayed with me as another part of what a life of faith and public witness looks like. 

Did you grow up convinced that you would also work in the church? 

I started studying history, but in the early 1980s I took a year off to live as an au pair in Munich in a pastor’s family and was invited to attend festivities for the 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth in the former German Democratic Republic.  

I also accompanied a Namibian bishop who was visiting village congregations there, helping him to tell his story of Namibians seeking justice under apartheid, while East Germans told him similar stories of seeking justice through the lens of Scripture and theology. If there was ever a moment when God reached into my life to shake me, it was through those encounters.  

I came back and changed my studies to international relations and religion, realizing I had been convicted by a faith so deep, it took you to places that required courage and clarity about who God is and what we are called to do and be. 

Around that time, you attended the LWF’s Assembly in Budapest, didn’t you? 

Yes, I attended the Youth Pre-Assembly and then served as a steward at the Assembly – what an electrifying time that was to be part of the global church community!  My experience with and through the LWF has been enormously formative for understanding what it means to be in community, to accompany others, especially for us as church in the U.S. to listen and learn from others. 

How did you begin your ministry with the ELCA? 

I first worked in social services in an urban context in New Jersey, dealing with issues like affordable housing and hunger. The following year I did an internship at the Lutheran Office for World Community in New York before starting in the seminary. 

After ordination, I served in several congregations in urban as well as rural areas. In these different contexts, I saw how there are similar justice issues, of people not being heard and struggling to move obstacles that the church can help to do. I then worked for a bishop in Milwaukee, before coming back to Pennsylvania to do advocacy full time. I have been working here at the Washington D.C office for eight years now. 

What do you mainly do? 

We do advocacy at state policy level, training leaders and inviting congregations to speak to justice issues as a faith practice. Our network is mostly Lutheran, but we also work with ecumenical and interfaith partners which increases our impact. Our federal public policy includes the areas of migration, peace and reconciliation, human rights, poverty, climate, the Middle East and in this election year, depolarization and civic engagement. We also support the important work of the Lutheran Office for World Community at the United Nations and the corporate social responsibility program, encouraging churches and individuals to invest in socially responsible ways. 

We have a team of 19 permanent staff, but also interns who work with our hunger advocacy fellowships where we train, equip and support six young adults a year with leadership opportunities. 

I read that when you are not doing advocacy, you are also a master gardener? 

Yes, I started when I was working for the bishop in Milwaukee where most churches had community gardens and I came to value the transformation they brought, both in terms of healthy ecosystems and good nutritious food, but also providing spaces and places for connection, bringing people of very diverse backgrounds together. 

I trained as a master gardener and I use that training now on an urban farm in Silver Spring, on the edge of Washington D.C. where I teach things like soil science, integrated pest management, sustainability and knowledge of local food systems.  

It is an area where there are many new arrivals, a large Salvadoran community, but also Ethiopians, Burmese, Venezuelans. They come to the garden, bringing things they used to grow back home, seeking connection and teaching us about their traditional ways of growing. 

Finally, what does it mean for your work to be a part of a worldwide communion of churches? 

I am very proud to be a part of the LWF and I want more Lutherans in the U.S. to know and appreciate the richness that it brings to our faith and global witness. I experience it as one way in which God speaks to us, helping us to see beyond ourselves to the unity in Christ that invites our accompaniment, solidarity and bold witness. In these polarized times, I want people to realize that difference is not scary but rather God-given, stretching our identity beyond what we alone can imagine to God’s expansive vision for justice, peace and reconciliation.

LWF/P. Hitchen