Saturday, May 17, 2014

Bishop's Report NW MN Synod Assembly

Bishop’s Oral Report
NW MN Synod Assembly
May 16, 2014
Concordia College, Moorhead, MN

In a Facebook post from June 15th of last year, I wrote:  “I'm pretty sure something big happened last weekend....but right now there's a little girl who has simply captured all my attention. The Next Generation isn't a slogan or a nifty idea...right now she is a tiny person I'm cradling in my arms.”

The “something big” was your renewal of my Call to serve as bishop for another six years—what I’ve been calling the SECOND best thing that happened to me in 2013. Joy and I are so grateful for the chance to continue serving our synod!

But, as wonderful as last June’s synod assembly was for us, something even better happened the following Wednesday, June 12th when early that morning Olivia Carolyn was born to our daughter Kristen and her husband Aaron—our first grandchild, weighing 8 lb. 12 oz. and 21 1/2” long!  

This wondrous birth was a milestone that will shape the rest of our days here on earth!

Olivia’s birth has also impacted my spiritual journey.   As I wrote on Facebook:  suddenly the Next Generation became—not just a slogan or a concept—but a tiny person I could cradle in my arms.

When Olivia arrived, I was granted yet another reason to care all the more deeply about the kind of planet, the kind of environment, the kind of country and world we’re leaving to our grandchildren….and perhaps most importantly:  the kind of church I want Olivia and her generation to inherit.

So please indulge this slobbery, blubberly old grandpa for a few moments as I share with you the contours of the kind of church I want for my grandchild and her generation.

1. I want for Olivia and her generational cohort a church that lives (and knows that it lives) only because Jesus the crucified one is risen again, nevermore to die.   My favorite Easter word comes from the late great church historian Jaroslav Pelikan…"If Christ is risen, nothing else matters.  And if Christ is not risen—nothing else matters."

I want a church that lives only because Christ lives, and I look for a church that doesn’t just hope for the Resurrection of the dead to happen “someday”--but that already now is practicing Resurrection in our common life and shared mission.

Such a church fearlessly faces whatever it encounters.  It doesn’t shy away from bad news, uncomfortable truths or difficult conversations.  Such a church does not view “dying” as the worst thing that could ever happen…because it clings to Jesus’ promise that those who seek to save their life will lose it, and those who are ready to “die” by giving themselves away—will find life, will receive life back again as a gift.

My colleagues and I see this happening in every congregation or ministry organization that’s willing to take a risk and leave something behind in order to embrace what lies ahead.   We recognize this “practicing of resurrection” as congregations enter into new shared ministry agreements—none of which happen without some sort of giving up, some sort of ‘dying’—for that alone opens up space for God’s power to raise the dead.

2.  Second, I dream for Olivia and others born in 2013 to live in a church that dares to live now on the basis of God’s coming kingdom.   If God is making all things new for Jesus’ sake, the door’s wide open for us to start living as if the Kingdom were already here. 

The question is:  which part of your automobile do you pay the most attention to--your rear-view mirror or windshield?  Are we always looking back, hoping for some golden age to return?  Or do we strain ahead, lean forward, into God’s future?  Where’s your congregation along that continuum?

Lest we forget, our churches have experienced amazing transformation in how we carry out confirmation ministries over the last 25 years.   Confirmation no longer is conceived as something that happens once a week, with a dozen restless teens and one harried pastor locked in a room together for an hour!  Confirmation instruction has gone from being “dead and boring” to occupying a bright spot in the lives of many of our pastors and other adult guarantors who are making confirmation more engaging, more relationship-oriented, and more outcome-focused….skillfully blending our concern for content with young people’s hunger for learning by doing and serving and being mentored.
3.  I long for my grand-daughter and her generation to have a church that assumes God is abundant and will supply our every need—a church that therefore fosters the faith practice of generosity in all things.  

In this regard, it is so gratifying to see our synod’s congregations returning to more generous sharing of financial resources for the sake of God’s mission in the world.    THANKS to you and your congregations…

  • Mission support giving increased in 2013 over the previous year, for the third straight year!
  • We have exceeded our $225,000 goal for the ELCA Malaria campaign, and in 2013 our synod was #1 of the ELCA’s 65 synods in total dollars remitted through the synod for the Campaign!
  • Also in 2013 our synod was the fifth largest of 65 synods in terms of total remittances to the ELCA churchwide organization for Global Sponsorship giving.
  • And support for the ELCA Hunger Appeal places us in the top quarter of all ELCA synods.

We also received word from Portico Benefit Services last week that our synod once again reached the goal of having at least 65% of Portico health plan members/spouses take the Health Risk Assessment—in fact our percentage of participation put us at #2 of the ELCA’s 65 synods!

4.  I anticipate for Olivia and others her age a church that understands its worship, witness and work to be all of one piece….a church that doesn’t pit any one of these responses to God’s grace in Christ against any other such response….but that understands our entire life of discipleship as being  rich, life-giving, multi-faceted and fully integrated.

Playing off my third point, I’m guessing that as Olivia grows up her own financial offerings will grow out of her direct involvement as a disciple of Jesus.   Like others in the first third of life, she will want skin in the game and sweat on the brow for things that mean enough to her that she ALSO offers her financial gifts to God’s work.

Some of us gray-haired folks lament that younger persons “don’t know how to give the way the Greatest Generation gave.”   We wonder:  “Why don’t they get out their checkbooks and give more to church and charity?”

Well first, most of our young ones can’t find their checkbooks because they use plastic or give online.   But second, first-third-of-life folks hunger for a deeper, more integrated understanding of generosity—giving dollars to purposes that capture their imaginations, their hearts and their muscles.  They tend to practice “sweat equity” giving more than “write a check and call that good enough” giving!

5.  I long for a church for my grand-daughter that accompanies global companions in mutually-enriching ways….a church that is always both a sending and a receiving church….a church that is thoroughly “glocal”—both global and local in its approach to mission and ministry.

In this regard I’m happy to announce a brief visit, the first week in July, from four leaders in our companion synod, the Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church.   Following a weekend consultation in Madison, Wisconsin, these four AELC leaders (including Bishop Frederick) will be with us in northwestern Minnesota, June 30-July 6th.  Due to the brevity of this visit—during a busy week of holiday celebration and vacation time--their itinerary will focus on Fergus Falls, Detroit Lakes and the Moorhead area.   I do want to invite you all to several events that are open to all people of our synod--  a midweek worship service and program to follow at Trinity Lutheran Church of Detroit Lakes, commencing at 6 p.m. on Wednesday July 2, as well as Sunday worship services at Rollag Lutheran Church, rural Hawley, and the Lutheran Church of Christ the King in Moorhead.  Mark your calendars now and watch Northern Lights and the synod website for more information.

 6.  My prayer is that Olivia will inherit a church that is all about noticing gifts, naming gifts, cultivating gifts and sending gifts into God’s service in the church and the world.   I long for Olivia to be part of a church that prioritizes helping all of its members and friends reflect deeply on God’s multiple callings in their lives.

This is first and foremost, about VOCATION—God’s calling of all of us to bear his light into all the arenas, activities, and relationships of life.   Our ELCA colleges and campus ministries are riding the wave of renewed interest in VOCATION on campuses across our country.  What a great time it is to be situated as we are in our synod and our ELCA to contribute to a national conversation that is already happening!

But this is also about vocational discernment that will lead some young people to prepare for full-time service in the church.   There are sea changes playing out in how our ELCA conducts its candidacy process and engages in the vital task of theological education for ministry.   From homegrown efforts to provide theological education for laity to hothouses for discernment like our campus ministries and Bible camps to the major curriculum revision happening at Luther Seminary--we are witnessing a host of changes in how theological education is delivered, how future pastors and lay ministers blend book learning with contextual ministry experiences, and how this church continues to recognize and authorize disciples of Christ to build up the Body of Christ.  

Our synod needs to shift from being a net “importer” of pastors raised up in other synods to becoming a net “exporter” of pastors for this synod and for the whole church.   Will you pray, ponder and visit with others about that?  Will you actually speak to someone in whom you perceive gifts for ministry—and invite them to think about living their professional life within our ELCA?

 7.  I envision for my grand-daughter a church that regularly spends time stopping, looking, listening, and imagining what God is already doing in the world and in this church…..and then searches for ways to align its energies and resources with God’s promsed future.  In other words, I want Olivia to be part of a church that in all its manifestations invests itself in planning for how it will best serve God’s mission.

In this regard, I want to announce that next year’s synod assembly will explore another theme topic based on Faith Practices 2.0.   When we gather back here at Concordia next May 15-16, we’ll focus on creatively imagining the contours of God’s promised future—or, in other words, planning for how our congregations will participate in God’s work.   Mark your calendars now—and pastors, please declare those days a “wedding free zone” on your church planning calendar for 2015!

8.  Finally, I long for Olivia to have a church that passes on faith as naturally as we eat, drink, breathe and sleep.  

Olivia is already blessed with parents who are shaping her life and its rhythms around God, God’s unconditional love in Christ, and God’s call to Olivia to live as one of Christ’s followers.   

Just recently, when I was staying overnight with Olivia’s family in south Minneapolis, I was moved by how her big strong daddy helps her fall asleep at night…by gently singing Jesus Loves Me to her.   Except that Papa Aaron switches the pronouns and sings to Olivia:  Jesus loves you, this you know… 

At this assembly we will consider a major effort to bring the perspectives and the resources of Vibrant Faith Ministries (our assembly keynoters and Growth Group leaders) into a wider swath of our synod’s congregations.   I encourage your full engagement with this proposed project….not just during this assembly, but after you return home (assuming the resolution passes).   Go home, please, and become a gadfly by challenging your congregation grow deeper as a faith community that equips homes for commending to our young people the faith, hope and love that we receive in Jesus Christ.  Let’s create a tsunami of positive change across our synod, trusting that God’s Word never returns empty but  accomplishes God’s purposes wherever it is spoken and lived out!

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