Sunday, August 23, 2009

ELCA Churchwide Assembly, a Postscript

by Phil Soucy

I woke up this morning with the thought that we start our journeys home from Churchwide today.

Then it struck me that we came home Friday night...
We came home Friday night...

There is a hotel chain that says they'll leave a light in the window for us...

We too have been following a light left in the window for us - by Christ Jesus.
We came home Friday night...

Welcome home, everybody...
Welcome home...

Day Six

by Phil Soucy

I would like to report at the outset that the Presiding Bishop, in accordance with the agenda for the assembly laid out weeks ago, took the entire assembly to Central Lutheran today for worship at 11:30 a.m. Throwing caution to winds (yes, Virginia, that reference is deliberate), the assembly had to cross the very same ground that the tornado touched down on. They were in the previously "so-called targeted" area including Central Lutheran for nearly an hour, and then retraced their steps to the Convention Center. The sky remained blue, tornado-less and cloudless, the sun shining brightly. So much for that...

That "weather" pattern was not prevalent throughout the morning in the assembly hall as "greetings" were brought to the assembly by Reverend Dr. Gerald Kieschnick, President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. More accurately, he was greeted warmly and humorously in the name of the Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America by Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson. The Reverend Dr. did not smile, but began his message by quoting Paul in 2 Corinthians 15: "...we implore you, on behalf of Christ: be reconciled to God. For our sake, He made Him to be sin who knew no sin so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. What a blessing it is to know that our sin is forgiven, removed from us as far as the east is from the west because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ on Calvary's cross..."

At that point I realized that the exchange of commemorative plaques was probably off...

Getting into stride, he later quoted from the Kolb-Wengert translation of the Formula of Concord on doctrinal controversy and discord, to wit: "...for these controversies are not merely misunderstandings or semantic arguments where someone might think that one group had not sufficiently grasped what the other group was trying to say or that the tensions were based upon only a few specific words of relatively little consequence. Rather, these controversies deal with important and significant matters, and they are of such a nature that the positions of the erring party neither could nor should be tolerated in the church of God, much less be excused or defended. Therefore necessity demands explanation of these disputed articles on the basis of God's word and reliable writings so that those with a proper Christian understanding could recognize which position regarding the points under dispute is in accord with God's word and the Christian Augsburg confession and which is not. And so t
he Christians of good will, who are concerned about the truth, might protect and guard themselves from the errors and corruptions that have appeared among us..."

His was a serious message of rebuke, delivered somberly and, as he said, " deep humility with a heavy heart and no desire whatsoever to offend. The decisions by this assembly to grant non-celibate homosexual ministers the privilege of serving as rostered leaders in the ELCA and the affirmation of same-gender unions as pleasing to God will undoubtedly cause additional stress and disharmony within the ELCA. It will also negatively affect the relationships between our two church bodies. The current division between our churches threatens to become a chasm..."

Bishop Hanson replied graciously " the same spirit of high humility and clarity in which you addressed us, I want you to hear, in my humble voice my deep commitment that the shared confessions that hold us together as Lutherans I hope and pray will be strong enough for us to continue to be in conversation and that the cries of the world that we have heeded together, in spite of these difficult times of acknowledging our differences, the cries of the world that have called us to join together as Lutheran Services in America, Lutheran Immigration Refugee Service, Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Disaster Response and military chaplains, that even as we take and hear your honest voices about our actions, you hear our honest commitment to be in conversation and together responding as your board of directors did this week in response to LMI, so that with Lutheran voice and humility and capacity we might proclaim Christ through our deeds of service. Bring my commitment to your church."

I am aware that a casual reading of these reports would lead to the conclusion that we are one-subject Lutherans. I have per force of the issues before us, the church, and the assembly concentrated on that subject, seemingly to the exclusion of all others. But I know you and those who surround me in this work are Lutherans, loving our church and vitally interested in the gamut of the work done for others by the ELCA.

This assembly dealt with amazing issues of vital important to the life of the church and its present and future mission to its members and those it is in service to in the world, using our hands to do God's work. All done as Mother Theresa once said, "Not because we want anything, but because they need it."

The assembly voted that youth (under 18 at the time of their election or appointment) and young adults (18-35) should comprise 10% of boards, committees and assemblies at the congregation, synod, and churchwide level.

The assembly has ordered a Social Statement be created on Justice for Women and presented for adoption in 2015 to help the church and its members in moral deliberations, to govern the ELCA's institutional policies and to be a guide in the church's advocacy work concerning women. Social Statements take a minimum of 5 years in preparation; there are two other social statements in the queue for 2011 and 2013.

The assembly said in unequivocal terms that basic health care and mental health care should be available to all at an affordable cost.

The assembly approved a budget for 2010 that is $76.69 million, a 6.4 percent decrease over 2009. This is based on estimated giving levels in 2009.

All of these things are important to us as Lutherans. It really is all about our hands doing God's work.

Look for a communication from Emily Eastwood, Executive Director of Lutherans Concerned in the next few days reflecting on the events of the assembly and the future they bode. In the meantime, continue your prayers for the church, all its members, and its leaders as the decisions of the assembly are turned into actions for the mission of the church to the world.

This is the last of these blogs from the assembly. It has been an honor to try to help you see in a small way the assembly through a rear-view mirror.

One last observation: in the hotel we stayed in the sign on wall informing what was going on in the venue. As we arrived last weekend it said that "Flexible meeting space was available." Now at this end of the week it notes that "Transformance seminars" are beginning. Indeed, they are... Peace and Blessings...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Mighty Wind Blows

Clips from the Goodsoil Worship Service on Wednesday Night

Video from Goodsoil Service for Hope and Healing

Video courtesy of Megan Rohrer

A Whole New Poetry

by David Weiss

Today I am struggling for words.

What have I seen these past days except Communion?

I remember years ago, as a teenager, once seeing my pastor lift a pitcher high to pour the wine from three feet above the chalice to accentuate the drama of the words, “poured out for you.”

This week it was as though the twin mics were the hands an unseen Celebrant lifting up the Bread to say in faithful disagreement, “This is my Body, broken for you. Do this … to re-member me.”

Who of us came to Minneapolis to see the Body broken? We go to church weekly, anticipating with innocent calm the breaking of the bread, so easily forgetting the original terror of the words when first instituted. We take for granted that this breaking brings wholeness, because it is typically loaves, not limbs or Lutherans that are broken.

So is our joy to be muted? No. We have witnessed the Magnificat play out in our Assembly. How can our souls not magnify the Lord?

How then do we tend to the Body?

By doing as we have done all week, all decade, all of our lives: by being persistently and (as we are able) graciously present to our brothers and sisters in Christ. By reminding them, gently to be sure, but with wisdom hard-won ourselves, that as Simone Weil wrote, “Life does not need to mutilate itself to be holy.”

What we have learned in our own journeys toward affirmation, wholeness and integrity is now our best witness to those who see no option except to mutilate the Body of Christ in the desire to keep it holy.

Me? As I have moved through this week I have felt the power of Adrienne Rich’s intuition, that, as the truth of our love finds its voice, there is “a whole new poetry beginning here.”

In the company of those of you here at the Convention Center and alongside those of you reading my words from afar, I have been watching, listening, weeping, aching, hoping, and trying to echo bits of my experience for others to read. Seeking Communion.

Again, Adrienne Rich, elegizing a team of women mountain climbers who perished together on a Russian mountain peak in 1974, describes their death-defying solidarity in words that were ours this week:

Now we are ready
and each of us knows it I have never loved
like this I have never seen
my own forces so taken up and shared
and given back
After the long training the early sieges
we are moving almost effortlessly in our love

We know now we have always been in danger
down in our separateness
and now up here together but till now
we had not touched our strength

What does love mean
what does it mean “to survive”
A cable of blue fire ropes our bodies
burning together in the snow We will not live
to settle for less We have dreamed of this
all of our lives

And while it is true that we are yet some ways off from the full Kin-dom of God, both in the details of the documents and in the strained fellowship of the Assembly, at the reception in Goodsoil Central on Friday night the food—“heavy hors d'oeuvres” in catering jargon—tasted like a foretaste of the feast to come. And at the worship service for Hope and Healing, between the eloquent readings, the poignant prayers, the powerful drumming, and the heavenly singing of Cantus, it seemed as though God, too, has been dreaming of this day for all of our lives and more.

Churchwide Assembly Day Five

by Phil Soucy

Well, ok, what to tell you about today? Certainly not THE NEWS! You have by now been fully informed on THE NEWS by 17 phone calls from friends, and, of course, I did send you the press release announcing the outcome. You know the big pieces.

So I thought instead I would just tell you what I had for dinner.

Just kidding.

Actually, this has to go down as one of the busiest, momentous days in life, for everyone, on all sides of the questions. It is impossible to overestimate the significance of what happened today and what it means. Yes, there is the obvious: the ban on dedicated service by ministers in committed, lifelong same-gender relationships is removed, replaced by a single high standard for excellence, right living, and above reproach conduct in the ministerial office for all. The church has said that it wants to find a way to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same gender relationships.

But it's the real meaning of this that I am having a hard time envisioning - the size of it, the scope of it. Perhaps it is because it is too big to take in, to wrap one's head around. I know the practical bits and all that will have to happen starting now to flesh out the decisions made by the assembly into workable procedures and policies. But there is nothing in the experience of the movement to full inclusion that includes what to do when we achieve our big goals.

So, if we thought we were on a journey with the church before, that together we both as the Body of Christ were learning and developing, we sure are on one now.

Much work has to be done now. More on that in the coming weeks, months, and years.

For now, today, tomorrow, in the coming days, we can be joyful, prayerful, and sober thinking. We can ponder the meaning of what has happened. We can think on and pray about and for those who are in pain because their understanding does not allow them to support the decisions that were taken by the assembly.

Many of you watched the proceedings, but many may not have. Even if you did, what I am about to share with you is worth re-visiting.

Bishop Hanson comments after the vote were pastoral and an appropriate cap to the momentous day:

"I would like to speak before I call on any mics.

"I want more time to think about words from one you have called to serve as pastor of this church.
I have been standing here thinking about my 23 years as a parish pastor and how differently I would go into a context if I was gathering with a family or a group of people that had just experienced loss or perhaps were wondering if they still belonged, or, in fact, felt deeply that ones to whom they belong had been severed from them.

"That would be a very different pastoral conversation.

"And I would probably turn to words such as Romans 8, "Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, yes, who was raised, who was at the right hand of God, who intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? I'm convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels nor rulers nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus."

"But then I thought, "What if I were going into a family or a group, a community that had always wondered if they belonged and suddenly had now received a clear affirmation that they belonged?"
All of the wondering about the dividing walls, the feelings of separation seemed to have dropped away.

"That would be a very different conversation.

"I would probably read to them out of Ephesians. "But now in Christ Jesus, you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace. In His flesh, He has made both groups into one. He's broken down the dividing wall that is the hostility between us. In Him, the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in Lord. In whom you also are building spiritually into a dwelling place of God. "

"But then I thought, what if those two groups were together, but also in their midst were those who had not experienced loss or the feeling of the dividing wall of separation coming down, but were wondering and worried if all that had occurred might sever the unity and wondered if their actions might have contributed to reconciliation or separation?

"If all those people were together in a room, I would read from Colossians, "As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another. If anyone has a complaint against the other, forgive each other just as the Lord has forgiven you so you must also forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything to in perfect harmony and let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, with gratitude in your hearts. Sing songs, hymns and spiritual songs to God.
And whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. "

"That passage gives invitation and expectation that those deeply disappointed today will have in this church the expectation and the freedom to continue to admonish and to teach.

"And so, too, those that have experienced reconciliation today, you are called to humility.
"You are called to clothe yourselves with love.

"But we're all called to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, remembering again and again that we are called in the one body.

"I will invite you tomorrow afternoon into important, thoughtful, prayerful conversations about what all of this means for our life together.

"But what is absolutely important for me is that that's a conversation we have together.

"I ended my oral report with these words: "We meet one another finally, not in our agreements or our disagreements, but at the foot of the cross, where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ."

"Let us pray.

"Oh, God, gracious and holy, mysterious and merciful, we meet this day at the foot of the cross and there we kneel in gratitude and awe that you have loved us so much that you would give the life of your son so that we might have life in his name.

"Send your spirit this night, the spirit of the risen Christ that has been breathed into us.
"May it calm us.
"May your spirit unite us.
"May it continue to gather us.
"In Jesus' name, amen."

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Council of Jerusalem

by David R. Weiss
A hymn written in anticipation of this day back on April 13, 2004

It was a glorious day in Jerusalem
It was a glorious day in Jerusalem
It was a glorious day in Jerusalem
When Peter and Paul said to all of them:

The kin-dom of God is wider you see
The family of God is fuller you see
The Spirit of God blows freer you see
Than ever we thought that it could be

I saw a blanket from heaven put down
Forbidden foods set all around
I said, “Dear Lord, what can it mean?”
And God told me, “I call these clean!”

When the call came next to please come preach
As Cornelius and family did beseech
I saw that the food was folks, you see
Gentile—and yet clean as could be

So I went and I preached right from my heart
But don’t you know—was merely the start
Cause right then and there, came the wind
God’s Spirit eager to gather them in

I’ve traveled afar with Barnabas
Won’t you all please listen to us?
We’ve seen the signs and wonders done
By God whose reign exceeds the sun

Isaiah of old had promised it true
That God had gathering more to do
In Gentile lands this is what we saw:
The Spirit unlimited by the Law

Where faith is sown in the human heart
Nothing of ours can keep us apart
From the love of God given as grace
This is the truth we need to face

It was a glorious day in Jerusalem
It was a glorious day in Jerusalem
It was a glorious day in Jerusalem
When Peter and Paul said to all of them:

The kin-dom of God is wider you see
The family of God is fuller you see
The Spirit of God blows freer you see
Than ever we thought that it could be

Peter & Paul:
And who are we – or are any of you
To tell the Lord what is proper to do?
I know what the Word of the Lord has said
But the Spirit of God is racing ahead!

The gifts of God – the water and the word,
The bread and the wine, and the heart well-stirred –
Come to the church from heaven you see
From the Spirit that blows mighty and free!

Final Chorus:
It was a glorious day in Jerusalem
It was a glorious day in Jerusalem
It was a glorious day in Jerusalem
When Peter and Paul said to all of them:

The kin-dom of God is wider you see
The family of God is fuller you see
The Spirit of God blows freer you see
Than ever we thought that it could be

The gifts of God – the water and the word,
The bread and the wine, and the heart well-stirred –
Come to the church from heaven you see
From the Spirit that blows mighty and free!