I am deep in preparations for the 2011 Churchwide Assembly, which means that I am enjoying the ease of opening and perusing dozens of files from the Churchwide Assembly website, rather than tackling the box of documents that arrived on my doorstep last week.
In all seriousness, the package — larger than our most recent phonebook — still in its plastic wrapping, is waiting patiently on my doorstep, hoping to be let in.
How about you? Fingers weary? Any paper cuts? Tackled the box with vim and vigor?
A confession: This will be my first Churchwide Assembly. I’ll be attending as a voting member and counted among what I anticipate to be the small minority who will be attending with at least one broken hand.
So when this strange guy with a New York accent mitigated by a dozen years here in Florida opts to greet you with the quick hug or, stranger still, a left-handed handshake, that will likely be me.
To save everyone the trouble, it got stuck in a door in the line of duty while greeting last Sunday. Trying to embody our assembly theme “Freed in Christ to Serve,” I quickly learned that some do not possess the gift of opening doors safely.
Feel free to encourage me in my freedom to find other ways to serve.
Freed in Christ to serve
I appreciated Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson’s report in the preliminary assembly paperwork (full disclosure here — I have actually met him) especially in his reflection upon our assembly theme:
“Freed in Christ to serve” is our faith and our way of life. It calls for humility and mutual accountability, courage and compassion as, confident in God’s grace, we discern together what Christ’s death and resurrection mean for the world and for our common life.
Preach it, Bishop. And more, please.
So what will we be doing there in beautiful Orlando, Fla.?
Unless I missed something, we’ll be looking forward, with no disrespect to the past or present intended.
Oh, there will be facts and figures of the past and present presented, make no mistake. And, more importantly, there will be stories to tell and tell again, transformational moments to celebrate.
Looking to the future
But, the future will be drawing us forward as it inevitably does — inviting us to continue to live into the reality of God in and through Christ Jesus breaking into the world.
Now, by a careful reading of countless pages of documents I learned a new word, “biennium,” that refers to the two-year period since our last Churchwide Assembly in which, apparently, many things have happened in every corner of the our vast and blessed ELCA.
Good and gracious things have happened, lives have changed, justice has been done, the gospel has been embodied and proclaimed.
And painful things have occurred — fewer congregations, fewer people, fewer dollars for ministry.
To suggest that we are not a wounded and grieving church would be to wound anew. And yet, mixed with our grief is a hope that will not disappoint us.
Far from systemic paralysis, the Spirit continues to stir, embolden and unleash new possibilities. It calls us into discernment for what it means to be the church together into the future.
Importance of mission
This is a good place to mention one of the major pieces of our time together — reflecting upon the work of the Living Into the Future Together task force and the recommendations that come to us about it via the Church Council.
Perusing the report, I am pleased to tell you that the word of the day is “mission,” with the priority being the work and ministry done by congregations. For example: “To make support for the work of congregations one of the highest priorities of this church.” And the congregations also bear some significant responsibility:
To request congregations, in collaboration with synods, to begin, develop, review or redefine their unique mission plans by the end of 2012, so that each congregation strengthens its capabilities and resources for witness and mission.
How many congregations have “mission plans”?
Not just a document or a statement, but a living breathing, working, accountable tool?
There is a lot that will engender discussion and debate in the report, and that’s a good thing. But let’s keep mission front and center. What helps us do it better, helps us unleash greater passion and creativity, and helps us identify and remove any barriers that are standing in the way — that is good and holy work.
Our plate for these five days is full: We’ll also be reviewing and considering the recommended approval for the social statement “Genetics, Faith and Responsibility and filling our days with worship, prayer, Bible study, fellowship and much more.
I have high expectations for this event because God has high expectations for us — the ELCA in all three of its expressions.
See you on the floor!
Keith Spencer is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Pembroke Pines, Fla.