Originally posted June 10, 2012, at Skating in the Garden in High Heels Under My Alb. Republished with permission of the author.
I think you had to be at our Synod Assembly to fully feel the power of the closing remarks of Bishop Steven Ullestad’s sermon. I was there and the tears were streaming down my face, and I was not the only one.
Loss, grief, resurrection and transformation. Our synod has been through hell and back. We’ve lost a substantial number of congregations in the wake of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly. And many of those exits were just plain nasty and ugly. And he acknowledged that in the sermon. He referenced and showed clips of the movie “We are Marshall,” about the aftermath of the 1970 plane crash that killed 37 football players on the Marshall University football team. Everybody yells “We are Marshall!” — that’s how we got to shouting “We are the church!”
But his saying, “We rejoice that we will never be the synod we once were” is what got me. Because that is, in the end, what the work of grief is all about — coming to terms with the fact that you are different, that life is different after loss and learning to embrace and love the new you, the new life that comes about after that life. And Christians of all people should be able to rejoice in new life.
But we don’t. We moan that the church is not what it used to be. We blame and scapegoat and whine that if we just a) did what our grandfolks did or b) stopped doing what our grandfolks did the church would again be what it used to be. Well, that church that used to be is dead and it ain’t coming back. God never leads us backwards — only forward.
But it’s hard. There was a time in my grief where just the idea of not being in grief anymore saddened me. Because my grief allowed me to hang on to my late husband, Loren, in some small way. To give up that grief was to let go of our past. But it was the only way I could embrace the newness that was waiting for me. At some point I had to just decide that I was not going to be sad anymore. And I did.
I think at this year’s assembly we made a communal decision that we were not going to be sad anymore. After the bishop’s sermon, he asked every pastor who had lost their job because their congregation left the ELCA, every member who lost their church because their congregation decided to leave the ELCA, every person who lost friends and family because of the leavings to stand. And then he had the whole assembly pray for us. And in those prayers I believe there was a letting go of the sadness and anxiety and anger and regrets and an embracing of the newness that resurrection brings. And we decided to stop being sad. And the rest of the weekend was a celebration of what we have done this year and a renewed commitment to mission for the future. It was a joy.
The disciples were never the same group they were before Jesus rose and ascended to the Father. We will never be the synod we once were. We will never be the church we once were. We can rejoice in that. We are the CHURCH!
Find a link to Joelle Colville-Hanson’s entry on the blog Skating in the Garden in High Heels Under My Alb at Lutheran Blogs.