Bjorn Peterson’s involvement with the ELCA and its Global Mission gatherings has him all fired up about the church. “I think it’s the most exciting time ever to be in the ELCA,” he says. “The church is not dying. It’s being pruned and there’s a new kind of blossom that looks different from what the plant used to.”
The 28-year-old Lutheran from Bend, Ore., is careful to add that this isn’t about throwing out the old to bring in the new. “This is the trajectory of where the church has been going. It’s not separate from where the church has been but is the natural consequence of it.”
Bjorn, who attended the mission gathering held April 23-24, 2010, at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, Wis., says he hears some people say they don’t recognize the church anymore. He encourages them to see the changes as “God’s evolution of what has been to what is to be” and says it’s a natural progression.
It’s not about some people being irrelevant. It’s about “how God is becoming relevant to new people and how we can all get behind that,” says Bjorn. “No one is irrelevant.”
The mission gatherings (there are seven of them around the country in 2010) are a great place for conversations, Bjorn says — conversations about connecting global and local mission work, about working side by side no matter what age, about how the church is moving from colonialism to creating in a collaborative way.
The conversations are about expanding capacity, says Bjorn. That gets at the heart of the ELCA’s emphasis on accompaniment as the model for both global and local mission.
The ELCA’s resource materials on mission define this model as walking together in such a way that “gifts, resources and experiences are shared with mutual advice and admonition to deepen and expand our work within God’s mission.”
Take the Lutheran Church of Haiti, for example. ELCA World Hunger funds are assisting the recovery from the January 2010 earthquake — but decisions about the type of help are made through local congregation councils, and the response uses the local infrastructure.
In Carrefour, Haiti, leaders of the local Lutheran congregation spoke with people in their community such as Eliossane Jeune, who said, “We are scared to live in concrete homes. We would rather build out of metal sheets and pray for the Lord’s safety during the hurricane season.”
So the Lutheran Church of Haiti’s response now includes addressing the psychosocial needs of Eliossane and others like him. The response uses local agencies and organizations to get the work done.
For many years the ELCA held two or three Global Mission Events annually. These gatherings were large and focused more on individual participation.
The new mission gatherings are congregation-based. They focus on teams from local congregations learning new skills for mission both in their area and globally. The gatherings are designed to increase the capacity of congregations for mission — exactly what Bjorn meant when he said conversations at the gatherings are about expanding capacity.
As Bjorn puts it, “The message isn’t, ‘You stop talking and listen; I’ll talk.’ The message is, ‘Let’s continue to talk.’” He hopes the conversations continue and that they are mutual. That’s what keeps him fired up both for mission work globally and in his congregation, Nativity Lutheran in Bend.