A Philosophy of Staffing

By Bishop Mike Rinehart

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

staffing philosophyWe often read this passage in light of the role of pastors and church leaders with regards to congregational members. We are called to equip the saints for the work of ministry, so that everyone grows up, into the fullness of Christ. Our job as church leaders is to help people find their gifts and their baptismal calling. No question.

I believe this is also our calling with church staff. Our job is to equip them for ministry in the world. Our job is to help them discover and develop their gifts for their own sake, for the sake of the gospel, and for the sake of the world.

Your employees are not your employees. They are Christ’s beloved. They are not slaves employed to turn out the endless menial tasks of the church. They are children of God, created in God’s image, to whom we minister, albeit in a different way.

Our job is not to keep them forever, for our convenience, as if they were caged animals, but rather to nurture their faith and self-awareness to the place where they discover their deepest calling, where their gifts meet the world’s needs.

The weekly check in and the annual performance review are then, not just a time to complain about what went wrong last year. They are a time to reflect on life and ministry together, using that reflection to discern God’s work in our hands.

How are you helping your church’s employees to discern their God-given calling in the world? Perhaps your job is not to keep them, but to send them. Is working at your church, their ultimate calling and destination in life? Or is it a way station where they find their gifts.

I once worked with an awesome director of youth ministries. The more we worked together, the more she discerned a desire to work with people who had AIDS. She knew it. I could see it. I hated to lose her, but somehow her work with us helped her discern her calling. That’s what it’s all about.

In this day and age, people don’t work one job for their whole lives. This is especially true of young people. It is a myth, however, that Millennials stay at a job less time than the previous generation. A Pew Research Study showed that 22% of Millennials 18-35 years old, stayed in a job five years or more (2016). A generation ago 21.8% of Gen Xers stayed five years or more (2000). Not much difference. For those in their job over 13 months, the numbers were 63.4% for Millennials and 59.9% for Gen Xers.

Still, someone is not going to be your office admin or youth worker for their whole life. And if you think about it, would you want that? Granted, training costs time and money, but for people to stay fresh, they need new challenges. Yes, you’re going to spend time hunting for super staff, and then training them, but that’s part of the fun.

I once heard an interview with John Maxwell. A company exec complained about the amount they had to spend training their people, and the amount of turnover. “What if you train them and they just leave?” he asked. Maxwell thought about it for a moment and then responded, “What if you don’t train them and they stay?”

So here’s what I ask you: How are you nurturing your people? How are you helping them discover their gifts, and become all they can be? Will they look back on their time with you and think, “Thank goodness I’m free from that?” Or will they look back and be grateful, thinking, “They helped me discover my calling?”

 

Faith leaders: Let us unite ourselves

Read the commentary from a group of Houston-area faith leaders about the response to the aftermath in Charlottesville, Va. from the August 16, 2017 Houston Chronicle

His Eminence Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, The Rt Rev. C Andrew Doyle, Episcopal Diocese of Texas, Rev. Lynn Hargrove, Presbytery of New Covenant, Bishop Scott J. Jones, The United Methodist Church, Rabbi David A. Lyon, Congregation Beth Israel, Dr. John D. Ogletree, Jr., First Metropolitan Church, The Metropolitan Organization, Michael Rinehart, Lutheran Bishop of the Gulf Coast Synod, ELCA

http://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/outlook/article/Faith-leaders-Let-us-unite-ourselves-11824744.php

 

 

Build Your Leadership Team Now

By Bishop Mike Rinehart

If you want to go fast, go alone.

If you want to go far, go together.

—African Proverb

team ministry

The work of ministry is larger than any one person. It takes a team of people working together, which requires coordination. If you want the boat to go somewhere, everyone needs to be rowing in the same direction. For everyone to be rowing in the same direction, there needs to be a commonly shared vision for the destination, and a lead team rehearsing the vision and coordinating the efforts.

Jesus built a team. First twelve, then seventy, then 500, 2,000, and so on. He cast a vision and led by example. Jesus had a leadership team of twelve, and an inner circle of leaders to boot. Peter, James and John go with him to the Mount of Transfiguration and other excursions.

Who is your leadership team?

What’s your vision for the fall? Who will be the key leaders to carry the responsibility for accomplishing the big pieces of the vision? Is there buy in? Have they been tapped?

In a small congregation that team is often the Council, or a team of committee chairs. In a medium-sized congregation that is more likely to be a mixture of staff and some volunteers. In the large congregation, the lead team will be the staff. The council will focus on casting vision and providing accountability. In the very large congregation that team is a smaller inner circle of executive staff.

Who are your key leaders for the fall?

If there are 2-3 major initiatives or goals for the fall or for the year, who are the 2-3 people who will head up each of those initiatives? Identifying those people is the first order of leadership. Then the job is helping identify the right people for their teams. Those leaders need to be able to choose their own team members, but they will likely welcome some helpful brainstorming from the pastor, who is likely to know more people than anyone else on staff or council. If team leaders and team members are chosen with lots of prayer, the prospects will be good.

When will these teams come together and hit the ground running?

Paul describes the church as a body with many parts. Not all have the same gifts. Choose those uniquely gifted and called for the task. I know people who have sung in their church choir for 40 years. There was no arm-twisting involved. They served in this way because they were uniquely gifted to do so, and it gave them joy. Called leaders will have the gifts and the joy. (Hebrews 12:2) Find mature leaders, who are tested, trustworthy and growing in Christ, in whom the whole body is knit together, when each part is working properly, builds up the whole body in love. (Ephesians 4:16)

Once your leadership team is in place, this team will need to meet monthly, or better, weekly. The willingness to meet weekly speaks volumes about the commitment of the core leadership team. They will need monthly or quarterly action items that move towards the goals. The pastor is the glue that holds these team leaders together, inspires, and communicates the vision to the teams and to the congregation.

In a small congregation I served, the executive committee of the council was that team. A council of twelve was too many. Instead, our executive committee of four met weekly (6 AM every Friday for breakfast). In a church that cannot afford staff, we were fortunate to have lay leaders so committed that they were willing to meet early in the morning before work. In one large congregation I served, the staff was the primary leadership team, and the council functioned more like a Board of Directors, setting direction and providing accountability.

There is an old African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

I’ve seen gifted pastors run a church like Lone Rangers, operating from the seat of their pants. If there is not sufficient infrastructure, the congregation will hit a wall at 180, or possibly 250. The pastor cannot do everything. If a congregation dumps too much on the pastor, or the pastor feels guilty delegating, or doesn’t trust the leaders, the congregation is probably going to be stuck. I’ve seen good pastors burn out. I’ve come close myself. I speak from personal experience, mistakes made.

Build a team. Build it now.

Join “Live On September” and Help Fund Lutheran Leaders

Live On Funding Lutheran LeadersLive On—the Gulf Coast Synod endowment—helps ensure that the church thrives in the future with faithful pastors, young leaders, new congregations and innovative ministries.

The endowment’s board urges congregations to join Live On September to raise awareness and increase resources for our critical priorities.

Here are some ways you can help:

  • Plan a Sunday collection for Live On.
  • Invite a Live On representative or grant recipient to share stories with your congregation.
  • Encourage your church to create an endowment.
  • Encourage individuals and families to consider planned giving.
  • Request newsletters, posters, bulletin inserts and videos.
  • Sign up for our email: http://www.liveongenerously.org/contact-us.
  • Invite Lizbeth Johnson, the Synod’s gift planner, to help explore endowments, planned giving and other strategies. Please contact her at lcjohnson@lfsw.org or call (713) 775-1595.
  • Like us at facebook.com/liveongenerously and sign up for email updates at liveongenerously.org/contact-us.

Our endowment has grown to $2.7 million through visionary gifts from churches and individuals; our impact is greater because previous boards invested the funds wisely.

We have helped candidates for rostered leader positions to complete their theological education without taking on additional student debt, funded campus ministry at campuses across the Synod, helped fund new starts and redevelopments and provided seed money for innovative and emerging ministries.

How will people know?

By Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop ELCA

elizabeth-eaton
Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

On Wednesday, Aug. 10, the voting members of the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly received the document “Declaration on the Way.” More than 99 percent of us affirmed this significant ecumenical statement in which Lutherans and Roman Catholics have achieved agreement on 32 issues regarding communion, ministry and the church, declaring that these are no longer church dividing (page 16). Fifty years of ecumenical dialogue in the United States and around the world led to this point.

When asked if declaration was a step closer to eucharistic sharing between Lutherans and Roman Catholics, Bishop Denis Madden, Catholic co-chair of the dialogue task force, answered, “Yes.” There were tears of joy. The assembly responded with a standing ovation.

Later that day this question was asked during the press conference about the assembly’s action on the declaration: “How would this historic agreement be made known and affect the lives of the ordinary person in the pew?” How does the work of theologians and the decision of a churchwide assembly become part of the lived experience of Lutheran and Roman Catholic parishioners? What is to prevent this significant action from becoming just one of several feel-good moments shared by voting members in August 2016?

And what about all of the other important decisions that were taken? What about the AMMPARO initiative and the creation of a unified word and service roster? What about memorials calling the ELCA to deepen relationships with the Historic Black Churches, to repudiate the doctrine of discovery, to work toward a responsible energy future, peace with justice in the Holy Land, to welcome refugees, to support military personnel, veterans and their families, to welcome the gifts of African-American ELCA members and to look at those structures within this church that erect barriers to full inclusion?

And what about all of the other wonderful non-legislative events at the assembly—a call for the ELCA to read Martin Luther’s Small Catechism together from now until Oct. 31, 2017, the call to action by Nobel laureate and Lutheran Leymah Gbowee, the reports of ELCA World Hunger and Lutheran Disaster Response, the lives we are reaching and changing through Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA? The church-wide conversation we are having about priorities in the Called Forward Together in Christ process?

The assembly wasn’t a national political convention, rather it was the people of God gathered daily around word and sacraments, engaged in prayer, and open to the movement and guidance of the Spirit.

But I return to the questions asked during the press conference—how will people know about what happened during this assembly and how will these actions and experiences become a part of our life together?

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this question or others like it. It’s as if people want or need or expect some kind of directive or program or even permission from someone (the presiding bishop?) or somewhere (the churchwide organization?) to bring all of these things to light and life in their congregations. It doesn’t have to be that way. About 960 voting members and almost 500 Grace Gathering participants along with visitors, presenters and staff attended the assembly. Close to 2,000 people, the majority of whom are members of ELCA congregations, saw and heard what happened in New Orleans. Thousands of you are reading about the assembly in this issue of Living Lutheran. Get mobilized.

If exploring Declaration on the Way with the local Roman Catholic parish is your passion, get a couple other members of your congregation and offer this to your pastor, “Pastor, we think this is important and we want to work with you. We’ll organize the event, logistics, invitations, publicity, speakers, format, even refreshments!” You can do the same in your conference or synod. The point is we are all the ELCA. The work belongs to all of us. Let’s get busy!

A monthly message from the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Her email address: bishop@elca.org. This column originally appeared in the September issue of Living Lutheran. Reprinted with permission.

Creation Care Tips from the Synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team

Lutherans Restoring Creation

By Lisa Brenskelle

The mission of Lutherans Restoring Creation is to promote incorporation of care for creation into the full life and mission of the church, working in five areas:  worship, education, discipleship, building & grounds, and public ministry/advocacy.  For some timely tips in these areas, see below:

Worship Consider an Eco-Reformation for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. Check out: Why Eco-Reformation? and Message to  Planners for the 500th Anniversary. See also the Open Letter to the Presiding Bishop.  Resources for creation-focused prayers are found here (& a prayer is posted weekly on the synod leaders Facebook). Creation-focused commentaries on the lectionary are available.

Education The Lutheran World Federation has made available free downloadable Reformation studies, including one on the Creation – Not for Sale sub-theme. An excellent resource from Canada, Living Ecological Justice, is inexpensive for adult study. This slide deck on Ecological Footprint  is engaging & informative. Sunday Evening Conversations on Creation monthly environmental education web meetings on  Aug. 27  and Sept. 30 address Connections between People and Nature (see separate articles).

Discipleship:  Make use of the “Bulletin blurb” eco-tips (+ Bible verses & creation-care quotes) on the synod leaders Facebook page each week. This resource on Financial Integrity is useful, thought-provoking, and can allow you to consider environmental impacts of spending. There are many observances during the month of September to highlight in encouraging discipleship: World Water Monitoring Day (9/18), National Public Lands Day (9/30), and National Estuaries Week (9/16 – 9/23).

Building & Grounds:    A recording of the talk, Becoming Carbon Neutral, given on Aug. 6 is offered by the Interfaith Environmental Network of Houston, as well as an upcoming talk on Native Plants for Houses of Worship on Sept. 10 (see separate article).  Planning a church event? This sustainable event planning guide can help. Check out the Green Fields resource for quick tips on greening your facility. Encourage church staff to participate at work in the Eco-Challenge in October.  Lutherans Restoring Creation will have a team you can join.

Public Ministry/Advocacy:  The weekly Opportunities to Care for, Learn About, and Enjoy God’s Good Creation features volunteer events in the greater Houston area (see upcoming opportunities link). Test water in your community for World Water Monitoring Day. Participate in a beach clean-up for National Estuaries Week. Join the Lutherans Restoring Creation bike team for Bike Around the Bay in October (see separate article). For advocacy, petition the governor of TX to ban a toxic pesticide.

For more information on any of the above, or for creation care assistance/information, contact the synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team by writing to Lisa at gcs.lrc@gmail.com. The team is seeking additional members.  If you would be willing to serve, please contact us.

Book Review – Martin Luther: An Ecumenical Perspective

Bishop Michael Rinehart

Lutherans know how to read Luther from the Lutheran perspective; this goes without saying. It is vitally important to read Luther from an ecumenical perspective, in this case, Martin Luther An Ecumenical Perspectivefrom a Catholic cardinal and theologian.

Cardinal Walter Kasper was born the same year as my father, 1933. This makes them both 84 years old, as of this writing in 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Kasper has a PhD in Theology and is a Professor of Dogmatics. From 1989 to 1999, he served as Bishop of the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart. In 2001, he became cardinal. He served as the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity from 2001 to 2010, among many other appointments. He is the main author of the first volume of the Katholischer Erwachsenenkatechismus and the editor-in-chief of the third edition of the Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche.

Kasper does something extremely difficult. He gives us a snapshot of Luther in just 56 pages.

  • Chapter 1: A Transitional Period of Decline and New Beginnings
  • Chapter 2: Luther’s Concern: The Evangelical Renewal of Christianity
  • Chapter 3: The Beginning of the Age of Denominations and Its End
  • Chapter 4: Luther and The Spirit of the Modern Era
  • Chapter 5: The Ecumenical Age as the Rediscovery of Catholicity
  • Chapter 6: Martin Luther’s Ecumenical Relevance
  • Chapter 7: An Ecumenism of Mercy – The Outlook

Luther and the Reformation are extremely complicated, multi-faceted topics. Kasper does not disappoint. His books are able to capture the key landscapes in so few pages. Martin Luther: A Very Short Introduction by Scott H. Hendrix is one exception. To Hendrix, I would add Kasper.

Kasper recognizes Luther’s piety and intellect. He names the corruption that led to the Reformation, while at the same time pulling no punches as to the problems left in the wake of the bloody Reformation.

All the usual catalysts for society are mentioned: Copernicus, Columbus, Guttenberg, the fall of Constantinople, the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain in 1492. Kasper mentions efforts at church reform before and after the Reformation. He recognizes the sale of indulgences as an abuse, and points out that it was outlawed five years before Luther was born, though not stamped out. He summarizes the state of medieval theology with a synchronous that only someone who has taught systematic theology and history can achieve.

Kasper goes on to summarized the theology of justification with a clarity that most Lutherans will find stunning. In so doing, Kasper characterizes Luther as a reformed Catholic, stating, “Luther vanquished a Catholicism that was not really Catholic and consequently rediscovered something that was primordially Catholic.” He believes that Luther’s concern in the 95 theses is a thoroughly Catholic concern.

Kasper goes on to say, “Luther’s call for repentance was not heard in Rome and by the bishops at that time. Instead of being penitent and responding with the necessary reforms, Luther was answered with polemic and condemnation.” Luther went to the Leipzig disputation expecting a debate but instead received an ultimatum: recant or else.

Hearing a doctor of the church recognize Rome’s complicity in the church-dividing Reformation should free us to be honest about the Luther’s challenges. His vicious and vulgar invective did not lend itself to debate. His anti-Semitism left a legacy whose damage cannot be quantified. And the emergency ecclesiology left by the schism somehow became calcified into a somewhat convoluted ecclesiology today.

Kasper spends a little time on any of that. He does pointed out that the Reformation left us with state churches and denominational Christianity. He has firm command of many of Luther’s key writings, such as To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, On the Papacy in Rome (1520) and On the Bondage of the Will (1526).

Melanchthon made it clear the Lutherans were prepared to submit to the Pope and recognize the historical office of bishop, as long as priests were free to preach the gospel of justification by grace through faith and not the indulgence. But these overtures failed. The split was complete.

While the Catholic Church spread to Latin America and other places of the world, taking on an increasingly global character, the state-church situation of the Lutheran territorial churches led to local, particular culturally-bound churches. Any Lutheran bishop can confirm that this is still a challenge today. Various Lutheran bodies often define Lutheranism in cultural rather than theological terms.

Kasper looks to the 500th anniversary as an opportunity for Lutherans and Catholics to update their understanding of Luther. We can ask what Luther has to say to us in the age of ecumenism. As my friend, John Nunes, said to me once, “When we speak of diversity in the church, are we not speaking of catholicity?”

Catholics, Lutherans, and others have now an opportunity to overcome our denominational self-reference. “Catholics have learned from Protestants the importance of the Word of God and the Bible, and Protestants have learned the importance of sacramental symbolism and liturgy. Both churches have been enriched by ecumenism.” Our bilateral dialogs have revealed that many of the antitheses between our churches have been based on misunderstandings.

Kasper admits that the Protestant model for church and the Catholic model for church are incompatible, and therefore our dialogues have resulted in a little visible unity in the life of our congregations. Protestant and Catholic thesis/antithesis polemics have blocked the proclamation of Christ.

While Luther and his opponents were not ecumenism in the modern sense, there is room for hope. Luther was open to the historic episcopacy. He said he would kiss the feet of a Pope who would acknowledge the gospel of justification. We can listen, be on the polemical Luther to the mystical Luther. We can listen deeply to On the Freedom of a Christian. We can embrace an ecumenism that listens to and learns from each other.

Kasper invites us to think about a perhaps apocryphal statement of Luther, “If the world was going to end tomorrow, I would still plant a little apple tree today.” Indeed, Cardinal Kasper planted a linden tree in Luther Garden in Wittenberg. As a return gesture, Lutherans planted a small olive tree at the Roman Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls. Perhaps the way forward for the church lies in some simple acts of kindness and mercy. The work is slow, but we are closer today than we were 500 years ago.

The good cardinal reminds us we are no longer on the path of division, but on a path of unity. Books like this give me hope that we can commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with an eye to proclaiming the gospel, rather than tearing one another down

Fly Through the Crash

Deacon Peggy Hahn

airplane wingI got some of the best leadership advice ever, the night before I was about to launch the biggest project of my life, from Sally Ahrens, my partner in ministry. She looked me in the eye and said with all seriousness, in a way that only she could do: “No matter what happens, fly through the crash.”

At this point in our preparation, I knew she wasn’t kidding. I also had no idea what she was talking about, so I just gave her the “huh?” look. “Fly through the crash. You just might land the plane,” was her response. This was only a few weeks after the plane had landed in the Hudson River. I got it.

airplane crash in water

I am sharing this with you today because I have come to realize that the language of “being on survival mode,” as people use it regarding their congregation, does not fit at all. Every story I know about survival mode has a high level of “fighting for life” that includes a willingness to fly through the crash.

The behavior of survival is hopeful because it means an instinct for living that overcomes a willingness to die. It is true of prisoners of war who tell horrific stories of pain and suffering, always aware that death is very real yet always hanging on to a glimmer of hope that life may come tomorrow. You can see it in the eyes of people who have survived hurricane, fire or tornado devastation. Survival has a do-what-it-takes-to-live kind of courage.

I honestly wish I saw more of this in congregational leadership. More often I see stubbornness wrapped in nostalgia. That digging-in-our-heals posture is not survival, it is (you won’t like this) death. Once we become closed to new ideas, even about our faith, we start to die. This is true for people and for organizations.

The great news is that we can change our mindset. We have a choice on how we will react to things we don’t like, things that are thrust upon us, or even things we choose that have unexpected outcomes. We have the power to survive.

Theologically, I think that God has wired this into our humanity. It is the Holy Spirit wrestling with our ego, offering us glimpse of hope, if we can let go of our stubbornness to grasp it.

My prayer for leaders is that they get in touch with their survival instincts, let go of their stubborn egos, and fly through the crash. In this time of re-generation of the world, the church as we know it is in a metamorphous not a death. What looks like death are places where people stop surviving.

Take Sally’s advice (trust me, I always did) and fly through the crash.

Thanks to her encouragement, together we created a way for 36,000 people to serve in New Orleans in 2009. This was the largest servant event. From the air traffic control tower, there were countless opportunities to crash, including a few minor collisions. Yet we landed the plan with a city blessed by our church, young people engaged in a faith that made a difference, and a church with a new way of doing a Youth Gathering. Not too bad for a 4-day gig.

Imagine what leaders who serve every day in a particular neighborhood could do if they started to survive?

Hurricane Season

Hurricane season is upon us, running from June 1 through November 30. We may not be as prepared as we should be. We encourage each and every one of you to become a 72 Hour Lutheran, a person who has enough supplies in their home to meet their household’s basic needs for 72 hours.

Being prepared to take care of your own family allows you to then reach out and help others within the community.

  • Use the 72 Hour Lutheran checklist for supplies
  • Determine escape routes
  • Make an evacuation plan for all pets
  • Share one out of state emergency contact with all your family and friends
  • Call you church and be sure your information is correct
  • Know the vulnerability of your home and the safest areas within it

Gulf Coast Leaders & Congregations

  • If a hurricane hits your area, make sure you and your family have all the necessary supplies to be a 72 Hour Lutheran.
  • If you are planning on evacuating, let the synod office know where you are going. Please include a contact number, address, and the name of a local contact.
  • Once the hurricane hits your area, please contact us by email, call873.5665, or using social media, and let us know how you’re doing.
  • Make sure you have a system to check on the elderly and their caregivers to make sure they have a plan to evacuate or shelter in place with food and supplies. Also, include checking on single parents or parents who work in emergency services (EMS, medical personnel, firefighters), who may not be home during a hurricane leaving family with needs.
  • Plan to gather for worship on the Sunday following a storm, even if you do not have electricity – a prayer service in the parking lot or something for the community to gather and pray.
  • Plan to respond to needs in your own community once you have cared for your members.
    • A place for cell phone charging, if you have a generator
    • Child care for parents whose homes are impacted
    • Cold water
    • Grills to cook food (that would spoil in the freezer)
    • Crews to cut trees and help households

Live in the Freedom of Christ

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

elizabeth-eaton
Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

Recently I discovered Google Earth. I know, I’m a little late to the dance. But this is fascinating. You type in an address and up pops a photo. You can zoom in on places all over the world. And you can zoom out for, literally, a 35,000-foot view. I invite you to give it a try. In fact, this will be a great group activity for all of us in the ELCA.

First, find your congregation. Now expand the field and find other ELCA congregations near you. In some places this will be easy to do. In the “Fertile Crescent” of Lutheranism—the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania—there are more ELCA congregations per square mile than there are gas stations. In other places, ELCA congregations are few and far between. But we’re there.

Next, find your synod office. You can see them spread out across the U.S. and the Caribbean.

And the ELCA is not alone in North America. Find the congregations, synods and national office of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. We are all over North America.

And now, find all of the member churches of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). We are all over the world, on every continent except Antarctica. We are 145 member churches in
98 countries. There are 74 million of us. And
your congregation is part of this worldwide Lutheran movement.

In May the LWF met in assembly in Windhoek, Namibia. Lutherans from Africa; Asia; Latin America and the Caribbean; North America; and Western, Central and Eastern Europe gathered to worship, sing, deliberate, study and dance.

Our contexts are very different. Climate, cuisine and cultures all vary. Our challenges are different. Lutherans in many parts of the world are a minority community, face persecution, contend with war and forced migration, and deal with the devastating effects of climate change. Lutherans in many parts of the world are ministering and serving faithfully in an increasingly secularized culture, or in parts of the world where the church was suppressed for nearly a century resulting in entire generations that have not heard the gospel. But there is something that we all have in common—our life in Christ.

We have our life in Christ—in the crucified and risen Savior, in the one who poured out his life for us, the one who gave himself away for the life of the world. In baptism we have already experienced the only death that really matters, the death of the power of sin, the death of our death. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).

Now, go to Google Earth and find St. Petersburg, Russia. At the LWF Assembly a delegate from Russia told this story of freedom in Christ. There used to be a Lutheran church in St. Petersburg. It was a beautiful structure witnessing to the glory of God where the Lutheran immigrants who arrived in the 18th century could worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. It was skillfully crafted out of wood. St. Mary’s Lutheran Church still stood in St. Petersburg, renamed Leningrad.

The church was a place of worship and hope during the siege of Leningrad during WWII. But people were freezing and starving to death in Leningrad. There was no wood for heating or cooking. So the Lutherans looked at their beloved church and then looked at the suffering around them. Piece by piece they dismantled their building and gave it away for the life of their community.

This is what being free in Christ looks like. This is part of our Lutheran story. This is part of your congregation’s story. We live in the freedom of Christ.

 

A monthly message from the presiding bishop  of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This column originally appeared in Living Lutheran’s July issue. Reprinted with permission.