In June, my wife Christine and I attended the Synod Assembly with clergy and other lay representatives from more than 200 ELCA churches in North Carolina. In truth, I was expecting boring parliamentary procedures, bland cafeteria food and long meetings. In fact, it was a wonderful experience. We worshipped together, we met new friends and reconnected with others, we shared ideas and learned new ones. The food … well, the food was still cafeteria food, but there was lots of coffee available. To boil down the three-day Assembly into three bullets is a great injustice to the full richness of the experience, but the page is short, so I’ll do it anyway.
Bishop Bolick loves dogs. His wife, not so much. But after recovering from a heart condition and helping move his mother of 90+ years into an assisted living center recently, Bishop Bolick’s wife finally agreed to talk about the possibility of getting a dog. A day later, they brought home Rocky, a little beagle puppy. Bishop Bolick said he loves the dog, and maybe not so surprisingly, so does his wife now. “She loves Rocky because she loves me,” he said. “The relationship makes all the difference.”
Bishop Bolick used this wonderful little story to describe how our relationship with Christ changes us, changes our heart and changes how we engage with the world. Our vision is to save the world, share the good news, show God’s love – one person at a time. As Jesus told his disciples upon seeing the crowds of people in need, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:37-38).
We are many, yet we are one. Bring together clergy and lay representatives from more than 200 congregations and you are going to see different opinions and perspectives. We voted on a number of motions and resolutions that were presented during the Assembly, and not everyone agreed on the issues. I was reminded how that is an important part of being in a community. We are different – we have different experiences, opinions, perspectives and backgrounds. These differences can divide or they can strengthen. During this time, the entire collection of us in the auditorium also took communion, and I was reminded that despite our differences, we are one in the body of Christ. In fact, the word “communion” shares the same root word as “community.” So the act of sharing communion both defines and strengthens us as a community.
Butts in the pew vs. butts out of the pew. Tammy Jones West, who serves as the N.C. Synod Youth and Family Ministry Coordinator, is praying for us. She said that she has been praying for years for some of her family members to “get their butts in a pew.” But her prayer for us as a collection of ELCA churches from across the state is for us to “get our butts out of the pew.” She challenged us collectively to change our focus from membership to discipleship. That weekend she organized about 40 events for hundreds of us to go out into the community to serve those in need. Christine and I joined a group that went to an elementary school where the student body was 95 percent free or reduced lunch, which meant that there essentially wasn’t a PTA to help support the school. In fact, a thrift store had been established across the street by a local church to provide essential clothing and household items for those in need. We spent the morning helping clean up and beautify the grounds of the school. When we left, we felt connected in some small way to the lives of the kids who come to that school every day. And later that afternoon in a Bible study session, we focused on these words from Ephesians, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10). We are saved by faith, but we are created for good works.