From the Bishop

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Checking in

October 14th, 2019

By Bishop Ann Svennungsen

It didn’t take long before tears came to his eyes. We were sitting at the pre-game lunch last Saturday before Homecoming at Concordia College in Moorhead. My table mate had come to watch his son play football.

I told him about my work as a bishop in the region that includes North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota. The bishops had been discussing ways our church could support farmers – challenged by tariffs, low commodity prices, and weather too wet for harvesting. (While eating our lunch, we could see student workers heave shovelfuls of snow to clear the bleachers).

“Just keep checking in with me.”

That’s when the tears came. “We will lose some family farms for sure this year; farms in the family for four generations. It’s horrible to be a fifth generation farmer – and to lose the land on your watch. There’s so many things a farmer can’t control. Even working your hardest and smartest isn’t enough.”

After a moment or two, he continued, “I guess I’d like the church to offer counseling and mental health support. Farmers don’t express their feelings too much – and that can get us in trouble. One of the hardest things to do is to ask for help.”

 

MANY OF US HAVE experienced times when we’d done all we could – everything just right – but the outcome wasn’t what we’d hoped. Many of us have experienced deep loss, but couldn’t bring ourselves to ask for help.

Recently, I was with someone in such a situation. She told me about her friends who, in her time of loss, continued to ask her: “How can we help?” Never sure what specific help she needed at the time, she replied, “Just keep checking in with me.” I love that answer. I wish I’d thought of it for the seasons of loss in my life.

“It’s horrible to be a fifth generation farmer – and to lose the land on your watch.”

“Just keep checking in with me.” The farm crisis may also compel you to advocate for policy change or the reorganization of seed production monopolies.

During the 1990s farm crisis, the Northwestern Minnesota Synod had trained counselors available within 20 minutes of any farm in the synod. And they were used. Next Tuesday, a group of Lutherans leaders will gather at the Lutheran Social Service office in Fargo next week to brainstorm ways to support farm and ranch families. I hope to join via Zoom and will share what I learn.

In the meantime, I encourage all of us to “check in” with the farmers we know.

Inspired by scripture

September 10th, 2019

By Bishop Ann Svennungsen

From the beginning of my Reformation, I have asked God to send me neither dreams, nor visions, nor angels, but to give me the right understanding of God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures; for as long as I have God’s Word, I know that I am walking in God’s way. (Martin Luther, Commentary on Genesis, Vol II)

The Scriptures … are inspired by God’s Spirit speaking through their authors, they record and announce God’s revelation centering in Jesus Christ. Through them God’s Spirit speaks to us to create and sustain Christian faith and fellowship for service in the world. (ELCA Constitution)

Does your daily life include the devotional reading of scripture? Are you part of a regular Bible study?

I can still see the closet in my childhood home where my parents kept the massive notebooks needed to participate in the Bethel Bible Series. I’ve served congregations where Crossways and Search Bible studies were regularly offered.

“Though worshipers appreciate the Bible, few hold it in quite the same esteem as our forebears.”

In 2008, the ELCA launched the Book of Faith Initiative, a five-year collaborative effort to “raise to a new level this church’s individual and collective engagement with the Bible, yielding greater biblical fluency and a more profound appreciation of Lutheran principles and approaches for the use of Scripture.

The five-year initiative ended in 2013. Does anyone think we accomplished our goal? Do we have greater biblical fluency? Is there a greater appreciation of Lutheran hermeneutics?

 

LAST WEEK, Pastors Tania Haber, Babette Chatman, Martha Schwehn Bardwell, and I met with Dr. Michael Chan to prepare for the Bishop’s Theological Conference (BTC), which coincidentally is titled “Does Scripture Matter? Engaging the Bible in the 21st Century.”  We talked about the realities in our churches:

  • Though Bible studies are offered and found meaningful, the number of people participating is sometimes less than hoped for.
  • Though worshipers appreciate the Bible, few hold it in quite the same esteem as our forebears.
  • Even with a steady diet of Biblical preaching, we believe faith is also nourished through deeper, communal discussion and engagement with this “rough manger” that holds the Word made flesh.

Are these things also true in your congregation? We are delighted with the number of registrants for BTC; we’d also love to hear insights from those who won’t be there.

  • Why does Scripture matter? For you? For your congregation?
  • What are effective ways you’ve led your congregation to engage scripture – both in individual devotional reading and in communal study?

You’re welcome to comment on the synod’s Facebook page posting of this blog (scroll down until you find the posting) or email John Mai at j.mai@mpls-synod.org and type “Scripture matters” in the subject line. And, I promise to share the insights gleaned from the BTC in one of my future blogs.

Reflection on Churchwide Assembly action

August 14th, 2019

By Bishop Ann Svennungsen

What a blessing it was to attend the 2019 Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee!

We worked hard on the decisions facing our church; we worshiped and studied scripture together; we celebrated and communed with people across the ELCA and around the globe. I will not soon forget the long procession during Friday’s worship of female pastors who until 50 years ago could not have been ordained.

I encourage you to become acquainted with a summary of the important actions taken in Milwaukee. I wish to write about one particular decision – something that’s garnered lots of public attention: In its plenary on August 6, the assembly voted to declare the ELCA a sanctuary church body

Though the vote was clear, our understanding of what becoming a sanctuary denomination is not as clear. In fact, the resolution included an amendment specifically asking the church council to provide guidance about what this means.

In my heart and mind, I believe the action was taken as a way to respond to our great sorrow around what feels like unprecedented threats facing refugees and undocumented immigrants in our country:

  • ICE raids in Mississippi leaving hundreds of children separated from parents and guardians, awaiting pick-ups from schools or day care centers or returning to empty homes.
  • Alarming reports of negligence, abuse, and deaths of migrant children in U.S. detention facilities.
  • Rumors of federal proposals that will reduce the quota of visas from 30,000 this year to zero in 2020 for those seeking refugee resettlement status. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services offers a helpful explanation.

One might say that the ELCA decision to become a sanctuary denomination is largely symbolic. Nothing in the action binds synods or congregations. It doesn’t require congregations or individuals to engage in any particular action. Primarily, I see the resolution as a way to “go on record,” challenging the brokenness and injustices we see in our immigration system. And it’s part of the Lutheran story in America.

Our church has a long history of both helping refugees and working for just and generous immigration policies. We believe our country has a calling to welcome our fair share of refugees and to welcome them to the U.S. without discrimination based on race, religion, or national origin.

I invite you to read the entire sanctuary church body resolution, which also calls us to:

  • Reaffirm the long-term and growing commitment of this church to migrants and refugees and to the policy questions involved, as exemplified most recently in the comprehensive strategy Accompanying Migrant Minors with Prot ection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO).
  • Develop a plan for additional tools that provide for education and discernment around sanctuary. (some of our synod’s congregations have discerned a call to provide resources and/or housing to those fearing deportation; they would  welcome conversation with other congregations exploring such a calling).

The 145 congregations in our synod are amazingly diverse in how they will receive this action by the churchwide assembly. As you reflect on this decision, please keep in prayer all those who are anxious about deportation – members of our congregations and communities.

And, please also pray that the Spirit will guide us — individuals and congregations — as we seek to faithfully love the neighbor and the stranger in our midst.

Steps toward forgiveness

June 25th, 2019

By Bishop Ann Svennungsen

The year our son was born, a friend asked if I would co-lead what we came to call a “Shalom Group.” Using the 12 Steps of Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) and Al-Anon as our guide, we gathered weekly for prayer and support – trusting that our work together would help us live more “shalom-filled” lives.

I was in my first pastoral call, and though I still wrestle with that first step of admitting my “powerlessness,” I began to see the deep wisdom in AA’s philosophy. In addition to its unabashed call to vulnerability and radical trust in God, it provides one of the most rigorous processes for confession and making amends to those we’ve wronged.

“AA provides one of the most rigorous processes for confession and making amends to those we’ve wronged.”

Reading the headlines this past week brought that philosophy to mind. Could the 12 Steps have something to say to:

  • Harvard’s decision to revoke the admission of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School graduate, Kyle Kashuv, after it discovered that Kyle had made deplorably racist comments as a 16 year old, and
  • The testimony of a panel of prominent African Americans before Congress about creating a commission to study the legacy of slavery and make proposals on reparations.

Could the rigorous nature of AA’s wisdom have something to say to such issues? Steps four through ten call us to:

  • make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves;
  • admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs;
  • become ready to have God remove all these defects of character;
  • humbly ask God to remove our character defects;
  • make a list of all the persons we’ve harmed;
  • become willing to make amends to them all;
  • make direct amends to people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others; and
  • continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong promptly admit

 

KYLE KASHUV APOLOGIZED for his racist comments and asked for help to become a better person. Instead of revoking admission, what if Harvard gave Kashuv a year on probation or a gap year where he engaged such a rigorous 12-step process?

The question of reparations for a systemic injustice doesn’t fit so easily into the 12 steps. It’s clearly for individuals. But, is there wisdom that can be adapted for communal problems?

“What if Harvard gave Kyle Kashuv a year on probation or a gap year where he engaged such a rigorous 12-step process?”

To be sure, only I can do my own 12-Step work. We’re not called to take another’s “moral inventory.” Or as Jesus said, “you without sin cast the first stone.”

And, the 12 steps say nothing about the hard work of forgiveness. That’s a topic for a whole new blog (or, perhaps, several). If you can’t wait for that, I commend Lewis Smedes’ book The Art of Forgiving.

Maybe, I will attend the Addiction and Faith Conference in Bloomington in September with a two-fold vision – to look at myself and to look for lessons from the recovering community that guide us to corporately confess, make amends, and seek reconciliation.

A spirit of change

June 11th, 2019

By Bishop Ann Svennungsen

Did you feel the winds shift this month? Maybe it was the same wind that inspired Peter’s Pentecost sermon, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.”

We’ve heard a few more daughters prophesying in synod assemblies around the ELCA this spring. Seven women were called as bishops – six serving as the first female bishop their synod has elected.

When I began my term in 2012, there were seven female bishops among a conference of 65 bishops. In 2018, there were 14. Now there are 21. This represents an increase from 10% to 32%, a significant shift.

“We’ve heard a few more daughters prophesying in synod assemblies around the ELCA this spring.”

Peter proclaims the radical generosity of God – pouring out the Spirit on all flesh. The ELCA still has a long way to go in reflecting the diversity of our world. When I began serving as bishop in 2012, we had two bishops of color. Today, there are six.

I just returned from the Metro Chicago Synod Assembly where those gathered elected the Rev. Yehiel Curry, an African-American pastor from the southside of Chicago. The practice in the ELCA is to invite a current bishop to serve as an informal mentor to each incoming bishop. I am thrilled to be invited to serve in this role with Bishop-elect Curry.

 

AS WE SEEK TO reflect the Pentecost vision of diversity that God intends for the church, we need to be boldly intentional about raising up leaders who look like the people in our world. Growing as communities of radical welcome and inclusion depends on it. And, so does our understanding of God.

One of my all-time favorite stories from my ministry comes from my time at Edina Community Lutheran Church (ECLC), now 25 years ago. Elizabeth was four years old and a member of ECLC. The Rev. Erik Strand and I had been her pastors since she was baptized as an infant. When I announced that I was leaving the congregation and moving to Iowa, sometime after she heard the news, Elizabeth turned to her mother and said, “Mommy, isn’t it sad that God is moving to Iowa? But,” she said, “at least Jesus is staying here.”

Though her theology was then a bit suspect, Elizabeth showed how imagination can be opened, and how she will see God as much more than an old man with a white beard. That rich understanding of God – in Elizabeth and countless others – will shape our ways of being … as leaders and as communities.

More family

May 28th, 2019

By Bishop Ann Svennungsen

“I need more family.” These are the words of Jira, an adopted African-American teenager, spoken after her father is killed. “I need more family,” she says, to support her newfound desire to find her birth mother. Her story is told in the mini-series The Red Line, a profound glimpse into the lives of three families after the tragic shooting of Jira’s father by a police officer.

“I need more family.” Have you ever felt that need? Oh, sometimes more family simply appears. Friends bring dinner every night when you’re recovering from surgery. Your church builds a fence for your yard after your son is born with Down Syndrome.

Just a generation ago, “more family” was part of the deal. My father was one of nine siblings. I am one of 26 close-knit cousins on Dad’s side alone.

 

WHAT ABOUT 2019? And, what about the ordinary times – when no one is sick and “more family” simply shows up with a covered dish? How do we foster this deep need for relationships in the ordinary days? I rejoice to see how our churches are doing this. And, I pray you experience both community-building worship and small group relationships within your church home.

But, I’m curious about faithful practices to build “more family” with neighbors and friends. I’m probably more of an introvert than extrovert, so I may find this more challenging. Still, I’d love to hear good ideas. How have you built community in your neighborhood or with the people down the hall in your apartment or condo building? How have you deepened the relationships you already have? What does it look like when followers of Jesus seek to create “more family”?

“What does it look like when followers of Jesus seek to create ‘more family’?”

Though I’m hesitant to quote from two TV shows in one posting, I’ll close with words from the final scene of Life Itself. (I don’t recommend the movie – it received pretty bad reviews, especially for being too preachy. I blame my watching it on “post synod assembly” syndrome) Still, I like these words from a mother to her young adult son as she is dying:

Listen to me: you have had many ups and downs in your life. Too many. And you will have more. This is life and this is what it does. Life brings you to knees. It brings you lower than you think you can go. But if you stand back up and move forward, if you go just a little farther, you will always find love.

You can almost hear Luther’s theology of the cross in her words. Though Luther would probably say, “Yes, life brings you to your knees. But, even there love will find you.”

A 2020 vision for synod assembly

May 13th, 2019

By Bishop Ann Svennungsen

Under the wonderful theme “In this Together: What the World Needs takes all of Us,” we gathered for our 2019 synod assembly, now visible in the “rearview mirror.”

“It’s an ‘all hands on deck’ event for the synod staff, with work beginning for next year even before the current assembly is even done.”

Looking back on the complexity of the event, one could also say: “In this Together: What the Assembly Needs takes all of Us.” The list is long and includes:

  • Confirming contracts with sound and video, interpreters, caterers, hosts, child care providers, and furniture rental companies;
  • Inviting speakers, presenters, nominees, musicians, and visual artists;
  • Creating videos, power points, clues for “Jeoparody,” and composting stations;
  • Preparing final copy of worship bulletins, resolutions, agendas and contingency agendas – all timed to the minute; and
  • Managing the online registration process for 450-plus people; confirming the correct representation of lay, clergy, and youth; and leaving the space as clean as we found it.

It’s an “all hands on deck” event for the synod staff, with work beginning for next year even before the current assembly is even done.

When it all comes together like it did last weekend, we all breathe a sigh of relief and give thanks for what feels almost miraculous.

 

SOME DISTINCTIVE HIGHLIGHTS of 2019 include:

  • Representing a glorious diversity of race, age, and gender; our speakers inspired and challenged us with unique perspectives that complemented each other in remarkable ways. Often referring to the speaker who preceded them, they truly engaged with each other, with assembly participants, and with our theme. (There was nothing “cookie cutter” about the presenters.)
  • The theme engaged what some call the “issue of our generation” – the reality of climate system change and the church’s calling to serve the world Christ came to save. We heard from Presiding Elder Stacy Smith with deep ties to Flint, Michigan; from Bishop Bruce Ough, a leader at Standing Rock; from Dr. Larry Rasmussen, a premiere Lutheran environmental ethicist; Mikka McCracken, a millennial Korean American whose faith story in the ELCA is so powerful, inspiring and authentic. Even our Vice President’s report by Felecia Boone and Treasurer’s Report by Ty Inglis were among the finest I’ve ever heard. Recordings of our speakers will soon be available on the synod’s YouTube Channel and on the website.
  • Within 24 hours, we heard the witness of a Native American, Korean American, Latina, and African Americans – all bringing profound perspective to the church they love but a church that remains 96% white.

Yes, a synod assembly takes all of us to be successful. And that raises a significant concern for me. If it “takes all of us,” what does it mean that fewer than half of our congregation’s voting members were present this year (450 present versus 936 that are eligible to attend).

Attendees are quick to affirm that it’s important work – well worth their time. What changes can we make to increase engagement? We are working to develop more comprehensive invitation process with intentional follow-up conversations. We are looking at an earlier assembly date so we aren’t competing with one of the first warm days of spring.

What other ideas might you have? We welcome your thoughts and ideas. Because, you see, we’re all “in this together.”

Who gets a seat?

April 30th, 2019

By Bishop Ann Svennungsen

I actually met the Pope this year! In preparing my synod assembly report, I reviewed last year’s pictures and was delighted to see the one with Archbishop Bernard Hebda from St. Paul, Bishop Peter Bartimeaus from Nigeria, and myself visiting with Pope Francis. We were the key religious leaders accompanying a choir of Minnesota Lutherans and Catholics invited to sing at the Vatican.

Knowing we had little time to greet Pope Francis, I made sure to thank him for Laudato Si, his encyclical on the environment. It stands as a unique and powerful contribution of the Christian faith to the work of addressing climate system change. It will also enlighten the conversation shaping our synod assembly: “What the World Needs Now Takes All of Us.”

 

ANOTHER MEMORY FROM our trip to Rome is not so heartening for me. Amazingly, the choir received an invitation to sing “Ubi Caritas” in the Sistine Chapel. We gathered in the chapel after touring the Vatican museums. Bishop Bartimeaus arrived with the composer and other leaders. Archbishop Hebda arrived last. The leaders made room for him – so that the key trip leaders sat together in a central space.

“In addition to our conversations about Laudato Si and caring for creation, our synod assembly will consider a memorial affirming the new social statement: “’Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Lutheran Call to Action.’”

When I arrived, all the seats were taken. The chapel has only one seating area – a continuous bench circling the outside wall. It also has security personnel to watch over protocol. I tried to find a spot, sensitive to looks I received from security. Finally, I sat on the curb-like space at the feet of those sitting on the bench. In the silence before the choir began singing, security came and stated clearly that I could NOT sit on the floor like that.

I was dressed in full bishop regalia: my purple clergy shirt, my pectoral cross. And I am a woman. Recognizing all the reasons that could’ve caused that awkward moment for me (people arriving at different times, a shortage of seating space, overpowering awe at the chapel’s beauty, my unwillingness to advocate for myself), I still have a deep sense that my experience of disregard was because of my gender. There was literally no “seat at the table.”

Finally, a group of folks moved together so I could squeeze into a place on the bench. I recognize my feelings of marginalization are minor compared to those felt by people whose exclusion leaves them without fundamental resources. Still, there is a relatedness among all forms of discrimination.

“I still have a deep sense that my experience of disregard was because of my gender.”

In addition to our conversations about Laudato Si and caring for creation, our synod assembly will consider a memorial affirming the new social statement: “Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Lutheran Call to Action.” Whether or not you will be joining us at synod assembly, I encourage you to read what I believe is an historic document. If approved, it will be the first call to action of its kind – for the ELCA or any of our full communion partners.

What the world needs takes all of us. We begin by inviting all of us to sit at the table.

Triduum tension

April 15th, 2019

By Bishop Ann Svennungsen

Where I grew up, we had a festive pie reception after our Maundy Thursday worship. Homemade pies from every kitchen were brought to St. Luke’s and shared with the congregants. Yes, we did the stripping of the altar, symbolizing the abandonment of Jesus and his stripping before the crucifixion. Yes, we left in silence. Then, we had pie and coffee.

You might guess that we never talked about the Triduum at St. Luke’s Lutheran in Shelby, Montana. I’m not sure I truly heard about it until Erik Strand – one of my best worship “professors” – coached me in my second call as a pastor. In the congregation Erik and I served, we even went so far as printing one bulletin for The Great Three Days – inviting worshipers to enter in to the three days as one service, one deep immersion into the paschal mystery, the passing of Jesus from betrayal, death, burial, into resurrection life. A “pie reception” would have shockingly disturbed the flow of that experience.

“We live with the discomfort of the tension – sometimes leaning to one side, sometimes the other.”

In his book, Between Cross and Resurrection, Alan Lewis writes of the profound importance of holding these three days together:

In summary, the complex, multiple meaning of the (paschal) story will only emerge as we hold in tension what the cross says on its own, what the resurrection says on its own, and what each of them says when interpreted in the light of the other. It would not be impossible to graph the entire history of church doctrine and life by plotting the interpretations which have failed to give due weight to one or the other of these essentials in the story by which and for which the Christian community lives. We might discover that the second day, which serves both to keep the first and the third days apart in their separate identities and to unite them in their indivisibility, offers a useful stance from which to make one more effort at a properly multivocal, stereophonic hearing of the gospel story. (emphasis mine).

 

HOLDING IN TENSION the cross and resurrection, by definition, means we can’t resolve the discomfort. The tension in a game of tug of war is only resolved if one side wins. And, holding that rope in perfect and endless equilibrium is impossible. So, we live with the discomfort of the tension – sometimes leaning to one side, sometimes the other. The tension must remain.

Douglas John Hall speaks to this tension: “Gospel …  is good news because it engages, takes on and does battle with the bad news, offering another alternative, another vision of what could be, another way into the future.”

“In the resurrection witness, suffering is accompanied and challenged by a hope.”

The hope we have in Christ’s resurrection doesn’t just whisk away all the problems we have, all the suffering we face. Good Friday and Holy Saturday remain. We know they are still there. But, somehow, in the resurrection witness, suffering is accompanied and challenged by a hope – a vision of “what could be another way into the future.”

We hold all preachers, worship leaders, musicians, artists, and participants in prayer as we enter together the great mystery of the Christian faith.

Trustworthy Servants

March 25th, 2019

By Bishop Ann Svennungsen

When bishops ordain pastors or consecrate deacons, we ask if they will commit to being an “example in faithful service and holy living.” If their answer is yes, they respond: “I will, and I ask God to help me.”

To what, exactly, are they committing themselves? What, exactly, is holy living? Since it was formed, the ELCA has sought to provide further detail in its expectations about “holy living.” Our predecessor bodies – the ALC, LCA, and AELC – did the same.

Still, this is not a “once-for-all” endeavor. Our guidelines are not set in stone. Pastors and deacons can now divorce. LGBTQ pastors and deacons can now marry. While it was once permissible (and is still legal in some states) for men to rape their wives, that is not acceptable in the church’s understanding of “holy living.”

All that we do and all that we are, both at home and in the public square, is a witness. The shape of our faithfulness bears witness to a loving and just God, who has freed us to love and serve our neighbor.

The ELCA’s constitution gives the ELCA Church Council authority to approve the specific expectations included in our understanding of “holy living.” Currently, the expectations are articulated in “Vision and Expectations.”

 

AT ITS MEETING ON April 4-7, the ELCA Church Council will review the draft of a document, “Trustworthy Servants of the People of God,” which, if approved, would replace “Vision and Expectations.” The upcoming council discussion has provoked serious and lively debate. Questions include:

  1. Should rostered leaders be held to higher standards than other Christians? What about the priesthood of all believers?
  2. Why do we focus so much on sexual misconduct and not as much on failure in prayer, generosity and tithing, and a commitment to justice and the environment?
  3. Should the potential effect a behavior has on a congregation be considered when discussing expectations? (E.g., an affair with a parishioner affects a congregation in ways that a failure to tithe might not.)
  4. What policy most effectively prevents boundary violations?
  5. What is the process for developing such statements as “Trustworthy Servants of the People of God?” Could we advocate for a longer conversation with more inclusive representation?

Neither “Vision and Expectations” nor “Trustworthy Servants” are documents with authority to create new policy. Rather, their authority is to interpret the policy that is created in the ELCA’s governing documents and social statements. To be sure, “interpreting” policy requires making judgments and one could argue our church needs a longer, more inclusive process before making such judgments. However, if our church wishes to create a new ethic about sexuality or prayer or justice expectations, it will require a more involved process, including Churchwide Assembly vote(s).

 

JUDGMENT CALLS ARE also made in the application of documents like “Vision and Expectations.” Recently, the Conference of Bishops apologized for its failures in this regard:

As a Conference of Bishops, we recognize and acknowledge that [Vision and Expectations]’ application has been uneven and inequitable. We express our profound grief and deep regret for the times when Vision and Expectations has been misused to single out, marginalize, and block people seeking to be leaders in this church when their peers were not always held to the same vision and expectations.

If our church wishes to create a new ethic about sexuality or prayer or justice expectations, it will require a more involved process, including Churchwide Assembly vote(s).

The discussion of “holy living” is complicated, profound, and evokes strongly held opinions. All that we do and all that we are, both at home and in the public square, is a witness. The shape of our faithfulness bears witness to a loving and just God, who has freed us to love and serve our neighbor. People are paying attention. How, then, shall we live?

Please join with me in praying for our Church Council as they meet April 4-7. We are a theologically grounded, gospel-centered, deeply engaged, and interconnected church. May the Spirit work through all the charisms of the ELCA and our mutual discernment as we each seek to live counter-cultural lives as followers of Jesus.

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