From the Bishop

Were You There? Will You Be?

April 11th, 2017


By Bishop Ann Svennungsen

Thanks to the thoughtfulness of a fellow Concordia College alum, I attended last Saturday’s world premiere of “The Passion of Jesus Christ” by Rene’ Clausen. Commissioned for the 125th anniversary of the college and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the composition draws the listener into the profound emotion, the moral complexity, and the deep intimacy of Christ’s suffering and death.

Throughout 2017 – this 500th anniversary year – we will be offered a variety of experiences to celebrate the Reformation. Sitting in the audience last Saturday, I was overcome with the sense that this focus – on the cross of Jesus Christ – would likely be the emphasis Martin Luther would have chosen.

More than anything else, Luther was a theologian of the cross. Today, as we prepare to enter deeply into the story of Christ’s passion – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Vigil – it is good to recall some of Luther’s wisdom in how to approach these days.

 

FIRST OF ALL, LUTHER makes clear that the proper motivation for contemplating Christ’s passion is not to engender pity for Christ nor anger towards those who betrayed him. Instead, true to form, Luther invites us to enter this story as both law and gospel. Meditation on the Passion serves the law’s purpose: to convict the conscience of sin and sin’s dire consequences. He refers to Christ as “this earnest mirror” (dißer ernster spiegel), which reveals how we fall short.

Once we are aware of our sins, Luther instructs us to cast them upon Christ, seeing in Christ’s wounds and sufferings our own transgressions, which are overcome by Christ’s resurrection. This is pure gospel. And, what is more, Luther urges that, if we struggle to believe this resurrection miracle, we ask God for faith, as “this too rests entirely in the hands of God.” It is all grace.

As we prepare to enter deeply into the story of Christ’s passion – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Vigil – it is good to recall some of Luther’s wisdom in how to approach these days.

Finally, Luther counsels us to refrain from too much contemplation on Christ’s suffering and instead to meditate on “Christ’s friendly heart and how this heart beats with such love for you that it impels Christ to bear with pain your conscience and your sin.” Further, Luther invites us to look from Christ’s heart to God’s heart, the true source of the savior’s love. “We know God aright when we grasp God not in God’s might or wisdom (for that proves terrifying), but in God’s kindness and love. Then faith and confidence are able to exist, and we are truly born anew in God.”

I invite you to join with me in prayer for all who lead worship this week – that the Spirit will draw all who gather into the God whose heart beats with such love for us and all creation.

 

The real presence of community

March 21st, 2017

by Bishop Ann Svennungsen

Occasionally, I am free to worship at the church where our son, John Amos, is interred. The columbarium is next to the baptismal font; as I dip my fingers in the water, I remember the promise, “if you have been buried with Christ in a death like his, you shall also be raised. …”

One of my daughters will usually join me, though they occasionally arrive late. (I look for them around the time of the prayer of the day.) I also know members of the congregation. Today, I see a widow whose husband was interred in the same columbarium just before our son, a man who struggles with a chronic and degenerative illness, a woman deep in vocational discernment.

Though we Lutherans do not recognize “community” as one of the sacraments, I believe it is clearly a “means of grace.” It is a means for God to create, sustain, and challenge faith. Indeed, we would affirm that the creation and sustenance of faith is impossible outside community.

 

LAST SUMMER, I WAS invited to join a Lilly-funded seminar of seminary presidents and church leaders exploring how we might better prepare pastors for the work of “building and leading communities.” This is a critical question in our culture of individualism, anonymity, and 24-hour entertainment options without even leaving your recliner. It takes study, practice, and courage to build what seems a counter-cultural endeavor.

“Though we Lutherans do not recognize ‘community’
as one of the sacraments, I believe it is clearly a ‘means of grace.'”

Still, the need for community is great. At the recent Stewardship Lab, Scott Vaughan noted, “in this country, people are starved to death for friends.” We are hungry for community. A recent UCC survey of 864 congregations found a strong correlation between congregational vitality and the ability of pastors to lead communities. Indeed, the leadership capacity to mutually equip and motivate a community of faith was related to the greatest number of congregational vitality factors.

Our synod supports pastors in leadership development through peer groups, training in community organizing, and work in adaptive change. There’s lots being done – more we can do. Let us know what you’ve found helpful in this challenging work of leading community. (Send any suggestions you would be willing to share to Pastor Craig Pederson at c.pederson@mpls-synod.org .)

We need community. We need pastors and lay leaders who can foster community. The witness and embrace of “saints below and saints above” is a vital means for us to experience God’s grace.

 

The warmth of Nigeria

March 7th, 2017

By Bishop Ann Svennungsen

In the midst of 95 degree heat and under cloudless skies, some 30,000 Lutherans gathered for a five-day annual conference in Demsa, Nigeria. Arriving in vehicles of all sizes and kinds – including pick-up trucks with families sitting on top of their belongings in the cargo bed – attendees set up temporary shelters to house them for the week.

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Bible studies, prayer, song, dance, and lively conversations – these were the center of the celebration, culminating in the final worship service which included the Installation of Archbishop Musa Filibus.

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When the Minneapolis Area Synod gathers in assembly, staff is always hoping that we can get 600 or more people to participate for a little more than 24 hours. As I told those gathered in Demsa, I couldn’t imagine 3,000 Lutherans together for a week, much less 30,000.

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Even more, the gathering was remarkable because it was held in an open field fewer than 40 miles from the 2015 Boko Haram bombing in Yola; fewer than 200 miles from 2016 church burnings and killings in the north. Many precautions are taken – I never felt afraid – but I was overwhelmed and deeply moved by the witness of these Christians, publicly singing their love of Christ in the face of persecution.

I was overwhelmed and deeply moved by the witness of these Christians, publicly singing their love of Christ in the face of persecution.

I am so pleased that I was finally able to visit our companion synod in Nigeria. When our synod delegation travelled there in 2014, my son was in high risk chemotherapy, so my first calling was with him. However, now that I’ve made this trip, it won’t be long before I start talking about the next.

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From small to significant, here are my current top ten reasons to plan the next trip:

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10. It is warm in Nigeria in February.

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9. The air travel is not too ominous (8 hours to Paris; then 7 hours to Abuja, Nigeria).

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8.  We have much to learn from our Nigerian brothers and sisters. And because English is Nigeria’s official language, such learning comes easier for sojourners from the U. S.

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7. Our hosts from the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria (LCCN) are generous beyond measure.

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6. The Minneapolis Area Synod is the only ELCA synod serving as a companion synod to the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria (while 19 ELCA synods relate to the Tanzanian dioceses).

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5. American guests are able to see the fruits of our synod’s missionaries there: Mary and Jonathan Preus, Gary Sande, and Brad Holt.

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4. The new archbishop has been nominated to serve as President of the Lutheran World Federation.

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3. The LCCN health services – with projects ranging from the new Demsa Hospital to malaria prevention to health education to building wells – is served by a staff that will impress you with their competence and spirit.

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2. It is amazing to become friends with such loving sisters and brothers in the faith.

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1. The inspiration from the witness of the LCCN to Jesus Christ will sustain you long after you return home.

Welcomed by God’s Grace, Are We Ready to So Welcome?

February 7th, 2017

By Bishop Ann Svennungsen

What joy I felt to see the Star Tribune’s picture of the Somali family reunited last Thursday. Peeking behind a teddy bear as big as she, a four-year-old girl stands embraced by her sisters and mother – together after more than three years of separation. Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota (LSS) played a major role in that reunion. Though she was set to arrive in U.S. on January 31, the four-year-old’s departure was denied because of an executive order suspending refugee arrivals from seven Muslim-majority countries. Fortunately, through the tenacity of LSS and others, the family was reunited last Thursday.

Amidst the swiftly changing landscape around immigration regulations (executive orders, judge’s decisions, appellate courts), we wonder how we might respond in a timely and loving manner.

The Lutheran church has a long history of both helping refugees and working for fair and generous immigration policies. Today, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) is the second largest resettlement agency in the entire United States.

Closer to home, LSS currently plans to resettle 655 refugees in 2017. Recognizing that many refugees are Muslim, LSS commissioned the remarkable study “My Neighbor is Muslim,” a welcome resource for individual or congregational study.

Augsburg College is home to a large population of refugee students and is clear about its mission of hospitality and justice. President Paul Pribbenow writes, “Augsburg’s history is rich with the contribution of individuals who came to America; indeed, founded by Norwegian immigrants, Augsburg has an immigrant sensibility and will stand firm in the face of threats to our community and our immigrant neighbors.”

As the world faces the largest refugee crisis since World War II (with some 60 million displaced persons), we have extraordinary institutions in our own city at work to provide welcome and safe haven. I encourage you to explore the LSS, LIRS, and Augsburg websites as you look for ways to “welcome the stranger.”

 

OUR ELCA SOCIAL TEACHING (Immigration message and Immigration policy resolution) affirms that the United States should assume its proper share of international responsibility for the resettlement of refugees and other persons who have a well-founded fear of being persecuted – and to welcome them to the U.S. without discrimination based on race, religion, or national origin.

No, our government has not specifically banned refugees on the basis of religion, but we seem to be treading very close. As we seek to be faithful today, it is wise to remember the words of another Lutheran in a country where there was official discrimination on the basis of religion – the religion of Judaism. In critiquing the German government, Bonhoeffer said, “We are not simply to bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

Amidst the swiftly changing landscape around immigration regulations (executive orders, judge’s decisions, appellate courts), we wonder how we might respond in a timely and loving manner.

As citizens, we can act as advocates for those vulnerable persons who are most deeply affected by government policies. The ELCA Advocacy office works with individuals and congregations interested in making themselves heard on behalf the marginalized, the oppressed, and the pilgrim.
Eventually, the system worked for the four-year-old reuniting with her family in the U.S. But, for every story like hers, there are many more that do not have happy endings. Knowing that each of us is a sojourner welcomed by the extravagant grace of God, may we be filled with wisdom to be moral leaders and courageous citizens in our day.

How invested are you?

January 26th, 2017

By Bishop Ann Svennungsen

In times like these, the social teachings of the ELCA are a significant gift as we in the church discern how to act in fresh, faithful, and wise ways in response to the issues of our day. I commend the social statements, along with the catechism, as good reading in this 500th anniversary year. (Go to the Social Statement webpage and follow the tabs for social messages and social resolutions in addition to social statements.)

Our ELCA Committee for Corporate Social Responsibility met in Chicago this week to discuss the resolutions from the 2016 Churchwide Assembly regarding potential investment screens for fossil fuels and for human rights in the Middle East. I am one of three bishops who serve on this committee.

The conversation was rich and lively – just the beginning of an important process of discernment.

However, one of the most troubling takeaways for me was the statement that only 25-30% of ELCA rostered leaders and staff with pensions managed by Portico choose the Social Purpose Fund for their investments. The impact of this is staggering:

  • Portico invests $8 billion dollars a year.
  • Following the instructions of its members, only $2 billion of Portico’s portfolio must be invested in funds screened for social responsibility; $6 billion is invested in funds which do not have to comply with ELCA-approved screens.
  • Currently, ELCA-approved screens instruct investors to:
    • Limit or prohibit investment in firms related to alcohol, gambling, weapons, pornography, tobacco, private prisons, and egregious environmental damage;
    • Seek “investment in for-profit and not-for-profit organizations that promote national or international economic development of urban and rural communities and neighborhoods characterized by a high proportion of people living in poverty and/or people of color”;
    • Seek “investments in corporations which are taking positive steps toward a sustainable environment.” (For more information about Corporate Responsibility resources, go here.)

 

THESE ELCA SCREENS ARE rather commonplace as screens go – neither overly radical nor onerous. In fact, Portico is careful to ensure that the difference between investment return on screened funds versus non-screened funds is less than one percent.

Pastor Luther Kendrick writes, “As one called to preach the gospel, including justice, concern for the neighbor and caring for the common good, where my pension funds were invested was a faith issue and not simply a financial question. I gladly invested my funds in those socially responsible options. I saw it as faithfulness and common sense. The returns of these socially responsible funds were nearly identical to the unscreened funds in the plan [and sometimes higher], so there was no financial downside” (Living Lutheran, April 22, 2015).

Screening our investments for social responsibility is one simple action we can take.

Those who march for justice are often asked whether their marching will make a difference. “How will things be different?” “What will you do after the march is done?” Screening our investments for social responsibility is one simple action we can take. Perhaps, we could entice 90 percent of our synod’s Portico participants to make this commitment.

 

It is easier to make this change than to write a letter to Congress. Here’s how to do it. Sign in. Follow the prompts. Or (as I do), just call Portico and have them walk you through it.

In her book, Resisting Structural Evil, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda writes: “Christian ethics … is the art of coming to know ever more fully both God and the historical realities of life on Earth, and holding them in one breath, so that we may respond to the latter in light of the former” (p. 302). I thank God for the ELCA and our shared commitment to live faithfully in today’s world.

The Hosts of Heaven Present With Us

December 8th, 2016

Bishop Svennungsen - copy for blog featured imageBy Bishop Ann Svennungsen

We’re not always good at waiting. Stopped at a red light or standing behind several others in the checkout line, we become antsy, impatient.

So, when Advent calls us into the spiritual practice of waiting – prayerful, expectant waiting – we’re not sure we like the invitation. Last year, however, I was given an experience that blessed me with a new appreciation of waiting as a gift – as grace.

 

EIGHT MONTHS AFTER our son, John Amos, had died, I gathered with the other bishops for our January meeting. When we shared in the closing worship, I couldn’t stop weeping. It seemed we were always singing about death: the feast of the lamb who was slain; I believe in Jesus Christ, who was crucified, died, and was buried; for on this day Christ overcame death and the grave; so we join with the hosts of heaven.

I was tired of death. Tired of seeing more death than life. Is my son really there with the host of heaven – gathered around the communion table? Where’s the proof? Why can’t I see something, feel something?

Worship ended and I sat alone, my face in the hands. Soon I felt a hand on my shoulder. Then I saw a two or three bishops standing near, some also weeping. I whispered to one, “Why can’t I feel my son’s presence with me at the table? It is so hard to believe.” She replied, with all the love she had, “Wait. Just wait.”

“Wait. Just wait.”

It was just the word of hope I needed. It didn’t deny my feelings – didn’t gloss over my pain. But it offered a glimpse, a reassurance that God will provide. Wait. And she was right. In the waiting, God has gently, steadfastly, lovingly renewed my faith, tended my broken heart, and given surprising glimpses of the host of heaven present even with us here on earth.

Perhaps, that is one way to imagine our Advent waiting:

Yet I believe beyond believing
That life can spring from death,
That growth can flower from our grieving,
That we can catch our breath
And turn transfixed by faith.

O Child of ecstasy and sorrows,
O Prince of peace and pain,
Brighten today’s world by tomorrow’s,
Renew our lives again;
Lord Jesus, come and reign!

ELW 252

Being the Church after a Presidential Election

November 10th, 2016

By Bishop Ann Svennungsen

What happens after an election — especially one as divisive as this? What is the role of the church? The synod? The congregation?

As in all elections, there are winners and losers. Most of us learned as children about the appropriate responses to such events. After losing the state basketball championship or winning the student council election, we were told, “Don’t gloat, be humble and gracious, show respect for the opponent, and learn from the experience.”

These attributes may be most needed — and most difficult to achieve — after an election like this. The counties included in the Minneapolis Area Synod exemplify the competitiveness of the presidential race:
  • Anoka County voted 50.7% Trump and 41% Clinton
  • Carver County voted 52.7% Trump and 39% Clinton
  • Hennepin County voted 28.5% Trump and 63.8% Clinton
  • Isanti County voted 65.3% Trump and 27.1% Clinton
  • Scott County voted 53.7% Trump and 38.3% Clinton
  • Sherburne County voted 64.8% Trump and 27.7% Clinton
  • Wright County voted 62.6% Trump and 29.4% Clinton
Perhaps, Lutherans in our synod’s counties could play a leadership role in modeling grace and humility and working to rebuild relationships. What if members of 10 congregations in Anoka County met with members of 10 congregations in Hennepin County to reflect on how their Christian faith informed their vote? The Minneapolis Area Synod has a unique opportunity (and perhaps a calling) — as one whose counties were equally divided in the voting — to model and learn from respectful conversations.

Still, even before such conversations might happen, there is much we each can do. Whether it’s an election year or not, we are constantly asking ourselves how to live as faithful disciples. During these days, I invite you to enter deeply into God’s gifts to the church:

  1. Read a Gospel in one sitting.
  2. Read the Small Catechism (seriously, I re-read it last night in 30 minutes).
  3. Review the social statements approved by the ELCA in churchwide assemblies.
    • Though our social statements do not have the same authority as Scripture or the Confessions (they can never be used as litmus tests for ELCA membership and they can always be amended at a future assembly); still they are statements approved by at least 2/3s of the ELCA voting members.
  4. Read about Luther’s thought on the role of government. In an article by George Forell (which will take longer than 30 minutes to read), Forell argues that at least four of Luther’s teachings speak as clearly and accurately to our time as they did to sixteenth-century Saxony:
    • The proper concern of government is the earthly welfare of all.
    • Christians as Christian citizens are called to support the government in its proper work, the promotion of the earthly welfare of all, to the best of their ability. The Lord will hold us no less responsible for our failure to use our political opportunities to serve the neighbor than for our failures to serve Christ in the neighbor in the more obvious forms of service mentioned in Matthew 25: “I was hungry and you gave me food…” This description covers practically every constructive political activity in which we might engage. It implies concern with education, health, immigration, and prison-reform.
    • The government needs competent and well-educated people. Luther insisted that Christians ought to see to it that their children receive the education which will qualify them for competent government service. It is not enough to know how to complain about the failures of government; one must learn how to help. Luther said, “If you find that you are qualified, you should offer your services…that the essential governmental authority may not be despised and become enfeebled or perish. For the world cannot and dare not dispense with it.”
    • Luther claimed that every criticism of our government should be understood as an implicit criticism of ourselves. This should teach us to begin the critical national self-examination with ourselves and work our way up, rather than to start with our leaders and never critically examine ourselves. Once we have understood this, a great deal more realism will enter our political thinking. Here, too, Luther is still a helpful guide. 
We are in different places following the election. Some are ecstatic, while others feel great loss. The apostle Paul calls us to “weep with those who weep.” I hope we will be attentive to one another in this time. Remember, Paul does not call us to “fix those who weep” or “explain things to those who weep” or “point out all the good things to those who weep.” There will come a time for hope and joy, but the person weeping gets to set the pace and timing — not those of us who accompany them. It is in honesty and patience that healing comes.

If you like the idea of organizing conversations with ELCA congregations across the counties of our region and/or would like to help with that, please let us know. And please join me in prayer for each other, for our elected leaders, and for the welfare of all God’s creation.

Overwhelmed by Prayerfulness

October 28th, 2016

Bishop Svennungsen - copy for blog featured imageBy Bishop Ann Svennungsen

Last week I was privileged to travel to the encampment at Standing Rock Reservation with Pastor Marlene Whiterabbit Helgemo, an ELCA pastor serving All Nations Church in Minneapolis. People from around the world are there, prayerfully hoping to prevent the Dakota Access Pipeline’s (DAPL) construction beneath the Missouri River. It is hard to convey in words the depth and richness of that experience. Still, I will try.

standing-rock-1Let me begin with a caveat: We Lutherans are nothing if not realists about human causes. We are the first to say that there are no perfect persons; we are all simultaneously saint and sinner. Likewise, there is no perfect group of people; there is no perfect movement of people. The gathering at Standing Rock is not without that ambiguity.

Still, there was something profound and distinctive about what I experienced during my four day visit to Standing Rock.

 

FROM THE BEGINNING, the elders leading this movement have been clear about the vision that guides them; they are firm in their belief that their only chance of success is to engage the work “peacefully and prayerfully.” Both are required. The encampment begins each sunrise in prayer down by the river, ends in prayer around the camp fire, and continues in prayer throughout the day.

Though tensions have risen recently, my experience while at Standing Rock was that the protests were disciplined and focused in nonviolent action. Oh, nonviolent protest does not mean refraining from misdemeanor activity such as trespassing on the land DAPL needs. Nor does it mean resisting arrest for such activity. These are the actions akin to those of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi.

There are moments that seem to call to us in hope that
our visible stand will work for good.

The gathering at Standing Rock is also distinctive because it addresses a remarkable convergence of vital concerns: justice for Native Americans, clean water, climate change and a sustainable energy future, the militarization of police.

  • Many scholars and theologians argue that there is no greater challenge facing our world than the threat of climate change. The ELCA Social Statement “Caring for Creation” calls us to act
    “interdependently and in solidarity with creation,” and in so doing “we do justice. We serve and keep the earth, trusting its bounty can be sufficient for all, and sustainable.”
  • The ELCA’s commitment to justice for Native Americans is strong, affirmed at the August assembly when we voted “to acknowledge and repent from our church’s complicity in the evils of colonialism in the Americas, which continue to harm tribal governments and individual tribal members.” Standing with the 100 tribes represented at Standing Rock gives ELCA members an opportunity to “acknowledge and repent.”
  • The 2013 ELCA social statement on Criminal Justice expresses grave concern about “a movement toward more militarized policing,” noting that “although special circumstances of extraordinary threat sometimes may justify the use of military-like tactics and equipment, those circumstances should not be treated as the norm and run counter to proven community-based methods.”

In my visit to Standing Rock I was overwhelmed by the prayerfulness, humility, discipline, and peacefulness of the people gathered there. No, it’s not perfect. And, real people will be deeply affected economically if the pipeline does not go through. Still, there are moments that seem to call to us in hope that standing-rock-2our visible stand will work for good. These collective actions can inform our own sacrifices for the healing of God’s world – spending time in prayer, using fewer fossil fuels, sharing money to support others, becoming more and more aware of the many moments each day that God might be calling us to work for good.
Luther spoke with a clear voice about our call to love the neighbor. We also believe that seeking justice is what love means in the public square. At Standing Rock, we vividly sensed this call – to love threatened Native communities, to love future generations, to love all creatures. May this be a moment when we humbly engage in self-examination, repentance, and new resolve to use our lives, our power, our resources not for selfish gain or against the rights of others, but in service to the neighbor.

Understanding the Quest for God

October 6th, 2016

Bishop Svennungsen - copy for blog featured imageBy Bishop Ann Svennungsen

How do we speak faithfully of God – the creator of all things, the author of life, the giver of love beyond our wildest dreams?

Throughout history we have tried to bear witness to the mystery of God – the Holy One beyond all comprehension. Anselm is credited with defining theology as “faith seeking understanding.” And, though we see through a glass dimly, we still try to give words to the great mystery who is God.

However, until recently, the theology of the church has been almost exclusively articulated by men. Few of the liturgies, theological writings, and structures of the church have been shaped by women.

One of the most thoughtful church leaders to name and examine what this means is Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, a faithful Christian, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph, a professor at Fordham (a Jesuit University), and the author of numerous books.

Many ELCA pastors first became acquainted with Johnson in seminary while reading her ground-breaking She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse.

 

ElizabethJohnson_11

Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ

IN JUST THREE WEEKS, Elizabeth Johnson will be with us for the Joint Minneapolis-Saint Paul Area Synods’ Ministerium, a time when rostered leaders gather together to be fed theologically and spiritually. Her presence is no small thing. It is an incredible opportunity. Just today, one of our hospital chaplains asked if chaplains from other denominations could attend. Without doubt, Johnson is recognized as one of the most eminent theologians of our day.

Having just published The Strength of Her Witness: Jesus Christ in the Voices of Global Women, she will be in the Twin Cities for a presentation at St. Catherine University’s O’Shaughnessy Auditorium on Friday night, October 28. We are grateful she is able to be with us the day before.

Johnson speaks about theology not just from the safe, ivory tower of academia. A theologian of the church, she has borne the scrutiny of the Roman Catholic Church in which she is a faithful member.

Throughout history we have tried to bear witness to the mystery of God – the Holy One beyond all comprehension.

In 2011, the Committee on Doctrine of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Conference severely criticized Johnson’s 2007 book Quest for the Living God, for not being in accordance with official Catholic teaching. The book explores understandings of God in conversation with contemporary liberation, feminist, Black, Hispanic, and ecological theologies. Though Johnson was not publicly censored by the committee, she was never given opportunity to enter into dialogue with them, something that she deeply desired.

I am thrilled to welcome such a giant of contemporary theology into our community on October 27 for our Joint Ministerium, titled “Elizabeth Johnson and the Voices of Global Women: Belonging Fully in the Body of Christ.” I hope all rostered leaders in the synod will consider joining me that day, as well as sharing what they heard with their congregations.

An Impossible Task

August 26th, 2016

Bishop SvennungsenWhen I tell my colleague bishops about our plan for the synod to host “God in your Mercy, Hear our Prayer: An Election Year Worship Service,” they have two immediate responses: “What a great idea. What an impossible task.” The consensus is that, yes, we should pray for elections and governmental leaders AND, no, it won’t be easy to lead such corporate prayer without appearing biased or partisan.

But that is our goal. The Bible calls us to pray for our leaders. (From 1 Timothy 2:1-2: First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for rulers and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. And from Jeremiah 29:7: Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.)

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for rulers and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism, reminds us that we pray for the governing authorities whenever we pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” In the Large Catechism, Luther writes that it is God at work in civic rulers as they provide, protect, and preserve (in the “Explanation of the Fourth Commandment”).

Additionally, in his commentary on Psalm 82, Luther suggests that preachers are called to help hold civic authorities accountable and “upbraidsprinces who will not allow [anyone] to rebuke their wickedness and self-will.”48691493 - candles light. christmas candles burning at night. abstract candles background. golden light of candle flame.

WE ARE A CHURCH at prayer. In the coming weeks, we pray especially for our civic life. In a final word from Luther: “After the Gospel or the ministry, there is on earth no better jewel, no greater treasure, nor richer alms, no fairer endowment, no finer possession than a ruler who makes and preserves just laws. … It is not God’s will that [rulers] … seek only honor, power, luxury, selfish profit, and self-will. God would have them full of great, innumerable, unspeakable good works.”

We hope you might join us on Thursday, September 8, 7:00 p.m., at Central Lutheran Church – for a time of prayer, word, song, silence, and community.