Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ in the Northwestern Ohio Synod,
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in whom we live and move and have our being.
As we begin this new year, I am filled with deep gratitude. I want to share something of that with you. At the heart of this gratitude is the recent remembrance of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany and the very good news of God's grace and mercy that have come to us through the in-breaking reign of God in Christ Jesus. That good news shapes everything else we may see and experience. I thank God for all of you who have reminded me and the synod staff of that good news through your cards, e-mails, and personal words in the past weeks. I am deeply grateful.
I am deeply grateful for the gift of a sabbatical that the Northwestern Ohio Synod provided me during the summer. Frankly, the past several years have been a great challenge. At times it has been difficult for me to see a hope-filled future. Given the recent stresses in the life of the synod and changes in synodical structure, I was not sure that it was the right time for a sabbatical. Nevertheless, synod leadership and staff encouraged me to take it. After one week, the synod staff no longer returned my e-mails and I "got the message." It proved to be an important time for rest, prayer, reading, and for re-connecting with my family and a significant mentor. In short, it was a time of renewal. I am grateful for the staff whose good work enabled me to "check out" while knowing that the synod was in good hands.
During the time of the sabbatical, I received an invitation from the Dodoma Diocese to attend the consecration of Amon Kinyunyu as bishop of the Dodoma Diocese. Again, given the recent sabbatical and what appeared to be insufficient preparation time as well as the upcoming retirements of Assistants to the Bishop, Dennis Maurer and Tom Schutt, I was not inclined to accept the invitation. Synod leadership and staff again encouraged me to attend. The result was an incredible trip to our Companion Churches in Serbia and Tanzania. During the course of that trip, I learned more about what it means to be a part of the Body of Christ across the globe. The relationships with these churches have matured throughout the years. Many of the individuals and congregations of this synod can testify concerning the gift of these connections. I will share more of that story in the coming months. Once again I found myself deeply grateful for these relationships and for all those, including staff, whose good work made this trip a possibility.
As I write this, I have just returned from the Bishops' Academy, an ongoing education event that was hosted in Puerto Rico by the Caribbean Synod and Bishop Felipe Lozada-Montanez. For years the bishop has urged us to come, indicating that it would mean a great deal to the Latino people of his synod if we were to walk with them, to learn about the people and church of that place and to join with them in celebrating the major "Festival of Three Kings." During this trip I learned more about another culture and another part of the Body of Christ as I experienced what it means to worship in something other than in one's own language. I found myself wondering about what it might mean for this synod to reach out to the growing Latino community in Northwestern Ohio in an intentional manner. Some of our congregations are beginning to lead us in that direction. For this too I am most grateful.
As this new year begins, I find myself renewed and filled with hope for our life together in this synod. During the past months I have learned that the church in every place and time has its unique gifts and challenges. Sin is always a present reality. Yet in the midst of it all, we celebrate God's faithfulness in Christ and the manner in which the Holy Spirit is continually sustaining and breathing new life in the church-even and particularly in the midst of pain, struggle, and dying. "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it." That also is true for the Northwestern Ohio Synod.
Even as we bid farewell to one synodical structure, we welcome the increased role of deans, call process facilitators, and those pastors and other everyday Christians who have gifts at helping us move through situations of conflict to mission. I look forward to congregations and leaders in this synod increasingly sharing "best practices" with respect to how we might more strongly embrace the mission and ministry to which we are called. I am grateful for those congregations who are embracing the synodical mission initiative, "Good News + Amen!" I am convinced by the grace of God that this will prove an excellent resource with respect to helping us again know the Gospel, trust the Gospel, and respond to the Gospel in ways that re-shape our lives, the ministries offered through our congregations, this synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Might this be just the time for us to own in a new way what it means to be "one in Christ", walking together as synod? For this possibility, I am grateful and hopeful.
As I begin this new year with you, it is not hard to echo Paul's words, "I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 3-6)
As we enter a new year, please know my gratitude for you and for the One who has called us together in this time and place.
Living together with you in the light of Christ,
Bishop Marcus C. Lohrmann