August 1, 2022
Dear Co-Workers in the Gospel of the Pacifica Synod,
Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus the Christ; the Savior of the universe!
It is with excitement, humility, and joy that I write this first message to you as the Bishop of the Pacifica Synod!
Ministry is a team sport. The Church is a relay race run across the millennia. Our mission to share the unfathomably good news of God’s unconditional love for all people. Siblings in Christ have carried this gospel in times of trial and of ease. Many have given their lives so that we can learn the teachings of Jesus and enjoy the life-giving freedom of knowing that we are loved just as we are. Our forebears have handed the baton of this treasure to us, and it is our calling to carry it well and hand it off to future generations.
Bishop Andy Taylor carried this leadership baton well for us and hands off a synod that is strong and spiritually connected. I am grateful to him for his faithful service! Now the crozier of servant leadership has been passed to me on behalf of all of us. I accept this ministry not because I trust in my power to do so but knowing that it is God who will equip and empower me. I also trust that my leadership is tied to yours. We all bear the mark of God given to us in our baptisms to preach, teach, disciple, and serve.
On this first day, I wanted to share a few themes that will hopefully express how I see our life together.
1. Radical Inclusivity. John 3 tells us that God so loved the KOSMOS, the world, that God gave the only Son. Too often we have narrowed this definition of who God loves in ways that have harmed people made in the image of God. This is the time in which the Church of Jesus Christ has been called to see and dismantle any barrier to full inclusion by all of God’s children. I am excited that we will be led in this work by the Synod's Anti-Racism Team.
2. Setting Matters.
- We are a border synod. The border crossing at San Ysidro and Otay Mesa are the busiest border crossings in our country. People seeking a better life pour through these gates every day. Many others avoid the formal ports of entry risking their lives in the hot desert to find a new home among us. We must reclaim our birthright as an immigrant church descended from our spiritual forebears who we taught to say, “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor.” (Dt. 26:5) These are our neighbors who we have been privileged to serve.
- We are a coastal synod. The gorgeous Pacific Ocean is part of our territory and our name. It is currently too warm and too polluted. Climate issues are not just material matters but spiritual ones. We are called to walk alongside our coastlines in a way that honors the gift that they are.
- We are an incredibly diverse community. There are many languages spoken in our synod. We have the richest and the poorest cities within our borders. Our congregations include siblings that vote conservatively and those who support liberal politics. Our call is to find ways to honor and celebrate the gift of diversity. That means finding ways to practice hospitality, learning to truly listen, and never claiming supremacy for one group of people or one way of thinking.
3. Decentralizing. The untested promise of the Reformation remains the “priesthood of all believers.” The church is filled with baptized people who have all the gifts we need to meet this moment in history, but that means working together and sharing power. My vision is for dispersed synod leadership that empowers local leaders; rostered and non-rostered, to accomplish the work of the church. The main questions should be, do you have passion, and do you have gifts? How do we combine those to accomplish the wider mission of the church?
4. Innovation is essential. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We can see all the trendlines of the denomination and of many of our congregations. The pandemic has accelerated the trends leaving us wondering about the true state of our ministries. Working harder is not the answer. I know that you all work very hard. Collaboration and innovation are the way forward. How can we share our efforts? What do we need to stop doing? Can we try what seems crazy now but might be the path to a new future? Can we get over our fear of failure and learn to laugh when our great ideas don’t pan out?
5. The parish is more important than the congregation. Mission requires that we keep our focus on being a servant community to our neighbors and not just tending to the needs of our members. So, we ask different questions. What is happening in each of our neighborhoods? Where is the pain? What is the hope? Can we re-engage with our neighbors in such a way that we embody the good news that we proclaim?
6. Self-care is not selfish. The work of ministry is never done. There are ample opportunities to overwork and burn out. Taking time off, exercising, eating well, getting good sleep, having fun with friends, and prioritizing our spiritual practices are essential for our life together. In the book of Exodus, the commandment to rest on the sabbath was given before the rest of the 10 commandments. (Ex. 16) My day off will be Friday. I want to encourage all of us to find balance and health.
7. Love is at the center. In 1 John 4 we learn that God is love and that those who love others know and love God. When Jesus gave his only commandment, he asked his followers to love one another as he loved them. Our congregations must become practice centers for love. We must model love in our speech and actions towards one another. This is even more true when we disagree or are dealing with the weighty issues of justice. Let me be clear that I am not calling for niceness or sentimentality, but for love. May the God who is Love inspire and teach us how to do this well!
That seems like enough for this first letter from me! I apologize for the length of this missive. I want to invite you all to help make this into a conversation. Please respond with your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org. May the Spirit blow through our lives and empower us to be who we are, God’s children!
Bishop Dave Nagler
Pacifica Synod, ELCA