Greetings from Chicago where I am blessed to be with my colleagues in the Conference of Bishops. Since last Thursday, we have gathered around the theme, "To Claim and Test Our Heritage."
You may wonder why, in this age of electronic communication, such a lengthy time in one another's presence is necessary. While I can't speak for my sister and brother bishops, I can tell you that this time is life-giving and enriching to me. Yes, we discern and deliberate on the issues that affect us as a church, we review the policies and practices of ministry, but we also worship and fellowship - and that nurtures my soul.
For bishops, the Conference is our congregation, where we assemble to pray for the church in all its expressions, for the world and all in need, but especially we care and pray for one another. It is at the Conference where we can share with each other both our blessings and our sorrows. We deepen relationships, learn from each other, share and rejoice in our delights and grieve with each other in our distresses.
Each synod is unique in its makeup, its geography, its people, and its history. Thus, for each bishop, the synod that has been entrusted to our care presents us with its distinct set of joys and challenges. But in one thing we are alike: we are created by a God who loves us and blesses us daily. And for that, we give thanks.
There were many spirited discussions throughout the Conference. I want to touch on just a couple. These are but a few, otherwise, you might still be reading into next week:
- In this age of declining congregations, we discussed the matter of congregational vitality. The conversation centered on several questions. Among them: What does it mean now for us to in this time and place to encourage our congregations to engage with God? How does a congregation connect to God? How does it become community? This conversation is ongoing.
- We spent time with seminary leaders around the topic of formation of rostered leaders, how to more successfully identify and encourage people to pursue a vocation in ministry. What are the barriers to raising up leaders and how do we overcome them?
- Public ministry in this church carries with it expectations and accountabilities that are determined by the whole church and not simply by a given congregation, synod, institution, or agency served by the minister. To that end, the ELCA is in the process of revising the document, Vision and Expectations, a guide for rostered leaders of this church.
- The ELCA Church Council will soon receive the results of the work of the task force to develop a rite for those entering the Ministry of Word and Service. After council review, that decision will be presented to the Churchwide Assembly for its approval.
I will be taking a couple days of vacation toward the end of this week. Then, Sunday morning, I will be with the people of God at New Covenant Lutheran Church in East Cleveland.
Sunday afternoon, I will stop in to visit with the Lutheran Youth Organization (LYO) Board as they continue planning for the Assembly Gathering as well as the ELCA Gathering Houston.
Though it is still three weeks away, I want to remind rostered ministers of our annual Renewal of Vows and Blessing of Oil liturgy on Tuesday, March 27, at 10:30 a.m., at Trinity Lutheran Church in Kent.
I would encourage your attendance at this important liturgy in which we renew our vows of ordination, or consecration, and bless the oil which we'll use for anointing during the next year. Holy week is a busy time for pastors and deacons, which is why a few hours in worship, and the moments of collegial fellowship that follow, are vital to the support and nurturing of your ministry.
This week and always, may God, who is rich in mercy, make you alive together with Christ, that all our works may reflect the goodness of his love.
+Bishop Abraham Allende