The Way It Looks from Here
Almost the epilogue


Saint Paul Area Synod
105 University Ave. West 
St. Paul, MN 55103 

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June 23, 2014


Transition: Looking Down, Looking Up, and Letting Go


Dear Partners in Ministry:


Last week I experienced some spam trouble with my synod email address. Christine instructed me to change my password. As I paused and wondered out loud, "What should I change it to?" Beth chimed, "What does it matter? You only have 13 days left?," which gave me my new password: 13daysleft. (No need to try hacking. I changed it again!) Reminders of the countdown are coming fast and furiously these days!


As they do, once again, writing this last e-letter.


What does one say at the last? I've had several runs at it already. I provided a 12-year reflection in my written report to the synod assembly. I gave a final word to the assembly in my spoken report. I will have one more at the retirement event June 29. But in this, the last of what have been occasional e-letter musings and reflections on our life together over these years, I'm thinking about three things, summarizing the phases of transition in our office.


Looking down

We--the leadership of this synod, staff and council, myself one of a collective--have been hard at work looking down at the path we're on, taking each step carefully, planning well, readying for transition, now full-bore into this moment of change. Last September we laid out an ambitious set of tasks and set about that work, never believing 100 percent would be done, but supremely confident--a confidence that has been borne out--that our preparation and transition work would be second to none in this church. I believe that's true. But even so, transition is just that--change--and certainly we've overlooked some things, not gotten to some things. Many things will simply not be carried forward in the way they've been done in the past (see next sections!).


Bishop-elect Patricia Lull took time the first week in June to spend an hour with every one of the current staff, and this individual time will continue upon her arrival July 1. She and I have spent a good number of hours together. Staff have written descriptive nuggets about the various facets of their work. All this has been done amidst the uncertainties of change, both my departure and, at the same time, Beth Helgen's departure. The staff have been superb, even as they deal with their own uncertainties about their place in the next chapter of the synod's life. We've walked this path carefully. The collection of people now in place on the synod council, executive committee, and the group of conference deans are a strong and invested group, as strong as any I've seen.


People have asked if these last weeks have felt like coasting. They haven't. I respond by explaining that we still have the regular work people need from us, plus the additional matters related to transition. Some things are on the back burner, to be picked up by a new administration. But the path ahead continues to unfold, day by day, and we look down at each step carefully. I feel good about the effort current staff and leaders have made, and I am hopeful that as the transition turns on July 1, the new chapter will unfold well.


Looking up

There is a two-sentence prayer attributed to Pope John XXIII that I've heard so often in so many renditions that I'm dying to ask him someday in the great beyond just what he actually said. It's said that upon retiring for the night, he prayed: "O God, you have put your church in my hands and I have worked as hard and well as I can. But it's your church; I'm going to bed."


I have always taken both comfort and strength from the awareness that the church and the work we do is ultimately in God's hands, not our own. You know how I love history, which includes knowledge of both the bright and inspiring people and times in the life of the church, as well as the scoundrels and dark chapters that have also been present.  


In it all, the presence of the Spirit that plants in all of us the seeds of faith and draws us together continues to move in the world. The missio dei--mission of God--is present regardless of how well we're doing, because God's love of this world is unrelenting. God will move in the world and in the church with or without us. We offer ourselves to it, as best we can, and rest back knowing it's not up to us. We Lutherans, anchored in our conviction that grace is at the center of all, should know this as well as anyone. It has, as I said, given me both comfort when I despair over my own failings or the church's shortcomings, and given me strength to know that Spirit will make use of whatever I and we have to offer.


We can pick apart this time and place and our life as one expression of the body of Christ, analyze trends, develop strategies, worry over change and loss and forgotten memory and disappearing relationships, all of which are concerns that surface in the midst of transition, but the fundamentals remain. It is God's church. We still gather around a God of unconditional love, who has been revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ, whose presence we can know and feel. We are filled with a divine compassion that both carries us and sends us out to be the channels of Christ's caring presence in a hurting world. We may proclaim and serve well or poorly, but we keep our eyes focused upward and outward and know of God's presence regardless of our performance.


So the path we look down at as we consider our lives and ministries, step-by-step, now turns toward a forest that is largely untrodden. We pick our steps carefully. But we also look up and see the beauty of the forest and the constancy of the One who has forged that path, and we are sustained.


Which brings me to letting go.


Letting go

I've always liked the metaphor of life being a tapestry--strands and threads with their richly varying colors and textures being woven together in an ever-growing whole fabric--because it allows for a recognition that what has been woven in is never left behind, but remains a part of the ever-growing and ever-changing cloth.


I am a lover of many things that over the years are woven into who I am and how I've lived. I love the gift of life, family, church, people and places who have become a part of this woven tapestry that has been and is my life. I think of all that these years have brought--the family into which I was born, the life partner with whom I had a family, the places that have shaped me, the people who have called me to be in ministry with them. I've loved them all.


So whenever it has come time to turn the page to a new chapter, I have encountered grief at letting go. On June 30 I let go of you who read this, the ministry to which you called me, the life we have shared in a myriad of ways. I let go of staff colleagues and marvelous ministry partners. (The controlling side of me also lets go of "synod work" being done as I think it should be done!) But as I've reminded countless others as we speak of their grief at leaving places of ministry, we don't want it to be any other way. It's tragic when leaving-taking brings joy rather than grief. If a stretch of years has been good, it's hard to let go. The relationships especially. And this letting go is all of that. These years have been precious.


That said, the tapestry remains. Those relationships change, but don't disappear, and they continue to bind us together in the mystery and gift that is life. This synod now has woven these relationships into its life these past 12 years. You and  I, and all we have been and done, are part of the weaving. Those threads, their color, and texture, remain.


In the report of the 12 years that I wrote for this last assembly, I named some themes that I trust will remain a presence in the life of this synod, woven into what we as God's people continue to be in this place. In a decade of turbulence and conflicting views and change, we found ourselves able to respect and listen to one another and to keep our life centered on the center. During a decade of pulling back from society's commitment to the poor, we spoke and acted as people who know Christ is found in the least of these. In a polarizing time we sought to be a place of reconciliation and understanding. In a time of deinstitutionalizing of society and the church, we sought to express confidence in God's abiding presence in however the church may change and be repositioned. We sought to be lean and nimble and open to change. I trust that confidence in the future will continue.


So I, too, let go and trust. I trust the presence of a loving God who from the beginning of creation has given us blessings uncounted and unearned. You who have called me to this work have been a blessing of that kind to me. You with whom I have worked, who have carried the life of the body of Christ in this place and across the globe--you will continue to be woven into the fabric of my richly blessed life.


In an awkward but accurate combination of languages:


Takk for Alt.


Soli Deo Gloria.


Peter Rogness

Saint Paul Area Synod  |  105 University Ave. West  |  St. Paul, MN 55103