Saturday, September 4, 2010

Grace and Faith

I really didn't imagine there would be any photos accompanying this particular blog post. Then, I downloaded the latest images from my camera, and they seemed to be a perfect fit for the following message: GRACE.

My former congregation here in Castle Rock is prayerfully considering officially withdrawing their membership in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). They disagree with the decisions made at the Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis back in August 2009 (mainly, issues that deal with the ELCA's Social Statement on Human Sexuality). After a congregation votes to leave, they enter into a 90-day discernment period before the second and final vote. The synod bishop also consults with the congregation for further prayer and conversation during this time period.

I was saddened to hear of their decision to leave the ELCA - I think the organization itself magnifies the Christian connections we can have with each other and offers resources unlike any other denominational branch I've come across. I care about this congregation and its members, and I'm sure this is an emotional and challenging time for everyone. I hope they can continue to remain true to their faith and their love of God, regardless of their national affiliation.

In one of their more recent newsletters, the church published the recordings of their conversation with our Rocky Mountain Synod Bishop, Allan Bjornberg. I met this man back in April, and he is a kind and wise leader. I was impressed by how responded to the questions of the congregation. He remained firm on churchwide policies and listened for the real concerns of those who attended the meeting. (If you happen to have an extra two hours on your hands, you can listen to the full conversation by clicking here.)

I've participated in quite a few discussions regarding the above-mentioned Social Statement, have read it thoroughly (along with the many other social statements from the ELCA) and appreciated the concise way in which Bishop Bjornberg was able to present the material. His ability to continually re-focus the conversation on grace was lovely. A few highlights:

"It's about grace.

It's about the hospitality in the heart of God for all humanity.

How much unity is required in our diversity?

How much diversity is allowed in our unity?

Always important questions for organizations.

The fallacy of unanimity needs to be exposed."

"The heart of Scripture is about grace.

Our witness as Lutherans is that we are saved by grace.

And if it's grace for me, why is it not grace for you?

And for all those other folks."

"I'm also pretty convinced that human sexuality is for this life.

Revelation continues.

We struggle to live, as one of my pastor friends says so articulately, outside of Eden. We're imperfect. And we're trying to find our way. And we are better at that when we try to find our way together as a forgiving community of grace."

"Love your neighbor as yourself.

Question: If we leave and want to come back, will you take us?

Response: Are you committed to the mission we share?"

I think that final question (and Bishop Bjornberg's answer) gets at the heart of the entire issue: are you committed to the mission we share? A mission that we share. One that's more challenging when you go it alone. It's the partnership between the smaller congregation and bigger church that really lets people put their faith into action.

The Bishop's response about a shared mission is parallel to my thoughts on just how well things go when WE as humans start to plan things for our life, forgetting that we aren't the ones in charge. I'm thankful each day that I'm not the one calling the shots. Nothing we can DO will earn us the grace of God. No amount of work or good deeds can earn us a place in heaven. Only by grace are we saved. I'm rather thankful and comfortable with that notion. Heaven only knows (literally) that earning it would be an impossible challenge for me!

The fact that the question itself was even posed makes my heart sad - people are clearly deeply concerned with whether or not they are making the "right" move. It's a scary time - it's a big decision to sever this kind of tie. I can't imagine the ELCA would turn their back on a returning congregation. I do think it's only fair, however, that they reserve the right to explore what made that church leave in the first place, and then work together to make sure their future partnership is aligned.

I also think that the Bishop's comment about the fact that revelation still continues is important. That's big. If revelation still continues, that means that answers are still coming to us. It means our ancestors didn't have it all figured out. It means that there are social issues that we are confronted with today that need our prayerful discernment, and that things are still being revealed to us today. To me, that's an active and dynamic faith.

And then, in the end, it comes down to grace. Wonderful, free, unconditional grace. Whether they choose to stay in the ELCA or leave the ELCA, I will continue to hold my former congregation and its leadership in my prayers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well done, thou good and faithful disciple. Thanks. Dena