Sisters and Brothers in Christ in the Southwestern Minnesota Synod,
Those were the words our presiding bishop read to us after the difficult day of debate and decisions regarding the Recommendations for Rostered Leaders were passed. If you have not been following the news, the recommendations of the Sexuality Task Force were adopted with the addition of a conscience clause for members who do not believe we should allow such roster actions. Whether you mourn the decisions or are thankful for the changes, there was a persistent concern for mission and working to discern God's will throughout this conversation that I want to celebrate. I know Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson will be sending a letter in the coming days that reviews the actions of the 1045 voting members of our church gathered in assembly. Today we will have more discussions about what this means and how we move forward (on Saturday). I think the most important discussion of the assembly will be about how we will deepen our work of evangelical outreach and congregational mission as a central ministry of our church.
It was a challenging day for our 29 SW MN Synod voting members and the whole assembly. We are all deeply aware of the gravity of our decisions today whether we supported them or not. As I talked to one of my friends this evening, he said he had tears in his eyes all day due to the stress of the day. I used the word "suffering" when I went to the microphone to describe the day for all involved. I was thankful that as we traveled through the arguments and resolutions we repeatedly stopped to pray, especially before and after important decisions along the way.
I have come to know the synod well enough, that as I pray for congregations and leaders today, I have a good hunch about who this morning is grieving, who is very anxious and who is grateful for the actions in our different congregations and conferences. Most of us will be trying to figure out what this all means. I will be praying for you. I ask for your prayers.
My understanding is that no changes from Churchwide will be implemented until after early November at the earliest. My sense is that it will take time to put together all the policies and work through all the layers of the church body. The resolution language includes the Vocation and Education Unit, the Church Council and the Conference of Bishops in the process. How this will all look as it unfolds will become more clear in the days to come. As a synod, we will also be working through what this means in our governance system and in our congregation's lives. I have received many questions before and even after this vote. We will be working to help you understand more fully this decision. I know the congregation will continue to hold the final decision of who they call to serve as pastor in their faith community.
If you or people you encounter want to do something in the meantime, use the energy about this to invite your people deeper into following Jesus. Our denomination is not the God we follow. Our church body is as sinful and broken as all of us. Encourage your people to grow as Christ followers through Bible reading and reflection, daily prayer, inviting people, joining in fellowship, worship, generous giving and encouraging one another. Invite your people to follow the Lord of the church, Jesus, the one God sent to save us. At the same time, love your neighbors in need. There is nothing like caring for others to take away the temptation to turn in on ourselves in fear, grief and frustration. Our church body is not God, but we trust that God can use us like God uses bread and wine and water to be a means of grace for a world that needs the Good News we know in Jesus.
There have been many other decisions at this assembly, such as entering into full communion with our United Methodist brothers and sisters in Christ. We have seen many votes that were over 90% for different recommendations, such as the decision to move forward with the Lutheran Malaria Initiative and our work against HIV/AIDs. For $10 we will soon be able to provide a net to protect people from Malaria, a disease that takes more lives than HIV AIDS in this world in a program called "Nothing but Nets." At the assembly, I have been reminded of the amazing things God is doing throughout our church body. I am thankful.
Our voting members will be available for sharing about the assembly in your conferences and congregations over the coming weeks. You can find a list of those names on the synod website: www.swmnelca.org
I wrote an earlier version of this prayer on Friday morning before the decision and debate and posted it on my blog. I have reedited it for your use after the assembly.
Please guide the important conversations we will have about the assembly and its decisions. Help us to listen to you even as we seek to listen and understand the positions of others.
We know that even our best attempts to serve you are more laced by our sin than we can imagine. So send your Spirit to give us courage to remember we are always simultaneously sinner and saints. Only you are righteous. We live in this broken world and are broken ourselves.
Dear God we ask that you work in our midst so that our conversation is one that might be faithful...and a positive witness to your Son, Jesus our Lord. Please guide our mind as well as our hearts as we listen to our sisters and brothers from across this church body.
Dear God, we need your guidance and presence and power every day. Disturb us when we need to be challenged. Comfort us when we are crushed. Bring peace to us all. Bring healing to the many different wounds we carry as individuals and as a community. Find ways to push us deeper into being the church you want and need for us to be. Find ways to work on us and push us deeper into trusting only in you.
Do your work among and in us today and in the days to come. We ask all this in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Jon Anderson
Bishop, Southwestern Minnesota Synod