Bishop’s Report for Synod Council

word cross
The image of the cross is full of the answers of our, “What is one word that captures how you are doing today?” – April 17, 2020

+Bishop Jon Anderson
Revised for an e-news article

We do not want to waste this crisis. There has been, and will be terrible losses. There will also be amazing opportunities. We need to find ways to lament the damage. We also need to watch and open our imaginations so that we notice and engage the possibilities. As we experiment and explore some things will not work. Some things will. Our goal is to be a faithful and fruitful synod, and synod staff, in the midst of this life-changing and church-changing experience. Our goal is to become a stronger Church in this time of disorienting challenge and change. We are seeking to turn the hearts of our people and congregations towards the future, so we might become a stronger synod with people who share a vibrant and deeper faith on the other side of this experience. We will need to grieve and mourn while remembering people need to hear the Gospel and God’s Word. Our pastors, ministers, the baptized, institutions and congregations are doing amazing things while facing serious challenges.

How Long – This psalm below expresses lament and trust. That would sum up this season of life. I lament the many losses. I am fearful of our enemy, this COVID-19 virus, and how it has and may impact people I love. I worry about our congregations and institutions. I am concerned for our neighbors, congregations, pastors, ministers and all the baptized and all our neighbors. I am thankful for our pastors and congregations (as well as institutions) as they pivot into the new environment and adapt new technologies to serve the deep core of the Good News we know in Christ Jesus, his cross and resurrection. I smile when I think back to the journey we have been on and the many folks who are already doing things that they did not imagine in the opening days of this experience. That includes your synod staff.

Psalm 13 Prayer for Deliverance from Enemies

1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? 
How long will you hide your face from me?   2How long must I bear pain[a] in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord, because he has  dealt bountifully with me.

We have been working on Faithful Innovation for the past several years. With the arrival of COVID-19, that work has been helpful as we transform from being a synod staff that spends much of its energy in communal gatherings and face to face visits, towards a new reality where we all are working in our residences to serve the synod’s mission. Our work primarily has shifted to Zoom meetings (which we thankfully had already been using for years).  Our communication has moved dramatically towards digital forms (emails, enews, cell phones, online webinars).

Like everyone else we experienced layer after layer of change as our medical and government people tightened the amount of face-to-face gatherings possible. As a synod staff, and a synod of congregations, pastors and ministers, we are primarily digital communicators now. Now we are seven weeks into the #StayatHome season. Our state is beginning to imagine moving to greater mobility for non-at-risk people.

Even in this time of disruption, we have continued to live into our vision statement, Embrace God’s Mission + Equip God’s People: Deepen Congregational Vitality, Enhance Local and Global Mission and Develop Servant Leaders in a dramatically different environment. The Gospel of Jesus and equipping the saints has become more important in this time. What has that looked like?  I will share some glimpses.

Fellowship – Community – Koinonia – For the past six weeks we have had twice a week check-in calls with our rostered and lay ministers. We have also held three gatherings for our presidents or lay leaders. We held a gathering of our retired pastors, interns, campus ministry leaders, our chaplains and our authorized ministers.

At the beginning of this journey we made it possible for our Conf. Ministers and Deans to all have Zoom accounts to enable them to gather groups and support local congregations and ministry using Funding Initiative resources. That has also helped people initiate gatherings of our conference leaders, communicate and, we trust, sustain the work of the Gospel in a challenging environment.

Proclamation – Kerygma – This is a time where people need to hear the Gospel. Our pastors and lay ministers have been learning how to do worship leadership, faith formation, daily devotions and other visitation by using digital tools. This coming week the synod staff has a worship service to give worship planners a break. Since the beginning of Covid-19, we thought encouraging and enabling our local pastors to move online would be the best outreach. They had growing pains, but this strategy kept the pastors in touch with their people. It is strangely comforting to attend worship with our pastors. The ministers’ skills developed quickly. Now we are watching people both refine their technique for online worship but also reduce the time to produce these services or other resources.

Our staff has been in dozens of group and personal conversations with rostered ministers and lay leaders over the recent days. I am thankful for my colleagues’ coaching, prayers, listening, spiritual directing and teaching in the midst of this time.

Passing on the Faith – Didakai – I am thankful for the ways our pastors and ministers are lifting up faith practices to pass on, support and sustain the faith of our communities. We are suddenly aware of the power and gift of our communities of faith when we cannot gather. We are watching people find new ways to invite people into following Jesus and hear the Good News that God is with us and for us in times like this.

We have lifted up this work in our Zoom calls. I am shifting some of Sister Sarah Hausken’s time from Sr. High youth ministry toward this work of faith formation in this chapter of our synod’s life when we are not able to hold large youth gatherings.

I hope you are making intentional choices to care for you and your household’s spiritual lives. One of my simple experiments was to read a book that taught the faith every day during Holy Week. It was fun and something that my grandchildren and other children might listen to on Facebook that week and in the future, too.

Service – Diakonia –  Your synod staff has worked with deep love and commitment to serve the needs of our congregations and leaders in this time. Steve Cook, Dee Pedersen and Tammy Schacher worked together to get information quickly out about the Payroll Protection Program from the CARES Act.   Transition and call process of the synod continues to work even in this environment. Life goes on.  We will have more and more people in our synod impacted by the economic dislocation in our communities. There will be growing work to do as we seek to address spiritual hunger but also reduce physical hunger and food insufficiency.  We have applied for and hope to receive a grant to support households in communities that become hot spots.

ELCA Churchwide The Conf. of Bishops has begun to meet informally in conference calls weekly. I am currently the Region 3 Liaison Bishop to the ELCA Church Council, so that has added to the work of being a board member at Luther Seminary and Gustavus Adolphus.  The last Luther Seminary board meeting I will participate in comes this Friday. It marks the end of twelve years of service there. There is also an Assignment Task Force that I am a part of that is reshaping how candidates will be placed after completing their preparation for ordination.  You will hear more about the Daily Bread grants for domestic hunger the ELCA Appeal that will gather resources to grant to synods.

Institutions – We are concerned about our Bible camps (Green Lake Lutheran Ministries and Shetek Lutheran Ministries) and retreat center (Shalom Hill Farm). Gustavus Adolphus and Luther Seminary also are facing serious waves of change and disruption.

Tension – Joy and Sorrow – One the texts that I have found powerful in this season of ministry is about the tension between joy and sadness for losses. I know this experience with the virus will impact more people and more lives. At the same time, I am very thankful for the ways the Spirit has and will continue to empower us.

10 When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel; 11 and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord,

“For he is good,

for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”

And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away.

-Ezra 3

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