Dear Partners in Mission:
Gathering to discuss a funeral conversation inevitably turns to scripture. Sometimes families have specific requests, or the deceased left instructions, but a fair number of times the pastor is asked to make suggestions or even pick. When that happened to me, John 14, our gospel reading from yesterday, was my usual suggestion. Jesus preparing his disciples for his departure, comforting them but also creating expectation, there is more than what you see here to come.
In this time of COVID-19 when gathering for worship, including funerals, has been disrupted, these promises of Jesus ring all the more clear. What we have here is a glimpse of what God has in store for you and for me. While you may wish to get back to “regular” life, we know this crisis is more than a disruption, it has and will continue to change us. And change, if you and I are honest, makes you nervous.
Last week, I shared with you a video about current plans for the ELCA Youth Gathering in 2021. Today, we have a conversation about our synod’s ministry at Briarwood (bwtx.org) with Dr. Robert Smith, Director, and Ms. Avery Hawley, Community Engagement Manager. This conversation is timely as we get closer to summer and expectations about whether there will be a place for you at Briarwood. Will it be safe to gather, and if so, will they be prepared? How are the staff and leadership managing a ministry that is primarily financed by providing a place for people to gather? The short answer (spoiler alert) is that staff are adapting, leadership is making good decisions for sustainability, and planning and preparations to have a place for you at Briarwood are ongoing. Of course, this is all pending continued guidance from public health officials to ensure your safety.
Briarwood’s leadership continues to make faithful decisions to sustain this ministry and now invite your support for the online gala experience this Saturday, May 16th. As you will hear in the video, work at Briarwood has not stopped and ministry continues through development of resources and content for you. New leadership formation partnerships have been created with ELCA Coaching, Federal Chaplaincy, and LEAD. Growing from Dr. Smith’s blogs on Societal Chaplaincy, a webinar co-hosted by Briarwood, ELCA Coaching, and NT-NL drew 91 leaders from across the ELCA together to learn concepts of grief coaching. In addition, Avery fills us in on new online programming and leadership formation opportunities for you as well. Weekly bible lessons, NT-NL Synod young adult ministries, online content and classes, are all being developed for you and your congregation’s ministry. Many can be linked to at facebook.com/BriarwoodRetreat/. This is being done while continuing to support our NT-NL leadership programming such as our Fall Leadership Convocation focusing on religious freedom, the PLMA, and the Secondary School of Theological Education. The vision of a leadership center that we as synod have invested in both in the physical building at Briarwood but also the capacity to create and distribute content is being achieved.
In the time of a pandemic when we cannot physically gather safely, Christ’s words of comfort come to us again to remind us there is more to be than we can currently see. Our place in Christ’s home is secure, and that means we can work to secure and keep safe our neighbors. It is expected this Monday (May 11) the ELCA Churchwide office will give guidance for gathering for worship and for Holy Communion practices when congregations do come back together for worship. I continue to encourage you to follow the guidance given by the Texas/Louisiana bishops (available in English and Spanish) regarding the proper gating and phasing for safe gatherings. I have appreciated hearing from our leaders as they discern these steps to keep you, the people of NT-NL, safe.
Your NT-NL Conferencia Latina has also established an emergency relief fund for members of NT-NL congregations who, for whatever reason, do not qualify for governmental assistance in this time. This fund is maintained by the synod office; however, disbursements are requested and granted by the Conferencia Latina Dean and leaders. To date, over $2,900 has been donated to this fund (we are grateful for the Public Witness Team’s seed gift of $1,000), and over $2,200 has been dispersed to families in your synod’s congregations. We have also applied for an ELCA Churchwide COVID-19 relief fund grant to support this and other ministries among vulnerable and marginalized populations.
In John 14, Christ makes a bold promise to his disciples and to you: “I go and prepare a place for you…so that where I am, there you may be also.” There is more than what you can begin to even see. You and I can trust this promise because our eyes have been opened by the gift of faith given through the Holy Spirit made manifest through the hearing of God’s Word proclaimed. We have a word to proclaim in this time to God’s world that the rush back to normal is not the vision. Instead, you are called to live into God’s new creation in which we proclaim and act to be people of justice and mercy, called by Christ to cross over and work to break down borders and barriers that divide us and oppress our neighbor. Borders that dehumanize and lead to violence throughout our world.
This is the work you and I are called to by the promise Christ gives to you. The work you support through your gifts to NT-NL and Briarwood for leadership development. Thank you for your part in doing this work and for your continued support and prayers for the work we do together.
In Christ’s Promise,