Dear Partners in Mission:
366 days ago, January 1, 2020, we had no idea we would experience the most significant disruption to our work in the church any leader in living memory has experienced. Despite warnings about the potential of the virus, we could not have understood the magnitude and duration of what we have experienced and are experiencing. Hundreds of thousands of lives lost to Covid-19, political turmoil, regular worship and discipleship ministries disrupted now for almost a year, individual financial and vocational futures in doubt, outdoor ministries financially hobbled, congregations’ sustainability questioned. These have been, and will continue to be, difficult times. Yet in the midst of this, we have also seen great adaptation, learning, and innovation. New ways of being church together and hard but essential questions being asked about what the purpose and mission of our church is.
As we look towards 2021, with hope for a vaccine, it is clear we will not return “to normal” even when Covid-19 is no longer the threat it continues to be. The status quo did not and will not hold. As such it is vital that we, as leaders, spend time in discernment and prayer about how God is leading us into this future. The Holy Spirit is and has been at work in our church as she always has been, but now, more than ever, how do we listen more intently to her call? Most of all, how do we continue to be Lutheran witnesses in the territory of NT-NL proclaiming a gospel of grace, welcome and invitation, of freedom given by Christ for the sake of the world.
To do this we will be offering a number of opportunities for NT-NL leaders to engage in conversation and discernment, to learn techniques and tools for navigating systems, and prayerfully working with God and one another in order to forge a faithful future the coming year and beyond.
- January 7: 1-2pm Systems Theory and Anxiety: A primer and reminder of systems theory to get you ready for 2021.
- January 25-26: Bonhoeffer – Reception and Resistance. An opportunity to engage with leading Bonhoeffer scholar Dr. Michael DeJonge and connect our context to that of Bonheoffer’s.
- Feb 5-6: NT-NL Synod Council and Deans meeting. To engage constructively how our conferences can be more intentional in shepherding our congregations in this time.
- Feb-May (dates TBD): Follow up conversations on systems and leading change in systems.
- April 23: NT-NL Synod Council and Deans meet to continue strategic conversations and how to support congregations by conference.
- April 24: NT-NL Online Assembly. Bishop Mike Girlinghouse will keynote our time speaking about his book Embracing God’s Future Without Forgetting the Past.
- Summer 2021 Briarwood Programming: “Crowded Table” A theme resonating our longings for gathering and the reality that tables will look different now yet still full of God’s abundance.
- Oct 18-20: NT-NL/Briarwood Leadership Convocation. Hopefully in-person, a time to gather, and continue to think critically about how God is calling us to mission.
- Ongoing: Coaching services are available to you in English and Spanish through NT-NL and ELCA Coaching.
All of these gatherings are intended to connect with overarching issues of systems, context, and engaging mission. We cannot avoid in 2021 the reality that our context has radically changed. The great disruption of 2020 will impact our lives in the church for decades to come. Yet by God’s grace, we know we have a timeless message of justification, being made right with God, by grace through the gift of faith given by the Holy Spirit. That we proclaim Law and Gospel and have a faith that can and has adapted to disruptions throughout our history.
As our communities look towards the future, it is essential that these Lutheran distinctives drive our mission. We are called to proclaim to people God’s desire to be in right relationship with them. A desire so strong God sent Jesus, the son of God, to live, die, and rise so we and our communities might not fear disruption, even death. Because through death comes life.
Already in the second half of 2020 we have seen congregations recognizing their status quo is no longer sustainable. The disruption of Covid-19 has accelerated systemic issues already in place. Your synod staff has walked with those communities to assess their priorities and future. And in some cases helped find ways to faithfully end Word and Sacrament ministry in a particular location to release assets to serve God’s people and world. My goal in 2021 is that we are more intentional with all our congregations to assess honestly the context and system in place and how God’s mission is being accomplished through that work. To take seriously enough our mission to be honest about where we are, and where we are going, and listen to God for guidance on how we accomplish that together.
2021, I pray, is going to be a year marked by intentional and communal discernment in all of our congregations and ministries. We have been disrupted, we have and will continue to experience great losses, we have achieved things we never thought we would be able to or even need to. God is and will be faithful to us in NT-NL and across our church. This New Years day know that you and yours are in my prayers and that we continue to be about this work…