Messages from Bishop Gronberg
2020 Christmas Greetings from NT-NL Synod Staff
Sermon for Christmas Eve / Day 2020
Sermon for the First Sunday of Christmas 2020
Christmas Greeting from ELCA Presiding Bishop Eaton
Precisely in our distress, in our dislocation, the Lord shows up. Emmanuel—God with us—makes his home in the very places we find foreign or isolating.
The room was spare and dimly lit. We sat on folding chairs in a circle—young Honduran women and some of us from the ELCA. We had come to Honduras to observe the work of AMMPARO (Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities). This is the ELCA’s strategy to help youth who have been forced to flee their home countries because of violence, abuse, extortion by gangs and extreme poverty. Amparo is the Spanish word for shelter or refuge.
In this case, AMMPARO partnered with the Lutheran World Federation and the Mennonites to resettle returned migrants—those who had tried to seek asylum in the United States but had failed or had been denied and deported back to Honduras.
One by one they told us their stories of fear and desperation. Not a one undertook the long and dangerous trek north on a whim. They told us about the abuse they had suffered, about family members who had been killed by gangs, about the inability to make a living because of the extortion by organized crime. They talked about the bitter sadness of leaving home and family, and the uncertainty of the future.
I remember one young woman in particular. She was pregnant when she tried to migrate to the United States. She had the baby somewhere along the way. She was far from home, mostly alone and desperately wanted her mother to be with her. None of this is what she had hoped for when she was growing up. Circumstances beyond her control had forced her into this new and strange existence. She and her baby were now back in Honduras—but not at home. Home was too dangerous.
Remember last Christmas? Remember all of the preparations, the travel to be with family? Remember the holy beauty of the Christmas Eve liturgy and receiving Christ’s grace and forgiveness at his table? The shopping and Christmas caroling? The in-person gatherings? All that has changed. The pandemic hasn’t forced us from our homes but into our homes, sheltering in place, isolated. Not together, but physically distanced. Not gathered with family and friends, but forced apart because of the threat of infection. Forced by circumstances beyond our control into this strange existence. Oh, there will be Christmas carols piped into grocery stores and other essential services, but they will be painful reminders of how life used to be.
We are reminded of the experience of the exiles in Babylon: “By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captives asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land” (Psalm 137)?
I told the young Honduran woman about another young woman who was forced to leave home because of a government decree. She, too, was pregnant and made a long and difficult journey. She, too, was far from home and without her mother when the baby came. She had to find shelter wherever she could. This wasn’t what she had hoped for when she was growing up. Circumstances beyond her control had forced her into this new existence. That young woman was Mary and the child was Jesus. Precisely in our distress, in our dislocation, the Lord shows up. Emmanuel—God with us—makes his home in the very places we find foreign or isolating. The young Honduran woman, and all of us, can find hope because of the birth of Mary’s child. There is no God-forsaken place and we are never alone—not in hospital rooms, or sheltering in place, or Zoom calls or on dangerous roads.
Many of us will not be physically home for Christmas, but we are truly home in Christ.
In Memoriam: Ruth Harstein
NT-NL’s first Synod Treasurer (1988-1991) Ruth Hartstein died on Saturday morning, December 19. The family is planning a memorial service for Tuesday afternoon at 3 pm; visitation at 1 pm, at Boone Funeral Home on Airline Drive in Bossier City, LA. Click here for Ruth’s full obituary.
Featured Resources for December
The Need for Stress and Conflict (Alban)
“Despite the ideal image of the loving, peaceful congregation in which everyone is happy—an image deeply ingrained in most all of us—leaders at times need to encourage conflict. They need to act in ways that make conflict inevitable. They need to enhance, not reduce, conflict. Doing these things is difficult. Few of us enjoy conflict. For many of us, taking deliberate actions that will lead to conflict runs counter to both personal desire and our image of our role in the congregation. The very thought of it may make our stomachs tighten, our hearts pound, and our palms sweat. And yet, at times inciting conflict is what effective and faithful leadership demands.”
What’s a church to do? Dealing with conflict during a pandemic (Faith & Leadership)
“Conflict is a normal part of church life, but it’s rarely easy to deal with. And disagreements in our faith communities feel especially fraught at the moment.
A recent survey found that 27% of evangelical and mainline pastors cited addressing conflict and maintaining unity in their congregations as primary sources of stress — up from just 8% in April.
This isn’t really surprising, given the enormous strain churches are under. But it raises a question: How can congregations handle conflict amid so much uncertainty, especially when most still cannot safely meet in person?”
Recent Blog Posts
(https://www.ntnl.org/visit-with-rev-doris-dupree-harris-12-15-2020/ – published Dec. 15)
(https://www.ntnl.org/jan-7th-starting-2021-strong-systems-and-anxiety/ – published Dec. 15)
(https://www.ntnl.org/recognizing-email-scams/ – published Dec. 16)
Where in the world is?
Due to the rising cases of COVID-19 across our territory in November 2020, the bishop and staff will be engaging in no non-essential travel or in-person meetings through the remainder of 2020. For previously scheduled and essential meetings, the staff will wear masks anytime they are near people, either inside or outside a facility. All synod business will continue to be conducted online.
Pastor Totzke – Dec. 27: Lord of Life, Glenn Heights
With the ever-changing guidelines and recommendations in our world right now, as we maintain physical distance in social solidarity, please keep in mind these events may be moved online, postponed, or cancelled:
- Dec. 23: Weekly Online Gathering for ELCA Leaders – Holding Space with Jill Beverlin, Tammy Devine, and Jason O’Neill, Zoom
- Dec. 30: Weekly Online Gathering for ELCA Leaders – Holding Space with Jill Beverlin and Jason O’Neill, Zoom
- Jan. 6: Weekly Online Gathering for ELCA Leaders – The Sacred Work of Grief, Part 5: TBA with Rev. Solveig Goodin-Nilsen, Zoom
- Jan. 7: Weekly NT-NL Leadership Prayer, Check-in, Zoom
- Jan. 7: Interim Pastors monthly meeting, Zoom
- Jan. 7: Systems Theory and Anxiety workshop, Zoom
- Jan. 9: Public Witness Team meeting, Online
- Jan. 13: Weekly Online Gathering for ELCA Leaders – Discipleship and Civic Engagement with Amy Reumann (ELCA National Advocacy), Zoom
- Jan. 14: Weekly NT-NL Leadership Prayer, Check-in, Zoom
- Jan. 20: Weekly Online Gathering for ELCA Leaders – Growing Young: Warm Relationships with Rachel Alley and others, Zoom
- Jan. 20-23: 2021 ELCA World Hunger Leadership Gathering, Online
- Jan. 21: Weekly NT-NL Leadership Prayer, Check-in, Zoom
Access our full online Calendar here. Updates made regularly.
Do you have news or announcements to share? Please submit to Jason (firstname.lastname@example.org) for consideration for upcoming NT-NL News.