Friday April 26th was the first full day of assembly and synod council. We did business, had bible study, and amazing Easter worship. I presented my report on the ministry year and the vision for the Briarwood Retreat Center/Briarwood Leadership Center. We also honored our retiring Synod Vice President Deacon Stephanie Varnum for her good work and gracious spirit. She has been a gift and a joy to work with.
Our worship this year was highlighted by being able to gather together not in a ballroom in a hotel but in a sanctuary, a place set aside by a community for worship. And what a worship it was. We celebrated Easter once again with music (highlighting the newly installed and dedicated Calvary Pipe Organ). Readings were done in Swahili and Spanish honoring the diversity of language in our church. And our communities who were present could sing praises to the risen Christ along with 400 others including orchestra and choir (including a impromptu mass choir to sing the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah). To worship together in this beautiful space enhanced the assembly experience and also highlighted one of my goals to be good stewards and utilize the resources of our synod.
We continued to highlight our communities as Friday night we had had a great “hotdish” supper. Wonderful dishes by our hosts Calvary (King Ranch chicken, green bean casserole) San Gabriel (cheese enchiladas) and Umoja (East African Pilau). Bread pudding for dessert. All great but for my kiddos Calvary’s Janelle saved the day with mini-corndogs for the win. Once more, being good stewards, rather than an expensive hotel meal we were able to utilize the gifts of our community and enjoy dinner together provided by our communities.
During dinner were were invited to listen and participating in the recording of an episode of the podcast “to hell with the hotdish.” A podcast done by Calvary pastor Kyle Rouze and others about issues in the church and how to move beyond “hotdish” culture and be sent into the world.
NT-NL Synod, ELCA assembly concluded Saturday April 27 after a full two days of worship, business, presentations, and workshops. 10 workshops were offered in the afternoon offering wisdom from synod leaders on different ministry options. We also had a first opportunity for our Director of Briarwood Retreat Center/Briarwood Leadership Center Dr. Robert Smith to speak to the entire assembly about the vision for this vital ministry.
In the morning we heard a report from our churchwide representative as well as other ministries of our wider church including Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. We were reminded again that when LIRS was founded and right after WWII one in six Lutherans were refugees.
After workshops we participated in the last of 3 bible studies from Dr. Kendra Mohn. These studies invited us into biblical themes of welcome and invitation. Discerning always who is our neighbor?
Assembly concluded with a youth led worship service. Inspiring to hear the stories of our young people and how their lives were impacted by service to neighbor. Many had attended the 2018 ELCA youth gathering and we sang a song that had been written and performed on the main stage by Calvary’s own Sam Noble.
With assembly concluded the amazing Calvary crew went into action and I headed out for dinner and WhirlyBall and Lasertag. By the time we got back for reflection time at 10pm they had already converting our assembly hall into a dinner space for Western Worship. Grateful for our young people in NT-NL. Prioritizing youth and young adults is a key part of my work as bishop and I believe I must model it by the time I spend. By taking this time after the busy work of assembly, sharing with these youth and showing them their bishop cares enough to stay up and have fellowship with them, I pray they begin to understand that indeed their church values them. In future years I hope to see this gathering grow and flourish as it becomes a part of the DNA of our synod again to have youth at assembly.
We were so blessed by the hospitality of Calvary, Richland Hills at this assembly. The pastors, staff, and volunteers showed us graciousness and welcome above and beyond. By hosting this event at Calvary we were also able to reduce assembly fees by 30% from previous years. You can read a full summary here. This is a critical stewardship issue for me as bishop. Assembly costs should not prevent any of our communities from participating in this vital work of our church. While it means change in how we do things I was grateful to see the response and positive energy of our community.
It was a wonderful assembly celebration of the various ministries of our church and I pray will inspire us to continue to make sure what happens in the church doesn’t stay in the church. #NTNL #Assembly #InMissionTogether