When I was elected bishop, I was regularly asked, “Mission Area or Synod?” My standard answer then and now continues to be “Both!” We are, by legal and constitutional definition, a synod. We also are a group of congregations and institutions that do mission in a geographic area defined again by our constitution (literally the counties are listed in our constitution).
What I heard also was that our congregations and leaders had a desire to be more connected to one another. The word synod, based on the Greek words σύν(with) + ὁδός (path, way), literally means “going together” and is mostly translated “assembly.” This word speaks about the unity of the community that comes together as an assembly to do its work.
We do synod assembly annually (this year, April 26-27). But this is not the synod. We also, and primarily, assemble in congregations for worship and service. We synod/assemble together and do mission together in our mission area. It is from this understanding, of the primacy of congregational mission, that I have continued my emphasis on our being a synod that is #InMissionTogether. My staff and I then live into this understanding by being present, being synod, in congregations across our area regularly. We are present in the congregations in our mission area and do not wait for once a year to do “synod” at an assembly.
The desire to equip our leaders to continue this vital work of synod/assembly in their local communities is also why I am committed to the work of making our investment in Briarwood pay dividends. Briarwood is where much of our synod leadership trainings take place. And more than hosting ministry, Briarwood also is a place for education, curriculum development, and utilizing technology to go beyond the campus throughout our mission area and to the world.
We see examples of this in our Parish Lay Ministry Academy (PLMA)’s growth and the Secondary School of Latinx Theological Education (SSLTE). The SSLTE was spearheaded by pastors in our synod and equipped by our staff and housed at Briarwood. This partnership with LSTC and Wartburg Seminary, ELCA Churchwide, and the Arkansas-Oklahoma synod is a model of how we can, as NT-NL and Briarwood, be a pacesetter in leadership development that goes far beyond our campus in Argyle. Additionally, we are looking at partnerships with the LEAD initiative of the Gulf Coast synod and with LSPS that will continue to expand this reach. This goes far beyond retreat center operations and into making real the programming that is needed for the investments we made in the leadership center at Briarwood.
Because of these advancements and the future possibilities, our name matters. Briarwood technically is incorporated as Briarwood Lutheran Ministries. However, it has been “doing business as” Briarwood Retreat Center. This has made sense as the focus of the staff and board has been on camping and retreat ministry. This ministry has, and continues to be, critical to our life together as leaders of all ages are formed and lives are changed through camping and retreating.
However, the vision that has been cast for a leadership center, the investment made by the synod through the DiscipleLife Alive campaign, is bigger than the core ministries of camping and retreat hosting. Briarwood is to be a place where camping and retreating happen but also, and primarily, there is a focus on intergenerational leadership development for the church and world. This happens through on site camping/retreat/training and off site program and curriculum development such as the PLMA, SSLTE, and other leadership development options.
This work and vision goes beyond a retreat center to the work of a leadership center with impact far beyond the campus in Argyle and even our mission area. As a result, in coming months, we will be doing a focused rebranding and referring to Briarwood more and more as Briarwood Leadership Center. This does not change the core work of Briarwood. What this name does is give us a greater opportunity to share a new thing with the community and hopefully continue to grow awareness of the work we are doing.
What does this name mean for you? Well, most of us refer to Briarwood as Briarwood. Our legal name, Briarwood Lutheran Ministries, will remain the same. Camping and hosted ministry remain the heart of operations. And as we live into the understanding of Briarwood as a leadership center, hosting and also sharing leadership resources across the church and world.
Names matter. They indicate emphasis and focus. The focus of Briarwood, living into the vision cast, is of a leadership center that assists both our congregations as they synod/assemble across our mission area and also extends far beyond. Briarwood is to be a leadership center, and we should use that name if we are serious about that vision. I am excited about this next step and the hard work of the staff and Briarwood board that has been essential in our work moving forward. Thank you, and I look forward to seeing you at synod assembly in a few weeks.
Bishop Erik K.J. Gronberg, PhD
PS: Spots for summer camp staff and camping are filling soon. If you are interested in your young person experiencing camp or as a leader on our camp staff, make sure they sign up soon.