By Frank Pultar
In early May, I traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico with Paula Zsiray to attended the Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly. This was a first time attending for both of us. It was an eye opening experience, both in mind and spirit.
There were a few things that have stuck with me. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, spoke of Grace, the Trinity, and how we dance with God.
Restorative Justice was also spoken of, and Fr. Rohr talked about how Jesus never punished anyone. This also spoke to me that we, as followers of Christ, should do as Jesus did. How else are we made whole if after justice has been done, you are not given back your humanity?
By Regina Dickinson
Time lives our lives with us
Walk side by side with us
Time is so far from us
But time is among us
Time is ahead of us
Above and below us
Standing beside us
And looking down on us…
Time has changed
Time would heal
Time will mend and counsel
In the end everything will be fine
-The Kinks (1968)
This is my last letter as outgoing Church Council President. I find it only fitting that the lyrics from the Kinks song, “Time” be quoted as I have been wandering around church the past month singing this song in my head as I think of all of the amazing ongoing events and service possibilities that allow those at Prince of Peace to donate their time.
Summertime is a refreshing time at Prince of Peace. We benefit from the wonderful addition of our summer citizens and the added bonus of a fresh and exuberant Church Council. This is also perhaps a mildly unsettling, but exciting time at our church with a newly appointed Call Committee. Time is also changing as we have a duo of wonderful congregants willing to share their time and talents as our volunteer secretaries.
Our time as a church congregation will once again be recorded by an amazing volunteer to be archivist. I have come to realize with the twenty years of time that I have spent as a participant at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, that time and talents are something we have in abundance at our church. Even with a transition period at our congregation, we need to remember as wonderfully sang by the Kinks, “Time mends, time heals, and in the end everything will be fine”.
Thank you to our new time and talent volunteers:
Secretaries: Mona Baran and Mary Feldman
Archivist: Kathy Evans
New Council Members: Dave Wilson, Eric Ingram, and Frank Pultar
By Rebecca Walton
Our congregation has been in a major transition now for almost exactly a year: saying goodbye to Pastor Scott Thalacker and preparing to welcome a new pastor. Between last year’s annual meeting and this year’s, we have proceeded through most of the major milestones in the process. The Rocky Mountain Synod represents the transition in three phases in its “Moving into the Future” resource. We’ve completed Phase I: thanking Pastor Scott, wishing him well in his new position in New Mexico, grieving our loss, and working with the Rocky Mountain Synod to learn and pursue next steps. As a key part of that process, we welcomed interim pastor Teri Hermsmeyer, who has been patiently guiding us through the ELCA transition process even as she performs the rest of the pastoral duties for PoP.
Just recently, we’ve completed Phase II. We formed a transition team, reflected together as a congregation, and gotten to know ourselves better in preparation for selecting a new pastor who can be a good fit with the flock. The transition team is finalizing its report (or perhaps has recently submitted it by the time you read this newsletter article!), and now the call committee will take the baton to begin the next major step in the process.
We’ve officially entered Phase III of the transition; this is the final phase, folks. Drawing upon the congregational self-reflection and priorities synthesized by the transition team, the call committee will complete the Ministry Site Profile that was begun by the transition team. The Ministry Site Profile is like a congregation’s “dating profile,” which describes our congregation in preparation to seek a good match. (Remember Lisa Greene’s Council Corner article last fall about this step?) Once the Ministry Site Profile is officially submitted, the Office of the Bishop at the Synod level will take 4-6 weeks to review its pool of qualified candidates and select those who seem like the best fit for us. At that point, the call committee can begin Skype interviews with each candidate and begin narrowing the list: deciding not to pursue some candidates further, identifying some for additional interviews, and even requesting additional names from the Office of the Bishop if needed.
As we enter the home stretch of this important transition, I find myself comforted and encouraged by a Daily Meditation sent out recently by Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation. He was discussing the divine Trinity as not just an example of unity but also its source. Rohr distinguishes between “unity” and “uniformity” by noting that uniformity is coercive and limiting. Uniformity requires sameness, conforming to a particular mold regardless of fit. Unity celebrates diversity, embracing and protecting difference unified by love. I found this comforting because we are each unique. Yes, our congregation has reflected together on our past (its high points and low points), our present (our strengths and shortcomings), and our future (our priorities and desires). And this reflection is synthesized in the Ministry Site Profile that will guide Phase III. But individually we have some differences relevant to this process. I think about when Tony and I filled out the survey on our priorities for the new pastor, discussing our responses with members of the transition team and another church member. Tony and I have been married our entire adult lives. We have more in common with each other than we do with any other church member. And our responses and priorities were pretty similar. But not identical. Uniformity would suggest this bodes ill for pastor selection. Uniformity would require that we all have identical perspectives and priorities. But unity is flexible. Unity says that different perspectives and priorities are welcome and should be considered throughout the process. That’s encouraging.
But what I found most encouraging in this particular Daily Meditation was the final paragraph:
Nothing can stop the flow of divine love […]. God is always winning, and God’s love will finally win in the end. Nothing humans can do can stop the relentless outpouring force that is the divine dance. Love does not lose, nor does God lose. That’s what it means to be God!
In this paragraph, I am reminded that we can’t screw this up. God is sovereign. Yes, the transition is lengthy and complex and important. And, yes, we want to be prayerful and careful and thoughtful as we round the corner into Phase III. But this process is directed by God—a God who is the source of our own unity, who protects and embraces diversity, and who cannot be defeated. I am expectant and hopeful about the outcome of Phase III, and I look forward to seeing what God has planned for us in the next phase of our life together as a church.
By Lela Gilmore, Council Member at Large
Have you even taken a trip without a plan? I don’t mean a Sunday afternoon spontaneous “let’s take a drive and see where we end up” kind of trip, but a real vacation type trip with all the kids and maybe Aunt Ethel, too, for two weeks, to an out of state location? Perhaps you’re the adventurous type and have given this “no plan style” a try, but usually the trip involves a plan with many stages and steps before you even think about getting into the car to leave.
Without a plan, you get weary travelers, hungry back-seaters, bored passengers, etc. Perhaps that uncomfortable feeling sounds familiar as we’ve been journeying through “transition time” which is our trip-to-the-future of our congregation? Perhaps you’ve wondered, why we aren’t “getting on with the process” or “why haven’t we developed a list of potential candidates and started the interview process yet?”.
A well thought out vacation begins with a step one, then two, and then the next, and the next. Our trip as a congregation needs to follow this same strategy. This process is called “transition”, because we are making, according to Webster, “a passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another”.
Transition is also “a movement, development or evolution, from one form, stage or style to another”,… also quite aptly describing our “trip”, and not generally understood as something to be done immediately, in one step, or ‘in a blink’, but as a process (one STEP at a time).
Just as that road trip with the Aunt Ethel required a plan: choice of destination; selecting a time frame; scheduling a vehicle check-up; booking motels; packing bags for each family member; books and toys to keep everyone occupied; mapping the route and scheduling rest and food stops; selecting car-friendly snacks; first-aid kits and necessary meds; clean-up supplies, etc., etc., etc., so too our journey has required a plan and many specific steps to help us navigate the path of change without stumbling, getting lost, or falling off a cliff!
We’ve successfully navigated several of these steps already, almost painlessly! There are just a few more to go….stay with the driver and all will be well.
According to Martin Luther, ”……….we are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end but it is the road…..”.
Have faith and patience, many others have been through this process and have proven that it works. In the discomfort of “discovery and discernment” we find out we might just be different than we were a couple of years ago, or what we might be a few years down the road. Just as each one of us is growing and changing, so are we as a congregation. Again, per Webster, a ‘congregation’ is described as “an organized body of believers in a particular locality” and ‘congregating’ as “an act or instance of bringing together”. Each step in the process helps us discover where we are and where we would like to go, and then , “Surprise!!!!”, we may not all have the same ideas about “where” and “when” and “how”!! That’s where the ‘coming together’ enters in.
So we continue, one step at a time with the plan, continually checking (by the process) with each other for answers and ideas and ways to work toward an end and a coming together. By virtue of being “members of the body” we each have a say, a vote and an opportunity to contribute to the good of the body, an opportunity to help make the best and most comfortable ‘road trip’ we can, with a destination we can all appreciate.
Obviously this growth and movement continues……Luther’s advice is as applicable today as it was 500 years ago,…“this is not the end, but it is the road”….
An Annotated Guide to Church-Related Internet Resources
I’m using my turn at the Council Corner to highlight a few church-related resources you may not have explored on the internet. It can be insightful to keep up on ELCA and broader church news. This is only a start, so please leave your contributions in the comments!
ELCA.org and Rocky Mountain Synod - https://www.elca.org and https://www.rmselca.org/
Hopefully you’ve landed on these pages before. I won’t go into detail, but they’re good places to find out what’s going on in our home denomination. Council member Barbara Daniels wrote a blog post a few months ago on advocacy in the ELCA. Social media links can be found on both of these sites, if that’s how you prefer to check for updates.
Christianity Today - https://www.christianitytoday.com/
A magazine from the evangelical perspective. Sometimes articles are inaccessible due to a paywall. If you are affiliated with USU, the Library has an electronic subscription.
Relevant Magazine - https://relevantmagazine.com/
“A bimonthly Christian lifestyle magazine exploring the intersection of faith and pop culture.” Relevant got its start in the early 2000s and was strongly associated with the “emergent church” at the time. It is written by and for twenty- and thirty-somethings and its angle seems to have become more theologically and socially “woke” over time.
Faithfully Magazine - https://faithfullymagazine.com/
“Faithfully Magazine is a fresh, bold, and exciting news and culture publication centering on Christian communities of color.”
Sojourners - https://sojo.net/
This magazine covers social and environmental justice from a Christian perspective. It’s been around since the 70s. Sojourners trends Protestant (and is often associated with the evangelical left) but is committed to interfaith dialogue.
Pew Research Center Religious Landscape Study - http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/
A good place for data nerds to explore religious demographics in the US. They even have some stats on the ELCA: http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/religious-denomination/evangelical-lutheran-church-in-america-elca/.
Podcasts - use your favorite app, or search for them online
The Liturgists - This one was started by two guys who left the Christian faith for a time, and came back (sort of) with much different perspectives. Focuses on science, art, and faith.
Queerology - On belief and being
Three Sides - A monthly ELCA podcast featuring diverse voices
To Hell with the Hotdish - By three ELCA pastors who are “trying to help move the perception of church beyond its cliched casserole culture.
by Regina Dickinson
What makes a home? It seems like a simple question, but the answer is complex. I can quantify my personal sense of home as having changed over the years. My first sense of home was with my family of origin (mother, father, sisters, and dog) and then transitioned to a home with my family (husband, sons). My definition of home has changed over the years, but it has never been an actual structure or place, but more of what is inside the structure. In many ways, homes embody how we live and see ourselves. And these spaces evolve when we focus on what makes us happy. This is sometimes easier said than done, though. It requires reflection and thoughtful choices, but it is a rewarding process. When we create a place that meets our needs and expresses our character, we enrich our lives.
When you walk into some homes, they instantly feel welcoming. And it’s not just because you enjoy the company or admire the decor – although both help. There’s something else. The space feels authentic, a genuine reflection of the person or family who lives there. What is reflected when a new guest or a treasured past member walks through the doors, are they feeling welcome? I know that many feel welcomed, I know because I have seen it time and again. Prince of Peace is a home. Over the years, I have seen many new faces at Prince of Peace and I know as our paths diverge and people move to other adventures, that if possible they will be back. I have seen multiple times a member that leaves to a new adventure in life however, who, when in the area, they make it a point to attend Prince of Peace to say hello and have a catch up with friends. This sense of belonging is what makes Prince of Peace truly unique
Throughout the past four years, church council has been asking members of the congregation in differing formats and avenues, what is unique about Prince of Peace? The answers inevitably have to do with the welcoming atmosphere present at Prince of Peace. This welcoming atmosphere is present regardless of pastors, member fluctuation, trends, etc. The reason that POP feels so welcoming is because no matter what may be going on or who may be coming or going everyone at Prince of Peace is genuine and they reflect the fact that Prince of Peace is God’s welcoming space.
The home of POP is knowing one year or twenty since you were last at POP, you will be welcomed with open arms and smiles, makes POP a home. We see ourselves at Prince of Peace as being part of a greater whole, of being part of the Spirit. This sense of belonging with the Spirit is passed to those around us through our simple welcoming gestures, through the peace of home. As we begin to get ready for a new calling of a pastor, let us not forget that Prince of Peace is a home and welcome all who enter. “You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”- Anonymous
By Rebecca Walton
Franciscan Richard Rohr, through his Center for Action and Contemplation, sends out daily Christian meditations which explore a new theme each year. This year’s theme is Old and New. He explains that God’s truths are true for all time but that those truths reveal themselves in different ways and words and cultures through the ages. The theme of Old and New is drawn from Matthew 13:52, in which Jesus says that scholars of the [Jewish] law who become disciples of the kingdom of heaven [i.e., Christians] draw from their storehouse treasures both old and new. I read a few Bible commentaries about Matthew 13:52 and see some insights for our congregation in this coming year of transition.
The chapter in which this verse appears is a collection of parables (or teachings that convey a message indirectly through story). Story is central to Jesus’s teaching; approximately a third of Jesus’s teachings in the Gospels take the form of parables. I think this is not only because parables are an effective way to help people learn (by connecting new knowledge with old knowledge) but also because stories are central to the human experience. Many of us have treasured family stories that we’ve told and heard many times over the years: funny things kids said when they were little, impressive accomplishments, tough times endured and overcome. These storytellings are not just entertaining. Storytelling strengthens our family connections and values, reminding us of who we are, where we came from, what’s important to us.
On Jan. 13, Prince of Peace will have a Telling our Story potluck in which we’ll all work together to craft a timeline that tells the story of our church family. Knowing our story-- whom we have been, our major events and milestones, our treasured moments as well as our rough patches and challenges endured --is an important step in pursuing the hiring of a new full-time pastor. To get a good sense of whom we seek (or, more accurately perhaps, whom God may have for us), we need to know ourselves. (This makes me think of Lisa Green’s Council Corner article about our church “dating profile.” If you didn’t see it, check out July 2018 newsletter in the archives.)
Returning to Matthew 13:52, knowing whom we’ve been is important for informing whom we become. Old knowledge informs new. This is one interpretation of Matthew 13:52: that knowledge of the Jewish law can be richly informative and relevant for informing knowledge of the new kingdom that Jesus establishes in Christianity. Another interpretation of this verse is that when we become Christians, we bring with us gifts, qualities, and backgrounds that we should not throw out or ignore but rather intentionally devote in service to God. These old treasures are valuable. And as we mature in our faith, God will cultivate in us new qualities and characteristics and provide new experiences that serve as new treasures which are equally valuable. I’m looking forward to the Knowing Our Story potluck and the story timeline we’ll produce together. As a relatively new member of this congregation, I’ll be enriched by learning of the many old treasures in our communal storehouse. And I am eager to see what new treasures God has planned for us in the coming year.
By Joan Mahoney
“My Soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior …”
Luke 1: 46-47
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
Luke 1: 46-55
Martin Luther said of Mary’s song (The Magnificat), “Here, the tender mother of Christ teaches us, with her words and by the example of her experience, how to know, love, and praise God”. (LW21:301) His simple interpretation: “God exalts those of low degree; Mary is a simple, lowly maiden and for that very reason is allowed to experience great things; human beings look up, above themselves, to things that are splendid and glorious and showy, while God looks into the depths, chooses what is inconspicuous, what is nothing. It is ‘his manner’ to look into the depths and behold things that are disregarded. For where man’s strength ends, God’s strength begins – and the reverse as well.”
Martin Luther began writing his “Commentary on the Magnificat” in late 1520 as a response/gift to the 17 year old prince, John Frederick (later elector of Saxony, also known as ‘the Magnanimous”). Having to give up working on the text to appear at the Imperial Diet of Worms, he sent what he had written to the prince, but didn’t get to continue working on it until he was in hiding at Wartburg Castle after his condemnation at the Diet.
“Luther’s purpose in writing this commentary for the young prince was to provide some instruction, and at the very least reminders. In his opinion, it rebuked many of the vices and failures that plague people in the position of leadership. Rulers can be so wrapped up in their power and wealth that they forget about God and the fact that He is the giver of all good gifts (and can take them away again). Just as a right understanding of Mary’s ‘humility’ can place devotion to her upon the proper footing, so also a right understanding of her song, with its teaching about God and how He regards the proud and the humble, can teach a ruler how to be grateful to God and serve the people with justice.
Two important results came from Luther’s new translation of the Magnificat. The first, in his perspective, the high regard and excessive devotion for Mary in the late-medieval church could no longer be maintained. It is wrong to suggest that Mary somehow merited or earned the privilege of bearing God’s son through her great virtue because we can earn nothing from God – any gift we receive from God comes through pure grace and is undeserved. Ascribing merit or deserving virtue to Mary would lessen God’s grace. We should take her words seriously and realize God deserves all the credit – he looked at and chose someone who was ignored and even despised by everyone.
The second important result of Luther’s shift in interpretation is that now respect for or veneration of Mary can be placed on the proper footing. She is a simple girl with no high opinions of herself, great expectations or ambitions for the future – a truly humble person, who doesn’t realize she’s humble. She should be recognized and praised for her great faith and willingness, despite challenges to herself, to be the Mother of God. Mary should not be thought of as ‘a goddess who could grant gifts or render aid’ as she didn’t do anything to earn these titles, and insists in her own song that all honor be given to God alone.
Luther closed his commentary with a prayer that Christ would grant us a right understanding of the Magnificat, and asked that it be granted ‘through the intercession, and for the sake of his dear mother Mary’. For Luther, Mary is helping all of us by providing this beautiful and theologically rich song for us. In the Magnificat, she teaches us how to pray and models the proper attitude that we should take toward God – she turns all the glory toward God, and praises him alone.
Mary intercedes for us in that she serves as a sign that says, ‘Look what God has done for me!’ She serves as an example of what God will do, and in fact has already done for us. Mary has already received the benefits that God has promised to all of us, and so she stands as the sign and surety that we also will receive blessing and salvation.”
So, during this season of Advent, let us rejoice in the words of the Magnificat and reflect on our humble beginnings. Praise be to our God above!
God’s peace and multitude of blessings to one and all this Christmas season.
 The Theology of Martin Luther - A Critical Assessment, by Hans-Martin Barth, pp.81-82
 Excerpted from “The Annotated Luther – Pastoral Writings – Vol. 4; Mary Jane Haemig, Editor; pp. 307-313
By Colin Johnson
We seem to be living at a time of unprecedented flooding. While certainly not something to
joke about, I offer no apology for retelling this old story, one of my favorites:
A certain community was experiencing a 100-year flood. As the waters approached his
doorway, a retired widower was hailed by a neighbor who was hurrying out-of-town in his SUV. “Wanta come along now?” called the neighbor. “No, I’ll be fine. The Lord will keep me safe, ” answered the widower from his porch . The neighbor drove on. Soon the floodwaters rose to the middle of the first floor and the man retreated to the upper story of his home. A patrol boat came into view on the flooded street. “We can get you down through that window. Grab this rope,” shouted the team. “No, I’ll be fine. I trust in the Lord. He will watch over me and keep me safe.” The boat motored on. The water rose above the eaves, and the man managed to escape to the roof of his house. A helicopter flew into view. “We’ll lower the winch and airlift you to hig h ground at the rescue center,” yelled the pilot over his bullhorn. “No, I’ll be fine. The Lord will keep me safe. This can’t get much worse or last much longer.” The pilot flew on. The water continued to rise above the roof of the house. The man was washed away and drowned. At the Gates of St. Peter the man was angry and railed at the gatekeeper, “I trusted i n the Lord to the end and was faithful. I shouldn’t be here. My death was your fault because you abandoned me.” A figure peered over a ledger from above. There was a moment of silence. “ Abandoned you? Our fault?” came the voice. “We sent you an SUV, a boat, and a helicopter.” At a recent Prince of Peace meeting, someone was asked, “How do you feel without a pastor at this time?” That someone—perhaps several someones—replied, “Kind of in limbo, drifting, nothing much is happening.” Mentally, I understood the response, but at the same time I had some disagreements about it. One way to look at is that our ministry had become like a piece of comfort food . . . a cinnamon bun. With the loss of our pastor, it has become a donut. There is a hole in the middle, but it is still a donut and, I hope, a pretty tasty one at that. But what we want is a complete cinnamon bun; we don’t want a donut. The issue is that we will need to accept the idea that our new bun is going to be different. It will have a different taste, a different aroma, and different consistency (notice that I resisted the temptation to say “more nuts, fewer nuts”). Why? Because we are not just changing pastors, but we should be looking at a change in our ministry as well. It need not be a large shift, but change will happen. What do we want to come out of "bakery?" That is a subject of a different discussion.
stagnant “Limboland.” In my mind, I began to enumerate the SUVs, boats, and helicopters in our inventory. 1) A congregation old enough to have traditions and an established, sound method of operation and yet young enough to endure the vagaries of change, perhaps even welcome it as a means to renew the vigor of the church. Yes, I assume that, on the whole, you will find evidence that most people are generally ambivalent to change. Some welcome it, some fear it, some resign themselves to it. More about that later. Let’s just say that there is much evidence that congregations with a willingness to change and demonstrating past change experience smoother transitions and calls. A prospective pastor might think, “If they can’t show me that their previous pastor moved them from A to B, how can I expect to get them to C?” 2) A solid group of dedicated council members consistently taking care of church business with monthly meetings under a solid constitution and set of by-laws, along with a “Covenant of Leadership” that defines some of its operational boundaries. 3) A host of ministry teams and committees with an understanding of their domains and tasks. For example, the Worship Committee responsibly plans services months in advance, clearly respecting the traditional liturgy while looking for creative ways to provide variety and diversity in the worship experience for all tastes. 4) A binder in the hallway full of multiple copies of specific instructions for tasks related to services. No one needs to be in the dark about specific tasks they can perform. 5) An interim pastor trained to lead us in the very thing we are engaged it. Make no mistake: intentional interim ministry is a “thing,” a recognized calling within the church body that is backed by curriculum at many seminaries, like chaplaincy or seminary teaching. It is not just a form of glorified pulpit supply or what pastors gravitate toward in retirement for extra income. Those are something completely different. I am certain that you can come up with others. Change. Those of you who have known me since way-back-when recognize that in my “previous” life I was a Missouri Synod Lutheran. In fact, I came into the Lutheran Church through my first wife, who was a PK, a “pastor’s kid.” Her oldest brother was also an LCMS pastor and another brother and his wife were Lutheran school teachers in California. A few of her uncles were pastors. As many of you know, the LCMS has a reputation for being quite conservative. You can’t take communion there without “announcing” for it or requesting a consultation with the pastor. The synod’s radio outlet, “The Lutheran Hour,” was a feature of our household when we could get it as it was often broadcast during service hours. (Remember when you last recorded a radio program!?) I may be misremembering, but I recall the opening strains of some staunch hymn like “Lift High the Cross,” while the charismatic and beloved Dr. Oswald Hoffman—or his announcer--intoned, “The Lutheran Hour, for an unchanging church in a changing world” [emphasis mine]. No, I haven’t heard the program for years; perhaps much or all of that has been altered.
“Unchanging?” Imagine my reaction when I discovered the first chapter in our interim committee’s guidebook Temporary Shepherds: A Congregational Handbook for Interim Ministry, now 20 years old itself, to be titled “The Changing Church.” Lordy, what’s that all about?! As I have come to appreciate, to call it a “changing” church is not heresy, but only reality. For one living in Utah, a “changing” church means one that revises its heritage and history about once every five years. In the 70’s the “unchanging” Missouri Synod found itself in the midst of a true schism stirred by the faculty of the St. Louis Seminary, a bunch of theologically rabble-rousing liberals. My father-in-law regarded them as fodder for excommunication; my brother-in-law kept his lips tight. The schism threatened to divide families. It was that rift, by the way, that indirectly created the ELCA by bringing about the merger of the Lutheran Church in America, the American Lutheran Church, and a third group that included those that had split off from the LCMS. The Missouri Synod had advocated years earlier for a merger of the synods, but then refused to join it when it occurred. They would also later be active in creating and promoting a new hymnal that they then refused to use, but that is another story. Ah, well.
The LCMS was big on church discipline. Absent members were tracked down and notified that their membership would be wiped off the books at a certain time. As an elder, a position we do not have in the ELCA, I was once asked to “disfellowship”—I believe that was actual, official term used--from membership an abrasive communicant and his family. He habitually challenged some point of doctrine I can’t even begin to remember. Later, when pastoral misbehavior came into the picture in the same congregation, I submitted evidence to the regional synod office that resulted in his defrocking. Boy, wasn’t I the synodical “hottie!” And also, boy, wasn’t I hit by change . . . in more ways than one?! When I was asked to join the Mutual Ministry Committee at Prince of Peace some years ago, I requested assurance from Pastor Scott that no disciplinary actions were part of the duties. None were. I suited up.
As a PK, my wife insisted on being on “best buddy” terms with every pastor of every congregation to which we belonged (and, no, I don’t regret a bit that I once regarded Prince of Peace founding Pastor Barry Neese as my closest friend in Cache Valley). Our pastors were treated like family, given generous gifts, and expected to attend major dinners in our home: Thanksgiving, Easter, progressive dinners, you name it. It was only later that I understood some of the darker aspects of this behavior, although I confess that I still don’t understand it all that well. Consequently, when the misbehaving pastor was forced to leave the congregation, there came about a complicated system of transactions whereby our family had to it was a case of God opening another door for we eventually found our way to Prince of Peace just as it was being formed. Also, you see, my daughter adored her Uncle Clifford, the LCMS pastor. Had we stayed in the Missouri Synod, she would have been unable to realize her dream because the LCMS would have barred her from the very thing she wanted most: to become a pastor herself. Then “Change” happened. Our move to the ELCA allowed her to enter the University of Chicago Seminary with some endowment support of our home church Mt. Tabor in SLC, earn her M.Div. degree, and serve several ministries to this date in northeastern Illinois.
But I make the above revelations (testimony?) without intending to preach from my private confessional. It is just what it is, as they say.
[See Postscript II here.]
Our Temporary Shepherds text claims there are three types of people in a church: (1) those who make things happen, (2) those who let things happen. Don’t be one of those in the third group who wake up one day and say, (3) “Hey, wha’ happened?” In closing, I would admit that I left one critical item—deliberately--off my “SUV, boat, helicopter” list. That would be you all and the talents and skill sets you bring to the process. They may be, in the end, the most important. And so I challenge you to examine your gifts, your resources, and get to work. Need some references? Try Ephesians 4, Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and 1 Peter 4. If you are cut from a more interpersonal relations cloth, maybe brush up on one of the old human systems programs you have in a file drawer or in your set of self-help books (se below). Ask us about the one we are using. We will be coming to you for help, but there is much you can do to help yourself during this time. God bless!
Submitted by Colin Johnson, PoP Council Secretary and Liaison to the Transition Team
Postscript I: As I re-read this rambling blog while continuing to study the interim ministry manual, I discovered that I had unconsciously revealed something actually recommended by the manual during this time. That is, I had told a story, made a testimonial—actually more than one story--that revealed a topic of some concern to me that might be dealt with openly during the interim. It was a story that I might not otherwise have told. In fact, I have been trying to find a format it for some time. I had written it up last year, and then rejected it, believing the matter to be unsuitable for various reasons. Now it seems appropriate in this context. If you missed it, please re-read this from the middle point on. Hint: it has to do with church discipline. While my story is obviously not about Prince of Peace and occurred 30+ years ago, perhaps you have one that contains personal concerns about the ministry here—positive or negative--that could be opened up for dialogue and incorporated into the interim ministry report that will inform the call committee in its own work. Often, issues are brought forward and resolved during this period that might be ignored at any other time. Don’t let it fester. Think about it. Postcript II: As I reviewed my “essay,” the following paragraphs seemed to contribute to its length as an irrelevant interruption, so I appended it as a separate section here. Feel free to ignore it and just stop reading here if you are not interested in such things, as I am. One of the first things presented to us by Pr. Teri was one such tool like those described below:
Coping with change is hard work. One “tool” often used in addressing this challenge is an operational format based on human systems thinking that attempts to explain why we act—and interact—as we do. Often these represent a plotting of means to reduce conflict in institutional human transactions, paths for resolving organizational issues, instructions for conducting productive meetings, and the like. They help to explain why some relations work, some do not work, and what choices one may elect to do about it. If you have ever been appointed to a leadership position in an institution—most probably a job for which you were not specifically trained—you will discover in your files--as I did when I retired--numerous folders containing such programs handed out in workshops sponsored by your superiors. In recent decades, systems thinking methods have moved from analytic ones to more holistic structures. I used to tell my students there were two processes in examining a work of art, both necessary and essential: an analytic and a synthetic process. “Analyze” literal means to take apart, to break down; and “synthesize” its opposite. You may have to tear apart a non-functioning clock to see how it works (analyze), but it is never, ever going to run again unless you “synthesize” it, put it back together. . . correctly. Could be that it works with congregations, too.
Analytic systems tend to be vertically hierarchical with the single “vision” and the visionary (Steve Jobs) at the top, the various goals somewhere in the middle (tackled by the engineers, and the middle-managers), and the myriad tasks at the bottom (the assemblers of computers, team lead-persons, and so forth; in other words, the workers). Those systems are marked with illustrations that are usually plotted in one direction, straight. We tend not to like those structures, especially in universities and churches. Today’s more integrated, holistic systems give us many illustrations that are circles or at least healthy triangles, often with feedback going in several directions. No part is more important than another; all parts contribute to the health of the system. Not only is the whole greater than the sum of its parts, but a part contains/reflects the entirety of the structure. A “bad” part can infect the whole organism; in an analytic system, the bad part can just be lopped off. Good riddance. In a holistic system, we see how eliminating it would affect the entire body. Some of us are old enough to remember Eric Berne’s popular self-help book I’m OK—You’re OK, where the object was to replace unhealthy triangles of "Parent," "Child," and "Adult" role-playing scenarios based on real-life situations (which one are you in this situation??) with healthy -- or healthier -- ones. His book was dozens of circles, triangles, and arrows that were fascinating to sort out in a system called transactional analysis.
But make no mistake: I want to be clear that I enjoyed the process of studying such systems and still do. I found them valuable in the short term as they seemed to open up a world of insight directed at specific problem-solving techniques in a variety of human relationships. Fascinating to study, they nevertheless required extensive concentration to incorporate into one’s everyday working environment. As much as one sorted through them, there was always the problem of why no one liked working with Jane (a fictional example). Jane was an anomaly. Was this our problem or was it Jane’s problem? Maybe it was Jane who didn’t like everyone else. Maybe Jane was not a circle or a square. Maybe Jane was a pentagram. I digress, but, as you can see, I am having a lot of fun with this. I once diffused a hallway fistfight between two of my colleagues. I don’t know what human systems thinking tool I used during the half-hour confrontation, but I’m certain my colleagues didn’t care, nor did the students trembling behind nearby office doorways, or so they later told me. Nor did the system give me much confidence in my continence in that particular stressful moment. (Way, way too much fun now!)
When I first learned that the ELCA includes an advocacy office, my reaction was ‘What? Wait – I thought Christians aren’t supposed to be political!’ I decided to look for the biblical underpinnings of advocacy, and investigate further as to what the Advocacy Office does.
Advocacy can be defined as ‘public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy’, or (and this is my favorite definition), ‘the act of pleading for, supporting, or recommending; active espousal’. So advocacy is standing up for something you feel strongly about.
In the Bible, there are numerous examples of people of faith standing up for others – here are just a few. Moses heard God’s call and faced Pharaoh, demanded the release of his people, and eventually led them out of Egypt. (Exodus 5-12). Queen Esther stood up and bravely pled with King Xerxes on behalf of her people, the Jews (Esther 3:8–4:17, 7:1–8:8, 8:11–13). Nehemiah lobbied King Artaxerxes and his officials, to seek permission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He also confronted high-ranking Jews who were profiting from unfair lending practices (Nehemiah 1:2–4, 2:1–20, 5:1–13). Of course, Jesus is the ultimate Advocate. In addition to sacrificing himself for our sins (1 John 2:1-2), he modeled servant leadership (John 13:14-15), gave dignity to the marginalized (Luke 7:36-50, Luke 18:16), and challenged corruption (Mark 11:15-17), among other acts.
What does advocacy look like today? Today, we can advance the dignity of all people by advocating for racial and gender justice, accessibility to food, adequate housing accommodations, immigration policy, environmental sustainability, and much more. Advocacy actions can include: exercising your right to vote, speaking out when you witness injustice, writing or calling your elected officials to express your viewpoint, or volunteering nationally or internationally to share God’s love and serve your neighbor.
The ELCA maintains an advocacy action center, found online at https://www.elca.org/Our-Work/Publicly-Engaged-Church/Advocacy ELCA advocacy “works for change in public policy based on the experience of Lutheran ministries, programs and projects around the world and in communities across the United States. We work through political channels on behalf of the following biblical values: peacemaking, hospitality to strangers, care for creation, and concern for people living in poverty and struggling with hunger and disease.”
At the ELCA Advocacy action center, there are links to resources for getting involved with causes such as: AMMPARO Migrant Children, Congregation-based Community Organizing; Corporate Social Responsibility; ELCAvotes!; Faith, Science and Technology; Lutheran Office for World Community; Justice for Women; Peace Not Walls; Racial Justice Ministries; and Social Issues. You can sign up to receive ELCA Advocacy News and Alerts. There is also a section on Volunteer Opportunities. If you are looking to become an advocate, or just want to learn more about these timely issues, check out the website.
Advocacy for Christians is an outworking of obedience to God, a desire for justice and compassion for others (particularly people who are poor, marginalized and vulnerable) and it is a way of pointing people towards Jesus. As Paul reminds us in Galatians chapter 6: “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
This blog is run by the council members of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Logan, UT. For more information, check out our church's website at princeopeace.org.