Tag Archives: ELCIC

Go over to this chariot and join it – Electing a Bishop

*This is the reflection I shared during Saturday Morning Prayer at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada’s Manitoba Northwestern Ontario Synod’s 17th Biennial Convention. The delegates were in the process of electing a new Bishop, and later that morning elected an excellent candidate (and good friend of mine) the Rev. Jason Zinko. *

Acts 8:26-40

26Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30So Philip ran up to it… (Read the whole passage)

Go over to this chariot and join it.

How very different are the words given to us today by the reading from Acts and the reading from 1 John. 

Go over to this chariot and join it. 

A command. An oracle of the divine. A word sent from on high to stir our hearts, to get them beating a little more quickly than we like given to us in the story go Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch.

And then First John’s gentle reminder that: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear,” sounds so very different, almost alien to God’s command today. 

Go over to this chariot and join it.

And yet they both speak directly to our worries and anxieties. 

It is almost as if God likes to mess with us. 

The spirit is causing us anxiety today and we know it, we feel it. God’s call is just as often jarring and terrifying, as it is a gentle summons whispered in our ears. 

The spirit is poking at us right in that spot where we would rather that God didn’t. Right in the place where we are vulnerable and soft, right where we know that this is going to cause us to give up comfortable, familiar, stable, low-risk ways of following that we would rather cling to. 

There is no going back anymore, there is no reaching and longing for the past anymore, the glory days are not here again, the chariot that the spirit is pointing us to is not the one with well worn imprints of our behinds formed in its seats. 

Go over to this chariot and join it.

For the past six months in the Interlake, 5 Lutheran congregations and one Anglican parish have been journeying towards formal shared ministry by trying out shared Sunday services. And this has meant that most Sundays, I have been at different churches than the ones I was in the week before. 

A couple of months ago, I brought my daughter Maeve with me to Teulon and Arborg for the first time. Maeve is not quite 2 years old and of course isn’t ready to be left alone while I preach or preside.

When I got to Teulon and began getting ready for worship, both Maeve and I were apprehensive. She knows all about church, but this was still a new place and new people. And I didn’t have our reliable surrogate Good Shepherd grandmas, I needed to ask new people to sit with my daughter during worship. 

Yet, before I could figure out who to ask to sit wit her, Brian came into the office to say hello. Then Brian introduced himself to Maeve and invited her to sit with him. And with my relieved consent, Brian took her by the hand to go find a place to sit. And throughout worship, Brian, and his wife Lois and a few kids from the congregation, sat with Maeve, letting her know that she had a place with them. That she was welcome.

Of course later that morning the same thing happened in Arborg and then again the next week in Lundar.

Go over to this chariot and join it.

Oh, how we wish that the spirit had our familiar, comfortable, known chariots in mind. Oh how we wish that “chariot” was a euphemism for glory days, and “ join it” meant that things are going to be easy. 

But is not easy to follow that command, to just get up and go to the next thing leaving behind all that is familiar and comfortable. Nor is it easy to be ones that God is sending someone to. 

But here is the thing. Maeve and my son Oscar… and even my wife Courtenay and I and other young people don’t remember the glory days… that familiar chariot is not familiar to us, we are often Ethiopian Eunuchs in a foreign land. And the church as it is now is the only chariot we have ever known. This chariot has always been aging and declining. Budgets have always been tight, and there are usually lots of empty pews to choose from in worship.

And this church as we are now is the church that we love.

This is the church where the spirit has sent Philips to welcome my children and bring them by the hand into community. Philips who are passing on the faith to them. Philips who sit beside them to hear the Word anew, who are welcoming them at the baptismal font and showing them a place at the communion table. 

The chariot that the spirit is pointing us to now, the chariot that the spirit is pointing a new Bishop among us to, the church that we are in this moment is the one that God is calling us to be. 

Go over to this chariot and join it.

This morning God’s word for us might be uncomfortable, and might cause us anxiety. And we might wonder just why the spirit cannot leave us alone and let us be…

Because that is now God’s way with us, because being left alone and let be is not what we need. 

The Spirit is calling our anxious hearts to Go over to this chariot and join it, because it is in this new chariot, in this next step and this new calling to new ministry will be found the good news of Jesus Christ, the spirit’s gift resurrection and new life given for Philip, the Ethiopian Eunuch and given for us.   

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Trying Not to Burn it Down: Managing Change in the Church

20130701-143707.jpgYesterday was my 4th Anniversary of Ordination. Yes, as a Canadian, it is hard to share that day with the Americans, but it is still also my day.

In 4 years,  I have served 3 congregations. I love all 3 in different ways. Each has taught me different lessons. Each was a place to express my vocation to pastoral ministry in different ways.

With 4 years under my belt, there are a few things I am beginning to notice that seem to be common across the church (ELCIC for my experience). Throughout seminary I remember being warned, often, with this message: “You can’t make too many changes in a church”. “You only have ‘3 Blue chips’ or 3 big changes in a ministry – Use them wisely”. “You shouldn’t do anything new for 6 months.”

Often, congregations seems to give the same message. “We do things this way”, “This is how we do things around here”, “We have always done this”.

There are 2 things that this advice has taught me:

1. We are really good as churches and pastors at not rocking the boat. We were trained in seminary, and then we reinforce in our people a fear of change. We often seek to maintain the institution and we are suspicious of new things. We have been experts at “not burning down the church”. We are great at making sure everything stays safe, the same and in place.

I am just as guilty as anyone of over preparing my people for change. I give lots of advance warning. I tell people we are only “trying” something. I say it won’t be as painful as they think. All this for ideas and new things that I think will be great and go well!!!

Now before I get too cynical:

2. The advice on change is wrong. While I hear the refrains against change, they are the most hollow phrases that people seem to utter these days. Congregations are desperate for new things, desperate for things to be different than they are. And despite the advice, amazing things, Spirit-led things are happening all the time in little corners of the church everywhere.

Some of the best changes that I have made in ministry, are things that I didn’t ask permission for, that I didn’t forewarn people of and I just did. And they worked great!

The vast majority of changes I have made in parishes happened in the first year of ministry (well, I have only had a first year in two of 3 congregations). The opportunity for change seems ripest before established patterns and expectations are set between pastor and congregation.

Now, The National Convention the ELCIC and General Synod of the Anglican Church in Canada, are meeting in “Joint Assembly” this week. The ELCIC is considering how to move forward with Structural Changes that will help us “right size” for the future. The conversation has been going on for years, and the national plan for Synods has been rejected, in part, along the way.

From my vantage point, the ELCIC seems a little dazed and confused, particularly the National Office. I can’t really tell what the plan is going forward.

But if I can offer a theory.

As restructuring has been presented, skepticism has abounded (my own included). We have sounded like any parish, “That’s not the way we do things around here”. But the opportunity for change is probably as high as ever. We are all wanting something different than what is.

And not to sound critical, but merging synods, creating areas and making national convention every 3 years instead of 2, if it were compared to the parish level, just feels too much like cutting the copier budget, installing a high efficiency furnace and publishing 8 newsletters instead of 12 a year. Yes, this will all save money, and probably even help the environment, but it does not feel like real change.

I think if the changes were more dramatic, more sweeping and more outside the box… they might actually have been received with more enthusiasm.  The ELCIC is “re-structuring” itself into the ether of irrelevancy.  It feels like we are trying to maintain our institution, even if it is a skeleton crew. We are answering the question, “What can we still do with less?” We have not seemed to asked the question, “What do we actually need for ministry as Lutherans in the Canadian context? And what resources do we have to do that ministry?”

Now is the time to dream big, or not at all.

Or in other words, maybe we need to burn down the church?