Different, Yet the Same

Different, Yet the Same

This past weekend, I had the occasion to visit two different congregations in two different parts of our synod marking two different kinds of occasions. In some ways, they were two very different kinds of gatherings, and in some ways, they were the same.

The first congregation I visited was Bethlehem Lutheran in Sanger, south and east of Fresno. This congregation, founded in 1908, made the decision earlier this fall to close their ministry after 109 years of witness and service in Fresno County. There was no small amount of sadness among the faithful remnant of members who had been a part of this ministry, in some cases for over fifty years, who faithfully made the decision to close their congregation. And there was no small amount of thankfulness as we remembered many years of service, fellowship, education, music and worship, witness and outreach. At the end of the service, a record book of the congregation’s ministry was brought forward and presented to me as we offered a prayer of thanksgiving for all the pastoral acts offered during their ministry. This record book will be added to the Region Two Archives as a continuing witness and remembrance of Bethlehem’s ministry. The service of leave-taking (closure) was a powerful testimony to God’s grace being lived out by generations of people who, inspired and called by God’s Spirit, answered the call to offer a faithful witness of their faith in Jesus Christ.


The second congregation I visited was Miracles of Faith in Oakland, formerly known as Faith American Lutheran Church, celebrating its 75th Anniversary. Founded in 1942, this ministry has offered a strong witness to Christ in a neighborhood and community that has changed much since its founding. Miracles of Faith offers worship and music, service and outreach through a ministry that is inclusive and multicultural; it is a congregation that reflects well the diversity of the community they have been called to serve. This congregation is continually exploring ways they can invite and engage people to explore a life of faith and connect with the needs of the community around them. A part of our celebration was to give thanks for the witness that has been offered in the past, and a part of our celebration was to pray God’s blessings on their future ministry, boldly naming a goal continuing their work and witness for another 75 years. This service of celebration was also a powerful testimony to God’s grace being lived out by generations of people who, inspired and called by God’s Spirit, answered the call to offer a faithful witness of their faith in Jesus Christ.


Two very different gatherings with the same grace of God very much in evidence. God has called us to walk faithfully on all the journeys to which we have been called – “ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown… not knowing where we are going but only that God’s hand is leading us and God’s love is supporting us, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  To the people of Bethlehem Lutheran of Sanger and to the people of Miracles of Faith in Oakland we need to say, “Well done, good and faithful servants!  We thank God for your work and your witness and your partnership in the Gospel we share. Thanks be to God!”

Peace,
Bp. Mark

See more pictures from Bethlehem and Miracles of Faith on the SPS Facebook page.

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