What is your take away from the Synod Assembly?
by Kathye Hamm
To write to you today is hard – we just finished our first ever one-day Assembly. Together with Bishop Mark, we had our adrenalin already up for three days leading to the day of the Assembly as we welcomed, hosted and shared stories with the leaders of Taiwan Lutheran Church. Thank God we had our leaders from St. Andrew’s (San Mateo), Christ (El Cerrito), St. Luke (Sunnyvale), Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and Graduate Theological Union who showed hospitality and eagerness to learn from them and share their stories. I had them in my mind when we entered into deep reflection, celebration, and fellowship “in the vineyard” of God during the Assembly. The “soil in my heart” was cultivated more there. The three advocates for farm workers who shared about the pains and joys of walking with those who harvest the food we eat everyday stirred my soul, knowing that the fight of Filipino farm worker immigrants, just like their ancestors, is not yet over. They reminded me of Philip Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong, the first two Filipino leaders to sit in protests among farm workers, who worked with the Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. This is our inheritance.
Bishop Mark’s report got me believing that he wrote those passionate words about the challenges of racism our synod faces – but those words were written 20 years ago by Bishop Mattheis, as Bishop Mark revealed. It reminded me of an experience of discrimination which happened to me that year, 1999. Bishop Mattheis and a few other fellow pastors were there to give pastoral care to me. I would say that I was naïve then about racism, yet that year was not a year of grief, but a time of transformation for me. For I know that many have given their lives to eradicate racism in this country, my second home, even with the immigrants working in the vineyards. This is also our inheritance.
Kathleen Norris wrote, “Converting a painful inheritance into something good requires all the discernment we can muster, both from what is within us, and what we can glean from mentors. The worst of the curses that people inflict on us, the real abuse and terror, can’t be forgotten or undone, but they can be put to good use in the new life that one has taken up. It is kind of death; the lid closes on what went before. But the past is not denied. And we are still here, with all of our talents, gifts, and failings, our strengths and weaknesses. All baggage comes along; nothing wasted, nothing lost. Perhaps the greatest blessing that the religious inheritance can bestow is an open mind, one that can listen without judging. It is rare enough that we recognize it in another when we encounter it. Such people do not have a closed-off air, nor a boastful demeanor. In them, it is clear, their wounds have opened the way to compassion for others. And compassion is the strength and soul of a religion.”
The stories of the three advocates/activists teach us to not look into their family stories and our challenge of racism as defeat, but as inspirations for empowerment. This could also be our response to our church’s inheritance of racism, as in Bishop Mark’s passionate summoning. We may be tired of hearing it. We may be overwhelmed by our grief and guilt. We may be feeling not equipped at all to address these challenges. But there is power in drawing from our stories.
I have to dig deeper through the stories of my Asian ancestors in this country and this church. This is also my inheritance. I have to open myself to deep relationship and partnership with others, for many more have done this before, so together we can address this common sin. Their life’s work in mission and justice will never be in vain. This is also our inheritance.
For their work continues in our midst. The stories of partnership and mutual respect among the leaders of Esperanza (Fresno, hosted by Our Saviour’s), Christ Lahu Ministry (Christ in Visalia) and Latinx Ministry at St. Paul in Lodi are testimonies that we cannot only overcome our “painful inheritance” but that through God’s forgiveness and call to serve another, we can “convert” them to something good and healing.
I’m sure you have more take aways from the Assembly, including those things we can still improve in preparing for gathering God’s people. But this is one – an opportunity to be both challenged and inspired so that we can convert those painful stories to stories of power and healing and stories of transformation – be it in relationship building, our Christian witness, stewardship of the creation and our financial resources, and in celebrating and selecting our leaders. Our work today will be our inheritance to the next generation.
So what are your take aways from the recent Synod Assembly? How can they impact the community and neighborhoods you serve for the months and years to come? What are “our talents, gifts, and failings, our strengths and weaknesses” that we have been blessed with, and can we draw from them to “convert painful inheritance to something good?” How could we as a church together be able to respond to the work we are called to do in God’s vineyard in the towns and cities where we are planted?
Pastor Tita Valeriano, Director for Evangelical Mission and Assistant to the Bishop
April 23, 2019