Why Jesus Matters
by Kathye Hamm
This is the original sign of Christ Lutheran Church in Baltimore that read “Every Seat Free. Everybody Welcome.” For them this invitation is timeless and true since 1887, their founding year to serve the English – speaking Lutherans in South Baltimore. Pastor Sue Tjornejoh, Christ Senior Pastor, welcomed more than 300 mission developers and leaders passionate about mission, mostly Lutherans but joined by our full communion partners like United Church of Christ and The Episcopal Church. We gathered for the Congregational Vitality Event around the theme “Why Jesus Matters: Journey to the Heart of the Gospel ” grounding ourselves on Paul’s admonition “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.” (Romans 1:16).
Growing up in the Philippines and now here, this question and scripture verse shaped my faith expressions and spirituality. I vividly still remember as a teen-ager leading vacation bible school in remote mountains with the indigenous nomadic tribes, or holding worship in the middle of fishponds for those whose lives dependent on them. But I also experienced challenges along the way, as I moved to different cities and countries and learned more about the life of those in the community. Questions around faith and justice, wealth and poverty, secularism and sacred life, evangelism and colonialism, prejudice and freedom, private and public faith, community and individualism were some of these challenges I was invited to face in Christ so that my faith with others would grow deep, wide, high and low. I am sure that you have more to add to this list. But I would say that this journey continues for me, as I listen around our synod and churchwide. We are church together, so I know we walk together side by side with Christ, patiently listening to our fears and joys until we break bread and know him more deeply. So Why does Jesus Matter to you and you community?
I have conversations around our synod about Congregational Vitality and I hope to continue to do so. One of the things we were reminded about again at the event was that Congregational Vitality is not a churchwide program in order to “save” our denomination. It is also not a particular model of congregational life, or the major tool for growth and evangelism. It is not only for smaller congregations. Congregational Vitality is a lens, a means or even a number of signs of God’s movement in the body of Christ individually and collectively. There is no one way to be vital, but there are journeys already undertaken, and over and over offered to us in Christ. And if fullness of life is God’s promise and gift in Christ, life-giving communities of Jesus are a way of life as well.
At this meeting, I was blessed to accompany some of our new Mission Developers (who are trained in two parts), lay leaders in new mission congregations, and some leaders/pastors who are facilitators in one of the Specialized Learning Tracks. We always gather for a meal, to know each other more and share what we are learning and facing in our respective, very diverse mission fields. I invite you to pray for our mission congregations/new church starts and those congregations discerning their congregational renewal/vitality journey – for their leadership and communities around them. Download the Mission and Evangelism Brochure for a list. Your community may be one of them! Please pray as well for our Witness Discipling Team and Synod Staff, who support and guide our ministry together on Congregational Vitality.
I hope to continue to have more focused conversations and discernment with you on Congregational Vitality. I would be grateful to receive questions, testimonies, stories of hope and invitation to visit as we live out God’s gift of fullness of life.
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