Always Committed to be Re-formed
by Kathye Hamm
Twenty-one years ago, on October 30, 1999 I found myself sitting in the office of The Lutheran World Federation’s General Secretary, Dr. Ishmael Noko. I was the last person he needed to meet, as most of the staff were on their way to Augsburg, Germany for the signing of the Joint Declaration of the Doctrine on Justification between the Roman Catholic Church and the LWF. We talked about the future of the church and the communion at the turn of the century from the lenses of the young adults. There were both sadness and excitement as we shared our own stories and experiences. And we were both hopeful.
The church has changed. The church is changing. There is nothing new about this, but I thought would be good to reflect upon as we approach Reformation Sunday. It’s not only during a pandemic that we grieve about the future of the world and the church. Dr. Dwight Zscheile, who wrote a challenging and informative article last year about the trajectory of our denomination’s decline entitled “Will the ELCA be gone in 30 years?” was again quoted in an article with similar questions for Zscheile’s denomination, The Episcopal Church, saying, ““At this rate, there will be no one in worship by around 2050 in the entire denomination,” as told to Episcopal News Service. I reminded myself that even though there are many factors to consider in congregational life, the statistical research strongly informed some of the comments.
As I read this recent article, that familiar feeling of sadness and excitement was there. It also reminded me that we are a church of Resurrection. Even though change is not always a welcome reality in faith communities, this is changing too. These past months, I have connected to our congregations adapting to the new reality and learning as fast as they can to keep their faith community worshiping and serving together. Many of you have extended or grown your diakonia ministry as the pandemic impacts your neighborhood. These are signs that the church is alive.
So together with the Witness Discipling Team, we wrestled with the challenge of vitality and leadership formation in the light of evangelism and God’s mission for humanity and the whole creation. Most of our conversations are centered on how to walk with existing congregations in our synod as they live and express their faith where they are planted, while confronting the “dire reality” of Christian churches in North America, we are also witnessing the vitality movement around us. We may be going through the process of grieving, and we ask, “How can this accompaniment be the stages of “upward turn, reconstruction and working through” towards new life?” How can we move from the question “How can we save the church?” to “How can we actively participate, as instruments of healing and transformation, in God’s reign ever present around us?
In prayerful discernment, the WDT gathered a new group called the ACTS for Vitality Team, who have been meeting for several months now even amidst the pandemic (via Zoom, of course). Together we have prayed, meditated on scripture, listened to experiences and mission practitioners, studied and learned new tools and best practices resources, and finally put together a journey of accompaniment for our congregations. Hopeful and excited, and in the season of Reformation as a synod committed to being re-formed, we are now ready to share and invite congregations to the ACTS for Vitality journey. ACTS stands for Adapting, Connecting/Collaborating, Transforming and Sustaining. It is also inspired by the gifts and resources of congregations around the nation in their courage and creativity, writing their own chapter in the book of Acts of the Apostles. This initiative embraces our baptismal call with resilience. My son, Taal, just reminded me today, “Do not give up!!” The Spirit has not and will not give up on us, the body of Christ.
So the WDT and ACTS for Vitality Team sends greetings to you on this Reformation Sunday. We will send to all congregations more information about this journey of hope and re-forming, and how to be able to participate. With hope and excitement, I wander what would the church look like as the Spirit reforms us?
Director for Evangelical Mission & Assistant to the Bishop
November 17, 2020
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