A Message from Bishop Mark W. Holmerud

A Message from Bishop Mark W. Holmerud

We are very blessed to be a synod which has three companion synod relationships – the Salvadoran Lutheran Church, the Taiwan Lutheran Church, and the Lutheran Church of Rwanda. During my time of serving as bishop, it has been an amazing gift to connect with the bishops and leaders of these churches from around the world. The spirit of accompaniment has defined and enlivened these relationships, whether parish to parish or synod to synod. And in the last few weeks, that gift has become even more apparent.

I had a Zoom meeting two weeks ago with the newly elected bishop of the Taiwan Lutheran Church (TLC), Samuel Chang. I have known Bp. Chang for over 12 years – he was formerly the Director for Mission for the TLC. During our conversation, I offered my congratulations on his election, and the conversation soon turned to how our two churches are navigating the Coronavirus pandemic.

According to CNN, the government of Taiwan has done a very effective job of containing the spread of the virus – in a country of 23 million people, there have only been 500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 7 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. The TLC is now returning to in-person worship, using a number of screening protocols that are very familiar to us. Bp. Chang expressed concern about how we are doing with the spread of this disease rising for a third time across our country, as well as dealing with yet another season of dangerous fires.  I assured him we are and will be listening to science as we promote the health and well-being of all people and that we will continue to keep prayer at the center of informing our work and witness.

Bp. Chang also expressed concern for how we are navigating these divisive political times in our country. I appreciated his concern, and his assurance of prayer for the days and weeks ahead. Unsolicited, he offered that Taiwan had based its system of government on the two party system in America and that he and many others were concerned that we appear to be so divided.  It was not offered as criticism, but with some confusion, I think. His basic question was, “How did America get to this place?” I shared that this is a very complicated situation, and that the continuing prayers of our siblings in Christ in Taiwan would be much appreciated.

My conversation with Bp. Chang prompted me to contact my other colleague bishops in El Salvador and Rwanda to ask what counsel and wisdom they might have to share from their experiences of living through times of great challenge and divisiveness in their countries. What might they have to offer us as we face these divisive times? The Lutheran churches in El Salvador and Rwanda have been at the center of promoting peace and reconciliation in the wake of a revolution in the 80’s and The Genocide 25 years ago.

Here is some of the encouragement they offered:

From Bishop Medardo Gomez of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church – “It is fair to cry out for the power of God, to intervene and give wisdom to the people, so you people in the United States can make a wise election to have a fair government, human with more interest to serve in the Christian principles. Every economic and  political power exercised by people who fear and love God, will make it easier for divine grace to help the world to live in better livings conditions, where respect for human rights has a first place.”

“Actually, the United States of America is the capital of the world and a president can lead into peace or war. God bless the United States of America, we need a president who can build reconciliation, concord and peace, justice, love, truth and hope. I have always thought the church in the United States has a huge challenge to enlighten not just the government but the whole nation.  It needs a prophetic priesthood, this makes necessary and important to work for the unity, organization and education to the prophetic ministry of the various ecclesial leaders.  In that way, they can serve the people of God, not just the congregations, but the people in general…  There is no necessity to take a political position, we have advantage that if we are faithful to the scriptures we have excellent foundations, messages with the pure purpose of being God´s word.”

And from Bishop Mugabo Evalister of the Lutheran Church of Rwanda – “What helped us to reconcile Rwanda after Genocide was to remind people that we are all Rwandans using the term NDUMUNYARWANDA = means that I am a “Rwandan” apart from that bad leadership encouraged Hutus to kill their Tutsi brothers and sisters. So comparing to your current situation in America, where people are divided as you have mentioned, it might be hard in one way or another because of American “citizen’s background” where people’s classes influence division even before politics influence division. However, the Church, not only Lutheran Church of America, should stand firm and proclaim Unity and love to one another.”

“Americans should distinguish between Caesar’s and God’s thing. Election belongs to Caesar but life belongs to God and people of God.  Let people elect in peace and remain in peace, let them avoid violence. (Mathew 22:15-22) Let them know that there is neither unworthy American who deserves violence nor free American who deserves to violate others (Galatians 3:28). My brother Bishop… share with your people that we can influence our church neighbors to know that we are this salt and the light of the world. (Mt 5:14-16).”

My “takeaways” from the wise and faithful counsel of my colleague bishops is this – we do not need to accept the premise that division, fear and violence are God’s intentions for the world and the people God created.  We must, all of us, find our voice and work to promote peace and reconciliation.  To appeal to the “better angels” of our leaders and ourselves as we decry the hatred and division of white supremacists.  To continue to say with purpose that Black Lives Matter.  To call for economic justice and equity and access until all can benefit from our educational systems and the economy of this country.  In short — to stir up some “good trouble” when we are confronted with injustice, racism, and the crushing weight of poverty.  I pray all of our congregations and ministries are involved in this holy work.

As people who follow Jesus, we are called to be, as Bp. Mugabo reminded us, “salt and light.”  For the next week, I’ll be “less present” as I serve as an Elections Officer at a polling place in Stockton, from Friday through Election Day.  I will be working each day to ensure that everyone who wants to vote early and on Election Day will have the chance to do so.  Thank you for whatever ways you are working to ensure that everyone’s voice and vote is valued.  And let us be a people of prayer in these days of uncertainty.  I encourage you to join our Region 2 Prayer Vigil on Sunday evening and again on Thursday evening; information about the vigil has been sent to our synod and is below.

I leave you with the following prayer from the ELW Prayer Book for the Armed Services, a prayer I offer each morning:

“Holy Trinity, you show us the splendor of diversity and the beauty of unity in your own divine life. Make us, who come from many nations with many languages, a united people who delight in our many different gifts. Give those whom we have entrusted with authority the Spirit of Wisdom, that there may be peace and justice throughout our land. Amen”

Region 2 bishops and leaders – the Sierra Pacific, Pacifica, Southwest California, Rocky Mountain and Grand Canyon Synods of the ELCA – invite all who wish to gather for a time of prayer and reflection to join us as we pray for our nation, for those seeking office, for God’s beloved community, and for our rostered ministers as they seek to lead in their specific contexts during these conflicted times.

These livestream gatherings will be:

Sunday, November 1 – 6:00 pm PST

Thursday, November 5 – 6:00 pm PST

Note: Pastors and deacons are invited to open conversation via ZOOM immediately following the Thursday prayer service. You may register HERE.