Called Forward Together into Questions, Part 2

A few weeks ago, Dave began to address the ELCA’s document entitled “Called Forward Together in Christ.” I then made my own post, addressing the questions from the document. Having already looked at Questions 1 and 2, we will be looking at Questions 3 and 4 now.

Again, the questions put to the Body of the ELCA are:

1. What is distinctive about our identity as Lutherans?

2. What kind of Church do we believe God is calling us to become?

3. How do we become an inclusive, diverse church that is inspiring and relevant in different communities?

4. What is God calling us to do in a world that is facing unprecedented levels of poverty, conflict and violence, inter-religious tension, and massive displacement of people?

5. What do we expect from our church leaders? How do we recruit, invest, and support them to lead this church into the future?

6. Will our current structures serve the church well into the future?

Here we go…

 

3. How do we become an inclusive, diverse church that is inspiring and relevant in different communities?

This question, of course, assumes that we want to be inclusive and diverse as well as inspiring and relevant.  If I were part of a church that didn’t want to be any of those things then this question would be, sadly, moot.  That’s a terrible thing to say, but it’s true.

Fortunately, I am not part of a church that doesn’t want to be inclusive and diverse as well as inspiring and relevant.  We want these things.

So, with that being said, I think that this question has to be answered locally.  I think that context is the key to this question and many of the questions that follow.

First off, this would be the death knell for “top-down” answers.  For example, I was a guest at an event that was put on for another denomination.  At this event, their national staff told these brothers and sisters that they should not, for any reason whatsoever, drop the the recitation of the Nicene Creed from their weekly liturgy.  Now, of course, the Nicene Creed is a wonderful thing, when you understand it.  It’s an important part of Christian history, but is it always necessary in worship?  (Also, does that denomination really need to have national-level folks whose job it is to fly around and tell other brothers and sisters that the Nicene Creed is absolutely essential?)

If one were in a context for young adult ministry, such as in a “town-and-gown” situation (meaning that your church is in a small city that has a college), would one want to always use the Nicene Creed?  Would that always work or make sense?

Or, as with our context in a situation of poverty, would I really want to try to make people who struggle with reading get through the entire Nicene Creed?  Wouldn’t that just be excluding and a little cruel?

It’s my sincere belief that “top-down” answers won’t work.  I believe that these things have to be fought for locally and contextually.  We can’t expect the people in the higher levels of the church to solve these problems for us.  They can’t, and they shouldn’t.  They have other matters that only they can handle, such as disaster relief on a major scale and international matters of mission.  So we have to do the work contextually and locally as best we can, which isn’t to exclude them or anyone but which is to say that the metaphorical plant has to take root on the ground.

So, for instance, to increase our relevancy and inclusivity and diversity and inspiration here, I know that we have to consider people’s reading ability.  Many of us here depend on the casual register heavily.  The language of worship has to come down.  It has to leave the formal register.  Sometimes, it is only in worship that it strikes me that this or that word was a poor choice because the word was not as centered in the casual register.  I have to do a better job of getting to and staying in the casual register in this context.  For others, that may not be the case.  For a church next to Harvard, maybe, you might want to use all sorts of formal register and complicate that language up.

With that being said, I can’t answer this question beyond my own context.  I can, in taking stock of the social reality of our context, find a way to address the question, but to answer the question completely, to try to solve the question like it is a math problem, I can’t do.

I think that’s enough on Question 3 for now.  Onward to Question 4!

 

4. What is God calling us to do in a world that is facing unprecedented levels of poverty, conflict and violence, inter-religious tension, and massive displacement of people?

If I had to take a stab at this question, I’d say, “Follow God into those situations.”  That would be the easy answer.

We’re already doing so many of those things as well.  It is easy, I think, to feel down about our efforts because the world just keeps hurting, even after someone has shown up to do ministry.

Yet, we, as a Church, have some very great congregations and relief organizations that work with people who face poverty, violence, and displacement of people.

Could we do better?  Always.  And if not then it makes sense that we should always try to do better anyway (if that makes sense as I have stated it).

I think that we, like most of the social service organizations that I know, have to be committed to refining our approach.  We also always have to refine how well we bring our faith into the situation, which is where we depart from most of those social service organizations.

As a whole, however, I feel good about the ELCA’s ministry in these areas (with the exception of inter-religious tension but only because I’m not as aware of what sort of work people in our church do in that area).

Contextually, though, I would say that God is asking my people and I to keep advancing in the type of service we provide in our community experiencing poverty.  We have been, for example, evolving an Adult Empowerment Program.  We have come a long way with the program in the timespan of nine months.  We have encountered new problems, found better ways of doing things, and have reached a place where, for the moment, we feel good about what has developed.  I am hoping that, in this area and several others, we can continue to develop and evolve and grow.

But, to zoom back out to the larger picture, in the church as a whole, with several ministries taken into account, we have many things of which to be proud, such as Welcome Church and Chicken Coop Church and L.I.F.E. Ministry at Living Gospel and many others.

May we all, locally, get as excited about what we do as the above-mentioned ministries are about what they do.  (And if you are unfamiliar with those ministries, I invite you to take a moment and, instead of reading the rest of my words here, look them up on the internet.)

 

Anyway, that’s probably enough for now.  I hope to answer the last two questions sometime soon.  Thank you for taking the time to read these rambling thoughts about the questions of “Called Forward Together in Christ.”  I hope that something here was of use to you.

 

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