The word on the church street is that most synod assemblies are kind of “blah” this year. For those of you who do not know, the synod assembly is a time for a geographic location of churches (or Synod) to gather together and attend to the “business” side of the church. There are resolutions made and voted on, memorials proposed, many conversation, Bible Study and fellowship time.
Before the assembly actually started, I was lucky enough to be a part of Y’ALL (Young Adult Lutheran Leaders/Links). During the assembly itself I drifted in and out of Y’ALL, spent some time participating in the assembly, hanging out with the delegates from my church and talked with people with whom I don’t see on a regular basis. I would like to share some thought about my time at Y’ALL and the Synod Assembly.
Y’ALL was a group of six young adults between Buffalo and Albany. We gathered and talked about discipleship. Two of the many eye opening moments I would like to share with you.
The first happened Saturday afternoon. We moved our discussion from who has disciple us on Friday night to how can we disciple other people on Saturday. I group of six broke up into pairs and then we thought of a list of ten things that people in the hotel or surrounding community could do for them. They started out with some easy questions (what is your name, where are you from, where were you born) and then moved to more difficult questions (can I have a dollar, will you take a dollar, can I pray with you). Being an extrovert I have never really had problems going up to people I did not know and have a conversation with them. But one of the young adults said he was more nervous doing this activity than he was going on his first date.
I gave them 30 min to complete the tasks and they all came back accomplishing their goal. Their stories were awesome. Some of them told stories about people who completely ignored them or gave them funny looks. While others told stories about people really opening up to them some people asked for prayer in their life, and they told them things that they were struggling with, things they needed help with. It was powerful to hear the stories and to see the power of conversation and prayer.
The other eye opening moment for me was our conversation with the Bishop. We cooked dinner for the bishop which included chicken parm, steamed veggies, and rice all cooked in a microwave (it was pretty good). For dessert we had angel food cake with strawberries. During dessert the Bishop answered questions we had for her. There were two categories: Serious Questions and Silly Questions. This is where I was very impressed with the group. There were questions revolving the future of the church. They wanted to know where the bishop thought that the church was headed, not only Upstate NY but the entire church. It did not revolve around the few churches leaving the ELCA because the decisions about the acceptance of clergy in same gendered relationships or the blessing of couples in same gendered relationships that the ELCA made last August. It was about mission and vision. That really warmed my heart to see these young people in our church interested in the church, the current status of the church and the future mission of the church.
After dinner I left to lead worship at my church then next morning. But I drove back to the hotel to attend the Synod Assembly.
One the one hand I really enjoyed the Synod Assembly because I felt like the assembly was all about mission and vision. In some ways the assembly seemed very “blah” because of the major excitement and passionate opinions that were expressed last year. But I loved the focus we had on business at hand and the conversations that I was engaged in did not have to do with sexuality, but mission. I really enjoyed having scripture shared throughout the assembly and I would like to share some of my reflections about the Bible studies that I experienced during the assembly.
The assembly was blessed with Bible Studies given by three very passionate yet different leaders in the church. Sunday night Pastor Chuck Schwartz and his son John started us with our Bible study of the book of Philippians. We actually discussed the entire book of Philippians over the course of the assembly. I was so glad that we started with Pastor Chuck because I love listening to Pastor Chuck, he has a passion about scripture and the preached word I would love to bring into my own preaching. The thing that really impressed me was the difference in how I heard scripture from when I just listened to Pastor Chuck tell the Bible Story vs when I followed along with Pastor Chuck as he read scripture. The major theme Pastor Chuck shared with us was how the concept partnership and sharing. Just as Paul invited those in Philippi into a deeper relationship with God and with each other, Pastor Chuck invited everyone to hear God calling them into a partnership both within their own communities of faith and with God in Christ Jesus. I liked this because I think this is a large part of my call in Baldwinsville. I am asking the people of the church, how can we dive into a deeper relationship with God, with one another and with our community.
The next day we started out with a Bible study from Pastor Dean Hunneshagen who had more of an intellectual Bible study. He posed questions to us and lead us down a road where we talked about how we are the body of Christ and sometimes we feel disconnected from that body but we are drawn back in to go deeper in the joy we find with Christ. I don’t know about you but I feel that way a lot. Sometimes I feel that way because someone said something and I questioned my faith, or why I am part of the church. Other times it is brought upon by my own internal dialogue. Whatever the reason, the one thing that brings me back is a community of faith. There are so many people who I look to when things are tough and I thank God everyday for those people.
Our third experience with Philippians was not a Bible study but a sermon. Bishop Jerge preached on Philippians during worship. She began with a narrated poem punctuated with the phrase “I know how you can get. I know how you can get when you haven’t been out drinking love,” and conversely, “I know how you can get…when you have.” This is from the book Saved by a Poem: The Transformative Power of Words. She used this imagery to depict the body and blood of Christ shared in communion. It was very powerful and moving. I know the way that I can get if I am not able to share with the community of Christ, if I am not able to share in communion with my brothers and sisters in Christ.
So we started the assembly with a Bible study of passion then we moved to a Bible study of intellect, we joined together for communion and we listened to a powerful and moving sermon and we ended the assembly with a Bible study from the heart.
Our last Bible study together was with Assistant to the Bishop Amy Walter-Peterson. I have to be honest, I don’t remember too much with what Amy said, but I do know how I felt and the others in my group felt. She got us into a place where we were able to share from our hearts, we were able to share deep inside of ourselves and I know tears were shed in many of the groups around the assembly hall.
Thank you Upstate NY Synod for a great and moving assembly, focused on God, scripture and mission.