Month: October 2016

The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty;

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

[Psalm 90:10a, 12 ESV]

“What gives you hope?” the young pastor asked.

Without hesitating, I shot back, “You! And young pastors like you.”

I was speaking to a group of our rostered ministers at one of our annual conference gatherings, and as our question-and-answer session wound down, I was extremely thankful for the unsolicited opportunity to expound on one of the priorities of my office.

Ordination, August 27, 2016

Ordination, August 27, 2016

I give thanks to God daily for the half dozen pastors we have ordained and those who are otherwise new to our synod since I was elected to this office. I may be putting pressure on them by stating that I am pinning my hopes on them to change the culture of our synod and the attitudes of our leaders.

I don’t think I’m being unrealistic. We serve a God who is so amazing, so loving, so lavish in abundance; yet a week doesn’t go by in which I am not challenged by congregations and individuals alike, who are unwilling or unable to believe that.

We tend to get beaten down by the difficult realities of life, by the aging and apparent decline of our parishes, to the point that we fail to see the joy of the possibilities that surround us.

Yet when I am around the newer pastors, I see gleams of hope and opportunity to strengthen the mission and ministry of that down-in-the-dumps mindset that has taken hold of a number of those among us called to lead God’s people and “proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” [1 Peter 2:9b]

With Latino TEEM candidates at PLTS.

With Latino TEEM candidates at PLTS.

In the past month, I have visited two seminaries and one of our Lutheran universities. I have come away from those visits buoyed by the enthusiasm and optimism of the students I’ve encountered there. I am still inspired by the fervor of the ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit in 2015. Although that seems like an eternity ago, it fueled my passion for the newness and regeneration that these youngsters can bring. I look to the future with confidence and anticipation, despite the gloom that permeates the atmosphere of our church body.

As I enter the 73rd year of my life, one would think that I would consider slowing down, taking it easy, and settling for whatever the prevailing position may be. I emphatically reject that. I feel called to be in a constant state of reform. Perhaps it’s because I was born on Reformation Day.

I surprise myself when I ponder the fact that I’ve lived this long. The years have truly flown. I don’t know what 72 is supposed to feel like. There are days when I feel spry as a puppy and other mornings when I wake up and I feel every bit as ancient as the pyramids – the soreness, the slowness, the achy creakiness.

People my age are supposed to be retired, enjoying the so-called “Golden Years” on the golf course (even though I don’t golf), going on cruises, sitting on the back-porch sipping coffee and reading.

But I sense that God did not call me to this office at an advanced age to display “a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” [2 Timothy 1:7]

That is why I maintain the schedule that I do.

God has been good to me. As long as God gives me breath, and with God’s help and guidance, I will serve in this office with passion and purpose, with joy and exuberance, with obedience and gratitude for all the blessings that I have received.

And I pray:

Lord, sustain us, your servants, with the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever. Amen.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

[Matthew 17:4 NRSV]

delivering-the-keynote-address-pltsOn October 5, 2016, I had the distinct privilege of giving the keynote address to the Fall Conference of the Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM) Program at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (PLTS) in Berkeley, California.

TEEM is an alternate route to ordained ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for people identified to provide pastoral ministry to emerging ministry contexts throughout the church, or to underserved communities, which include ethnic, multicultural, rural, inner city ministries and ministry with deaf communities.

Having entered ministry through the TEEM program, I have become somewhat of an anomaly in the church in that I was the first person to emerge from the program to be elected bishop. I’ve stated before that since becoming bishop in 2014, it seems that more people than I could ever imagine are interested in hearing what I’ve got to say. Two years into my call I am still somewhat surprised by that experience.

The theme for the conference was “Theologizing for the World.” The title gave me the latitude to take the address in multiple directions. Even though it was a keynote and not a sermon, I used the call to Abram, as found in Genesis 12, as a scriptural springboard. It is my conviction that the story of the call to Abraham offers us a lens through which we can understand our relationship with the living God. It is a reading that resonates with me on several levels. First and foremost, it is a call story. And I feel any talk of theology must start with a discussion of call.

As Abram was called and obeyed, I reminded the students that in much the same way, their candidacy for ministry in the TEEM program was God’s idea before it was theirs. None of us are where we are because we choose to be in that particular place. God calls us in the waters of our baptism to serve, to be a child of God, to become a member of a royal priesthood, a holy nation. It is my hope that my words inspired the students.

presiding-at-worship-pltsI was also honored to preside at worship at the Chapel of the Cross, a Eucharist service that was organized by a group of students from the seminary community and at which the Rev. Shauna K. Hannan, Associate Professor of Homiletics, preached.

After a potluck lunch, I was treated to a tour of the campus by the director of the TEEM program, the Rev. Moses Penumaka, and accompanied by our Northeastern Ohio Synod Director for Evangelical Mission, the Rev. Terrance Jacob.

This tour was significant in that it will be most likely my first and last time ever on the Berkeley campus of PLTS. In August of this year, PLTS announced that it has decided to relocate to downtown Berkeley starting in fall of 2017. The decision puts PLTS closer to social and civic life, closer to public transportation, to become not only in but also of Berkeley.  It will be a 15-minute walk to Graduate Theological Union, a partner in the ministry of PLTS, and blocks away from the University of California Berkeley campus.

The current location at the top of the hill, with its beautiful campus with inspiring views Spanish colonial era buildings has been home to seminarians since 1952.

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Having been there for only a day, I can’t begin to imagine the difficulty involved in deciding to leave. As I observed the stunningly breathtaking scenery from the top of Sawyer Hall, I was reminded of the scene at the Transfiguration with Jesus, Peter, James and John. [Matthew 17; Mark 9]. I jokingly said to Moses Penumaka, and Terrance Jacob, “It is good for us to be here. I will make three dwellings, one for Moses, one for Jacob and one for Abraham.”

All the changes taking place in the church and in the world have had a transfigurational effect on our ELCA seminaries. They are being challenged to become creative in the ways of doing theological education in order to prepare leaders for the ministry to which Christ calls us. Pacific’s move is just one of several that have taken place in recent times. The seminaries in Philadelphia and Gettysburg announced a merger earlier in the year. A few years ago, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina, became a part of Lenoir-Rhyne University in North Carolina.

The lesson of the Transfiguration has not been lost on the leadership of PLTS. As Peter and the disciples learned, ministry happens in the valley, not on the mountaintop. I pray for PLTS and all of our ELCA seminaries; that this decision is pleasing to God and bears fruit for the future of PLTS, the church, and for the mission of God in the world.

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