Never have I seen so many Lutherans in one place. If I could recap the three days in one sentence, it’s this: No matter the burdens we face, our conference of 24 local congregations, and the Sierra Pacific synod share our yoke.
The 2018 Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly in Sacramento last weekend brought representatives from 192 congregations and the national ELCA and even international guests together to connect, inspire, collaborate, and elect several leadership positions. Pastor Pamela Griffith Pond, Council President Vicki Steele-Woodall, and I (member Brandon Mercer) represented Hope Lutheran Church as voting members, and Cathy Baca staffed the Hunger table. We also were represented by your incredible cookies, several dozen of which were enjoyed by the group (and a few of which were enjoyed directly by me prior to their delivery to the hospitality table).
The most inspiring moments of the assembly for me were found in the diverse perspectives of the speakers.
The most useful moments for me were found in working with our conference, the “Bridges Conference”—a subgroup of the greater synod—to discuss collaboration, mutual concerns, inter-congregational communication, and issues impacting the 24 congregations in the Marin, Napa, western Contra Costa, Oakland, and Alameda areas.
The most lighthearted moment for me came halfway through dinner on Saturday, but you’ll have to ask more about that in person.
Standing there, worshipping, debating, and sharing a meal shoulder to shoulder with so many Lutherans was proof incarnate that we have critical mass to do big things. It’s a matter of tapping into that power and those ideas to breathe life into our local vision.
The keynote speaker, Rozela Haydée White talked about who are our neighbors, and how do we see them. She’s the Houston City Director for Mission Year, after serving the ELCA as the Director for Young Adult Ministry.
In two separate sessions, we reflected at our table on questions of how we love ourselves, how we see ourselves, and how we love our neighbors, and what that love looks like. With the on-going theme of social justice, she asked what reconciling means, and how our church and our nation can come to grips with how we dehumanized another race for so much of our nation’s history. She also talked about sharing faith, and the importance of listening when sharing, not just talking. Hearing where people are and what they need, and being a church in the neighborhood.
Bishop Mark Holmerud began the final two years of his term leading our synod talking about our buildings and how we think about those resources. “We have to give up our love affairs with our buildings if we’re going to be good neighbors,” he said to the assembly, to strong applause. Think new, think big, and think beyond were the themes in his address. Look at not your church’s survival, but your role in the community, and what God can do with us.
At the table, we discussed what we value meaning what we spend our time and resources on, and how it aligns with our actual values. We brainstormed about the reasons people attend Hope, and what they want to get out of the experience, and whether we are delivering that. All good questions that we will consider more in-depth in the transition process.
THEME: We are church together. This is our neighborhood.
VERSE: Luke 10:27 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.
FULL AGENDA: (Includes resolutions, speakers, and more): http://spselca.org/assts/uploads/2018/05/2018-SPS-Assembly-Handbook_v5.pdf
Many leaders shared visionary ministries where one congregation opened its doors to feed the hungry in a big community event, but no one came in. Looking around at all the food and coffee, they decided to leave their walls, and go out in the community.
They found dozens of day laborers waiting for work at Home Depot, and stopped, and were able to pass out all the food they had right there in the parking lot next to the big orange building.
They said, well, that did some good, so let’s try it again.
So they did.
And the men looking for work asked if someone might pray with them. So they did.
And they asked, might they share communion. And they did.
And might they sing a hymn. And they did.
And today, that group is now meeting every Sunday as its own organized and recognized congregation of the ELCA.
Sunday morning, brought three courageous women to the stage, each sharing what the “Justice for Women Social Statement” meant to them. (Join our own discussion of it at 8:30 a.m. June 10th, this coming Sunday.)
A friend of mine, Rebekkah Turnbaugh from St. John’s Lutheran Church (the congregation Adriane and I transferred from), shared poignant words about her conservative father and his vision for her life to grow up and become a mother and wife. Watch it here or read on https://youtu.be/zgehyuii3Y0?t=2069
Growing up in a strict Calvinist home, Rebekkah had been taught that a woman’s place was to submit to her husband, and focus on the family. The challenge for her as she reached adulthood was her father’s concern that she could never realize that role.
She was different. Rebekkah uses a wheelchair after being paralyzed as an infant, and her father worried she would never find a man who would take her. This pivotal moment shaped who she became, as she was so much more than a future wife or future mother, but rather an intelligent, fierce, independent, and powerful woman on her own. She reflected on her experience as being “infinitely a woman,” “consciously white,” and “healthfully a person with a disability” because her body is not sick not in need of healing.
Our very own Pastor Pamela led a workshop called, “So your pastor is leaving,” which I was eager to attend. In it she and the other ELCA interim pastors shared some of the process and reasons for the transition period before putting out the call. I’d read this before, but it took on new meaning now in the context of our work at Hope and our future.
— Brandon Mercer