May 12, 2015

Bouman Shares ELCA Story

“When I was a young boy, I once went fishing with my grandfather in northern Wisconsin,” began the Rev. Dr. Stephen Bouman, and at one point his grandfather simply said, “‘the only death to be afraid of is already behind you in baptism’…and then he went back to fishing.” With that reflection Bouman, executive director of the Congregational and Synodical Mission unit of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), began a churchwide update to the Assembly.

Bouman related the comment from his grandfather to John 5:1-9, where Jesus asked the man at the pool at Bethesda, “Do you want to be made well?” He suggested the church needs to be asking that same question of itself. With the Forward Together in Faith initiative, he believes the synod is saying “Yes,” and, like the man at Bethesda, Jesus is telling the church to stand up and “take up your mat.” We need the resolve to face our fear of getting up, to get in touch with our own anger, remembering that anger comes from the Norse root ANGR, which translates to grief “over what used to be but is no more, a holy longing to be made well; a cool anger that drives us to ask if we really want to be well made.”

“Where is the holy anger?” he wonders, when 60,000 children cross our southern border, and related his travel to Texas to help care for some of those children. He noted that some, like the synod, already are facing their anger and fear, and there is proof through Forward Together in Faith that we are already getting up, doing things together, and our brothers and sisters in the wider church are ready as one church, one body, together in one Lord, to aid in the effort.

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Bouman, executive director of the ELCA Congregational and Synodical Mission unit, addresses the 2015 Synod Assembly.

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Bouman, executive director of the ELCA Congregational and Synodical Mission unit, addresses the 2015 Synod Assembly.

The wider church benefits from the synod, and he thanked the synod on behalf of the ELCA and Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton for the synod’s support of the churchwide organization, which amounts to 50% of the mission support offered by congregations. We are interdependent: The ELCA supports congregations in the synod through the Mission Investment Fund while the synod supports wider church initiatives including ELCA World Hunger, Lutheran Disaster Response, and the ELCA Malaria Campaign. Of the 53 new congregations and 363 new ministries under development across the ELCA, he cited a number that are happening in the synod (Welcome Church, Living Gospel Ministries, and Rhawnhurst Turning Point), as well as a number of renewal congregations, examples of innovation and learning of the whole church together.

The ELCA is only as strong as synods…which are only as strong as the congregations…which are only as strong as the believers within them. “Resurrection is the energy for rebirth in this life, and for this mission, Jesus Christ has the church,” Bouman said.

— John Kahler