May 29, 2015

Forward Together in Faith Launches

Are we as a synod ready to make changes for the sake of the gospel? Are we ready to network, collaborate and share ideas? Are we ready to take risks and even fail? Are we ready to equip and empower congregations? The 2015 Assembly answered an enthusiastic “Yes!” to these questions from Forward Together in Faith Chair Ellen S. Daneke, St. Peter, Lafayette Hill.

Since Kairos and Associates presented findings from surveys of synod constituents and the Assembly approved moving ahead with this initiative last year, “there has been a lot more listening, discovering and learning…so that we can live into what God is dreaming for you,” said Jeff Kjellberg, owner of Kairos. “This is not the Synod’s vision for you. This is your vision.”

The vision encompasses:
Equipping our congregations’ lay and rostered leaders for innovative risk-taking to reach out beyond their walls and making the Congregational Assessment Tool (CAT) available to all who want it.
Innovating the birth of new ministries through the Synod and through congregations listening to their neighborhoods.
Communicating our stories more effectively by improving Synod technologies that link congregational leaders and equipping congregations in social media, web and electronic communications.
Networking lay and rostered leaders in new ways, using results of the CAT and by supporting local initiatives to partner with church and community groups.
• Initiatives in these areas will take shape as funds are raised toward the campaign’s $2.5 million goal. In addition, funds raised will be tithed toward The Campaign for the ELCA.

Equipping. The Synod’s vision reflects the development of the 1st Century church, yet requires 21st Century creativity and imagination, especially in the area of equipping leaders, Kjellberg said. He described the process experienced by more than two dozen congregations so far taking the Congregational Assessment Tool (CAT), which has generated a lot of excitement. With funding from this appeal all congregations that want to will be able to use this tool. Teri Lanan of Trinity, Lansdale said that the CAT helped the congregation’s leaders understand why a capital appeal had stalled and how to readjust. Bishop Burkat said that “with the resources we raise in the next three years we will start a mission school to teach clergy and lay leaders how to take risks and to share successes and failures.” Raising additional scholarships to assist seminarians with education debt is also a top priority.

Innovating. “Innovators are willing to risk. Innovators have an innate ability to create something out of nothing,” said the Rev. Patricia Davenport, director for evangelical mission. “We are relentlessly focused on meeting the needs of people” through new Synod missions, like Living Gospel Ministries, a spiritual and helping community for formerly incarcerated persons. The campaign will help fund new mission starts and seed local initiatives. Congregations innovate through programs like Upper Dublin Lutheran Church’s God on Tap theology pub; St. Petri-Hope’s new Lydia’s Closet, which offers clothing and interview suits; and New Creation’s ministry with the poor, homeless and addicted under the bridges of Kensington. She pointed to collaboration in the Northeast Philadelphia Conference: “anytime you can get nine congregations to do one confirmation class, that is a new thing.” She noted the development of house churches and the innovative free arts and homework programs of Rhawnhurst Turning Point, a congregation/Synod/ELCA partnership. “Our young people are compelling us to (look at) the new, creative things.”

Communicating. “Fewer people (today) know what being a Lutheran is about, what God is about,” so the church must use new social media channels and devices and “figure out how to use them to share the gospel,” said the Rev. Keith Anderson of Upper Dublin Lutheran Church. The author of The Digital Cathedral said the church must find new ways to communicate to connect with people’s experience, and the process begins with listening. “The synod has been building a communications network of people in congregations to equip them to tell their stories… (and) help you listen to people in your digital and physical neighborhoods,” he said. The communications landscape is changing at an astonishing rate, said Bob Fisher, assistant to the bishop for communications. Campaign funds will help congregations to tell their stories and leverage digital media. “If we’re going to be successful in spreading the Gospel we all have to be part of telling our stories. People who won’t walk into the building on Sunday won’t follow a church Facebook page… but they know you.”

Networking. Equipping leaders, innovative ministries and communicating the gospel are woven together through networks, said Pastor Jim Goodyear from Gloria Dei, Huntingdon Valley. “Networking is a bunch of holy threads together. Often times it looks kind of messy,” he said, but “when you put it all together there is a whole lot of beauty,” he said. Forward Together in Faith will help the Synod and congregations create and expand networks, and link congregations according to shared passions and challenges. Welcome Church’s Welcome Threads project is both a funding stream and a network that includes artisans among people experiencing homelessness, a local artist and studio, and business students from Johns Hopkins. Resurrection, Yardley, pioneered the Lower Bucks Food Insecurity Alliance with other congregations, civic group and businesses. They do advocacy, prepare 500 breakfast boxes a week for hungry school children, and are committed to being a group of study and prayer. “No matter how big or how small your congregation is, together in partnership you can do more,” says Resurrection’s Diane Casey.

Prizes. To demonstrate the types of initiatives that could result from the funds raised by the Forward Together in Faith campaign, congregations represented at the Assembly could enter a raffle for one of four prizes in each of the campaign’s focus areas. Prizes and winners are:
• Equipping: Dr. David Lose, LTSP president, preaching and leading a workshop on the 21st Century church, won by Christ, Pipersville
• Innovating: A grant and support for a new ministry idea, won by Christ the King Lutheran Church of the Deaf, West Chester
• Communicating: A professional communications and social media review and advice, won by Faith, Northeast Philadelphia
• Networking: Taking the CAT and professional interpretation, won by Good Shepherd, Coatesville