calendar May 12, 2008 in News

It’s always God’s mission!

“Let’s not be afraid, and together let’s imagine a revitalization of our beloved ELCA,” Bishop Claire Burkat challenged the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod Assembly during her address Saturday morning. Update: watch video of the bishop’s address.

Appealing to the Assembly’s “missional imagination,” the bishop unveiled a set of principles developed in the first phase of the Synod’s strategic planning process, that will inform ongoing efforts to reshape the Synod for mission.

“It’s God’s mission. Jesus is Lord. The Holy Spirit guides us.”

Together, she said, “I believe we can make a difference in our witness and in the mission to which we have been called by God.”

Based on a Trinitarian formula – It’s God’s mission. Jesus is Lord. The Holy Spirit guides us. – the six principles outline foundations for ministry that are grace-filled, contextual, and responses to God’s sending action:

  • We are embraced by God’s grace
  • We are claimed, called and sent by Christ
  • God doesn’t play favorites
  • Tell it like it is
  • Right here. Right now
  • Vision and leadership required

“If there is one thing we can remind each other over and over again, it’s this: It’s God’s mission. It is always God’s mission,” the bishop said. From God’s creation of the cosmos from a formless void, through God’s call to Abrahan, to the incarnation of Christ, “mission means sending.”

“Our challenge is to be faithfully attentive to how we can align ourselves to the mission, the activity, the intentions, the future which is, and was, and always will be God’s work,” the bishop said.

In an incredibly diverse environment, in which nearly one-third of the residents of the synod’s territory are under age 20, one-in-three are persons of color or language other than English, and 44 percent of Protestants have changed denominations, Lutherans have a great opportunity to be present with new populations, the bishop said.

“This is God’s mission, and the Holy Spirit will help us reach them with our gospel witness,” she said.

“Each and every congregation and mission, like each and every Christian believer, has a particular call to God’s mission in their neighborhood,” the bishop said. “Your church might be 50, 100, 200 or even 300 years old, but the ministry challenge is right here, right now.”

Luther was the first theologian to translate the Bible into the language of the people, and the ELCA is seeking new ways to make worship and faith formation fresh and relevant to new generations, as evidenced by the ELW hymnal and Book of Faith initiative.

“Tell it like it is!” the bishop said. “We must become more skilled in the art of translating the gospel story into meaningful terms, images and symbols for our 21st Century American culture.”

“This is hard work for lifelong Christians who were weaned on church language and culture,” she said. “Most of us would prefer if so-called “seekers” would make an effort to learn our language. But it doesn’t seem likely. We need a plan B.”

While the Synod is collaborating in new ways with its staffing and volunteer structures, “we are still a church that professionalizes Christian witness,” the bishop said, calling on congregations to help believers better integrate and articulate their faith in everyday life.