calendar May 8, 2014 in 2014 Assembly, Assembly, Bishop, Bishop messages, Faith in action, Mission

Join the Conspiracy

“I want to invite you all to join a new Christian conspiracy,” Bishop Claire Burkat challenged the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod in her address to the 2014 Assembly. “What does it mean to in the 21st Century to conspire with Christ and one another to heal and bless the world in whatever ways God is leading us?”

Citing the work of Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray, who described the early church as con-spiring, or together breathing the love of God into the world, Burkat reminded the Assembly that the 21st Century church has more in common with the fledgling 1st Century believers than with the privileged 20th Century institution.

“The Spirit of God is on the move,” she said. “Let us conspire with God to heal and bless the world. Let your church be just that.”

In the wake of the Great Recession our Synod has “been being prepared for a 21st Century church that is very different from what we have known,” the bishop said. Economic conditions have forced reducing staff and prioritizing expenditures to live within a budget cut by a half-million dollars annually, empowering the deans, part-time staff and more than 40 teams and networks to share the work of our common ministry. In recent years, the Synod’s leaders have heard prophetic voices – from David Lose and Jay Gamelin to Phyllis Tickle and Brian McLaren – share visions of being church in a changing world.

Join the Conspiracy from on Vimeo.

The bishop noted that a consulting report by Kairos and Associates said that the next few years offer a window of opportunity that will determine whether we together as a Synod live into our potential to transform the church or slide into complacency. Having already done the hard work of restructuring, “we are now positioned to make the kinds of changes that will make us a more flexible, resilient organization” that can be a model for the rest of the ELCA, she said.

“We have heard you,” the bishop said in reference to the recent listening process facilitated by Kairos and Associates. “You want us to help equip leaders and congregations in ideas, collaborative partnerships and best practices to enable your faith community to bring new people into a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ. We need to develop a discernment process to help us rethink how, together, we can be vital congregations into the 21st Century.”

“The Holy Spirit is already working powerfully in our midst,” she said, citing the examples of Rhawnhurst Turning Point and The Welcome Church’s Dream Fund.

Turning Point is an outreach center for teens in grades 6-12 in Northeast Philadelphia, funded by local ecumenical partners, the ELCA and the Synod’s Fund for Mission.

“Two congregations, Lutheran and Presbyterian, prayed to God for two years for direction, and together developed a safe place where teens can learn, grow and serve,” the bishop said. In three years, Turning Point has attracted over 170 teenagers with regular weekly attendance of 50, “a group of Christian conspirators.” Unexpectedly, the volunteers have turned out to be young adults ages 18-24, who also wanted ways to practice their faith and find a Godly purpose.

The Dream Fund started unexpectedly when a man without a home or cash found a $5 bill near Logan square. “Thomas brought the $5 to Pastor Violet Little, saying ‘I found this on the street so here is my offering.’ A discussion started, and the group decided the money should be given away,” the bishop said. With an infusion of $18,000 from Pastor Little’s recent Purpose Prize award and gifts from the Synod and churchwide Congregational and Synodical Ministry unit, Thrivent, individuals and businesses, the fund totals more than $40,000.

Now Welcome Church is ready to offer $1,000 grants to congregations – but they must answer one question: What would you do to promote Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of “Beloved community” in your congregation or setting? As a sign of the new day we are in, the people of Welcome Church will read the proposals and discern what ideas make sense to people actually living in poverty.

“These are just two examples of what we can learn as we live into the reality of being a 21st Century Conspiracy Church,” the bishop concluded. “There is no shortage of ideas, love, resources or faith in the extravagant God we serve.” — John Kahler and Bob Fisher