calendar May 6, 2012 in Assembly, Bishop messages

Plant. Water. Grow!

“This is a new season of health and vitality…for the Kingdom of God, for the ELCA, and right here in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod,” Bishop Claire Burkat said in her address to the 2012 Assembly.

“I see lots of life,” the bishop said, reflecting on her visits to congregations throughout her first term as bishop.

“I see many strong, healthy, mature plants, congregations deeply rooted in their communities that provide their neighbors with beauty and shade and food – and the Gospel. Dedicated church leaders who are busy watering and fertilizing the soil of the Kingdom, and pulling out weeds that threaten to choke off our witness to the Gospel,” she said.

“The good news we know and we proclaim is that we are nor responsible for the growth – it’s God who gives the growth!” the bishop said. “Our call is to faithfully plant, water and tend the garden, whether it is a season of growth or decline.”

The bishop urged congregational leaders to tend their local gardens with a three-pronged strategy – Plant it! Water it! Watch it grow!

Congregations can nurture growth by scattering seeds of mission:

– Confidence in Prayer

– Inspirational Worship

– Sacrificial Service

– Rooted in Scripture

– Intentional Invitation

– Generous Giving

She shared examples of congregational ideas taking root, including examples of alternate worship styles and times, including family services, Taize worship and contemporary liturgy, and sites of sacrificial services, such as Feast of Justice food ministries in Northeast Philadelphia which serves 1,500 families per week. “Congregations are serving hundreds more than those worshipping each Sunday, with the Gospel being heard and witness to the community seen in different ways,” she said.

The bishop urged leaders to share stories of new seeds taking root in their congregations at the Synod’s “root network” website,

“Nurturing these seeds for mission calls for the generous application of our four strategic directions – Forming Faith, putting Faith in Action, Connecting and Communicating with emerging culture, and Equipping Leaders to share the gospel [FACE]. And remember, you have brothers and sisters and companions in the journey,” Bishop Burkat pointed out. “How can we deepen and strengthen what our other churches are doing?”

“These times require trying new things. And any time you try something new you’ll learn something new. You may learn how to do something better, you may learn something better, you may learn what not to do the next time,” Bishop Burkat suggested. “Why does everybody need to make the same mistakes? Don’t worry about failure, call it a pilot, or think of it as research. This is going to be a planting season in SEPA!”

Bishop Burkat closed by reading from Home Missions in the Mother Synod, a1946 Lutheran publication: “‘From the practice of asking new pastors to plant congregations in adjoining areas, the Synod developed the policy of assigning missionaries to definite unchurched fields. One of the first pastors was John Stauch. In 1807 he reported that he had traveled 1300 miles in 122 days, preached 67 times, baptized 212 children, and received $42.98!’

“So stop complaining and get planting!”