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May 30

Pastor's Minute

We Are Church Together

This Saturday, voting members from the congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in the Metropolitan Washington, DC area will gather for an annual synod

assembly – a whirlwind business meeting with worship and informative workshops on issues of our day. Our synod consists of 73 ELCA congregations and worshipping communities in the District of Columbia, northern Virginia (Arlington, Fairfax, Prince William and Loudon counties), central Maryland (Montgomery, Prince George’s, Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s counties) and Bermuda!

Four of us from Good Shepherd (3 lay members and myself) will be present – and we ask for

your prayers that the Holy Spirit will fill us and the assembly with wisdom and understanding,

counsel and strength, knowledge and fear of the Lord as well as joy in his presence.

Perhaps you’ve heard this many times and it’s just common knowledge for you. Or maybe you are new to Good Shepherd and to the ELCA. You may have had a long absence from the church and it’s different from when you were “growing up”!

But there is a lot of confusion or misinformation about how we see ourselves as “church in

America” and the way that we organize our 8,000+ congregations in the US, Bermuda, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and the US Virgin Islands.

When one says “church,” the image that comes to one’s mind is likely that of an individual

congregation in a physical building in a specific community, as is Good Shepherd in

Woodbridge. Each congregation (with some historic exceptions) owns their property and call

their leaders – both rostered (clergy) and lay. But when we in the ELCA speak of church, we

envision ourselves as more than an individual congregation – we see a three-fold expression of church as an assembly of the body of Christ whenever and wherever we gather – as a

congregation, as a synod and as a national church body.

A synod (pronounced “sin’-ed” and comes from the Greek words syn meaning “with” and hodos meaning “way” or “road”) is a regional collection of congregations (called by some as a “judicatory”) overseen by a bishop. The ELCA has 65 synods, ranging from 30 congregations to 300! 64 of the synods are geographically defined (i.e. Metro DC) and one is affiliative (the Slovak Zion synod) carrying on a non-geographical distinction from previous church bodies.

Synods elect their own bishops and lay leaders, who have limited power of oversight but much influence.

Every three years, representatives of the 65 synods of the ELCA gather for a Churchwide

Assembly (CWA) – a week-long business meeting/educational opportunity/frequent

worship/local service/relationship building that deepens our connectedness as a church body in (and not of) America.

This idea that the church is fully present in any of these three settings (congregation, synod,

churchwide) is a unique understanding of what it means to be the body of Christ. That in either of these gatherings, our Lord is present as promised and the Holy Spirit is at work among us.


Pr. Mark


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