The Way It Looks from Here

An occasional e-letter from Peter Rogness 


Saint Paul Area Synod
105 University Ave. West 
St. Paul, MN 55103 

Find us on Facebook  Follow us on Twitter
October 19, 2012


"For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us..."

Announcement of the decision of the Jerusalem Council, Acts 15:28


How we lead in a complex and challenging time


The last parish my father served in the early 50s numbered 4,000 members. He was there for only three years, half the time as the only pastor, half "fully-staffed" with an associate pastor, a secretary, an education director, and music and custodial staff. He later observed how much simpler leadership was at that time, a time when the role of the pastor was clear-cut, narrow, and understood by all. He was also leading during a time of Christendom, when church activity was a dominant cultural expectation.


Now all of that has changed. The homogeneity of church life is gone, experimentation is expected, the folks in the pews have free rein in thinking they know what the pastor ought to be doing, and lots of people are looking for scapegoats as to why things aren't like they used to be!


So how do we lead--pastors, rostered lay leaders, elected lay leaders in congregations? A central piece of the synod's work and purpose is just such equipping for leadership. We do it constantly. To remind you of a few: our annual Toolkit for Congregational Leaders, on Feb. 23; Personnel: Law, Policy, and Practice, on Nov. 29, Re-Tooling for Transition, on Dec. 3; Jump Start Stewardship on Apr. 14; and the list could go on.


We seek to give practical help to councils and other lay leaders for their work in leadership. For rostered leaders, there is the added element of grounding our leadership challenge in a theological perspective--the Spirit's presence, the nature of the church as a body, the called role, and the whole ministry of the baptized. It's a challenge. How do we base our ministry in the conviction of God's abundance when we seem to be facing hard decisions with limited resources?


We do our best work, our very best, using our own intellect and insights and drawing on our partnership with others. And then we expect that somehow through prayer and trust the Holy Spirit finds its way into the paths we decide to take and brings light and life.


So why am I starting an e-letter that is actually a sort of compilation of several things on my mind these days? Because most have to do with the decisions we make, the roles we play, the shape of our life in responding to God's claim and God's call.


So in that context, some reflections about things planned, things commanding my attention, and things inviting your attention.


November 8 Ministerium:

Reforming the Church: Mission and Ministry in an Age of Limits

Congregations and other ministries are experiencing the challenge of tightening budgets, thinking we're mired in increasing scarcity of funds. But our theology reminds us of God's abundance, and if it isn't possible to do what we've done before, maybe that's our invitation to find new ways of being church, even at the price of letting go of some old ways.


So how do we discern and how do we, as rostered leaders, lead? Where to begin? Easy answers don't exist. No one pattern is a sure-fire success. But this synod has an abundance of leaders with a variety of gifts who warrant support, encouragement, affirmation, and the support that comes from being part of a church that draws strength and insight from the collegiality of being in ministry together. Our time together on  Nov. 8 will exercise that ministerial strength. We step forward as leaders, using our best gifts to find what it is that "seems good to the Holy Spirit, and to us."


Synods consulting

This same principle--that the church is made stronger as we share our perspectives--is behind a gathering at the end of the month when synod council members from the six synods in Minnesota will spend 26 hours  discussing the shape of synod ministry together. In the past, synods made budget, staffing, and ministry decisions in isolation, even though there are intersections in the ministries we carry out. The shape of synod ministry has remained much the same in the 25 years since the ELCA began. With the LIFT focus on the local congregation as the center of the church's mission and vitality, it's time to ask in fresh ways how we focus and prioritize our time and resources and to ponder what it is that may "seem good to the Holy Spirit, and to us."


Fanning the Flames of Mission:

A workshop on mission strategy development

The probe into the future shape of the church's life called LIFT--"Living Into the Future Together"--centered its findings on the key to future vitality in the ELCA on the vitality of the local congregation. I agree. LIFT also noted that congregations struggle to find ways to clarify the choices they face in deciding on the future priorities and focus of congregational life, but are often resting back in "the way we've done it before." So in addition to the equipping gatherings we (synod) facilitate for lay leaders, stewardship leaders, personnel leaders, and called leaders, we'll gather people to hear about some possibilities for doing mission planning and mission strategizing. We have some people in the synod who do it well. If you have people who have taken on the task of shaping your future, bring them to this Nov. 3 event at Roseville Lutheran.


Constitutional amendments on the November ballot

Let's talk about how we lead in the public arena. It's time to be reminded that our synod assembly encouraged the people of this synod to recognize the reasons to oppose both of the proposed constitutional amendments.


The marriage amendment was opposed by five of the six ELCA synods in Minnesota. As I described in my pastoral letter on the subject last spring, this opposition is consistent with both the social statement on sexuality and our policy decisions, both of which recognize we do not have consensus, believe contrasting positions can be faithfully defended, and allow space for a variety of practices. The amendment would restrict practice that some of our congregations believe is a faithful response to gay and lesbian couples in their midst.


The voter identification amendment has received increasing attention in recent weeks, including the unusual step of Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota joining to oppose the amendment out of concern for the adverse effect likely to be felt by the vulnerable populations they serve. It was for this same reason that the Minnesota Council of Churches announced this week that the leadership of the 24 judicatories that make up this body have without dissent also opposed the adoption of this amendment.  


Mission globally

Iringa. Since the communication last June that a significant discrepancy in the complex bookkeeping in Iringa was identified, we have undertaken a good deal of work to put this rich resource of mission activity on sounder footing, making sure the strength that has emerged in these past years has the infrastructure to continue well into the future.


What was ten years ago a volunteer organization that mushroomed into a $100,000-$200,000 annual ministry by 2002 has continued to grow, to use the same metaphor, into a nuclear mushroom of well over $1 million annually these past several years. It is, however, still a volunteer operation, overwhelming the original system that has been shown to be inadequate by the financial confusion that has surfaced.


Because we soon face a transition in 2014, I have gathered a group to move forward recommendations for re-structuring and solidifying in a way that seeks to lose none of the zeal and participation of so many, but provides the infrastructure, accountability, and oversight so that the partnership can continue and flourish. We'll announce our recommendation at the Iringa Fall Festival on Nov. 17 and will move it forward at the synod assembly when we will propose changes in our governing documents to accommodate this work.


Guatemala. November will also see the visit of Bishop Horacio Castillo to our synod and a festival gathering on Nov. 10. Bishop Castillo will be present at our ministerium as well and at other smaller gatherings around the synod for others who are interested.


Missionary Sponsorships. Many of our congregations sponsor individual ELCA missionaries around the world, a tradition that goes back the better part of a century. The ELCA's Global Mission unit is sending a mailing to congregations with that invitation once again, knowing that many in our synod already sponsor wonderful international mission work through our Iringa and Guatemala relationships and other ministries. This is not in competition with ongoing work, but another invitation to be part of a work that is often a sponsored project of an individual group within a congregation. This synod has a great heart for international work!


My list could go on and on. Please look periodically at our web page and the calendar of events coming up and check out the weekly News and Events prepared by Christine Fifield. I could write about Seminary of the Streets, about the anti-racism work that continues, about the St. Paul Interfaith Network dialogues with Dakota people on this 150th anniversary year of the US/Dakota war and the hanging in Mankato of 38 Dakota.


So how do we lead? Each out of our own giftedness, each out of faithful response to what the world presents, each as part of a larger whole, each knowing that we aren't alone and trusting the Holy Spirit to find its way into the paths we decide to take and bring light and life. Just like the first church council in Jerusalem: we face a hard question and make a decision to go forward saying "It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us..."


Peter Rogness


Saint Paul Area Synod  |  105 University Ave. West  |  St. Paul, MN 55103