3 When I called out to you, you answered me. You made me strong and brave.
~Psalm 138:3 (NIRV)
When I pause to reflect on the last few months—the beginning of my ministry with you all as well as the beginning of my time serving as a pastor—I am grateful, honored, and inspired. Your stories, individually and together, are indeed a witness to God! As we continue to journey together as the people of God united in shared ministry through our Harvest Ministry as well as in our individual congregations of Salem Lutheran and St. John Ev. Lutheran, I invite you to continue to share those stories of faith, lament, grief, and thanksgiving. I also invite you to participate in the creation of your congregation’s ongoing story and journey as a people of faith.
As a former hospice and hospital chaplain I have witnessed the amazing and life-giving transformation that occurs when humans are not afraid to die. I have witnessed restored relationships, peace beyond explanation, pure love, and great faith. A life limiting diagnosis is not the only way this transformation happens, and many of you already experience this paradox of living fully while being accepting of death. It appears that death’s power disappears with the fear and allows us to fully live into our identity as beloved children of God.
Each congregation is itself a body of Christ even as all believers together are the full body of Christ, and as such I wonder what we could do communally when the fear of death (or failure) is removed. I invite you to ponder this with me and with one another as we begin the process of discerning our mission in this time and place(s) as the people of God.
I hear your sense of loss in many stories, and I do not want to minimize that moving forward as part of a shared ministry may have felt like a death of sorts. Our lives contain many mini-deaths even before our last breath on earth. We attempt to put happier words on it, but even positive changes can involve losses. I also hear the gratitude and great faith in your stories.
Just as a dying person discovers they have great agency, so too a transforming church may discover that they are indeed not dead yet! Or, possibly in the midst of the storm of change there has been a death or sorts, and as death and resurrection people we look forward in the hope of Christ to the resurrection work God is doing here and now.
Rachel Held Evans in her book Searching for Sunday, declares “death is something empires worry about, not something that resurrection people worry about” and she also reminds us that “no step taken in faith is wasted, not by a God who makes all things new.”
The Congregation Vitality process is one possible opportunity for us to prayerfully discern our steps forward in faith at this time even as we wonder what God is up to in our congregation and our communities. Whether we are led to participate formally in the Congregation Vitality process at this time (or in the future) or not, we go forward together in firm faith that God goes with us.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Tami Groth