There will always be Church

We have been reading lots of stories over the past 5 or so years about the end of the church. This post is a counter argument.

While it’s true that the nature or form of the church is changing, and I’ve written about that elsewhere. Click here for my paper from earlier this year on that subject. What I want to highlight here is that the tools that church world lives and breathes are needed now more than ever, and I believe will be needed in the future.

Obviously, there is a theological/spiritual/biblical understanding that the church is eternal just as Christ is eternal. But, some have wondered if the current form of congregation centered church has a future. What about social media? What about Artificial Intelligence? What about automation? Yes, these are impacting the work world, but let’s remember that ministry is really centered around somethings that can’t be automated.

Church world is built on relationships, with one another and the Divine.

Technology will continue to change the way we do things over the coming decades in ways we probably can’t even imagine. But church life and ministry will always require:

  • trust

  • people skills

  • the correct temperament

  • the ability to tell your and God’s story

  • the ability to make the case for the value of your ministry

  • communication skills

As I travel around New England, and elsewhere, what I’m seeing is those ministries that hit most of those points have vitality, energy, meaning and purpose. Some of them have lousy websites, never do Social Media but they have a vibrant relationally. They have a connectedness with both God and the neighborhood.

My point is simple, but increasingly we are distracted from this work: Go out and connect with people, build trust, engage in conversation, practice relational prayer. That’s the work that matters, and that’s why there will always be church.

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An RIC Synod

In 2001, the New England Synod became a Reconciled in Christ Synod. It was an intentional decision, not without dissent, to be a leader in the acceptance, welcome and full embrace of LGBT persons. Since then this synod has welcomed many of the finest leaders who identify as LGBTQ - both lay and clergy. I am continual impressed with all of our leaders, and candidly, could not imagine this synod without the many fine pastors, deacons, choir members, property team, Tuesday quilters, lay leaders, hunger outreach persons who make this synod so exceptional. Thank you. God has indeed blessed us by your ministry.

Today at our Synod Council, based on a prompting from Reconciling Works, we adopted updated language to our RIC synod status.

We affirm that people of all gender identities and sexual orientations share the worth that comes from being unique Individuals created by God; 

We affirm that this synod encourages all of its ministries to welcome people of all gender identities and sexual orientations into membership upon making the same affirmation of faith; 

We affirm that, as members of ministries of this synod, people of all gender identities and sexual orientations are expected and encouraged to share in the abundant life within this church, rooted in the Word and Sacraments; 

We resolve to identify as a ‘Reconciling in Christ’ synod; 

and 

We urge all ministries of this synod to affirm their welcome of people of all gender identities and sexual orientations and to make that welcome known in appropriate ways, making use of such materials that are available from Reconciling Works and other LGBTQ+-affirming organizations. 

During our discussion, one of the questions raised was whether or not we should include ‘ia’ in the ‘LGBTQ+’ We chose not to because we as a Synod Council did not believe we as a synod could honestly claim a full embrace of ia, i.e. intersex and asexual. (A helpful introductory article explaining LGBTQIA+ can be found here.) Let me be clear, it’s not that we oppose, denigrate or antagonistic this section of the full breadth of humanity. Not that at all. Rather, we were attempting to be honest. Yes. Could we honestly say that we as a synod have done the good, necessary and vital work of engaging, learning and living into this portion of the LGBTQIA acronym? We believed that we have work to do, and want to do this work. In my view, this pause, before simply adopting something we have not fully engaged would be disingenuous. As a way of indicating our support of desiring to grow in this area, we decided to add the +. It was articulated that the added + would affirm all persons as well as further understanding. This entire conversation was largely lead by younger members of the Synod Council who were thoughtful, and patient in their educating supportive older members of the council.

I will confess my own need for growth in understanding the full breadth of human sexuality. I’m looking forward to deepening my own appreciation. We are indeed, always being shaped in ways that help us grow as God’s people.

ThanksGiving

As we enter into one of the better expressions of our uniquely US American liturgies, (better than the Super Bowl) I think of several people for whom my life would not be the same. I am grateful for them, and have begun my annual liturgy of writing notes, cards or emails to express my thanksgiving.

For whom are you grateful?

Books that have changed my thinking

The original post was titled, “Books that have changed my Life,” but that seemed a little over the top. There are some 130 million books that have been published since, well, since books were published. That means my small list represents some fraction so small, that if you have a beef with my selections…go make your own more significant list. Sorry, that was a little in your face, but just trying to make the point…to each his own.

In no particular order:

Memories, Dreams and Reflections by Carl Jung. I was a sophomore in College when I took a class called the Literature and Psychology of Mysticism. We read a lot of weird stuff and we read some really holy literature. This book led me into Jung’s way of thinking about life, faith and why I do some stuff that makes no sense.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Along with the sequel, Dharma Bums, these books captured my imagination, but more than that it was Kerouac’s writing style. I’d never read something that was so fluid, so random, so full of run-on sentences that made sense. It’s been 40 years since I read these books, time to break them out again.

Selected Poems by Mary Oliver. If nature is where you experience the holy, the divine or just plane wonder, no one communicates the significance of life through the words describing the natural world better than Mary Oliver.

Leading Change by John Kotter. I devoured the whole series of his books. As a young pastor trying to figure out how to move a congregation in a direction of openness to its community, Kotter’s simple steps (but hard to actualize) were my guides.

Jesus by Marcus Borg. Despite four years of seminary education, I still lived with a burden of not fully understanding Jesus and his life & ministry. Borg explained it all here. It was clear, and fit with my both/and view of Jesus and very down to earth and somehow divine at the same time.

The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley. This book, along with the recent new version by his daughter Sarah Stanley Fallaw are insightful research on wealth. The titles may make you think I’m into some kind of get rich scheme. Actually, what these books have done, and the first one especially, is to steer me down a path of living within my means, saving and being generous. This was minimalism and FI movement before it was hip.

The Freedom of Simplicity and Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. If you want to understand and explore Christian spirituality, these are the two books to read. Both have been recently updated by the author, and I highly recommend them for anyone wanting to deepen their lives.

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. You were wondering if there was to be any fiction. I first read The Hobbit while traveling by train throughout Europe in 1979, My brother introduced me. I think it’s also safe to say, this might be one of the few times book made it into a movie with success. Though I still would have loved it if Tom Bombadell had made a cameo. :)

That’s it. What about you?

Tree of Life

Thank you…Thank you to all of the congregations, pastors, deacons and members of New England Synod congregations who addressed the tragedy in Pittsburgh, PA. Through your prayers, or homilies, or projects, or writings, I have heard from many of your valiant efforts.

This is what makes the Lutheran movement in New England stronger. It’s that we have built into our DNA a desire to be people of faith, who are engaged in our neighborhood, aware that the gospel is not a private matter but a matter of public engagement.

Lutherans have some historical reasons for embarrassment around our relations with the Jewish community. We addressed these in 1994, with our public statement regarding Lutheran-Jewish relations. See here. In recent years, we in New England have struggled with the dynamic of supporting our companion church in the ELCJHL (The Lutheran Church in the Holy Land), and challenging the government of Israel to honor it’s commitment to human rights and full democratic participation.

Yet, these have been points in a on going relationship, where two bodies are working through our relations. Just like a couple who have tensions in their marriage - they are still married. We are still married.

On Sunday I acknowledged these tensions and our desire to strengthen our relations when I went to Boston to be a part of the memorial honor the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre. The response was words of appreciation for being in this on going relationship. I also brought the prayers of all New England Lutherans to that gathering. I know many of you attended other events, and provided other vehicles of support. Thank you.

We live in a time of increasing violence. It is often spurned on by those who seem unable to respond from a place of moral courage, or those who seek to use division as a way to acquire influence or power…sometimes both.

As I said to the good people of First Lutheran in Malden, MA on Sunday morning…There is something in the human soul that seeks division and results in hatred. Yet, there is also something that seeks reconciliation, forgiveness and grace. Thanks be to God, that Jesus is all about Grace.

Not a cheap grace, but a costly grace that calls us forward, saints and sinners that we are, to be people who embody what is good, and hopeful…so that the world may know Peace.

We are Going to Bat for Hurricane Relief

The Red Sox and the Dodgers are in the World Series. Join Bishop Guy Erwin and I as we battle it out for a parallel series. We are in a competition to see who can raise the most money for Hurricane Relief work of the Lutheran Disaster Relief.

Bishop Guy Erwin and I announce our World Series for Lutheran Disaster Relief Donate here http://support.elca.org/goto/gotobat

More info in the Video below

What can Lutherans do about Immigration?

One of the many things I have learned in my time as bishop can be summarized by the Anais Non quote. “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”

Depending on ones perspective, the headline to this blog post can be read in different ways. If you have a bias toward an anti-immigration view, you can read that question one way, if you have a more pro-immigrant perspective, you can read it another way. So, at the outset let me state my bias. I am very much a pro-immigrant bishop.

But, my reasoning differs from the typical arguments that dominate more left leaning politics.

First of all, I begin with a biblical understanding based on both the Hebrew Testament and the Christian Bible (aka the Old and New Testament) You can read a summary of those lessons by clicking here. The Bible is very clear that one of our callings is to be people of welcome and hospitality to strangers, travelers, migrants etc. This lays the foundation for my views on this topic.

Second, as a person who fully acknowledges that economic life is a central and undeniable reality to how we live and move and work, I am very aware of the value of immigrants in our society. This is a perspective that is acknowledged by economists on the right, the left and the center. Immigration is a positive for the economic well being of a society. It’s not just the argument of who will pick the strawberries, change the sheets in the hotel room; it’s also who is going to be your heart surgeon, the next social media start-up founder or software developer. Immigrants come to this country and they actually stimulate economic growth for all of us.

Third, and this one is particularly selfish of me. Immigrants make our food options far more interesting. I love being in New England where I can literally travel the world with our cuisine options.

Fourth, I’m here in the US because my grandfather immigrated in the 1920’s. I’m serving in a Lutheran denomination because previous generations immigrated to this country. There are Lutherans around the world because immigration allowed for ease of transport and movement throughout the world. Immigration is who we are as Lutherans.

So yes, I’m pro-immigration. Now, I do acknowledge that a system that addresses a fair and balanced form of how immigration should happen needs to be developed. In the past, Democrats and Republicans had proposals that were discussed but never acted on. Were they perfect? Of course not. If you want perfection folks, you are going to be waiting a long time. The problem today is that while we have lots of headlines, tweets and grand standing for political gain, there is no serious desire to solve this issue. The reality is that people in power today want this to be an issue that is used for political points. The harshness and brutality of this abuse of our civic life is horrific. The ones who are suffering the most are women and children.

So, let’s get to the question of what we can do about immigration:

  1. VOTE - If you don’t vote you can’t complain. Voting is not only a right it is a responsibility. Engage, and find out what candidates say they are going to do if elected.

  2. Consider becoming a Welcoming Congregation. This means you can simply gather a couple people in your church and engage in projects that support immigrants in different ways. Some churches have sponsored refugees and immigrants, others have accompanied people to legal hearings, others have engaged in public advocacy. Want to learn more? Send me an email and I’ll connect you.

  3. Learn more about what the ELCA Lutherans are doing across the country, as well as right here in New England. Visit the ELCA AMMPARO website. We just had two educational events in Providence and Hartford on this work, and I commend it to you.

  4. Have a conversation with someone from our New England Synod Refugee and Immigration Task Force. Doreen Rinas is a great resource. She can be reach at doreen.rinas [at] gmail [dot] com

  5. Consider going me on a Companion Church visit to the Lutheran Church in Honduras. We are going in late February 19-26, 2019. This will be a chance for you to meet Lutherans in Honduras, work on some lite construction at a church, help teach a Vacation Bible School. It’s a perfectly safe way to visit this country. Join me. More info here

Immigration is a part of our lives. Let’s embrace it and find a way to make it work.

Stir it Up - The Song

Click here to listen to this original song by Pastor Mike Lembke of St Paul Lutheran Church, Warwick, RI

Mike says he wrote this song in response to my Report to the 2018 Synod Assembly. I heard this news today, and it literally made my week, month maybe even year.

The Lyrics and Chords can be found here

Stir it up (Inspired by Bishop Hazelwood’s call to Stir It Up, Synod Assembly 2018) Copyright 1993/2018, Mike’s Music

So, let’s stir it up in the Spirit’s power.

Today is the day, now is the hour; 

for Grace and truth to blaze away;

we can stand in confidence, we have something to say.

 So, let’s stir it up not just survive;

or to keep the buildings open or to worship programs and pride;

but to further the Gospel; to meet our neighbors anew.

To go out in the air; to see what we can do.

So, let’s stir it up with Jesus to guide;

we do not preach ourselves, but Him Crucified. 

We risk ridicule; we consider in prayer; 

the neighbors in need to show them we care.

So, let’s stir it up in money and time,

put plans into action; something new is no crime;

Reformation’s a word with an edge to action, 

the joy of the Lord will give us strength and traction! 

So, let’s stir it up; comfort-convict, 

convince by our actions; confess with our lips; 

that opportunity lies just ‘round the bend: 

we’re just getting started who knows where it ends.

 Pr. Mike Lembke on the left in the black shirt, playing guitar at this years Youth Gathering in Houston. His daughter, (on the right in Tie Dye T) Pastor Heidi Johnston leads singing.

Pr. Mike Lembke on the left in the black shirt, playing guitar at this years Youth Gathering in Houston. His daughter, (on the right in Tie Dye T) Pastor Heidi Johnston leads singing.

East Jerusalem Hospitals in Need of our Help

Dear Congregations, Pastors, Deacons and all of the New England Synod,

In recent days, I have read of the news that impacts our companion church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land.  Our brothers and sisters in the Lutheran congregations of Palestine are in danger of loosing medical treatmentthrough the East Bank Hospital System in Jerusalem.

The White House has made the decision to withhold $25 million from the network that includes the Augusta Victoria Hospital.  These are funds that have already received congressional approval.  

Regardless of ones political affiliation, I believe that as people of faith we must put the welfare of people, especially the most vulnerable, above politics. Therefore, I am asking you to join with me, Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, and Lutherans all across this church to write to the White House and your congressional leaders.  Ask them to reinstate the funding for East Jerusalem hospitals.

What should I write?

As a person of faith who is concerned with the welfare of all people, I urge you to call for full restoration of humanitarian assistance to Palestinians, including the release of funds designated for the East Jerusalem hospitals. 

Where should I send it?

https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/ - Note: Unless you want to receive emails daily from the White house, uncheck the box at the bottom of the contact form.

https://www.senate.gov/senators/states.htm

For whom shall I pray?

Pray for the patients, nurses, doctors, orderlies, custodians of the Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem, as well as the work of the Lutheran World Federation.

Where can I learn more?

https://jerusalem.lutheranworld.org/updates

 Thank you for your urgent attention to this humanitarian crisis, which can be averted.

  James Hazelwood +

 Bishop James Hazelwood

Embracing Stewardship DATE CHANGE TO MARCH 2019

Our Friends in the Western Massachusetts Episcopal Diocese have invited us to join them for an event on March 2019, with Chick Lane and Grace Pomroy.  If you are looking for new ways to practice generosity in your congregation, this is your best bet.  Click HERE for a link to the information and registration.

Below is a video of their presentation last fall in the midwest.

 

In Defense of the Practical Bishop

I've been enjoying a summer of reading, writing and arithmetic the summer.  In the last week I came across a speech delivered in 1962 by William F. Winter at Centre College in Kentucky. Winter later became the governor of Mississippi, and now continues his efforts in the area of racial reconciliation through a center he founded in Jackson, Mississippi.  The speech is titled, "In Defense of the Practical Politician."  It outlines an approach to politics that was challenging then, and even more so today.  Winter suggests the great value in getting things done. My favorite lines from the speech:

"In many cases, perhaps in most, the willingness to compromise involves great courage, and the more sharply defined the issues and the more deeply divided the partisans, the greater the courage that is required. Some of the most courageous public officials I know have been the quietly dedicated people of reason who have worked under the most unrelenting pressures to gain acceptance of unpopular but neccessary agreements, while bombastic orators denounce them as traitors or worse."

 William F. Winter

William F. Winter

In  many ways Winter has captured for me a central theme of what it means to serve as a bishop.  Winter had his convictions, as I have mine, but we both understand that in order to get things done there is a need to work with those with whom we do not agree.  

Compromise is not in vogue these days - in politics, religion, education, culture or little league parents.  If one mentions compromise, you are considered a whimp, or worse a shill for the opposition.  One of the most distressing comments I heard while attending a lecture this summer on the work of reconciliation and mediation was by the executive director of a midsize city.  "The process of mediation works.  The problem is getting people who are willing to participate.  Our biggest challenge is not the issues that divide us, it is the fact that people don't want to participate, they'd rather hold their positions.  And this is true all along the spectrum."

In 2014, I participated in a program at Duke Divinity school for new denominational leaders.  During the three days of learnings, we participated in a session on change theory.  THe basic idea was that people tend to gravitate toward one of three camps when it comes to change - resistance, pragmatics, enthusiasts.  In America, about 20% are resistors by nature, they just don't like change of any kind.  Another 20% are enthusiasts, they want change on a daily basis, they love variety.  But, 60% are pragmatists.  These folks want to look at the options, discover the reasons and evaluate the pros and cons, all with an eye on "will it work.?"

These seemingly random paragraphs are verses in a hymn titled "In Defense of the Practical Bishop."  While inwardly I am very much a mystic driven by intuitive expressions of God, I am outwardly a practical guy.  I ask the questions of pragmatism, what can be accomplished and how can we do it together.  On the inside I am all about the possibilities, On the outside I am all about the practicalities.

In another post, I'll have to write about the mystics, poets and prophets along with a few demons that inhabit my soul.  But, that's for another day.

Mid-Summer Night's Dream or Day Dream

I trust you are embracing the gift of summer.  Longer days, warmer weather and a slower pace.  I am about to head off for a bike/camping retreat, which will include a digital fast.  That means no social media, email, etc.  I'm bringing my bike, camping gear and some old school books - the kind with paper.

The Patient Ferment of the Early Church by Alan Kreider - I enjoyed his earlier book on conversion and this one promises some insights into the past and the present.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural history in FOur Meals by Michael Pollan - I've read a few of his other work on food and enjoyed his PBS series on eating, this one's a bit thick but hey, I've got time by the campsite.

Your Money & Your Brain by Jason Zweig -  Everyone thinks they are so rational when it comes to decision making, especially those investor types.  Zweig, who along with Ben Carlson and a few others are looking at money and investing in new ways, is at the forefront of connecting the science of Neuropsychology and Economics.  I'm interested in how this all might connect to generosity and stewardship, which leads me to this:

Great Blog post by Thom Rainer

Money is a subject too many pastors avoid—but they shouldn't. It's important to preach and teach on biblical stewardship. Today we explain seven ways that can lead to increased giving. Some highlights from today's episode include:

  • Pastors shouldn't be fearful about preaching on money or stewardship. 
  • According to some studies, giving increases threefold when someone moves from attending worship only to being a part of a small group. 
  • Consistent ministry involvement typically leads to greater giving involvement. 
  • People no longer give due to institutional loyalty—they give because they believe in the vision. 

The seven reasons we discuss are: 

  1. Pastors preach about money and stewardship.
  2. People move from worship only to small groups.
  3. Members get involved in ministry.
  4. Church leadership is clear and passionate about the vision of the church.
  5. The church has multiple channels for giving.
  6. Leadership is transparent about church finances.
  7. The church is outwardly focused.

Stay cool, enjoy your summer.  Both this blog and the Podcast are taking the month of August off.  We will be back in early September with two fine interviews with Community Organizer Patrick Spear and Mediation Guru Richard Blackburn

Two Podcasts on Climate Change

Just a brief highlight to call your attention to the two podcast interviews I did on the subject of Climate Change.  Go over to the podcast page and have a listen.  As we see these high temperatures, and more importantly receive ongoing scientific data which points to the warming of our climate, it's worth learning more about this topic and what we can do about it.

 

 

What does the Bible Say about Immigration?

People have asked me what I think about the current controversy over Immigration and Refugee Policy engaged by our current government. I decided to start reading the Bible. 

 

“I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.” Jesus the Christ - Matthew 25:45

Psalm 9:9   The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34

“You must not oppress foreigners. You know what it’s like to be a foreigner, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9 NLT)

“Is there an honest politician in the house?   Behind the scenes you brew cauldrons of evil,     behind closed doors you make deals with demons.” Psalm 58:1

"This is the kind of fast day I'm after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I'm interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes,   putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,   being available to your own families. Do this and the lights will turn on,   and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way.   The God of glory will secure your passage. Then when you pray, God will answer.   You'll call out for help and I'll say, 'Here I am.'  Isaiah 58:6. 

“Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ's law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.”  Galatians 6:1b  The Message

Jesus told a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. He said, "There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. A widow in that city kept after him: 'My rights are being violated. Protect me!' Luke 18:1

“That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence-and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself."  Luke 10:27

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2 NIV)

Turning Money into Mission

 

Just an FYI - I'd like to remind all that the New England Synod has funds available for projects related to Sabbaticals, Congregational Renewal, Youth and Young Adult and Racism & Multicultural ministry. Every year we have funds that are not awarded because people don't apply. I'm not interested in being a Hedge Fund. Let's turn this money into mission. (OK that's corny, but you get the idea) Start meeting with your leaders and discuss. Plan now to submit in the fall. http://nelutherans.org/resources/documents Then click on Grants