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August 2011 Archive for Bishop's Message

RSS By: Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

Finding Faith in an Age of Terror

 

This time of year, in a culture facing terror of all sorts, many people are wanting to find faith. I think a better way to approach this is to be in places where faith can find us. I’m not simply writing to invite you to a mosque or synagogue or church – although it would be great to see you there. I’m inviting you to places where people of faith gather. And, just to be clear, those are by no means restricted to houses of worship.

 

To be sure, there are plenty of those places available. On Christmas Eve I expect churches to be full. And I expect many who will sing "Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful" will be those who are simply wanting to be faithful, if only for an hour…or wanting to be more faithful because of what they are fearing. And that will be true not only of the Lutherans I represent.

 

The faith we seek to make available to people, the faithful community we will enter, are gifts from God. This faith and these people are marked by certain characteristics we need for the common good.

 

You may know that Lutherans are completing a year of grand celebrations surrounding the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. What I am hoping is that in the coming years we will move from that historic grounding we have commemorated toward greater cooperation with people of faith in ecumenical and inter-religious movements.

 

There is a great commitment among leaders of various communities of faith to engage progressive advances at the grassroots level, to promote tolerance, and to encourage people to flourish in a new and needed age of community. The amazing strides between Lutherans and Roman Catholics point to this.

 

There is a strong desire and willingness to work on welcoming all people in a spirit of generous hospitality. As a Lutheran I can say that many of my tribe are engaged in ministry with the LGBTQ communities. In our own Synod here in Metropolitan New York, we are working to address the systemic racism which is America’s original sin. We are strongly speaking out in opposition to the anti-Semitism and Islamophobia all around us. We are engaged with faithful people in our own country and around the world in addressing the abuses of power we see every day.

 

There are remarkable efforts at offering God’s welcome to immigrants and asylum-seekers and refugees, though we certainly look for more such opportunities in the face of governmental resistance. We will work actively to participate in inclusive welcome, as our Lord Jesus was himself a refugee.

 

There are local congregations in which people of faith are welcoming people of all races and nations, one of the great gifts of the amazing communities in which we live. We are striving to welcome the stranger without fear but with the same kind of faith that our ancestors experienced when they reached these shores and were welcomed by the first nations people.

 

There is a commitment to practicing a faith that is intimately connected with "peace on earth," the gift of wholeness that is truly the meaning of shalom.       

 

There is, in our churches and in many other religious communities, a welcome to the open table of God’s Reign where all can gather together.

 

And while we do not have all the answers, of course, we are faithful in responding to the terror all around, knowing that God is with us and guiding us into a new day of faith when war and hardship and suffering and oppression will be no more.

 

This is pious language. True words. What I am calling the synod I serve as bishop to do is to put these words into action for such a time as this. And I invite you to join me as faith discovers us together again and again.

 

 

Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo

Metropolitan New York Synod

 

 

 

Remembering Dag Hammarskjöld

Aug 24, 2011

"At some moment I did answer Yes to Someone – or Something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful," wrote Dag Hammarskjöld, three months before his death 50 years ago. This week, Pastor Al Ahlstrom writes a reflection on this Lutheran diplomat, economist, poet, and mystic. Find resources and quotes to use on September 18 on the Formation blog.

Opinion and Guidance with Regard to Same-Gender Marriages

Aug 01, 2011

Opinion and Guidance with Regard to Same-Gender Marriages

for Pastors and Congregations of the Metropolitan New York Synod

 

Lutherans are always caught in the middle, living with ambiguity and paradox, seeking to be faithful to God and to others. It is part of our character, even our vocation: we are both catholic and evangelical, proclaiming both law and gospel, always saints and sinners.

 

Because Lutherans do not hold marriage to be a sacrament, though there are, certainly, sacramental overtones, in thirty-five years of officiating at marriages, I have understood my role as a pastor to be, principally, an agent of the state. I believe it could be argued from liturgical history that Luther himself would agree: marriages at which Luther officiated were more often than not held outside of the church building and then celebrated in a service blessing God inside the church building.

 

I know that many in the Metropolitan New York Synod and in the entire Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are frankly rejoicing at the decision of our State legislature and governor to allow same-gender marriage (the word used by our State’s legal linguists to capture the idea). I honor the historic understanding that marriage is between a man and a woman, but now we are being guided by our State into a more expansive use of the term marriage.

 

I think the decision of our State is a just decision which is, in my opinion, pleasing to God. But I also know that many others in our synod and our denomination disagree with my opinion. I suspect that the vast majority of our members and our pastors are in the middle, trying to discern what to do in response to our State’s decision.

 

Our Synod Council will be discussing this in the next few months. Their consideration may or may not lead to a policy statement or guidelines. I sensed a need to offer my opinion and guidance from the stance of one who daily lives with ambiguity.

 

Our social statement, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust, adopted at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, and the subsequent revision of Vision and Expectations for Ordained Ministers in the ELCA which our Church Council adopted in April, 2010, are helpful to us all while we live in this paradox. I know that many pastors and congregations in our synod are supporting same-gender couples with prayer and praise as they seek to live out their lifelong commitments. Please also note that rostered leaders who wish to live in publicly accountable, life-long monogamous same-gender relationships have been told that public accountability includes compliance with the law of the State of residence.

 

Given these facts, I want to share some guidance.

 

I believe that pastors who are invited to officiate at the marriages of same-gender couples in the State of New York should do so. I also believe that pastors who cannot, following their bound conscience, officiate at same-gender marriages should not in any way be forced to do so.

 

I believe that if those marriages are to be held in the sanctuary of the church, it should be in compliance with the property use policies of the congregation. If it is determined that broader approval is needed, there should be consent from the elected leaders of the congregation. I do not believe that it is wise to involve the entire congregation in approving this by vote. Asking for a congregational vote would (1) question the pastor’s authority to marry (as articulated in Chapter 9 of the Model Constitution for Congregations and in other parallel constitutional provisions) and (2) possibly lead to divisions within the congregation over a matter which is in essence a pastoral decision.

 

Our worship books do not offer a rite specifically worded for a same-gender marriage; in fact, the language is very much that of husband and wife, man and woman. However, because of our Lutheran freedom to adapt liturgical resources and the fact that our worship books are recommended for our congregations as opposed to being imposed, I believe it is rather easy to make necessary adjustments.

 

Please note again: this is my opinion and not the official policy of the Metropolitan New York Synod or the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As you consider my words, I ask you to remember that all of our decision-making as pastors and leaders of our congregations needs to be within the context of prayer for God’s continuing guidance, care for our local communities, sensitivity to the bound consciences of others, and loving compassion for all people.

 

The Rev. Dr. Robert Alan Rimbo

Bishop

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