What is that?
Nov 06, 2018
“What is that?” one of my fellow synodical vice-presidents asked last week.
We were at ELCA churchwide offices in Chicago, attending the annual gathering for all vice-presidents. I’d been upstairs in the ELCA Secretary’s office, discussing topics particular to Metro New York, so I showed up (late!) at the VP gathering carrying my overstuffed two-inch binder.
I answered, “This is my notebook for synod work. It’s where I keep information on issues I want to deal with.”
“You’re dealing with all that?” the fellow VP asked.
“These are the most pressing issues for this month, yes.”
“Your synod must be a mess!”
A “mess”? My synod must be a mess? That seems too harsh. Let’s say instead that my overstuffed binder represents a synod that is—complicated.
It’s no secret that Metro New York faces challenges that many synods escape. Uniting worshipping communities of multiple languages. Urban property redevelopments. Honoring ethnic traditions. Receiving immigrants. Demographics that morph as housing costs soar. Speaking God’s love equally to inner-city youth and to aging suburbanites. “God’s work. Our Hands” can feel like God has placed a big ball of impossible into our hands.
Consider this: Another synodical VP asked me how often our synod council meets. Eight or nine times per year, I said. How about her synod council? Three times per year, she answered.
“Three times per year?” I exclaimed. “Can you really fit all the business you need to accomplish into three meetings per year?”
“As long as I bake cookies to bring to the meetings, everything runs really smoothly,” she said, and left me to contemplate a world in which MNYS’s healthy and engaged synod council could be subdued by the power of cookies.
That would be impossible, of course, because we are New Yorkers. We subsist on freezing winters, contentious politics, and entrenched opinions. We speak with accents. Sometimes we interrupt. Often we insist. We are passionate.
When I was trying to decide whether to stand for MNYS vice-president, I questioned whether I was really in a place to serve. I don’t live close to the synod offices. I was already running in a thousand directions. I have a family to care for, including a young son with unique needs, and I have a law practice, and civic obligations in our town. I’m an insomniac. I don’t even make it to church every Sunday! Can I really serve others, I asked myself, if my own life is so complicated?
I rejoice that the Holy Spirit compelled me to answer "YES!" to that question. When our lives are neat and tidy, do we yearn for God’s grace the same way we do when we’re living in the margins? Can’t we ask the same question for an entire synod?
My own father is an alcoholic. As I write this column, he has been sober 17 years, nine months, and 29 days. Now he devotes his time to serving church and community. He told me once that he cannot hear “Amazing Grace” without crying, because he remembers the dark place he was when God’s grace lifted him. When a situation gets so complicated—so messy—that we find ourselves begging for grace, there it appears.
So why would a complicated synod need a simple servant?
Sharing our calls to service is a valuable component to developing life within the church. I encourage all members of MNYS to do the same.