By Sarah Gioe
Photos by Bob Williams
View and share photos from Synod Assembly.
Since our synod kicked off the "Growing in Together in Faith: Five Years of God’s Creative Grace" initiative last year, leaders and congregations have used the theme of mutual conversation and consolation to anchor our gatherings. One way we have learned to have grace-filled conversations was through practicing Indaba, an adaptable model for engaging one another in purposeful discussion. Opportunities for Indaba were threaded throughout the 2015 Synod Assembly, leading to holy conversations taking place from around the dinner table to at the microphone while debating resolutions.
Over 400 participants gathered in the ballroom of the Westchester Marriott in Tarrytown, May 29-30, to celebrate the theme "We are church together." The backdrop of a bare tree represented the theme as leaves--one for each congregation--were added to the banner throughout the gathering. Each congregation in the synod was prayed for by name by the Pastoral Care Team throughout the assembly. The theme was reiterated in ELCA report, presented by churchwide representative Jessica Nipp Hacker. "When your one congregation engages in service and ministry in your local community, you are the church in your place—taking care of that part of God’s creation," she said. "As we hear in our theme verse from Revelation, ‘On either side of the river is the tree of life… and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.’ As the church, we are each called to be a leaf of the tree of life, proclaiming the grace that gives us life. We are called then to be that church together, for the healing of the nations." Download the ELCA presentation here.
Bishop Rimbo’s enriching Bible study, "The Power of the Lamb," centered on Revelation and the themes of powerlessness and "Lamb Power." "It seems to me that this Power of the Lamb can characterize our life together as a synod, especially as we tackle difficult issues, raise tough questions, struggle with what appears to some to be a hopeless future, long for health and wholeness," said Bishop Rimbo. "When I think of the Power of the Lamb which is ours, I think of congregations in this synod who have decided to cooperate or even close in order to move into new formations for ministry. I think of you, faithful to your calling and to your God while facing challenges never anticipated by your ancestors who founded your congregations." Find the complete Bible study here.
The Indaba Working Group introduced the process of Indaba (a Zulu word) during the first plenary session and gave the assembly opportunities to discuss questions such as "Describe a time when you have experienced God in conversation with others" and "Where do you see God at work in your congregation?" The conversations later delved more deeply, mixing participants by quadrant and asking them questions such as "How has your perception of race relations changed or not in the past several months of news coverage about unarmed black men dying while in police custody and police officers also being killed while on duty?" and "What do you believe that God is calling us to do as church together to improve relations among persons of all races and cultures?"
Such conversations set the stage for the important memorials and resolutions facing the assembly. Our synod showed its continued commitment for addressing racism by voting for church leaders to be required to take a regular antiracism training. The assembly also voted to divest from fossil fuels, recommit to the churchwide strategy for engaging in Israel and Palestine, adopt the Disaster Plan, hold an annual ministerium, adjust synodical communion practices, and review the election process for Churchwide Assembly voting members. Download the complete summary of actions here.
Amidst the other business conducted, 17 people were elected to attend the 2016 Churchwide Assembly in 2016. The 2016 budget was adopted, a Synod Council seat was filled, and governing documents were amended. The assembly celebrated anniversaries, highlighted ministries, welcomed ecumenical guests, and attended a wide variety of forums, ranging from "Communicating in a Crisis" to "Learning about Worship, Evangelism and the Bible from the African Church."
Above all, the assembly celebrated being church together through diverse worship opportunities, experiencing liturgical dance, Gospel song, Argentinian folk music, anointing, and foot-washing. "If Jesus’ admonition to love one another means anything at all, it must surely mean that we are called to embrace those with whom we most disagree," preached Bishop Rimbo at the final Eucharist. "That is what our holy conversations have been about. That is what mutual conversation and consolation is about. That is why we move forward to a deeper, richer understanding of reconciliation."