If there is anything these last 18 months have reinforced for me is that nothing is permanent – that most things are out of my control – that change is natural and inevitable – that humanity is fragile, but the human spirit is resilient and adaptive – that crisis and transformation are two sides of the same coin – and that hope springs eternal because God causes all things to come together for good!
I am entering my 15th year serving in the Office of the Bishop. I’ve had the privilege of partnering with three elected bishops, two interim bishops, numerous dedicated and faithful persons serving on synod staff and scores of devoted individuals (in and out of church circles) that witness to the truth in the life and ministry of Jesus.
One of the preeminent memories during my tenure on the bishop’s staff was our Reformation 500 commemoration year and its culminating worship service at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.
In planning many of our 2017 synodical events to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Pr. Jonathan Linman consistently and continually reminded us that a commemoration of this magnitude only comes around once every 500 years – and it was happening in our lifetime! Our focus was to spend 2017 exploring the Reformation, its impact and legacy, and acknowledge its relevance in our modern world and daily lives.
In marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I was prompted to recall Pr. Gary Mehl, my Diakonia instructor for Church history, informing us that church historians have observed that these kinds of watershed events and changes happen every 500 years. Five hundred years before the Reformation was the Great Schism, when the church divided between east and west – and five hundred years earlier than the Great Schism was Pope Gregory the Great who helped bring the church out of the dark ages.
The Church seems to experience this 500 year cycle of order – disorder – reorder. Of upheaval – unraveling – rearranging . Of crisis - cracking – transformation.
If history repeats itself, it’s been 504 years since the Reformation – and church historians would suggest we’re due. The church as an institution is once again going into the crucible. Pr. Chris Mietlowski hit the proverbial nail on the head in his recent article (and subsequent video message): The Now and Yet-To-Be of Church. It appears we’re finding ourselves in a time of decline and disruption – that could be a precursor to transformation – if we yield. Real transformation happens more often when something falls apart and we’re called to let go of what used to be. The pain of something old cracking apart prepares us to embrace a new imagination and to trust a larger future.
I’ve witnessed how the challenges of our rapidly changing world are a driving force for this adaptive, transformative change – and what it means as the followers of Jesus, to be Church Together! The global pandemic taught us that permanence, control and certitudes are an illusion. Our current political divisions and social justice issues are “cracking open” the church and asking us to re-examine and re-evaluate our loyalties and set our priorities. I came across this quote recently from Ilia Delio, a Franciscan Sister and theologian: "God is doing new things, Jesus proclaimed, but only those with new minds and hearts can see a new world breaking through the cracks of the old”. God is calling us to be courageous and bold.
We’ve heard it said that great challenges provide for great opportunities. In 2019 by the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, I believe that God called Bishop Egensteiner to serve as our bishop in this challenging time. Prayerfully, the Bishop selected a gifted and skilled staff to partner with him and implement a vision for future ministry in our synod. The Bishop’s 2025 Vision sets us on the path for great opportunities to embrace a new imagination – to individually and collectively cease our resistance to getting on the potter’s wheel and allowing the Potter to re-mold and re-shape us into the vessel that can hold and minister to the wounded, the neglected, and the forgotten in our communities.
Being Church Together will be a true test of our faith. We pray for the will and desire to be courageous and the grace to be bold in embracing the 2025 Vision set before us.
By the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, I believe we can, because God holds our future and God causes all things to come together for good!