We Are Church Together

The Rev. Christopher Mietlowski Report


The Rev. Christopher Mietlowski

Assistant to the Bishop

God’s peace to you.  
I’m Pastor Chris Mietlowski, 
Assistant to the Bishop of the Metro NY Synod, 
deployed to the Hudson, 
Delaware Hudson, 
Staten Island, 
Eastern Nassau, 
Western Suffolk and Peconic conferences.  
I want to begin with the words… thank you.  
Thank you, O Lord our God, 
for your unfailing…
abundant love… mercy… and grace.  
Thank you, Bishop Egensteiner 
and the whole Bishop’s staff 
for who you are,
for your abundant talents
and relentless 
   to build church... together.  
I can tell you I’ve never worked harder in my life 
as I have in this call
and I assure you… 
the entire staff is doing the same… all for the glory of God.  
Thank you, rostered and lay leaders, 
for your amazing efforts 
to live the gospel 
especially through the most difficult of circumstances.  
The global pandemic 
has made routine ministry tasks… hard.  
But you have endured  
and met the challenge 
with inspiring resilience.  
As a parish pastor for 26 years,
serving three congregations  
my focus was local.  
For the last year and half, 
I see the church in a different, 
more global way.  
The statement “we are church together,” 
has taken deeper meaning.  
Here are some of my observations:
We are... 
We are God’s beloved children,
made in the image of God,
the object of Jesus' love 
and the very reason he hung from the cross. 
We are forgiven and made new in the Risen Christ. 
We are fed God’s mercy in word and meal.
We are loved... and forever held in the promises of Jesus.
We are church. 
Recently, we celebrated Pentecost.  
The birth of the church.
The launching of the disciples, 
as living witnesses of Easter hope,
God’s people “on the way.”  
The scene was chaotic. 
People suddenly began
doing something they couldn’t 
just moments before… 
being sent places 
they hadn’t anticipated.
change.  Lots of change.  
Those are things... we tend to avoid.  
We like predictable.  
We want things to go 
the way we prefer.
The past year and a half has underscored 
that we absolutely
don’t like when our lives are disrupted.  
The Pentecost Spirit
descended, touched 
and changed each disciple. 
Causing unlikely people 
to do unlikely things 
in unlikely places.  
Many titles are given to the Spirit:
The Advocate
The Comforter
The Protector
The Guide
We like those. 
    They’re gentle, soothing, supportive.  
But we are less welcoming 
of the Spirit’s influence
when it causes disruption
when it provokes
and pushes us toward radical change.
That part is harder to handle.
Over the centuries, 
as the church grew 
with immense power, 
the Holy Spirit became “domesticated.”  
That dominant institution
has been steadily shrinking in this country
for decades.  
Research tells us 
that only 15% of congregations 
are growing. 
85% have plateaued 
or are in decline. 
But we know that all too well 
don’t we?  
Used to be 
that anywhere a few people 
built a building with a steeple, 
hung a sign...
and opened the doors... 
people just walked in.  
It’s just not that way any longer.  
The era of Christendom… 
the time of the church’s 
powerful influence is behind us.  
       I’m not saying the Christian Church is disappearing.
       For the body of Christ will remain forever.
                But the form it takes… needs to evolve.
Of the almost 70 congregations I relate to in our synod,  
nearly half are in some kind 
of significant transition.  
Many are facing the reality 
they can no longer 
support a full-time pastor.
One thing is certain… any answer to the statement 
         “All we need to do is…” 
         will not be the long-term solution.
All we need to do is... hang a bigger sign outside.
All we need to do is... 
get a youth director, 
then we will have more children in our church.  
All we need to do is... get a praise band.
That will attract new members.
Some congregations
are considering merger as a path forward.
       If... if… it is an effort to simply consolidate expenses
and does not address the “why,” 
“why” are you church in your community?
Who is being served by your ministry?  
How are you living out 
Christ’s love through you… 
then merger 
may only delay the inevitable.  
The era of Christendom is behind us.  
What the church will evolve into
is ahead of us.  
We are living in this in-between time
of significant transition.
No one knows what the future will look like.  
Add to it… 
many are anxious and wondering 
how things will look post-covid. 
Who will return to worship?
Who won’t? 
The reality is...  
the church faced major challenges 
before the pandemic. 
                                                     Covid has intensified things.
Every denomination across the country... stands at a crossroads.  
The path we’re on... as it is… is unsustainable.
                   Can we honestly ask ourselves: 
What life will look like 
in our congregation, 
in our conference,
In our Synod... 5 years from now??
Change must happen.  
Adaptive change.  
Our circumstances cannot be solved 
with quick fixes 
or simple solutions.  
The church needs to adapt.  
To step out of our familiar patterns 
and traditions 
and structures 
and expectations 
to continue God’s holy work… 
to meet our communities
where they are...
to listen 
and serve with love in Jesus’ name.
We are church together. 
Called to worship God 
with all our hearts, souls, and minds… 
and our neighbors as ourselves...  
can we reimagine, 
repurpose the way we are... church together?
Long ago, the power of God
inspired the early disciples
in their purpose.
That same power of God... is with us.
We are not facing these challenges alone
as individuals... 
or as separate congregations.  
We are bound with one another 
beyond our addresses, 
bound as conferences,
as a Synod
and as a national and international 
body of Christ. 
Empowered by the Spirit, 
we need to move forward... which means change.  
Change means there will be loss.  
We need to let go of 
some of the ways we have lived out church 
for centuries.  
Letting go of who we’ve been
so that 
we can become what the Lord calls us to.
After all, isn’t dying and rising 
the core of Christianity?
Can we be open to new ways
to gather as God’s people?
Can we imagine different 
expressions of the body of Christ 
beyond the form we know so well?
Can we explore deeper partnerships
with each other
and with our ecumenical neighbors?
Over the last months, 
I’ve been working with 16 congregations
who are in early discussions and discernment
about collaboration… 
about some form of shared ministry… of partnership.
Of prayerfully looking to adapt 
in new directions for the sake of the gospel.
The Bishop’s office...
which cares about you… we care…
is walking with each group 
to provide support.  
There is no predetermined agenda 
in these conversations…
other than 
wanting to build a strong church
in the name of Jesus Christ.  
This is the moment 
all of us... 
regardless of which congregation 
we’re apart of
needs to honestly ask ourselves: 
If nothing changes… 
what will life look like for us...
for the church… 5 years from now??
Prayerfully discerning purpose,
God’s will for us…
and who we’re called to serve
we can move forward… together…
in faith,
with courage… 
with Pentecost passion
trusting the One 
who radically changed the world 
with Easter hope, life and joy.
Almighty God,
has a way of choosing unlikely people 
to do unlikely things 
in unlikely places.
Hear again, these words from Isaiah:
“And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 
“Whom shall I send, 
and who will go for us?” 
Then I said, “Here I am!  Send me.”
Here I am.
Here we are… we are church together!