Greetings fellow lay and ordained Lutheran siblings. I am sure you have longed, with much hopeful anticipation, for days like these when you can gather as an in-person synod assembly. I know I have sensed and witnessed those yearnings in varying ways from Bishop Egensteiner and others on this awesome staff. Our faith has seen us all through the darkest days of the pandemic, now almost completely behind us.
God’s everlasting love and grace will continue to heal us, renew us and call us into ventures and trails we’ve yet to travel as the Spirit guides us into a new chapter of the Jesus movement. Since we last met, we can agree that we have all been discovering and experiencing the many ways the world has, and continues, to rapidly change. Many understandably long for returning to the familiar ways in which church was as we continue to live in this liminal space we find ourselves. The thought of going back to the way things were is an illusion and a deceptiveness we must help each other overcome.
Being one of the Assistants to Bishop Egensteiner has afforded me the opportunity to appreciate and celebrate the creative and innovative work taking place and emerging across the MNYS, among the five conferences and within the 60 churches in my portfolio. I am also deeply touched by the anguish so many congregations are experiencing in their struggles, as they decline. And as I contemplate this spectrum, I continue to evolve and deepen my understanding of what it means to be a witness and walk alongside you as we experience together the agony and the ecstasy of the church of today and the Spirit’s movement that guides her.
Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage, Do not be afraid, neither be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. This affirmation of the omnipresence of God in every life situation gives me solace, and grounds me when I find myself in liminal spaces or recognize when I am walking with fellow siblings, the charting of a new path into unfamiliar territory.
This affirmation is anchored in the definition of faith as the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
I have found strength and encouragement in my ministry, with so many congregations living out the different stages of their church life by centering on the foundation of our faith, which requires we enter and live out the gospel cycles of life, death, and resurrection with faith and good courage.
Following Jesus into and through the liminal spaces of our time reminds us that the entire world has always been in the in-between times of the building of the kingdom here and now—but not yet! Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension teach us that only God is eternal, as we experience what it is to follow Jesus to and through the cross and the empty tomb, that the Spirit, received at baptism and dwelling within us, is the same Spirit that guides the church from age to age, and more powerfully, that the Church is not the building structure, but a movement headed by Jesus the Christ founded long ago by reaching out, inviting, accompanying, and equipping those who were the everyday folks of his time. It is an invitation to follow him into ventures unknown, and to trust and believe and go to all nations and share the good news, to reach out, invite, accompany, baptize, equip and multiply!
New emerging trends are unfolding rapidly across the MNYS that require us to learn, to face our fears and challenges, and discern new creative and innovative ways and opportunities for doing church in this new age. This means taking risks never before taken, with much grace and compassion and diligence in selflessness for the greater good. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable is very hard in this society but it helps to remind us that obedience to one of God’s requirements is to be humble before God, to let go and let God be God. Part of facing and overcoming our fears is to name, accept and mourn what was and no longer is, turning to God as we transition and absorb God’s love, transforming us into a new creation.
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a future and a hope.
This future and this hope is lived out through the pastoral oversight of Bishop Egensteiner, within which I have the opportunity to express my ministry as one of his assistant, whether by addressing the scarcity of trained pastors in the specialized ministry of Intentional Interim work, or by accompanying a group of fine pastors going through transitional ministries and training to meet the challenges that result from the overwhelming volume of long-term, regular call pastors concluding their ministries and retiring.
We are persevering in the search for pastors who are equipped with the gifts and skill sets our congregations seek, despite the extremely limited number of pastors seeking a regular call in this part of the country. We are walking and guiding and speaking truth in love to leadership that is frustrated by discovering that the way it was is no longer, with fewer pastors available for calls as in the past.
At the same time, one of my greatest joys has been walking with gifted women pastors from other synods who said Yes to the call to come and serve in the MNYS. I had the honor of seeking and matching them with congregations as the Bishop’s appointees or nominees. I have had the privilege to walk with an intern and be part of guiding the call process and witnessing their ordination. I have also witnessed the pastoral wealth of other ordained women ministering in dire situations and being true to what it means to imitate the Good Shepherd.
While frustration abounds as demographic shifts continue to rapidly change the landscape, the groundwork for missional opportunities and enterprises loudly points to the need for a makeover, and for a radical response to equipping a new generation of leaders for contextual ministries in this new age. I have continued to identify and conveyed some of the realities faced by pastors at the margins, ministering to them as I experience and speak my own truths as a Puerto Rican, Latine Women Priest from the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement while serving among you.
I articulate, whenever possible, the urgency to develop and re-develop Latinx Ministries using best practice models that are empowering, and focus on the urgent need for equipping Black, Asian and Latine lay leaders, to raise them from the ground up—Latinx, Black, and Brown pastors—as well as the setting apart of well-equipped Latinx, Black and Brown synodical deacons.
My portfolio includes the Bronx, Western Queens, Western Nassau and South-Western Nassau conferences, totaling 60 congregations, of which 28 are in vacancy. The draining work with congregations in dire situations experiencing inner conflict is also very real. At the same time, the joy of having gifted and faithful lay leaders complete the hard and foundational work of transition, while being shepherded by wonderful transitional pastors, resulting in five congregations reaching the call process in their transition.
Witnessing and being part of the team with my colleague, DEM Branden Dupree, to accompany two congregations on a journey of collaboration in the form of an Anchor church model, is very exciting and life giving, while continuing to build respectful, covenant relationships with Deans, Transitional Pastors and the lay and ordained leadership of the MNYS. Following Jesus is always, Pa’lante!