The Rev. Kevin Vandiver
Assistant to the Bishop
Greetings, Metro New York Synod!
I am so grateful to be speaking with you today at our Assembly. We have gone through so much together in what has felt like a never-ending cycle, but I am hopeful that things are improving for the better each day.
For those of you who don’t know who I am, I am Pr. Kevin Vandiver, Deployed Assistant to Bishop Paul Egensteiner. What that basically means is that I, along with two of my colleagues, are deployed onto the actual territory of the Synod, in order to be able to directly cultivate relationships between the Bishop’s Office and the churches “on-the-ground.”
In addition to this, I currently serve as a Co-Chair on the Vision Team, overseeing Evangelism and Advocacy, and am the unofficial liaison for the Black Pastor’s Group in our Synod.
The territory I serve as Deployed Assistant covers the Brooklyn Bridges, Manhattan, Northeast Queens, Southeast Queens, Southwest Brooklyn, and South Shore Brooklyn Conferences.
When I began in January of 2020, we all had big plans, didn’t we? We had big plans to hit the ground running as a newly-formed staff, and then, we all know what happened. The pandemic was upon us faster than one could blink.
New York City was ground zero—and everyone in our synod felt the effects of the pandemic in one way or another. People lost loved ones, jobs, and all manner of things—and on top of that, folks were directly exposed to divisiveness and ugliness of all of the isms at the same time. It was and continues to be an anxious time.
Who knew how the church would fare? To be honest, it was hard to even think about how the church would fare—we were worried about our own survival and that of our families. But as we simultaneously came to grips with these realities of life and death, many of us began also to yearn for our faith communities—and wanted to draw nearer to God. But this was not without its own complications: Overnight, folks were expected to find new ways of worshipping and being in community together. We were asked to reimagine how worship and the sacraments could manifest among us. We had to deal with the threat of collapsing budgets and closed initiatives. Meanwhile, needs of the community were burgeoning.
The Church as we know it has a history of growing and prevailing in the midst of crisis. Andrew Walls, historian and theologian, suggests that in many ways, the church was historically most mission-minded when it was operating in the midst of crisis. Instead of just existing and doing things as they’d always been done, the people of the Way—the followers of Jesus had to mold and adapt and change and change again.
You probably don’t care to hear about the preaching and the visiting I did, and have done plenty of that throughout this time—or the myriad zoom meetings where we were helping people through the anxious times which bubbled up in various congregations— or when we were just exhausted from all of the pain and loss we were feeling—or the long hours fine-tuning a Synodical response to the disasters which kept coming--you probably don’t care to hear that all of that happened and is still happening, for sure—because honestly, we’d be here all day.
But I’ve seen other things which we must take seriously: Things which capture our attention and challenge our imaginations: In the midst of loss and pain and the unknown, we kept worshipping. We found new ways of being because crisis demanded it. We kept going, even when we were tired and zoomed out. And the gates of Hell have not prevailed against the church.
People have risen up and spoken out against injustices in new and bold ways, and we must believe that God is giving us the power and will to turn the tide against injustice. We are ever finding practical ways to live this out from the Bishop’s Office, to our churches, and we hope that you will either continue to fight injustice with us, or join in the struggle for equity for all—as Christ commands.
As far as the Bishop’s Office is concerned, we have continued the work of fine-tuning our processes—and not for nothing: for instance, we’ve worked hard on concretizing transition procedures, because ordinations and installations are continuing to happen. Our churches are still completing call processes and discerning whether these new ways of being extended to doing ministry with Lutheran neighbors close by. The church has been greatly affected by the effects of the pandemic—and we mourn all that has been lost, but we also see that God is not finished with us yet!
We are under no illusion that there is still a lot of work to do—and a lot more light to shine in the world, but we know that God has raised us up, and through the establishment of new and fresh relationship to and with each other, there is a chance.
I want to take this privilege to encourage you to send love to your pastors, deacons, and other lay folks in your parish who have helped to keep things together during this time. Find some way to appreciate them. They have gone beyond exhaustion, and sometimes, gratitude really goes a long way. Also know that we are walking with you and praying with each of you as well—we hold you in our hearts, and while we can’t predict what will happen tomorrow, we know that today, we are yet church together!
It is my hope to continue to be an extension of the Bishop’s Office, formulating new and lasting relationships which are reflective of Bishop Egensteiner’s commitment to be there for the people. I hope to continue walking and working with you for as long as God sees fit—and I count it an honor to be witnessing what I believe to be this latest evolution of God’s church, should we choose to embrace it. Things may never be the same again—but we are God’s church for today—for this time.