(combining a summary from the Synod office with my own notes and commentary)
May 14-15, 2010
Memorial Auditorium, Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota
Meeting under the theme, “Life Overflowing,” over six hundred voting members and visitors, including Jim and Lynn Weivoda and Pastor Eric from Grace, gathered for the 2010 NW MN Synod Assembly at Concordia College, Moorhead, May 14-15.
Our Synod Assembly is a yearly opportunity for delegates from every congregation in the Synod to come together to pray, worship, learn, and make decisions for our common life together. If we do not send representatives to the Synod Assembly, then we cannot complain about decisions made. Doing so is also a constitutional obligation, but more than that, it is essential to our health as a synod: the word ‘synod’ means ‘walking together.’ We walk together with the 270 congregations of the Northwestern Minnesota Synod, with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and with the 70 million Christians in the worldwide Lutheran Federation.
Keynoter Mark Allan Powell was a big hit with two plenary presentations on the faith practice of generosity. At the Synod Assembly, Dr. Mark Allan Powell gave some good advice. Someone once asked Christian thinker C.S. Lewis how she should love her neighbor if she did not feel love for her neighbor. Lewis answered, “Fake it! Pretend that you love your neighbor, and eventually you will find that you actually come to love your neighbor.”
Powell spent some time explaining Jesus’ words in Matthew 6: “Where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.” It is a promise from Jesus that most people get backwards. Everyone knows that how we spend our treasure reveals our values, our heart, but that’s not what Jesus says. Jesus says that where you put your treasure, that’s where your heart will go. What you do with your money and time and talents, your energy and attention, determines the kind of person you become.
This means that we don’t need to be stuck in our same old ways. We don’t have to keep replaying the same old records in our heads. We don’t have to keep doing the same old things we’ve always done. We don’t need to keep alive old patterns of conflict. We don’t need to keep playing out the same old roles in our families and in our church. We can dream. We can envision a different reality, a different way of being, individually and as a church, and we can live into that reality.
For years, Mark Allan Powell hosted spiritual retreats. At each one, he would ask if there were any people who felt good about their spiritual life. He discovered 4 things held in common by all people who are satisfied with their spiritual lives, which Powell turned that into a memory device:
- Give Generously
- Read your Bible
- Offer Prayer
- Worship Regularly
Powell’s point was not that spiritual people are people who are experts at those 4 practices. Rather, his point was that, if you don’t feel spiritual, if you are not satisfied with where you are spiritually, try them out. Try giving and living generously for a year, or six months. Try reading a little of your Bible every day. Try stopping to pray each day. Come and worship God as often as you can. See how doing those four GROW practices will grow you and change you.
In addition to delivering the ELCA Churchwide Report, Sunitha Mortha (of the ELCA program unit for Global Mission, and a Lutheran who grew up in our companion Synod in India, the Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church) preached at the Saturday morning worship and gave a fascinating presentation on “Companions and Connections.” She talked about how we accompany one another as the body of Christ, together in mission for the sake of the world. The church exists for the world. On the Road to Emmaus, the disciples were invited on a journey to walk alongside and share, to wrestle with Scripture together. What ties us together is faith, mutuality, respect, challenge & encouragement. As Ms. Mortha said, the world is descending on us, and we are living in a very different context from earlier generations. We can no longer be in a bubble. We need to build our capacity to serve in this changing world. We need to be conscious of the cultural glasses that we wear, and how those glasses both help us to see the world and keep us from seeing the world clearly. Ms. Mortha helped us to see how different our American (and Northwestern Minnesota) culture is from her native India, and encouraged us to be respectful of cultural differences.
We work together with other congregations around the world for the sake of God’s mission, doing much more together than we could do apart. For example, churches of the ELCA have given $9 million for Haiti relief since January. Lutheran Social Services, or LSS, is a social services organization owned and operated by the ELCA. Even though we Lutherans are quiet about it, LSS is bigger than the Red Cross or the Salvation Army, running group homes, feeding senior citizens, caring for children, and providing counseling services around the country. LSS of Minnesota is the largest social services non-profit in the state, and, for example, provides counseling for all of the Minnesota soldiers who come back from war. That’s a little of what we do together.
Spirit-filled Worship and Celebrations
Throughout the assembly, Dakota Road Music (headquartered in Sioux Falls, SD) led rich worship, overflowing the cups being filled. They also brought folks together in song before each plenary session in Memorial Auditorium and headlined a special program of recognitions and honors on Friday evening in the Centrum of the college’s Knutson Center. Among the honorees were Calvary Lutheran Church of Perham, which received the Servant of Christ award from Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota; persons who had completed the core courses in the synod’s School for Lay Ministry; 20 pastors observing anniversaries of ordination; and 5 pastors who have retired over the last year.
Assembly participants also took time to remember four rostered leaders who died, to bid farewell and Godspeed to two congregations that have disaffiliated from the ELCA, and to give thanks for the ministries of Erin Anderson and Michael Stein-whose positions on the synod staff were recently eliminated due to budgetary issues. Erin Anderson has since been called as the new Executive Director of Pathways Lutheran Camping Ministries (including Camp Emmaus).
The synod also honored Pr. John Martinson, retiring Secretary of the Synod, for his eight years of faithful service as an officer, executive committee member and synod council member. Mr. Terry Carlisle (of Trinity Lutheran in Detroit Lakes) was elected to succeed Martinson, for a term of four years as Synod Secretary. The assembly voting members also elected members to the synod council, synod consultation committee and the synod’s voting contingent for the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.
Voting members approved resolutions
- Encouraging congregations to support the new mission start in the Frazee-Vergas area;
- Welcoming and supporting Peoples Church of Bemidji as a full congregation of the ELCA;
- Affirming direct congregational giving to Lutheran Campus Ministry of Minnesota’s ministry sites in Bemidji and Moorhead;
- Challenging congregations of the synod to work up to giving at least 10% of congregational income for ELCA/Synod Mission Support;
- Memorializing the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly to include rostered lay leaders, along with ordained pastors, in selecting voting members for synod and churchwide assemblies;
- Advocating for public policies in Minnesota that would reduce predatory lending and other usurious lending practices.
Following extended discussion, the assembly defeated resolutions that would have called for a ratification process for certain ELCA Churchwide Assembly actions and that would encourage members and organizations within the ELCA to refrain from a casual use of “adoption” language.
The assembly gave considerable attention to the financial health of the synod, spending a half-hour in “committee of the whole” discussion of the synod’s mission in light of our current context (including reduced mission support giving over the past year). Voting members approved a revised (lowered) synod budget for 2010 and a fiscal proposal for 2011, and they also gave the OK to the proposed 2011 Compensation Guidelines for Rostered Leaders and Church Staff.