Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"Making All Things New"

Friends, this past week has been intriguing and inspiring, challenging and cherishing, filled with awe and touched with fear.  I do not think I am alone when I say that I met the most interesting people at our picnic on Sunday and throughout the week at Vacation Bible School. 
• Ten year olds were asking deep and theological questions during the story rotation, while teenagers, not directly affiliated with our church, waited patiently to help us tear down and clean up after our very well attended and wonderful community picnic and concert.
• Conversations happened between the members of Casa de Orecion and Bethel, invitations were offered and accepted, and relationships were built.  Not to mention the great start Casa Minnesota had last week as they gather to worship down the hall, right now, as we worship here.
• And in Pittsburgh, the 2013 Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA made history by, after 5 ecclesiastical-Holy-Spirit-led-ballots, electing the first woman to become the Presiding Bishop of the entirety of the ELCA, beginning this November. 
• AND, and the same group, who did not re-elect Bishop Mark Hanson, who  (as you know) has served our church grace-fully and faithfully for the past 12 years, that same group of people cannot thank Bishop Hanson enough for his service and his leadership.  And honestly, neither can we.

It seems, that in the midst of this past week, we have been given a glimpse of things that are changing.  As we, here at Bethel, have consciously and intentionally amplified God’s grace and reached out further and further into our surrounding communities, our ministry is being noticed.  People are beginning, again, to know our name and recognize our logo.  And, and they are starting to believe that when we say all are welcome, we really do mean it!  Thanks be to God!

And on a national level, 1000+ ELCA Lutherans met in Pittsburgh this week to discern and pray together about some incredible things.  Meeting and worshiping under the banner of “Always being made new” our national church in assembly passed and approved things like
• A new social statement on criminal justice
• An immigration reform memorial
• Supported employment protection for people of all sexual orientation and gender identities.
• Elected a new Presiding Bishop and a new Secretary
• Recognized Mary, the mother of Jesus, in new and honorable ways, calling her “God-bearer” and recognizing the change she proclaimed in singing and sharing her faith in the words of the Magnificat, which we will hear later in the service.

Again, immersed in the theme “Always being made new” our church in assembly also
• Called us, all of us, to engage in voting rights reform to ensure equity and access for all eligible voters in our country
• Our national church will be intentional about writing and providing resources for pastors to minister to same-gender couples and their families

And, believe it or not, these are just the highlights of our church in assembly this past week!  God:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit has once again burst into our world to make all things new!  I look forward to sharing Bishop Svennungsen’s report from Churchwide and I encourage you to check out the news releases and minutes of the Assembly on line and in our newspapers!    http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Communication-Services/News/Releases.aspx

With you, for Christ,

Pastor Brenda

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Choosing to Respectfully Disagree

     These past two Sundays, our community has been blessed to engage in very respectful conversations about the possibility of offering same-gender weddings here at Bethel, in response to the change in Minnesota State Law.  Pastor John Hulden (who grew up here at Bethel) came from the Minneapolis Area Synod office on July 14th and on the 21st we had our own conversation.  In the midst of these conversations, we came to some realization that certain members who respectfully disagree with the idea of offering same-gender weddings were less likely to come to such meetings to voice their opinion.  However, I am thankful that one person did come to represent some dear friends who are not quite ready for such a move at Bethel.  Upon hearing the conversation that took place in a respectful, genuine and heartfelt manner, I first want to thank everyone for being willing to engage and listen and share honestly and without judgment.  Secondly, I would like to share what Pr John and I offered at the meeting as a foundation on which we are all invited to stand. 
     If we were to be truly honest and open with one another, I believe we would find few (if any) social issues that all members of Bethel completely agree upon.  There may be issues we generally agree about (i.e. poverty), however the ways by which we each go about responding to a particular social issue will likely look different and may sometimes even work against one another.  Having said that, as the Board of Administrators votes on the same-gender marriage issue tonight, I would ask that we all stop for a moment, pray for a moment and exist with one another in a moment of mission and ministry.  Whether you agree or disagree with the decision made tonight, it is important for us to look beyond any social issue and find ways to be the body of Christ TOGETHER, with and without our differences. 
     With this in mind, I would like to remind you of part of the Social Statement on Sexuality that was passed at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August of 2009.  In summary it states (italics mine):

This church recognizes that, with conviction and integrity:
• On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that same-gender sexual behavior is sinful, contrary to biblical teaching and their understanding of natural law. They believe same-gender sexual behavior carries the grave danger of unrepentant sin. They therefore conclude that the neighbor and the community are best served by calling people in same-gender sexual relationships to repentance for that behavior and to a celibate lifestyle. Such decisions are intended to be accompanied by pastoral response and community support.
• On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that homosexuality and even lifelong, monogamous, homosexual relationships reflect a broken world in which some relationships do not pattern themselves after the creation God intended. While they acknowledge that such relationships may be lived out with mutuality and care, they do not believe that the neighbor or community are best served by publicly recognizing such relationships as traditional marriage.
• On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that the scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and lifelong loving and committed relationships that we experience today. They believe that the neighbor and community are best served when same-gender relationships are honored and held to high standards and public accountability, but they do not equate these relationships with marriage. They do, however, affirm the need for community support and the role of pastoral care and may wish to surround lifelong, monogamous relationships or covenant unions with prayer.
• On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that the scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and committed relationships that we experience today. They believe that the neighbor and community are best served when same-gender relationships are lived out with lifelong and monogamous commitments that are held to the same rigorous standards, sexual ethics, and status as heterosexual marriage. They surround such couples and their lifelong commitments with prayer to live in ways that glorify God, find strength for the challenges that will be faced, and serve others. They believe same-gender couples should avail themselves of social and legal support for themselves, their children, and other dependents and seek the highest legal accountability available for their relationships.

Although at this time this church lacks consensus on this matter, it encourages all people to live out their faith in the local and global community of the baptized with profound respect for the conscience-bound belief of the neighbor. This church calls for mutual respect in relationships and for guidance that seeks the good of each individual and of the community. Regarding our life together as we live with disagreement, the people in this church will continue to accompany one another in study, prayer, discernment, pastoral care, and mutual respect. http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Social-Statements/JTF-Human-Sexuality.aspx

     Friends, I honestly hope and pray that we can all respectfully claim our convictions and beliefs on the social issue of same-gender marriage, and honor one another as we move forward as the Body of Christ, together.  It hurts my heart to think we cannot honestly and openly engage with one another simply because we might disagree on a particular social issue.  This may come as a surprise to some, but part of my own mission and ministry is to honestly engage with those with whom I may disagree about this and other social issues.  And sometimes, we may only find a place to agree to disagree.  But most times I have learned something new, had the opportunity to deepen a relationship, and/or adjusted my own stance on an issue of life and faith.
     So I ask that we move forward, together, as we make important decisions.  I invite honest and respectful conversations around this and any other concern you may have.  And I ask that we each take the time to breathe, pray and be the Body of Christ alongside one another.  I believe this is our call and invite anyone to stop by Bethel, invite me over, or meet someplace for coffee, ice cream, or a beverage of choice should you like to talk further about this or any other social issue, question or concern.
With you, for Christ,

Pastor Brenda

651.270.4960(cell), 612.724.3693 (office), pastor@bethel-mpls.org and on facebook

On Tueday, July 23, 2013, the Bethel Board of Directors (with the support of the Bethel Mission Council and the feedback from two congregational open forums) approved that Pastor Brenda conduct same-gender weddings and that Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church provide for both opposite-gender and same-gender wedding on our property and/or in our sanctuary.  (Fees and arrangements remain as stated in our wedding policy handbook.)