A Challenge to Recommit
Years ago, when I first became a pastor at Spring Garden, the congregation had undergone a time of consid[...]
In a year with a presidential election, we grow accustomed to the daily barrage of polls and percentages, each designed to tell us something significant about the rising or falling popularity of candidates. It takes work to know whether a given number is a good sign or bad. We wonder whether or not the trends are running in a direction we favor.
In preparing to speak at the Tool Kit for Congregational Leaders last month, I checked out the most recent population statistics for the four counties that primarily make up the Saint Paul Area Synod. They include Chisago with 54,025 residents, Washington at 249,283, Ramsey with a population of 532,655 and fast-growing Dakota now at 249,283. I added these together and discovered a population of 1,248,492 for the places where we live and work.
Our neighbors number 1.2 million men, women and children. And that tally reminded me that the baptized membership of our congregations in this synod is about 125,000. One in ten persons in the East Metro belongs to an ELCA congregation. Is 10% a small number or a significant ratio? Something to cheer or a number too small to matter to pollsters and census takers?
What can God do with our work and witness? From Rush City to Randolph, from Stillwater to Saint Anthony Park, how is God using us to impact the lives of our neighbors?
As Lutherans we believe that God gives important work to everyone. We call that vocation. This wasn’t the way the church had always described the lives of members. There was a time when only the clergy were thought to do “holy work”, work that mattered to God in a life-changing way. But in the Reformation era, Martin Luther praised the work of parents and artists, school teachers and political leaders. From the CEO with great public influence to a 4-year old in nursery school, we say everyone can make a difference in the lives of their neighbors. It’s not so much about job titles or work experience as it is an affirmation that through the life of every Christian, God’s power and presence is made known to others.
I invite you to do the numbers. One in ten of the people living within the territory of the Saint Paul Area Synod has been baptized into a faith community where identity rests upon a theology of grace. We are the folks who believe that God has set us free to care about our neighbors. We are faith communities where the gifts of children and elders, laity and clergy all matter to God. Is that a big deal or too little to matter?
What can unshakeable trust in God’s gifts of hope and forgiveness mean to the people we interact with each day? What is the impact when all of us together live in a way that makes life easier, fairer, or more encouraging for our neighbors? Those are the equations I hope to explore with all of you. I am grateful to be one among all 125,000 of you with holy work to do.
Yours in God’s service –
Patricia J. Lull, Bishop