Being Stewards of Life in the Allegheny Synod

I was attending a meeting on Tuesday at the seminary in Gettysburg when a staff person asked, “How’s life in the Allegheny Synod?”  I am guessing he was expecting a brief answer … which I gave him.  The question though has lingered with me in these days leading up to our assembly.  Really, how is life here in the Allegheny Synod among God’s 42,000 plus people connected to 127 congregations and nine partner ministries including our churchwide ministries?

I occasionally wonder how you would answer that question.  “Okay.”  “I am not really sure.”  “Terrible.” “Wonderful”  My sisters and brothers, do you think the Lutheran Church in these Allegheny hills and valleys is deeply troubled, losing its grip on persons’ lives, and its place in our communities?  Or is it gathering God’s people vibrantly and faithfully, so disciples are formed and sent boldly and passionately out the door for witness and service in the world?  Or is the Lutheran Church in this place, good intentioned, often energized, but less vital and sometimes apathetic while seeking far too frequently to live on the fumes of a past era?

My guess is that the definitive answer to the question of how life is in the Allegheny Synod lies in all of the above and more.  Pondering this question of our corporate life, though, can be quite sobering.  Certainly life here is not where we would like it to be, yet the variable in this equation is not God.  The variable is you … and me.  Being blessed by the message of new life in the cross of Jesus, we are nurtured and nudged to respond with love and care for others; it’s just that frequently we contend the time does not feel quite right to respond.

Based on everything we are hearing in the news and are experiencing in our lives, the present moment is not a great time to do anything but hunker down, withdraw, and hold the line.  Yes, Jesus had some great ideas, but we are experiencing some really tough times.  There has got to be a better time in the future when the stock market is up, the housing market is better, employment is certain and sure, and other life barometers are more favorable.  Then we can do more.

Nice thought, however, in the meantime, until that day comes, what of the people suffering from the earthquake in the mountains of China or the persons left in Parkersburg, Iowa to re-build their lives following the tornado or the folks in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast who do not yet have a home following Hurricane Katrina?  And what of the families now torn apart or yet to be united because of our broken immigration policy, is it just unfortunately an unfavorable time for them?  And what of our congregational attendance decline, there have to be other persons besides you and me who would be better at urging neighbors, acquaintances, and strangers to be a part of our communities.  And what of the much discussed national recession we face, there must be a better occasion for tithing a gift besides the Tax Stimulus Rebate, a more advantageous time to fund a staff position in congregational mission and ministry expansion in the synod, and a more favorable moment to begin the ‘Crossroads Campaign’ by the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg.

You are wondering aren’t you … what are the leaders of the Allegheny Synod thinking?  Believe me our heads are not in the sand or the clouds, no our heads like our hearts are awash in the waters of our baptisms.  We are a people blessed by God’s gracious and persistent acts of love for us whether the time is favorable or unfavorable.

Do not be fooled, my partners, tough times are hardly unique to this generation.  Paul knew of the rigors of discipleship and its urgency.  He had been encouraged to stop his ministry.  He witnessed church communities strongly committed to their church one moment only to be distracted the next minute by a more attractive alternative.  More than once he sensed that his best option was to hunker down and hold the line.  Yet the power and promise of his baptism pushed him to remain faithful to his calling and be bold in enlisting others to join him.  Listen to his admonition to his younger colleague Timothy as he concluded a second letter to him, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, … I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; … for the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth ….”  [II Timothy 4:1-4]

So … how’s life in the Allegheny Synod?  I would say overall we are pretty healthy.  For sure we have challenges, … and we could be more bold at times in serving and more faithful in telling Jesus’ story, more persistent in forgiving sins, in offering compassion, in rescuing people from evil, in sharing our abundance, and I think we could use a good dose of Gospel urgency and the belief that the tools we have … Word, prayer, worship, talent, time, treasure, bath and meal are all we need to make a difference in the lives of people here in these Allegheny hills and valleys, … and beyond.