Greetings from Bishop Michael

 

To the Sisters and Brothers in Christ of the Allegheny Synod,

As of September 1, we have begun our journey together with my serving you as Bishop.  I wanted to say a few words here about what my hopes are for the Allegheny Synod as we move forward together.  It is a new day, and things are going to have to start to change as we think about our ministry together.  That is not a comment on the ministry that has gone on before now.  It is just a realization that as we look 10 or 20 years into the future, we know that life and ministry will not be the same.  We live in an ever-changing world, and we can meet the challenges and opportunities that this changing world presents to us.  But we have to realize that maybe that means things will be different. 

 

But what will be the same is that our call is to one of faithfulness.  Our call is to focus on Jesus Christ and to follow him.  Our call as Christians I to show with our lives the difference that Jesus Christ makes.  So with that being said there are some important things we can think about and look to as we move forward.

 

 MINISTRY IS ALREADY HAPPENING HERE

There is great ministry going on here in the Allegheny Synod.  Because we have a lot of churches that would be considered small, to some, the temptation is to think that we must not have great things going on here.  But in fact you, the Allegheny Synod, do great and wonderful things for the Kingdom of God.  

 

You feed people, you clothe people, you make blankets that go all over the world, you send health kits, personal care kits, you respond to disasters in parts of the world that many of us will never visit.  When you have neighbors that are in need you respond.  Sometimes that is a special offering for those in need, sometimes it is a group of you loading up a truck and going to help repair, repaint, and renew what every has gone wrong in the lives of those who need help. 

 

Here is the thing Allegheny Synod – most of you don’t really think about that as ministry.  Most of the time when there is a need, you respond because that is just what somebody is supposed to do.  I thank God for that.  Because whether you know it or not that drive, desire, and want to help when help is needed occurs because you are being led by the Holy Spirit.  Maybe that is a surprise to you, but when you reach out in acts of mercy, grace, and love you are doing that because you have been claimed in your baptism by the one who is the source of all mercy, grace and love – Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

So the first change that I hope you can embrace is that God is already at work in the Allegheny Synod, and you are ministers of his grace, mercy and love to these hills and valleys.  That should get you excited.  It means that Jesus Christ is at work here and has chosen regular, ordinary people like you and me to be a part of his mission of loving and reaching out to this world God is at work, and has called you to be a part of it – Thanks be to God.

 

WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER

One thing we can hopefully start doing is understanding and embrace is the knowledge that we are in this ministry thing together.  The word ‘Synod’ means people who are travelling together, or who are on the road together. 

 

In my letter to the churches which hopefully you heard read (will hear read) on September 7th, I said that our true congregation is not just those sitting around us on Sunday morning, our true congregation is the Allegheny Synod.  We are the Body of Christ in these Allegheny hills and valleys which is comprised of 35,000 members, which opens its doors in 116 locations every Sunday, for the sake of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That is only we ELCA Lutherans in these 7 counties.  We are also part of the larger ELCA with over 4 million members, which is only a slice of the One Holy catholic and Apostolic church which exists across this world and across time.  We are part of something much bigger than we generally dare to imagine.

 

Think about that for a moment.  We are more than we think we are.  Too often we think of ‘church’ as the several dozen, or few hundred people we might run into on a Sunday morning.  If we think that our ministry only has the resources of those gathered immediately with us, we might start to limit what we think can be done.  But when we start to see and understand that we have the possibility of mobilizing and putting to work, literally an army of 35,000 Appalachian Lutherans for the sake of the gospel, the possibilities become quite limitless.

 

My point is this.  God gives us each other.   It is time to start thinking about the ministry we can do as a group of churches in a particular town or part of the county.  It is time to start thinking about what our conferences   could do together to find opportunities for joint ministry and outreach.  It is time to realize that we are not in this alone, but Jesus Christ gives us each other. 

 

As we move forward, we are going to be looking for ways to encourage each other and to work with each other for the sake of mission and ministry to the world around us.

 

CHRIST IS HERE

Hopefully this isn’t a change as much as a realization.  I know that you have been told that Christ is here, that you the baptized have been claimed forever by Jesus Christ, the nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and that our Lord Jesus promises to be with us until the end of the age.

 

We hear about Jesus who is with us, but have you ever thought about what it really means that Jesus Christ is with you. The risen Lord, the Savior of the world, the Alpha and the Omega, the one through whom all things came into being, this is the Jesus who is with you.  He is with you individually and with you corporately.  Jesus is with us.  The one who is the creative power and Living Word of God is the one who claimed all of us in the waters of out baptism, who feeds us with his body and blood, and promises never to let us go.

 

That is the great creative power of God and the Savior of the world, who knows you by name and is with you and will never let us go. 

 

Think about it this way.  If Jesus Christ showed up at Church this next Sunday and said “Hey (insert your name) why don’t you and I go out and help this broken world?”  I would bet you would probably be doing things you hadn’t imagined.  You would be feeding people, proclaiming the gospel, you might be tripping over yourself to see what you might be able to do next to love this world because Jesus was standing right there.  And, you would probably not worry too much about what you have or whether you thought you might be able to meet certain challenges because – Jesus Christ would be standing right there with you.

 

Guess what everybody – Jesus is.  Jesus is here with you and me and our churches.  He is continually calling, leading and sometimes dragging us to be about his ministry.  Why is it that sometimes we think we can’t do something we can’t reach out we can’t share because our resources are limited or we don’t know if we can do it.  It doesn’t matter what we think we can do, what matters is that Jesus is here and working and is more powerful that all that can come against us.

 

That doesn’t mean that everything is going to be sunshine and lollipops and rainbows and roses just because Jesus is here.  NO.  The first time Jesus came here they crucified him.  We crucified him.  There was nothing happy about that.  There is much joy in the result of our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection, but Jesus suffering and passion was a terrible thing for our Lord to have to endure.  But in Jesus we see the Lord that shows us that even if we have to suffer, even if times are hard, even if we think the chips are down, he will never ever abandon us.  Christ is the one who shows us that no matter how hard it is, he is standing with us and will bring us to the end and the desired outcome that God has for us.  That is always going to be a lot better than what we want.

 

SUMMING IT UP:

Jesus Christ has been at work in the Allegheny Synod for over 200 years – if not so many of our churches wouldn’t have made it this long.  Jesus is working and we see that in the way that you have been called to be instrument of his peace, mercy and love in these hills and valleys.  We also know that we are given each other for the sake of that ministry and as we move forward we are going to all have to find ways that we can share the resources we have been given with each other.  Finally be not afraid because we have the Lord who is here.  The Lord who became flesh to show us that pain and suffering and even death don’t have the last word.  No matter what the Kingdom is coming and our Lord will be victorious forever.  He is with us leading us now for the sake of ministry.  I think that means, be not afraid.   Know that God is at work in these hills and valleys and is calling you and me to be part of his work of loving, calling, and reaching out in mercy to this broken world. 

Thanks be to God.