Category: Little Church on the Edge of the Prairie


Once again Obie Holmen express what I have been feeling about the Post CWA09 schism in a vastly more eloquent manner than I could ever do. I hve been thinking a lot about his Dusting Your Feet Off post about asserting and standing by the decisions of the ELCA regardless of what other organizations (ie, CORE/NALC, etc may have.)

Like Obie, I don’t think we as a church body have anything to apologize for. Yes, this decision has been a lightning rod for many chosing to exit the ELCA. But let’s face it, for many, this was a good excuse to leave. If it weren’t this issue, it would have been another. I suspect the leadership of CORE/NALC was looking for any excuse to make a public exodus, and that the CWA decisions were a convenient vehicle.

That said, there is nothing to apologize for. The ELCA has chosen to cast a wider net instead of letting a man-made construct to define who is worthy of Christ’s all-loving redemption. It gives a voice to the often disinfranchised and proves that there is no one cookie cutter that produces rostered clergy.

So in the spirit of dusting off my feet after more than a year of local church politics, here is my contribution in the form of an open letter:

 

Dear Senior Pastor and Associate Pastor,

Now that the Little Church on the Edge of the Prairie and the Edge of the Prairie SAWC near the final steps of the separation process, I would like to thank you for the past year. I know a letter of thanks seems quite odd considering that we will never see eye-to-eye in this matter, but I would, never the less, like to thank you.

Thank you for helping me transform from an Armchair Lutheran to a pro-active member of my congregation. For the first 38 years of my life, I pictured my role in church to be something rather passive. Sunday was a routine with a lot of rote and automated demonstrations of faith. Get up, get the kids to Sunday School, go to worship, go home. Repeat on the next Sunday. Thank you for making me realize that going to Church is not enough. Thank you for making me realize that faith is process that is constantly evolving, that it is something that should never be taken for granted or considered de rigeuer. Thank you for letting me realize that I too can be a servent-leader in the Church and that my witness is something I want to share with others. Thank you for making me realize that being the spiritual head of a family is part of that journey of faith and that the actions I make regarding faith have a lasting, and hopefully positive, impact on my daughters. Thank you for helping me realize that God is still speaks to us but that I just needed to listen a little harder.

Thank you for encouraging me to read my Bible more. I’ll be the first to admit that I have read more scripture–and not just the over-sited cudgel verses, actual scripture–more in the past year than any time in my life. Thank you for making me realize that the Bible is an invitation to faith and not a weapon of faith. Thank you for helping me realize that when one asserts Biblical Authority it is more about asserting power over God than God asserting power over humanity. This has been a difficult concept for me to grasp and it has really helped shed a lot of the guilt that I brought from my Missouri Synod upbringing.

Thank you for bringing me closer to others in my congregation. It was the first time during my membership at your church where I have truly felt welcomed, that I was among kindred spirits. Thank you for making me become more publically confortable in my faith that I want to share it with my friends.

Thank you for illustrating that an open dialog and relationship with Christ will always be more important than material possessions, deeds to builidings or a popularity contest. Thank you for helping me realize that one does not need an overflowing offering plate to have a church that flourishes and is alive in the Spirit. Thank you for showing me that a church does not need to have four walls and a roof to be nurturing. Thank you for helping me understand that walking away with empty hands doesn’t really matter as long as your heart is full.

Thank you for bringing me closer to God. And I mean this with the utmost sincerity and gratitude.  There had been times in my life when I was very disillusioned with organized religion. A younger version of me would have given up and turned my back on it all, but now that I am approaching forty, I find myself in the closest relationship I have ever had with Christ. Sure, I have days when I question my faith. I think that is only human and am conforted that others struggle with this as well, but in the past year there is no doubt that my faith has strengthened in ways I have never imagined.

And it is because of this gratitude that our paths must divide. While I am thankful that your actions –though I will never agree with them–have brought me closer to Christ, I realize that I will not be following you in the direction you have guided Little Church on the Edge of the Prairie.  While I know that you are “seriously concerned about [my]faith” please be assured that my faith has never been stronger. I stand by the ELCA’s 2009 CWA statement on human sexuality and have made the very conscious realization that I am in the right place spiritually to pass on my faith to my daughters. I was baptised, confirmed and married as a Lutheran, and it is as an ELCA Lutheran where I will continue my journey with Christ.

Kindest regards,

K

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According to the Social Security Administration, the name Isabelle has knocked the name Emma of the top of the heap as the most popular girl’s name in the United States while the boy’s name Jacob remains atop the list of most common boy’s name for the eleventh year in a row.  I for one was named after Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis’ not-so-famous older daughter. Jamie Leigh Curtis? No, not her. The other daughter. *shrugs.*  For what it’s worth, other parents apparently liked the name as well as there were four Kellys in my medical school class. While I was pregnant with our first daughter, we quickly crossed that ultrapopular name Emma off the list after we realized that half of the town’s girls under the age of five were named that.

Names define who we are. Were we named after something trendy or given a traditional name. As it is becoming quite obvious that the Little Church on the Edge of the Prairie will most likely be unable to reconcile and be one single congregation ever again, I suppose it is time to start thinking of LCEP as two different congregations: an ELCA congregation and a separate LCMC congregation. The division is too deep to cross. Emotions are high, and it might be good to have a clean break for both sides and move on. I guess it is time to decide what we are going to name ourselves as we move forward.

Before you name a church, you need to make a list of what not to name it.  LCEP1 and LCEP2 are hardly good alternatives. Each new congregation needs its own identity. And in our town of 8500, there are already two St. Mary’s (Catholic and Episcopal, respectively,) two FIRSTS (Methodist and United Church of Christ,) one St. Paul, one Good Shepherd, (WELS and LCMS, respectively) one named after the town itself, (Bapitist) and the eclectic assortment of Bible and Lighthouse (Evangelical Free and Assembly of God.)

And then there are the overused Lutheran names. Nice, tradtional but way overused. In our synod alone, there is a gaggle of Bethels and Bethanies, three Immanuels (but no Emanuels, go figure), and three, maybe four Trinities.

As much as the apostles Paul and Peter were clearly instrumental to the early Christian church, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a St. Paul or St. Peter Lutheran Church, or if you were my mom growing up in Detroit, she had the honor of attending Sts. Peter and Paul Lutheran Church because two saints were apparently better than one. As wonderful as these names are, if we went with these names, we would be committing our congregation to the generic conformity of the Emmas and Jacobs of today.

But you don’t want to be too trendy. Of course the hip and modern names such as Open Arms Living Truth Beacon in the Storm SONrise Fresh Wind Lutheran Church would definitely have a Twenty-first Century ring to it and, from a marketing standpoint would be fresh and innovative, it is important to remember that the Ariels, Jasmines, and Mileys of today will someday be the very dated Ethels, Myrtles, and Beulahs of tomorrow.
 
So how do you name a church? There are plenty of names out there to pick from. Traditional Lutheran names that announce that we are either Scandenavian or German Lutherans are aplenty. There is a tiny, rural WELS congregation up the road from my house that is known as St. John’s Lutheran Church, but its heritage is quite obvious as the name on the building is St. Johannes Kirche. I doubt that there are still services in German, but it is definitely steeped in the Lutheran tradition.  This side of the globe is home to the St. Olaf’s (as I was raised on the German side of the state, I still have no idea who St. Olaf nor do I appreciate the finer aspects to the holiday meal of fish marinated in Easy Off Lutefisk.)
 
All kidding aside, a name is something that should transcend generations. It is the first thing a vistor would see as he or she contemplates membership. It is soemthing that sets the tone, not only now, but also for years to come. What do you want others to know about your congregation in three or less words? I’m one of those traditionalists (a tradtionalist liberal? Who knew??) My girls have traditional names, and I tend to be drawn to churches with traditional names. Let’s explore some possibilities:
 
Christ: After all, he is the reason that we come together as church. He is the Alpha and the Omega of the very concept of faith.  It’s a very simple name that says it all. Without Christ, there is no church. Period. Other permutations of this would be Christ the King, Redeemer, Immanuel/Emanuel, Prince of Peace, Our Savior.
 
Grace: It’s one of the three pillars of Lutheranism (Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Word Alone for those keeping track at home.) It’s what we seek when we forge a relationship with Christ. And for many of us who supported the CWA decision of 2009, it is something we want offered without caveats. Grace regardless of race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or socio-economic status is very powerful gift from God. Is this something we want to proudly proclaim?
 
Peace: After months of infighting, this may be the one gift from God that many want. It’s the gift of purchase that comes with Grace. It’s name that tells the community: We don’t want conflict and are one body in Christ.
 
Faith: It’s the glue that holds a church together. Without it, we are just a bunch of strangers gathering together in a building to sing songs and listen to a speech about being good to each other. 
 
Resurrection: It’s the gift that Christ offers no matter how hard life can be. It’s a powerful message and reminder of God’s unwavering love and the sacrifice Christ made to ensure that we are all blessed.
 
All Saints: Maybe this is the closet socialist in me that likes this name, but Martin Luther famously asserted that we are each a sinner and a saint. Each of us has the exact same favored status among God. All Saints isn’t just a nod to Peter, Paul, John, Matthew, Mary Magadelene and the zillion Roman Catholic saint’s I can’t name that came before us. All Saints is umbrella that covers each and everyone of us. We are all on a level playing field with God. Fits quite nicely with the Priesthood of All Believers.
 
A name packs a lot of information in a few short words. An entire mission statement and vision for a congregation should be able to be summed up in its name.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve blogged about the Little Church on the Edge of the Prairie. Needless to say, even after the second congregational vote, nothing has been resolved. I knew it would be an uphill battle to work toward reconciliation and healing. This entry is a personal one, so please feel to skip the rant. Part of the reasons I started this blog was to record the process.

This past Sunday there was a critical congregational meeting (for the record, I’m making air quotes here)  to discuss the state of the congregation, only the Anti-ELCA crowd was notified and invited.

*shrugs*

I guess that’s okay, because it has been no secret that the ELCA part of the congregation meets regularly for support, Bible Study and discussion. They were more than welcome to attend as long as they weren’t disruptive. Same rules for everyone.

Well, needless to say there was a petition circulated at that meeting to push for another vote on May 25, because we all know how fun the first round of votes was.

*rolls eyes*

This time we will be voting on two things: An Affirmation of Faith in the Pastors and to Demand that LCEP Remains Affiliated with the LCMC. Translation: brass of the big cheese of the ELCA and force the ELCA leadership to kick LCEP out of the tent. Not too surprising as the LCMC doesn’t officially advocate such a tactic *nudge, nudge, wink, wink* but does mention that it is a way to circumvent the 2/3 supermajority double vote in the LCMC web communities.

A little background on the first resolution…our pastors received a letter from our Bishop–who, in my not so humble opinion, is a general all-around good guy with enough patience to go around to the rest of us–because numerous attempts to contact the pastors by phone have conveniently not been successful. The letter asked whether or not our pastors will support the ELCA since the vote to, well, not be part of the ELCA failed. Technically LCEP is still very much an ELCA congregation, one of few (less than 1%) where the required second vote to leave was defeated. Like it or not, it still needs to adhere to ELCA rules and hierarchy.

So much for moves toward healing a fractured church. But wait, it gets better than that.

Two weeks ago we ELCA-ers (which, for the record is a lovely new epithet or congregation created that has about as much warm fuzzy feeling as tossing around the N-word early and often…how nice) were invited to a “listening session” that the council was holding as part of their retreat. When it became obvious that they didn’t want to listen and it was a great display in tokenism, someone pointed out that the LCEP constitution mandates that the council support the ELCA (hey, I didn’t write, but I agree with it) and since there were three open council seats that they should be filled with members of the ELCA. So tentatively the council voted and extended offers to three church members that have supported the ELCA through this whole mess. Seemed like a step in the right direction toward workng on unity and mending fences.

Only it didn’t happen that way. At Tuesday night’s  council meeting, the three invited to join the council were met by pitchforks and torches an angry mob of sixty people led by the Associate Pastor’s wife demanding to know, Why are THEY here? (The angry mob was there to present their petition to vote again, sigh.)  Uh, just a guess, but they were invited by the council??? Tensions where high, and one of my friends felt quite unsafe in her own church that night.

After much bellyaching, a council member demanded that the offers to join said council be recinded. So they voted on it.  Both pastors voted against bringing the three ELCA members on board, the president who has been not that supportive of the ELCA–to everyone’s surprise actually defended the decision to extend an invitation–and voted for the three additions. BUT and this is a big BUT, the pastors decided that the president could only vote if there was a tie.  It had been 5 for, 5 against, but one of the for’s was shot down by the pastors. At the end, since people were about to stroke out, the council decided to table the decision for another month.

How convenient.

And in the continuing saga of As the LCEP Turns, they changed their minds again. But this time only ONE of the ELCA advocates was invited to join council. The other THREE (wait, didn’t I write earlier that three open seats, not four???) open seats were filled by Anti-ELCA advocates.

Talk about the pastors filling the council with hand-picked minions.

I’m to the point where I am more than happy to let this angry mob have the building, the assets, the debt, the name, the negative taint in town and everything else associated with LCEP. It isn’t about healing a congregation for them. It’s about owning the deed to a million dollar building. It has become a cult adoring the pastors. Where is the welcoming warmth that first drew me to the congregation when settled in town? Where is the Christian love that is supposed to be preached from the pulpit? I have been called an ELCA-er with as much animosity that you could easily substitute nigger, faggot or whore and convey the same meaning. We’ve been told but we still love you. But quite frankly? I’m not feeling the love. Don’t tell me you love me, then treat me like garbage behind my back. And if you mean, we still love you if you agree to our terms and promise to behave, then I want nothing to do with that type of love. I’m not looking for love or grace with caveats.

I pulled my kids from Sunday School about a month ago. I don’t want this hatred spilling down to my children. I do not want them harassed because of our family’s beliefs in equality for all or be bullied because our family wants to remain members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

My husband and I were standing on the driveway the other night listening to the frogs peeping. My husband is agnostic on his better days and an atheist on most others. I don’t force him to go to church and be uncomfortable and resentful for an hour, and he doesn’t try make me give up my faith. It may sound odd, but it leads to a healthy and happy relationship.

But as we were standing there the other night, we started talking about this detente we have, and he had something very profound to say: that he would never try to destroy my faith or convince me not to be active in church. He didn’t want to take hope away from me under any circumstance.

My pastors could learn a lot from my happily agnostic husband. In that one little conversation on the driveway, my husband offered so much more than my pastors have done in the past year: faith and support without any strings attached.

Moments like that I realize that affirmations of faith come in the weirdest places. Thank you, my dear husband, for showing me that there is hope in places where I least suspect it.

Last week the motion for Little Church on the Edge of the Prairie did not meet constitutional muster, and per the bylaws of LCEP’s constitution, it remains an ELCA congregation.

But the congregational meeting had barely concluded before the pastors were murmuring about their new plans to take the congregation from the ELCA.

So much for moving forward in the name of unity or healing.

Instead we get a passive aggressive letter from the council president and pastors. On the surface it seems like an olive branch type of letter. But look a little closer and it sends a different message. On one hand it acknowledges that there has been a lot of pain and turmoil and that a lot of people–myself included–want to move forward in healing. But then in the very next sentence it says, but we still have important decisions to make.

Uh, wasn’t that decided last week with, you know, a vote mandated by the constitution of LCEP? What more mental gymnastics need to be performed? Vote until they get the supermajority they have decided is entitled to them?

And it spells out how not to give money to the ELCA, that the congregation is still dual-rostered with the LCMC. Oh, and if you are planning to leave, don’t let the door hit you on the way out, but before you go.

We ask that you continue your financial support of LCEP. If you are concerned that your giving not go to ELCA causes, make your check out to LCEP and write “miscellaneous” in the memo line and your giving will be applied solely to LCEP. If you desire that a portion of your giving be sent to the ELCA, please write two checks. Place your support in for LCEP in the offering and send the ELCA portion directly to the XYZ Area Synod.

Okay, so they’ll take my money as long as they don’t have to actively send it to the ELCA despite the fact that we are an ELCA congregation. Is the leadership saying that they will refuse anything in the offering plate that isn’t directly written out to them? Maybe they are sick of my weekly check to an ELCA charity of choice–Lutheran World Relief, ELCA Disaster Relief Fund, the Ben Larson memorial fund at Wartburg Seminary in Iowa…

In other words, LCEP, is ELCA in name alone. The pastors still want to leave the ELCA and there will still be no money passed on to the synod or ELCA.

Maybe their newest strategy is just to get kicked out the ELCA. I also wouldn’t be surprised if there is a shoved-through petition to start the voting process all over again.

Fortunately, our bishop and the assistant to the bishop have stepped up to fill the void of pastoral care, even if it is from a distance at time as they may not officially come to the congregation unless they are invites. So sometimes pastor care is in the form of emails of encouragement.

In a recent email with the Assistant to the Bishop, she gave a good assignment. The first was Ephesians 4 as this was the excerpt from the Bible that has been stuck in her mind since this process that began. It can be summed up in Unity in the body of Christ. The entire chapter is insightful, but verses 11-16 really hit home.

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Without love and unity in Him, we are nothing but individuals bobbing in the proverbial ocean alone. Being one body in Christ isn’t about paying the church mortgage. It’s about supporting one another.

The other reading assignment she gave me grew out of my sense of frustration when I felt like this was a futile up-hill battle. At times I feel like it still is when it seems like the vote meant nothing to the leadership. Psalms 13 is a great psalm to ground yourself it what is important.

1 How long, O LORD ? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?

2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

3 Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;

4 my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.

6 I will sing to the LORD,
for he has been good to me.

This process is long from over. Yes it would have been easier had the measure passed and LCEP ended its affiliation. It would have been a clean break with an opportunity to start over this week. But that’s not the way the vote went. We have hard work to heal wounds, to pray for and with people we have disagreed with, to respect each others’ bound consciences.

To just be…

Today was the second vote held at the Little Church on the Edge of the Prairie. Okay, the moniker is a little misleading, said Little Church is a congregation of 1300 baptised individuals.

Today we voted on the following:

Be it resolved that [Little Church on the Edge of the Prairie] end its affiliation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Today, the first Sunday after Easter was Fish or Cut Bait Day. A 2/3 majority vote in favor of the resolution would officially end our affiliation with the ELCA.

We had held our first vote back in December 2009. The motion passed by 2/3 plus a little wiggle room. I felt very uncomfortable as the winning group decided there needed to be a round of applause for the measure.

It moved us toward a period of discernment, more like regroup and reorganize. I live in a conservative, rural town, so I knew it would be an uphill battle.  The 2009 Churchwide Assembly’s decision on sexuality and how it impacted clergy rostering and marriage was used as a lightening rod.

Open forums became shouting matches. Sigh. Male privilege was lobbed a few times and I was told, “Look here, young lady.” (for the record, I am almost 40, my cholesterol is 205, I have an MD, two kids, a mortgage,and enough student debt to rival the GNP of a small, third world country. I’m hardly young by any stretch of the imagination.) It turned ugly on more than one occasion.

Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well last night as was nauseated as I walked through the church doors.

I volunteered to be one of the ballot counters to be paired with council members. The election was transparent, and unlike last time around, we were given a parliamentarian. Wonderful guy from another congregation who has taught Robert’s Rules to the local FFA forever. He was trustworthy and kept things in order, even when someone stood up and started screaming today that we were actually following Roberts Rules of Order. I was too nervous to even keep track of the math. We had 402 that registered to vote, and I could not do simple math in my head to determine 2/3.  So I counted ballots, Yes in one box, No in the other. Stacked them in groups of ten.

It wasn’t until we were walking back with the ratified results that it sunk in.

We, and I mean those of us that wanted to remain members of the ELCA, had187 votes.

It wasn’t a mandate, but we had gone from losing by more than a 2 to 1 margin in December to a nearly 50/50 split.

The motion did not carry. W

We are still a congregation in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Of course a woman stood up ans proposed that we do this all over again in six months, because you know, it was so much fun the first time around. Sigh. Luckily she was out of order and no motions were made beyond the vote.

Unlike this time, there was no cheering. We have much healing to do. Can our pastors still function within the ELCA? Will they support it, or will be looking at another vote down the line?

We need to heal. We need to forgive those we were most angry with. We need to remember that the Holy Spirit can lead us regardless of where we stand on the political continuum. God is neither a liberal or a conservative.

It was a victory, but it sure didn’t feel like it. I don’t think there are any winners here. Bridges need to be built. We need to come together once again. All need to return to the congregation if they want to be part of the ELCA and not just a vote.

In closing, the old school Doxology came to mind as I was standing in the shower this morning. It seems fitting, and it has crept into my head several times today.

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;

Praise Him, all creatures here below;

Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.