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Sierra Pacific Synod

 
claimed . . . gathered . . . sent 
August 22, 2009
 
Dear Friends in Christ,

Perhaps by now you have heard that the E.L.C.A., meeting in Assembly in Minneapolis, has voted to allow people in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as rostered clergy in this church.  You may be aware that this is a change for which I have advocated and worked, both as a parish pastor and as bishop. 

In the moments that followed yesterday's vote, I began to feel the weight of the implications of living into this new reality for all of us in the Sierra Pacific Synod.  For some it will mean challenge, for others, it will be a celebration.  Many others probably don't yet know what to think about these votes. 

Just at that moment, Bishop Hanson spoke to us with words that echoed deeply in my heart.  His first sentence, below, summed up perfectly what I was feeling in that moment; when I realized I would need time with this decision to understand its implications for our life together as synod.  I need time to pray, to talk with you, to hear what you think this decision means for you and your ministry.  That time will come.  For now, I invite you to consider the elegant and faithful words Bishop Hanson shared with us:

"I want more time to think about words from one you have called to serve as pastor of this church. I have been standing here thinking about my 23 years as a parish pastor and how differently I would go into a context if I was gathering with a family or a group of people that had just experienced loss, or perhaps were wondering if they still belonged, or in fact felt deeply that ones to whom they belong had been severed from them. That would be a very different pastoral conversation. And I would probably turn to words such as Romans 8:
 
 "Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who was at the right hand of God, who intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus."

But then I thought, "What if I were going into a family or a group, a community that had always wondered if they belonged and suddenly had now received a clear affirmation that they belonged?" All of the wondering about the dividing walls, the feelings of separation seem to have dropped away. That would be a very different conversation. I would probably read to them out of Ephesians [chapter 2]:

"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God."

But then I thought, what if those two groups were together, but also in their midst were those who had not experienced loss or the feeling of the dividing wall of separation coming down, but were wondering and worried if all that had occurred might sever the unity that is ours in Christ and might wonder if their actions might have contributed to reconciliation or separation? If all those people were together in a room, I would read from Colossians [chapter 3]:

"As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

That passage gives invitation and expectation that those deeply disappointed today will have in this church the expectation and the freedom to continue to admonish and to teach. And so, too, those that have experienced reconciliation today, you are called to humility. You are called to clothe yourselves with love. But we're all called to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, remembering again and again that we are called in the one body. I will invite you tomorrow afternoon into important, thoughtful, prayerful conversations about what all of this means for our life together. But what is absolutely important for me is that that's a conversation we have together.
 
I ended my oral report with these words: "We meet one another finally, not in our agreements or our disagreements, but at the foot of the cross - where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ."
 
Let us pray. O God, gracious and holy, mysterious and merciful, we meet this day at the foot of the cross and there we kneel in gratitude and awe that you have loved us so much that you would give the life of your Son so that we might have life in his name. Send your spirit this night, the spirit of the Risen Christ that has been breathed into us. May it calm us. May your Spirit unite us. May it continue to gather us.  In Jesus' name.  Amen."

Please note the text and video of Bishop Hanson's remarks, as well as all information about the actions of the Churchwide Assembly are available at the ELCA website: www.elca.org/assembly .  Pastors Nelson, Blomberg and I will be praying and talking with you as we continue to walk and work together to fulfill the mission God has given us - to be a people who have been marked with the cross of Christ, called to do God's work with our hands. 
 
God's Peace,
Bp. Mark

a note from Bishop Holmerud