By Sue Sprang
LANSING – Under the banner “We Are Church”, attendees of the 2015 North/West Lower Michigan Synod Assembly were wrapped in the intense movement of the Holy Spirit through the halls of the Lansing Center on May 17-19.
From Dr. Walter Taylor’s (Trinity Lutheran Seminary) keynote address, “Paul’s Newly Discovered Epistle to the Mitten Synodians”; to the creativity and enthusiasm of Lutheran musician Jonathan Rundman; to Bishop Craig Satterlee’s sermon at closing worship – Christ’s people felt and acknowledged a fresh breath of Pentecostal wind and fire.
From the assembly’s opening through its end, participants experienced a seamless series of empowering words, music, worship, and learning or community service opportunities that culminated in a renewed sense of energy and purpose.
Taylor’s opening address came from the view of the Apostle Paul writing to the people of the “Mitten Synod”, just as he wrote to the first Christians 20 centuries ago. Four concerns, accompanied by empowering words, were raised:
1 – Who are we? What are we about? We need to remember who we are: “…we are the Church… God’s beachhead in a given place… every congregation is a mission center…”
2 – We aren’t as healthy as we used to be. We need to be healthy: “…building up the body of Christ… need to recall every day that the center of my life is the cross of Jesus.”
3 – Things are changing and we don’t like it. We need to embrace change: “Rahm Emanuel, former White House chief of staff and now mayor of Chicago, frequently says: ‘You never let a serious crisis go to waste. It’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.’”
4 – What has happened to God’s promise? We need to believe in God’s promise: “… and we need to talk about money.” Using the “promise” experience of Abraham and Sarah (Romans 4), the church is urged to use its resources to live out its mission of telling God’s story so that God’s promises remain alive and accessible to all people throughout all time.
Threaded throughout Taylor’s address was: “It is good to be the Church. And we are Church.”
Rundman, a Michigander now residing in Minnesota, shared original compositions and arrangements of old hymns throughout the assembly. His music, diverse and grounded in Lutheran theology, riveted listeners and encouraged a wealth of emotions – joy, inspiration, humor, awe, relief, passion, compassion, thanksgiving, and release.
“I see my mission as applying my music career in a ‘Lutheran sort-of-way,’” Rundman said. “There are certain gifts God has given me and I feel a need to share them with the [church] community. I hope to fill a need, fill a void, if I can do it.”
Monday afternoon offered three options for growth in mission-mindedness:
1 – Practicing Our Faith: This was an opportunity to “spruce up one’s spiritual home”. Focusing on Centering Prayer, this time of scripture, prayer, and reflection spoke to those who “seek to grow as faith-filled disciples of Christ”.
2- Renewing Our Congregations: Designed for those “inspired by renewal”, this option focused on “being leaders in change and renewal” through worship, service, faith formation, outreach, stewardship, and leadership.
3 – Off-site Service Projects: Putting their faith into action, participants chose from various service projects around the city. There was also a running or bicycling group offered as a way of caring for yourself so you might be healthy to carry out mission.
At closing worship, Satterlee preached challenging words of our synod’s mission with grace, hope, and confidence. Picking up the Pentecost theme, he said: “… the disciples huddled in a house, hiding, wondering where to go. Fire and wind reminded them who Jesus was.”
He continued by exhorting the assembly to move forward:
“We know the church cannot continue as it is – huddled, trying to survive,” he said. “Even though yesterday’s church is dead, Jesus is not.”
Worship included Rundman singing his arrangement of the Beatles’ classic, “Help!”, in which vocalist John Lennon hides words of uncertainty and urgency – a plea for help – within a fast-paced, rock & roll, get-up-and-dance tune. Rundman chose to sing his rendition during the distribution of the Eucharist – a complete surprise to the congregation.
Looking and listening around the room, it was evident that Rundman had struck a chord. His quiet, prayerful rendition was recognized… and the room was silent… except for the music… and for the words: “The body of Christ given, his blood shed…”
It was an awe-inspiring moment… a Spirit-filled moment… a holy moment.
“Being the Church is hard, uncertain, scary,” Satterlee said. “But being the Church is what [God] has anointed you to be. The Spirit in this synod is generous, loving, daring, and alive… It is holy.”