The ELCE Strategic Planning Day in Cambridge has come and gone. Consumed by the day to day of church life and the church-wide restructure, the Executive Council thought it prudent to ‘look forward’ with the idea what should we be doing together in this new structure. As Christians, the overall goal of living with Christ, centred on Christ, serving others doesn’t need too much forward planning – well about as much as how we ‘forward plan’ our lives – because we generally live day by day and in response to those around us. As Church, it can be similar but any church building, any church project or programme, any missionary support or work happening now exists because someone in the past said ‘How about …?’ and then plans took shape.
A document collating the issues and the contentions will be produced for more discussion and any implementation will be through our current or new synodical structures – the ELCE and the future ELCUK are not fiefdoms but Synods – Christians walking and working together. Yesterday was about what we think are the best things to do.
I write this as a long introduction to my experience of the day. I am someone ‘in the know’ about the current ecclesial landscape – the attendances, the finances, the legal issues, the ecclesial issues of not just Ascension but of the ELCE. So when the current situation was presented across the ELCE I was not surprised but it was clear that some people were surprised in the ‘it’s worse than we thought’ way. We were split into groups and went away and dreamed and brainstormed – then discussed everything in plenary – and went away again and tried to set some specific things that might be done – and came back for another plenary. This wasn’t a decision making day – and we didn’t agree on aspects of the past – but we could all see things that would be beneficial to support and do together – the sorts of things Christians have always done – worship, teach, serve – because Jesus is with his people. But what struck me was the overall sentiment from many people that this was a good exercise to do; that they didn’t feel so despondent; that there was hope for the future – and remember nothing had changed. The ELCE and all the congregations and Westfield House haven’t changed an iota. Nevertheless the participants have a new perspective on what they know, where they’re at, and what they do.
When Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transfigured it shaped their perspective of Jesus. We can imagine the experience – and perhaps dream of such an experience before we reach heaven – being life changing and yet Peter still denied Jesus, James and John scrambled out of the garden (though John follows Jesus and is with the women at the cross) and so the ‘glorious’ Jesus while not forgotten (2 Peter 1:16-21) is not as foundational as we might think. What becomes life changing for the disciples were the cross and empty tomb – the death and resurrection of Jesus. Living by faith rather than sight grounds us in our circumstance – whether that be affluence or scarcity, freedom or persecution – because following Jesus is not about success or glory as we might regard them but about faithfulness and hope in all circumstances – bringing God’s word, his perspective, to all circumstances.
We began yesterday with Matins and closed it with Vespers – God’s Word spoken and in song – and the day was about the earthly organisation called the ELCE and yet walking among us and guiding us – hidden to our senses – was the Lord of the Church guiding us, reminding us that our ‘successful’ circumstances do not determine his presence – he is with us always – and that we can look to the future with hope and confidence. And that truth is for us personally too!