New Year’s Eve 2009

Well…2009 is coming to a close and part of me feels this slight, little tug to write something profound to wrap up 2009; a kind of year-in-review with some final words of wisdom before the onslaught on 2010…

[“Profound”…what in the world is this part of me thinking…”profound”?]

In any case…here is my last post of 2009 (profound or not):

As I write this I am sitting in my most favorite chair in the world (a chair my wife despises…but that story is for another time).  During this time of the year I am on vacation…recovering from a busy Christmas season.  My wife is still working so we generally do not go anywhere, but that is fine…sleeping in and doing absolutely nothing is still good for my soul as I refuel for the drive towards Lent and Easter…after which I will take another vacation (this time getting out of town with my wife).

So as I sit here (refueling in my favorite chair drinking coffee) I find myself reflecting on the past year (funny how that happens when a year or anything comes to an end).  So listed below are my top ten highlights from the past year (in no particular order):

(10)Washington vacation – After Easter my wife and I enjoy heading out to the state of Washington (where I did my internship) and hanging out with friends and seeing the sights.  This year we did a lot of hiking and exploring new things.

(9) Losing 65 pounds – This took place from March through October in an effort to get into better running shape for 2010.  I have maintained my weight since then and am enjoying my new, healthier lifestyle.

(8) “The vote” – This is of course referring to the ELCA Churchwide assembly vote about homosexuality in August.  This is not a “highlight” but it sure is memorable.  It created a lot of discussion and soul-searching to say the least.

(7) Three weddings – Two of these were people from Salem and one couple is a friend of mine and Connie’s.  They were a lot of fun to do and be a part of.

(6) Release Time and confirmation classes – I have some really fun students this year.  They are active and willing to learn.  A highlight within this one is one of my Release Time students reading scripture at the Christmas Eve worship service.  It has been fun watching her grow up over the last few years.

(5) Christmas snow storm (“Winter Storm Eric”) – This was a little annoying but once again memorable.  I think this snow storm will be talked about for a long time.  The highlight here is that this snow storm caused us to slow down and therefore we got a chance to spend more quality time with family; celebrating.

(4) New patio and new bathroom – This was a long time in coming but we barely got these done before the church’s big 125th anniversary celebration (more on that coming later).

(3) Running – This is directly related to my weight lose.  I am training for 2 marathons in 2010, but the highlight here is breaking a 20 minute 5K and breaking 42 minutes for 6 miles…both very exciting for me.

(2) Salem’s 125th anniversary celebration – This was a fun weekend.  A lot of planning went into this and lots of people came out.  Many memories were shared.

(1) Five year anniversary – 2009 was the 5 year anniversary of my ordination and wedding.  The congregation planned a special recognition for me during worship (which I knew was happening but did not know details).  It was a very special time of affirmation for Connie and me.  After worship there was a reception and then after that Connie and I hosted a party for our wedding anniversary with our family; having a renewal of vows for all the couples.  A very fun and memorable day.

2009 was indeed an eventful year.  I made healthy changes in my life; had my call here affirmed; celebrated ministry milestones; and continued to enjoy people growing in their faith.  Many other items could have been added to this list…Praise be to God!

So as we close out 2009…blessings to you as you finish off the year and dive into a brand new year.  God has been and always will be faithful.  Hold on to that and enjoy the promises we have from God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Let’s see what God will do in 2010…

Happy New Year!

-edh-

More processing…

O.K….I am back, writing about “the vote” at the ELCA CWA, but all I want to do here is share with you a couple snippets and let you process/respond to them.

FIRST — a woman came into my office last week to express her feelings about where the ELCA is going.  We had a very fruitful discussion, even though we have differing views.  She stopped in again today and handed me a piece of paper with 2 Cor. 6:14 – 7:1 written on it.  She said that this is where she is coming from.  She was on her way to another appointment so we couldn’t talk about it.  What do you think about this scripture in relation to the homosexuality discussion?

SECOND — I received this link on Facebook today.  It is a news release from the ELCA titled “The Church’s mission is bigger than one issue”.  I found this helpful.  What do you think?

Like most other people I am still processing.

Praise be to God!

-edh-

A change of pace

I have been taking a little break from blogging the last couple days.  This past week has been a whirl wind since “the vote” at the ELCA CWA.  Many of my posts and comments here have dealt with issues from the CWA (Churchwide assembly).  This will continue to be an important topic to think and pray about and discuss…but I need a little break to process.  There are some comments on this blog that I need to attend to and I plan to respond to those early this week…so I thank you for your patience.  I am also working on a plan to meet with parishioners in small groups to listen to their concerns and questions while I share more information about the ELCA.  I have yet to finalize details yet, but when I do I will be sharing this plan with you here.

These next couple weeks may continue to be a whirl wind for me though:
–Salem’s 125th anniversary celebration is just 2 weeks away…with much to do yet.

–Confirmation, release time and Wednesday Night Live is beginning in mid-September.

–My wife and I are in the midst of home remodeling…which we are trying to finish before the 125th anniversary (we are having an open house at the parsonage).

So there’s much to do…and with that probably much to blog about.  But if you see a little dip in postings from the past week you will know why.  As I say every year…September is one of the busiest months of the year for me (next to December and Holy Week/Easter month).

In any case (and as always) I thank you for your comments and for stopping by.  Your presence here is extremely important to me and to others who visit.  Your thoughts and questions cause me (and others) to think.  So thank you and God bless!

-edh-

Faith journey

[Personal side note: I know I have posted a lot recently so hopefully I am not overwhelming you…it’s just that I have had lots on my heart to say.]
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This last week has been a faith journey for me (times of trial have a way of leading people on these journeys).

For me this faith journey started (of course) last week when the ELCA Churchwide assembly began debating/discussing the sexuality issues.  But I don’t want to write another post about these issues (been there, done that).  Rather I want to share with you what has been going on inside of my heart during this past week…after all…this blog is titled “The HEART of a Pastor”.

Recently I had a conversation with a person who shared with me their heart about what happened at the ELCA CWA.  When this person called me and told me they were coming in, I did not expect a conversation about “the vote”, but when this person arrived…oh boy…I saw the heart of this person that I had not seen before.  They were almost apologetic but I kept telling them “We need more people like you to open their hearts and share what they are feeling about what is going on.  I appreciate seeing and hearing your passion and faith.”  This person was not happy about the outcome of “the vote” but need to tell someone…and they felt I was the only one they could talk to.  I wish that were no so.  I wish this person felt comfortable talking to others about their feelings and faith.  I told this person “I got a feeling that there are plenty others who probably feel the same as you.  So share your faith and don’t be afraid.”  I am not sure what this person will do, but hopefully this is just the beginning.

But in another way this “beginning” kind of scares me…

…part of me doesn’t feel ready to take on this task because I am still on this faith journey.  But another part of me knows that I need to be ready to guide and lead this congregation…and because that is the case I trust that God will guide me along this journey and give me what I need to lead Salem and Belmont Lutheran Churches through these tumultuous (wow…that is kind of a big word for me to use, but I like it) waters.

Yet another part of me is somewhat concerned what people here and beyond will do.  Will churches and people up and leave the ELCA?  Will Salem want to do that?  This is just one uncertainty that plagues me and one that I need to be ready to deal with.  I need to explore my heart and test my faith to see where it leads me.  I know the question will come up so I am in constant prayer…asking God for guidance and wisdom here.  “What is your plan for me and this church, oh  God?  Where are you leading us?  How are we to be faithful witnesses to the world during this tumultuous time in the Church?  But also…I don’t want this issue of homosexuality to distract us from the Gospel.  Grant me/us wisdom oh God.”

But I am thankful that this journey is happening before the busyness of the fall season hits.  School is not in session yet; Release Time and Confirmation classes don’t start for another couple weeks and Salem’s 125th anniversary is still a couple weeks away.  I can afford some down time to pray, reflect, talk with colleagues, write, read, pray, reflect, etc… And I got a feeling I will be doing plenty of this during the week and beyond.

I don’t understand why things happened last week the way they did, but I hope and pray it causes people to reflect, pray and engage their own personal faith journeys.  Maybe the Church needed this to spur people to action; to explore their relationship with God; to get people talking and thinking; to force people to explore their faith; to get into scripture more.  Whatever God is doing I trust that the mission of Christ will continue forward and that we will continue to be faithful witnesses.

Oh God, grant me strength and wisdom.

-edh-

Resource for preaching in difficult times

There has been much discussion about the ELCA vote last week at its Churchwide assembly.  And no doubt that many pastors wondered how to handle this at their respective congregations this past Sunday.  I know that I number of us dealt with the issues at hand and a number that choose not too.  Whatever you did in your congregation I trust that you are doing what you feel is best for your particular congregation.

Following is an article I came across by Dr. David Lose, the Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preacher Chair at Luther Seminary (and the prof I had for my senior preaching class).  Dr. Lose posted this article on http://www.workingpreacher.org — a sermon prep website.  The article is titled Preaching Amid Controversy: Pastoral and Homiletical Counsel. I found this to be a very helpful article and a great reminder what we are called to do.  The article specifically mentions the ELCA Churchwide assembly, but it provides some wisdom for any difficult/trying situation in our congregation’s life.

I invite you to check this out and offer your comments.

As a pastor/preacher did you deal with the ELCA vote in your sermon this past Sunday?  Do you find Dr. Lose’s counsel helpful?

-edh-

What now?

The morning after…

…actually it’s the first day of the week following the historic vote at the ELCA CWA09 last week in Minneapolis; a vote that changed ministry policies allowing homosexuality clergy in committed, life-long, monogamous same sex relationship to serve ELCA congregations.  The vote also opened the door for ELCA congregations to bless same sex unions if they so choose.  But also recognizing that fact that people across the church have “bound consciences” and that we are to respect that.

With this vote I knew I would get lots of questions (as I did as I walked into the coffee shop this morning) so I decided to address this right away on Sunday morning in the sermon.  Below is the newsletter article I wrote that is a very brief summary of what I preached on Sunday.  I used the text from Joshua 24:14-15 about choosing whom we will serve.  Here’s my newsletter article:

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“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:14-15)

By the time this newsletter reaches your mail box and is in your hands, the ELCA will be forever changed.  ELCA Church wide assembly met Aug. 17 – 23 in Minneapolis.  The big agenda item (and one that garnered the most passionate discussion/debate) had to do with lifting the ban on homosexual clergy, who are in life-long, monogamous, committed relationships, from serving on the ELCA roster and allowing congregations to bless same sex unions. Many of you are no doubt experiencing a number of emotions surrounding this that include but not limited to:  anger, confusion, disappointment, sadness, etc.  Some of you no doubt believe that scripture is clear when it comes to homosexuality.  Some of you no doubt are not even willing to discuss/debate this because you believe there is no discussion/debate.  But I also recognize that some of you may be very excited and happy about this change.  Wherever you fall and however you feel the reality is still the same:  We live and serve in a Church that has been forever changed.  In a way we now live in a foreign land.  So what now…

…As with everything there are decisions to be made, but in our case there is only one faithful option:  We will continue serving our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ in advancing the Gospel with all our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ…who are all as equally sinful as you and me.

This may be hard to accept for some, but when you consider how Jesus treated the outcast, it makes a lot of sense.  In the sermon on Sunday, Aug. 23 (one that many of you were not in attendance to hear) I reminded people of the story of the woman caught in adultery from John 8:  The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.

Jesus taught us to separate the sin from the sinner; to hate the sin NOT the sinner.  So what does all this mean?  Simply this:  In light of the change in ministry policies here in the ELCA concerning homosexuality I echo Joshua’s words, “As for me and my household we will serve the Lord”.  Basically…nothing is going to change.  The ELCA vote will not change what I preach or how I preach; I will continue announcing forgiveness and presiding at the table; I will continue to baptize, marry and bury people; I will continue teach and love people.  And (as I expect everyone here to do) I will continue to welcome ALL people.  I may not approve of their lifestyle but I will continue to separate the sin from the sinner and serve the Lord through loving my neighbor.  That is what Jesus commands us to do.  Loving people and accepting ALL people is serving the Lord.

The ELCA has been forever changed (there is no question about that), but Salem Lutheran Church has not been changed.  We will continue to serve the Lord; we will continue to welcome ALL people; we will continue to advance the Gospel.  But as we do this I urge you to dive even deeper into scripture and explore the Good News that God has for us.  Know what the Bible commands us to do AND know what God promises to do for us.  Get to know God better through Jesus Christ our Lord.

So join me, as we travel through this uncertain time, and continue to serve the Lord…all the while praising God always and forever.

—–

I know that more and more questions are going to come.  There is going to be much spirited discussion and debate through blogs, Facebook, Twitter and coffee shops.  But through it all we need to remember that we are all children of God.  And my hope and prayer is that we can somehow move forward in mission.  We need to get out there and announce to people this awesome love we have from God through Jesus Christ.  Forgiveness needs to be proclaimed; people need to experience love; the stranger still needs to be welcomed.  Let’s not lose focus.

We serve an awesome God…let’s continue to do so…praising God always and forever.

-edh-

Act of God?

A friend of mine posted this link in a Facebook message to a group of us and it sure got the few of us talking.  I post the link here to see what you link of it.

The Tornado, The Lutherans and Homosexuality

It is John Piper’s interpretation of the tornado that struck during the ELCA CWA in Minneapolis last Wednesday.  Was God sending the ELCA a message?  Check the link out and see what Piper has to say and then let me know here.  I am curios what your thoughts are.

I will let you know what my thoughts are later.

-edh-

ELCA CWA09 — “The votes”

The ELCA Church wide assembly (CWA09) is going on in Minneapolis, MN right now (right where all those tornadoes touched down yesterday…thankfully no one was hurt).  The big action item from yesterday’s debate/discussion was the vote on whether to approve “Human Sexuality:  Gift and Trust“…a social statement of the ELCA.  According to assembly rules and the constitution this requires a 2/3 super majority for approval.  It passed by just 1 vote…amazing.  I would like to include a link to the amended version of this statement but as of right now it is not available.  Keep checking http://www.elca.org and the social statement will be there.

Coming up tomorrow will be the “main attraction”…Report and Recommendations on Ministry Policies. These recommendations refer to whether or not to allow gay/lesbian clergy serve on the roster of the ELCA who are in committed, monogamous, life-long same sex relationships.  Currently the rule is that if you are homosexual you must remain celibate.  These ministry recommendations also address allowing for same-sex blessings.  Also built into these recommendations is the issue of “bound conscience”.  Basically…individual congregations and synods wouldn’t be forced to bless same sex unions or call (or be prevented from calling) gay/lesbian clergy.  The vote on this is expected Friday morning.  Please keep these delegates in your prayers.

After tomorrow, the ELCA is going to be forever changed (no matter how the vote turns out).  If these recommendations do not pass, they will just come up again in two years when the ELCA meets again.  The conversation has come a long way and after tomorrow this will be in no way over.  After tomorrow people on both sides of the issue will have to decide how we are going to move forward as a Church.  People are going to have to decide how to serve together.  My hope and prayer is that we can finally move forward and do some serious ministry; focusing on advancing the mission of Christ.

Please continue pray…not just tomorrow morning…but into the future that the Church does not lose sight of its calling.  Whatever happens, may God be with us.

-edh-

Twitter updates on ELCA Church wide assembly

Maybe you have noticed, maybe you have not…on my top, left side bar there are some Twitter update about the ELCA Church wide assembly (CWA) that is going on in Minneapolis.  I have been keeping an eye on things and Tweeting updates and comments.  I am thinking I won’t blog a whole lot more about the CWA but if  something inspires me then I might.  For the time being check your Twitter account and follow me (SWMNRev) or check the top left side bar for updates.  I won’t be doing much tonight (Tuesday) with Twitter but will be back in full gear tomorrow while I try to get stuff down (I am a “master” at multitasking).

In any case, please the CWA in your prayers.  There is much to discuss and much to do but as I mentioned before my hope and prayer is that we, as a Church, will eventually move on and do something to advance the mission of  Christ.

-edh-

ELCA cwa09 and Twitter

The ELCA Church wide assembly is underway.  Day one is in the books and Day 2 is up and going.  Yesterday was debate about parliamentary procedures.  One of the big items was the passage of the rule to only require a simple majority for passage of ministry recommendations concerning homosexuality.  I did not listen to this debate via live streaming through the ELCA website but entered the discussion afterward on Twitter.  It is really fun to see the number of people Tweeting the assembly via Twitter.  But if you are doing that make sure you are getting accurate information.  Go to the the ELCA website for updates or follow “pglutherans” on Twitter.  She is posting Tweets of news stories and other information about assembly action; a reliable source of information (pglutherans is reliable, maybe not so much the mainline media).  You can also follow the ELCA on Twitter for up-to-date information as well.

Last night, as I was following various people on Twitter about CWA news, I got into a discussion with a fellow Tweeter about what was going on.  Obviously we hold different views about homosexuality.  One of my Tweets indicated that I hope and pray that the delegates are not just following societal trends.  By the time we were finished with our discussion/debate I was accused of being “uncharitable towards those who disagree with me”.  At that Tweet I stopped the discussion…not because I didn’t have a response, but rather I wanted to process that discussion we were having and respond later.

Well…later is here…

“Uncharitable”?  Without giving you the full text of the conversation I want to respond.  And in all fairness to my colleague (who I follow on Twitter and on her blog…and whom I respect) I am not going to take shots or anything like that but rather respond in a general sort of way.  Our discussion/debate last night is between the two of us and anyone else following us on Twitter.

“Uncharitable” — I have heard similar terms such as that when connected to the debate about homosexuality.  The other terms I have heard are: “Unwelcoming”, “Intolerant”, “Unloving” and even “Homophobic”.  I am not suggesting that my colleague was eluding to any of those terms, but rather I have heard all of them in the same debate.  Am I “uncharitable”…NO.  Am I passionate about what I believe…YES.  For the record:  I believe in the traditional view of marriage between ONE man and ONE woman. But…if a gay couple walks through the doors of the church I am serving will I welcome them…ABSOLUTELY…and I hope and (frankly) expect everyone else to as well.  Will that gay couple be welcomed as members of the congregation…YES.  I will preach the Gospel to them; pray for them and serve with them…just like everyone else.  I just can’t support their lifestyle.  If a gay pastor comes to serve a congregation in Jackson what will my response be…I will work with my colleague and that congregation in an ecumenical way as I always have.

I may sound “uncharitable” to those who disagree with me but maybe that is because our view of scripture is so different.  Maybe it is because we are at a point where debate about homosexuality is not going to change the view of people who are already entrenched in their view.  Maybe I sound “uncharitable” because saying that you disagree with the homosexual life style proponents generally hear that you have “closed your doors”.

I am not “uncharitable”…I am just passionate about my beliefs and I hope the delegates remain faithful to their convictions and beliefs as well.  I hope and pray they do not get swayed by societal trends or media/societal pressure.  I hope and pray that the delegates remain and continue in prayer…and remember to listen.  I hope and pray that people are respectful.  And…no matter the out come of the vote this week…I hope and pray that the ELCA can get back on track and proclaim the Gospel, continue in mission and be evangelically focused.

There’s much work to be done, but nothing will happen through our own strength and understanding.  May God be praised and glorified in all we do.  And remember…be charitable to all people…regardless of beliefs.

Praise be to God!

-edh-