Midweek Message: "Thoughts on Our Synod Assembly"

Week of the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

I’ve always loved synod assemblies, even since the years of my youth. Early in my high school days, I attended the convention of the Illinois Synod of the Lutheran Church in America as part of the youth convo. Church geek that I’ve always been, I managed somehow to sneak out of the youth activities to attend forums for adult delegates on the introduction of what would become the Lutheran Book of Worship. I was thrilled, and hooked. Thus, I am one of those pastors, sometimes a rarity, who looks forward to and thoroughly enjoys the synodal assemblies of the wider church.

The Metropolitan Washington DC Synod held its 2021 assembly on Friday evening and all-day Saturday, June 4-5 – and all of this via Zoom due to the ongoing effects of pandemic restrictions! It took a great deal of effort on the part of assembly planners to pull this off. We had our own annual congregational meeting at RELC via Zoom, which involved excellent planning initiative of our own members. Pulling off a whole synod assembly via a virtual format was exponentially a much greater task.

Our Metro DC Synod did all the usual assembly things. We passed a number of resolutions, undertook a variety of elections, passed a new budget/mission spending plan, hosted keynote presentations, sponsored small group break-out sessions, shared in worship – all via Zoom. Here is a link to Assembly highlights should you wish to see the specifics in greater detail.

My sense is that we are in pastorally caring, prophetically challenging, and administratively competent hands under the leadership of Bishop Leila Ortiz and staff. On a personal note, at my first meeting of the Candidacy Committee when I was new to the bishop’s staff of Metro New York Synod, we approved Leila Ortiz for ordination. It is gratifying to see that someone who was formed under the care of Metro NY Synod has blossomed so fully and so quickly in leadership for our church.

Moreover, I am pleased with and impressed by the extent of cultural and racial diversity among those elected to various offices and positions at this assembly.

While I generally support the social issues for which our synod advocates, I long to see throughout all expressions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America a more deeply rooted and richly textured biblical and theological foundation laid to articulate why we advocate for the social issues that we do because we are a church, and not just another social service or non-governmental organization. There is so much wisdom to draw from, discover, and re-discover in our own Lutheran theological traditions which could make the case solidly for our prophetic advocacy and witness to the world for such a time as this. Not rising to this occasion is a missed opportunity in my estimation.

But what I missed most in this synod assembly via Zoom was in fact being church and doing church together in person, in the flesh. In the polity of the ELCA, a synod in assembly is an expression of the church, as is each of our congregations when gathered around Christ in word and sacrament, as is the churchwide organization in assembly. Let’s not overlook the fact that we are also in our wider church contexts Christ’s body as we are convened around and rooted in the means of grace in the assembly of God’s people brought together in the power of the Holy Spirit. The incarnate dimensions of folk assembled in person was for me a painful absence in doing synod assembly via Zoom. A crucial feature of being church together in assembly are the conversations and collegial interactions that occur in the hallways and over communal meals and drinks at the hotel bar – all potential eruptions of mutual conversation and consolation among siblings in Christ, a form of the gospel according to Luther. Virtually all of this was missing in this year’s Zoom assembly. The Zoom format also radically minimized the give and take of debate and deliberation that would also naturally occur in the context of in-person assemblies. Such mutual give and take is a crucial feature of what it means to be a synod, on the road together for Christ’s sake and our mission in and for the world.

It is an enormously expensive undertaking for synods and the churchwide organization to rent space in hotels, provide overnight accommodations along with meals and sundry other expenses. Registration and other fees don’t cover all the costs. I can see that meeting via Zoom would be a tempting alternative as a cost saving measure in lean times of our churchly life together. But for me it would be a sad day indeed when the wider church would opt to not meet in assembly in person. It is, in my opinion, worth the cost to be and to do the church together in person.

Thus, some reflections on this year’s Metro DC Synod Assembly.

As a final word, I am pleased at the extent to which people from Resurrection Church were represented at our assembly. They include our lay voting members, Maggie Mount, Leslie Nolen, and Tom Van Poole, and me as your pastor, along with Cindy Reese as a Synod Council member, Mitzi Budde as a rostered deacon, and Amy Feira as a pastor rostered in our synod.

May God in Christ ever lead us in ways faithful as a church together in the power of the Holy Spirit,

Pastor Jonathan Linman