Wow, what a wonderful, full, exhausting, creative, inspiring, musical week here in Atlanta! Eight hundred music ministers, synod staff, clergy, and friends gathered to sing and pray and share the energy of our excitement about Evangelical Lutheran worship. Eight hundred voices raised in song, eight hundred from across the country (and even a few international guests), eight hundred from a variety of churches in our ELCA who are big and small and multicultural and historic and new, eight hundred who love the church and love finding ways to beautifully and strongly communicate the Good News of Jesus through worship which centers, grounds, and feeds us for mission and deeper love in the world. It has been a lot to digest, and I look forward to joining with other Upstate New York Synod people to empower a worship staff who can enrich and educate us in our worship across the synod.
So, what else is there to say about this past week? We are not alone. That is primary. Every one of these major church events I attend is a huge reminder that we are so much bigger, so much more, so much older and more diverse and more gifted than we realize when we get stuck on expectations for how many people we think ought to be in our Sunday worship. It’s true that we miss the faces and voices of our community when we are not all there, either on vacation or away for other events or gone to the church eternal, but how good it is that we who gather are together! We are a church connected to the saints, as we remember every time we pray the Eucharistic prayer at the Table for communion. We are a church connected to each other, every time we read Scriptures chosen for the Revised Common Lectionary, used not only by all of our denomination but by Anglicans, United Church of Christ, Methodists, Presbyterians, Reformed Churches, Roman Catholics, the Polish National Catholic Church, Disciples of Christ…
The Presiding Bishop spoke to us this week while we gathered, too, with humor and joy and passion and deep dedication to our Evangelical Lutheran identity which is not defined by culture (think potlucks and jokes about Jell-O), but by the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. We have a particular witness to offer as Lutheran Christians, and the more clear we are about what that means, the better we can engage in ecumenical dialogues with those who hold different emphases in their faith confessions.
We shared creative ideas for using the arts in worship, we celebrated the ongoing work of Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, we look forward to the 500th anniversary of the kick-off of the ongoing Reformation of the church, and we lifted up the work of our musicians who offer so much skill and dedication to this ministry from which flows all of our mission in the world.
Atlanta truly was a Jubilee gathering, hot on the heels of the National Youth Gathering in Detroit (some participants came directly here from there!). It is an exciting time to be church. We are free, we are gifted, we are gathered, claimed, fed, sent, together into the great wide world where God is already working to give us all the love and grace and forgiveness and new life that we so desperately need. And we get to be part of this work of renewal. How cool is that?