Friday through Saturday, the Metropolitan New York Synod (belonging to the ELCA in case you didn’t know) is holding their annual Assembly. That means that close to 80% of all congregations in the NY Synod (numbering around 230 or so) will be in attendance. The assembly will be a time to mingle, to meet pastors, to hang out with the bishop, and get some time in at the hotel pool! I’m excited.
I spent almost 3 hours today talking to my pastor about the Assembly. Him, his wife (who is also a pastor), my fiancee and I will be there as voting members of the assembly. Resolutions will be brought up and passed or rejected. We’ll be given red and green cards to vote no and yes. Synod staff will give their reports about the budget, certain ministries, and other such things. Talk will revolve around how the Synod is handling certain internal issues – from the congregations under synodical administration (and to the one in Brooklyn that we’re in a quasi scuffle with over the property). But the big story, of course, will be about sex. It’ll be the same argument that’s been brewing for the last 40 years and has completely distracted the ELCA for the last decade. This has, of course, occurred to many other denominations in the US. Some are pro the recognition of same-sex unions, others not so much. The ELCA will be having it’s church wide assembly in August where the topic of recognizing some form of same sex unions and rostering gay pastors in same sex unions will come up. Synods across the country are deciding in these spring and summer months how to respond to the statement on human sexuality and these recommendations that an ELCA taskforce put forward. Some will reject; others will support. My guess is that most will probably not respond and have a wait and see attitude. One guaranteed thing though is that people at all these synod assemblies are going to stand up and give passionate statements about why gays should get married, why they shouldn’t get married, and why everyone who doesn’t believe that their side is right is a failure when it comes to being a Christian. Well, maybe no one will come out and say that but you can bet a lot of people will think it. I’m looking forward to see the sparks fly.
I’m not a life-long Lutheran. In fact, I might be the first Protestant in my family in three generations (I know I had a great grandmother who converted to Catholicism so she could marry my grand dad). For all I know, I’m the first Lutheran (that great grandma was Episcopalian). I don’t come into this Assembly experience with a lot of non-Catholic (or non-atheist/agnostic) church body experience. As a relatively new Lutheran, it’s exciting to not only see how the “system” works but also to just go out and meet other Lutheran clergy, lay Lutherans, and to see what this whole big 10 million member strong denomination looks like in the flesh. I know what “Catholics” looks like. I know what “secular humanists” look like. And, because of where I grew up, I know what “mormans” and “the evangelical right” look like. But Lutherans? All I got is my history books, a few blogs, my pastors, and my congregation. Luckily, my church is fantastic and my pastors are wonderful. I’ve also got a copy of the Book of Concord on my shelf and I know why it’s there. That has to mean something, right?
But it’s not hard to, when looking at the Agenda, the bulletins, the minutes from last year’s assembly, and just basic conversations with my pastors, to not feel a little behind. I’m at the point in my life where I can comfortably say, and acknowledge, what I don’t know. I don’t really know the history of Lutheranism in the US. I couldn’t explain to you, right at this moment, how Lutheran theology evolved, how it is different from all other denominations, and even how the different Lutheran denominations in the US handle it. I’ve read about it, of course, but I haven’t felt it or lived it. There is still a feeling of distance to it that I’m still struggling to overcome. I also don’t have the basic creeds memorized even though we say one every week at service. This past Easter, I made a vow to memorize them but I didn’t. I kept my Lenten fast (no Mexican food) but not the other thing. Repetition, sadly, is not how I can effectively memorize things. If that was true, I’d be able to sing out loud at least a thousand songs that I’ve heard a thousand times but I can’t. I’m cool with not knowing everything, at the moment. I know I’ll figure it out eventually. And I know when I attend this Assembly that there are many who feel as I do and there are many who know less about these things than even I know. My faith does not depend on merely what’s in my head but my personal faith grows and is nurtured by the more I know. I still feel as if I’m playing catch up though I’m not sure what I’m catching up too. It’s a struggle.
I’m not sure exactly how this Assembly is going to turn out. My guess is that there will be a 60-40 split in support of the recommendations spelled out in the ELCA’s Statement on Sexuality and its resolutions to roster gay pastors and support same-sex unions. I expect to hear a bunch of random stories that, while passionate, will not be necessarily relevant to the discussion at hand. I expect my pastor’s kid to run around and keep me entertained during the parts that make me yawn. I that there will be a lot of references to Lutheran traditions that will go over my head. I expect to find myself talking to my pastors quite a bit going “what does that mean?” when the talk turns legal and bureaucratic. And I also expect to sit there several times and, while watching the speaker at the microphone, ponder if anyone in the audience has a yellow card and how I could get them. I can’t be the only one who heard about the red and green cards and instantly though about soccer. Am I?