You would think that sitting down for hours and hours would not be tiring but it really is. I’ve been back in Astoria since yesterday afternoon and the only things that are keeping me awake is Diet Coke and Tootsie Rolls. My diet is embarrassing.
I’m sorry I did not get to update my blog as much as I hoped during my time at the Synod Assembly. I feel that my constant twittering drained most of my energy. I also took a few pictures which are now online. The Metropolitan New York Synod has yet to update their Synod Assembly page yet with links to the Bishop’s report, items we acted on, election results, etc. Once those are posted, I’ll try to share them with you.
All in all, the assembly was fun and surprisingly uneventful. The meat of the assembly was elections for the Synod Council and for our voting delegates to Church Wide Assembly next year. The Bishop’s report was also the other hefty part of the assembly. I was nominated from the floor to be a Lay Male delegate at Church Wide. Besides the fact that my name was continually misspelled at the assembly (my name in the election booklet describing my age and a 25 word sentence about why I would be a good delegate and the actual ballot did not match), I made it to the second ballot before being failing to muster the necessary votes. Alas, there will be no young mexican male from Metropolitan New York as a voting member of church wide next year. It would have added quite a bit of flavor to the proceedings but whatcha gonna do. I’m unknown in the Metro New York Synod and these elections are really popularity contests. Next time I run, however, people will know me – or at least I hope they do.
The resolutions that we voted on were mostly small potatoes compared to the human sexuality ones we voted on last year. We voted to encourage congregations to be as green as possible and asked the Synod Council to try and ask the ELCA to get the Board of Pensions to make better investments. On the second day of the assembly, we spent 45 minutes talking about a resolution asking congregations to support people with autism. It’s passage was never in doubt – we just wanted to argue on the exact words involved. We also made some changes to the job description of our conference deans which I believe gave them more work and less pay. And our request for the Synod to implement the 2009 Church Wide Assembly actions in regards to the statement on human sexuality was passed with very little discussion and very little dissent. It’s quite possible that the churches who would have complained decided to not show up though there’s a chance that they couldn’t afford to show up, which is a good lead into the Bishop’s report for 2010.
The Bishop’s Report was scary but not unexpected. With the affects of last year’s recession still lingering, the 2010 budget was reduced by $600,000 and the budget for 2011 was barely increased for inflation. The Synod currently has 208 congregations with 54 currently served by a part time pastor or are under permanent vacancy. Another 28 congregations are currently very close to joining those 54. Our Synod is asset rich but cash poor. We own buildings but rarely have the cash necessary to do something with them. It looks like property sales are going to continue to be a part of our Synod’s income over the next few years.
And with these many, many congregations unable to fund a full time pastor, Bishop Rimbo said, point blank, that he feels that during the next 10 years, close to 60 congregations will close in our Synod. As population demographics have changed, more and more of our congregations now find themselves no longer serving the types of communities they once did. Congregations have seen their memberships decline. The money that use to be in these congregations is no longer there. We are, as Bishop Rimbo said, in a time where pruning needs to happen. Those congregations that close will have their properties sold and the money used to enhance the ministries at other congregations or to start new missions in areas the Lutheran Church has not been in. The areas of ministry will change while the our continual mission will not. I don’t think anyone in the assembly was surprised to hear Bishop Rimbo talk this way. In fact, I feel that the recent recession helped clergy and lay leaders that the church needs to change how it does things and closing congregations are no longer off the table. I doubt the delegates at the Assembly believed that their personal churches would be affected by this (we never do think that our church is the one that will close), but the idea is in the air. Now we need to see if it is actually put into practice – a practice that should begin to be felt right when I leave seminary and start looking for my first call. Argh!
Besides the stark words from the Bishop, I remember laughing more than anything else at the Assembly. Our Ecumenical partners from the Episcopal, Reformed, and Methodist churches came and gave lively talks about our unity, our separate identities, and our shared futures. I loved how Bishop Park from the United Methodist Church taught all of us the Korean words for “Praise the Lord” – Hallelujah. It was church humor at it’s best. One pastor thought I was an extremely well dressed mannequin at one point and everyone offered encouragement and words of wisdom when they heard of my current call to Seminary. And I loved how every guest at our assembly got a small copy of Martin Luther’s small catechism – even the Bishops in our full communion brothers and sisters