I will admit that the headline grabbed me

Posted in its entirety because I find it funny : Cops: Man Uses Crucifix to Break Into Donation Box

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Police arrested a man they said used a crucifix to pry open a donation box and steal cash from a Fort Lauderdale church. Surveillance video captured a 48-year-old man breaking into St. John the Baptist Catholic Church last month and removing a crucifix from the altar.

He was arrested Tuesday and charged with burglary and theft.

My First Sermon – Luke 10:38-42

Today at Trinity Lutheran Church, I was in the pulpit for the very first time. It was odd seeing my name in the bulletin listed as “seminarian” even though, in less than six weeks, I’ll be Lutheran Theological in Philly. My lovely wife recorded the whole eight minutes for posterity.

The reason I’m all robed up is not because I was preaching today. I was also the crucifier (and a chalice bearer). And it was really really really really hot under the robes today. Trinity retains the heat VERY WELL which is miserable during the summer months. I swear, Trinity feels hotter this year than last. And, no, adding central air to Trinity isn’t reasonable so we just need to suck it up.

I’ve received many lovely comments after I preached today and after the video was posted online. I’ve really touched. One of my favorites came from an older woman at Trinity who only came out into the heat today because I was preaching. And, afterwards, she said it was worth it. She then melted into a puddle in our church’s undercroft.

I had no working title for the sermon though I think I labeled it as “Grounded” before I headed off to church this morning. I’m just happy with how it all turned out. One down, a million more to go.

More thoughts on the MNYS – young adults and the ELCA

As a member of the “young adults” demographic of the ELCA, one thing that I noticed at the Metropolitan New York Synod Assembly, besides the lack of young adults sitting at the tables, is how us young adults have become trendy. With the ELCA sending out recommendations to synods to create a “young adult” council seat, we’re suddenly hot. Project Connect and other programs are specifically targeting my generation and asking us to serve. Programs, books, reports, and studies are now filling pastors and other church leaders with the idea that the 20 year olds in America don’t want to go to church. We are stuck in an emerging adulthood, a place that churches currently struggle to reach. The churches that seem to primarily attract young folks tend to feel like a meat market and have a Logan’s Run feel to them (when you’re told old, you’re past your prime). The goal is to get us young folks, the millenials, into churches or else the churches will die. We are a really big deal now. The church wants to talk to us. The Church wants to invite us in.

In terms of church trends, young adults are now the new “teenagers”.

And that’s the problem. Why is the language that I’m hearing the same language I heard as a teenager a decade ago? Why are we now getting council seats after the teenagers did? Why are we getting a young adult category at the church wide voting assembly after the teenagers did? Why are us young adults still saying “take us seriously” – the same words that we used a decade ago? In ten years, why are we still being forced into carving out our own special categories to fight over? Why did five young adults fight for the 1 young adult church wide assembly spot when I was the only one (I believe) to fight for one of the eight lay member spots?

I understand that young adults, the 18 to 30 year olds, are not being active in the ELCA. The prime age group for the development of pastors, deacons, and other leaders, is not making church a priority (or, that’s the claim at least). The ELCA demographics are skewing older. Our pastors are getting older and we need young adult leaders to take their spots. So why is the church using the same language and tools to reach out to us that they used fifteen years ago when we were teenagers? If it didn’t work then to inspire us to make church a habit and a priority (thus the current problem would be less about getting our butt into the pews and more about how to affectively minister to those already inside), why does the Church believe that language will work now?

I don’t have the answers in regards to the young adults. Sure, we would love to be taken seriously. We would love to be involved on church councils. We would love to be active lay leaders in our neighborhood churches. Congregations, obviously, will need to take the lead in giving young adults a seat at the table. Some will, others won’t, and still a few more will become focused only on young adults. But I’m not sure if the tools that failed to inspire a generation of teenagers will work on us now that we are a decade older. And, if ten years from now, we’re still standing around and the church starts asking to engage the “young family generation” of 30 year olds, and we’re still asking for seats at the table, and if a special Synod council seat is made for a 35 year old – then I would take that as a sign that the last 20 years of engagement hasn’t lived to expectations. It could very well be that the baby boomers and older generations are to blame. Or it could be that what enticed the boomers into churches, what brought gen-xers in, is not the same thing that will bring us millennials into the doors, regardless of how old we are. And it is also quite probable that the language we are hearing now is the same language used fifty years ago. But, man, those two days up in Tarrytown, NY, I felt like I was going through deja vu at times – which is ironic since, a decade ago, I wasn’t even apart of the Church. But I could hear what the churches were saying through tv, media, and my fellow teenagers in youth groups. And now, ten years later, it sounds the same. Something didn’t work.

MNYS Assembly Wrap Up

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

MNYS Day 1: Registration and tables

I have been registered! I have my packet of paper, my goody bag, and I’m now sitting outside the exhibter hallway, writing this quick post. There seems to be more tables this year than last. I don’t see a WordAlone table nor a table for any latino ministries but African-America, Romania, and Tanzania all have a big presence. I also noticed that all the social service tables comes with hershey kisses. Yes!

The first of many name issues just occurred. One of the assistants in the Synod office called me as I walked by and noticed that I wasn’t registered. Once I told her my name changed, it wasn’t a problem though they misspelled my first name. People are just always afraid of the c in four letter names.

I’ve been able to briefly catch up with Pastor Fetters, Pastor Linman, and a few others. People also seem envious of my ability to access the internet on my wife’s laptop.

Oh hey! I just heard that there is a bookstore. Time to go broke!

MNYS Assembly : Day -1

Guess who is at this year’s Metropolitan New York Synod Assembly? That’s right – me.

I arrived in the middle of the afternoon, the pastor at Trinity gave me a ride. The assembly is held in Tarrytown this year – at the Marriott Westchester. I arrived, checked in, and completely phased the hotel desk by paying with a check and showing a tax exempt form. Churches must be the only organizations in the world who still pay by check. I went to my room on the second floor which has a lovely view of a building retaining wall and sludge and quickly checked out the gym. After a short workout, it was back up to my room to get ready for dinner. I had to make sure my outfit would be perfect for the evening. I looked fantastic. I was also completely over dressed.

I am going to completely stand out in terms of fashion once I’m a pastor.

Dinner was pretty good (considering we ate in the hotel restaurant), the conversations were lovely, and I now find myself leaching the free internet in the lobby because I refuse to pay money to access it in my room. Instead, I’m keeping an eye out for any Lutherans that check in and see if I recognize them. And I’m still hoping that the bishop will stop by – I have a dream of drinking with an actual bishop and maybe I’ll make that dream come true this trip. We shall see.

I plan on twittering the assembly if I can and maybe posting pictures and daily updates. We’ll only be in session tomorrow and through early Saturday afternoon. With the recession, the three day assembly was cut to two. The business that needs to be done is not that exciting. My name will be nominated from the floor as a synod representative at the ELCA’s Church Wide Assembly. I don’t expect to win but it will be nice to have my name in the minutes. And it’s possible that I’ll be mentioned anyways since my candidacy for ministry was approved in February. Basically, I would like to be officially talked about and have it written down. I will give out bonus points if my old name and my new name are both recorded and future historians confuse me for two separate people.

The few resolutions of any note this year involve the recession – specifically a resolution asking that pensions not be cut as it was for some retired pastors in other synods. I understand why people would like their pensions to not be cut but I also have a hard time understanding where that extra money would come from if the pension fund lost money. Does this mean that the synod and ELCA pension funds are required to invested extremely conservatively, to the point where the snowball effect is barely noticeable? Or is this merely a call for the financial arm of the church (and, lets face it, when it comes to finances and the church, the conversation is never good), to better plan for events like the recession of 2008? I really don’t know but I do think that the resolution will not be as binding as people hope it’ll be.

There is also, I think, several resolutions about human sexuality and the events that happened at the last Church Wide Assembly but I expect those to be mostly ignored. I’m just really hopping for another serpentine vote this year – I would love to have to literally stand up to have my vote counted. It would be fun.

Besides the resolutions and the elections, I will be very curious about the budget, mostly because I like to look at charts. It seems, based on the long term plan of the synod, that we are going to enter the phase of our existence where our Synod is primarily financed by the sale of closed churches and their properties. This is…interesting to say the least. It implies that our church demographics have changed to the point where our cost of doing business is too high and that we are now entering a period where the MNYS of the ELCA might be shutting itself out of a future presence in city neighborhoods. With 210 congregations serving 70,000 members (with only 18000 average monthly attendance) and generating $25 million in member giving, the MNYS is still probably too big. But it is scary to imagine the sale of church properties permanently severing our physical presence in city neighborhoods.

Anyways, I’m excited to be here again. I hope that, once I’m ordained, I’ll be able to attend these things every year even if I have to pay for it (pssst – don’t tell my wife I wrote that). I’m a sucker.

Since I’m about to enter into the Lutheran blogosphere

I need to share this article: The Core of Lutheran CORE: American Civil Religion and White Male Backlash. It’s making the rounds. I don’t have much to say about it except it feels spot on in regards to the underlying tensions that ground the groups rallying against the Church Wide Assembly’s recent decision to allow partnered pastors in committed same sex relationships be on the rooster of the ELCA. I can’t help but see theological underpinnings behind Lutheran CORE mimics the struggle and grumblings within and the LCMS – a struggle based on our inherited American protestantism and the consquences that theology, methodology, and ideology has when it comes up against the Lutheran confessions. You can’t just label one as “conservative” or “right wing”. A clash of theology is right in there too.

I realize that there are a million things that happened leading up to my wedding that I didn’t post. Alas, I should have but I was too busy. I did get married so I’m no longer a groomzilla. But I’m probably not ready to retire my zilla nature just yet. After I receive the professional wedding pictures, I’ll share them and then this blog will change into a whole new direction. Hmmmm. I wonder what the layout will be.

The Dignity of Man

The truth is, rationality is the same in all intelligent beings. reason is the same thing in God, in Angels, and in Men. As men therefore bear the image of God, in point of Rationality; so they possess all the rational powers and faculties, which bear any analogy to the divine intelligence; or, which can be communicated to created beings. Accordingly Angels are superior to men in the same sense, and perhaps nearly in the same degree, that Newton was superior to most of his own species. As Newton had no rational power or faculty peculiar to himself; so Angels have no rational powers or faculties which are not common to all intelligent creatures. Every man therefore is capable of learning all that any man, or any intelligent creature has learned, or can learn. Hence the only natural and necessary distinction between Angels and men, and between one man and another is this; that Angels are capable of acquiring knowledge more easily, and more swiftly than men; and some men are capable of acquiring knowledge more easily and more swiftly than others. And this difference between Angels and men, and between man and man, to whatever cause it may be owing, will probably continue forever; and forever keep up a distinction in their knowledge and improvements for the time being.

— Nathanael Emmons “The Dignity of Man”, Franklin Massachuesetts, March 1, 1787 (from American Sermons; Library of America, 1999; page 501)

I’m not sure I agree with this.

Actually, I’m not sure why I’m commenting on this except for the fact that I read this while on the eliptical at the gym this morning and felt my eyebrows arch higher and my head tilt to the side. I’ll admit I haven’t finished reading Nathanael Emmons’ sermon and I think I get the point of his sermon. The preface describes that occasion for the preaching of this sermon to be because someone donated a large amount of books to the parish library. In that context, a sermon on Rationality and the Dignity of humanity makes sense. Nathanael, from my reading, liked knowledge. He saw God as its source and based on his theology, that lead him to the statement above that, if I’m reading right, is making knowledge a product of God and not a product of man. That, I can agree with. But it’s the bit about Angels that I don’t get.

Really? That’s the difference between men and Angels, that they can learn faster than we can? You think that a creature that could fly, could actually revolt in an armed conflict against God, and could help lead Armageddon, would be a tad different from humans than just being able to learn faster. If I was an angel, I’d want a little more than just being able to learn faster. I wouldn’t need a new car or cash or anything. I’d just want to be able to rock out on the harp. As a being who’s entire existence is the worship of God, you think that would be the minimum thing I’d get. And I bet I’d be pretty fantastic at it too.

It’s interesting how, throughout Christian history, angels matter. There’s even been tv shows about them. It’s not hard to look at the Old Testament, see what I consider to be a low amount of angelogy, and then pick up 1st century CE primary sources and discover that the NT was written in an era where angels were big business. The folks at Qurum had entire lists of angels, their names, and stuff that they do. Besides talking to Mary, they run errands. If the Dead Sea scrolls were written in the modern era, I bet all the angels would have fake facebook accounts.

I don’t think I currently hear many references to angels in my mainline Lutheran church. In our prayers, we mention them. There’s a part in our ceremony where we sing in praise as we believe angels do (and the fact that I forget the name of this part of the service is annoying me). But beyond that, we don’t say much about them. We believe they’re there but they’re not in vogue right now. When another pieist movement starts, they’ll come back and maybe then I’ll have a better context to look at Emmon’s sermon and get why talking about Angels in rationality matters. And then we’ll get more Touched by an Angel shows on tv, Archangel Michael iPhone covers, and then Kevin Smith can bring back his buddy Christ one more time.