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.

Luther’s Seal

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The first thing expressed in my seal is a cross, black, within the heart, to put me in mind that faith in Christ crucified saves us. “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.”

Now, although the cross is black, mortified, and intended to cause pain, yet it does not change the color of the heart, does not destroy nature ‚Äî i.e., does not kill, but keeps alive. “For the just shall live by faith,” ‚Äî by faith in the Savior.

But this heart is fixed upon the center of a white rose, to show that faith causes joy, consolation and peace. The rose is white, not red, because white is the ideal color of all angels and blessed spirits.

This rose, moreover, is fixed in a sky-colored ground, to denote that such joy of faith in the spirit is but an earnest and beginning of heavenly joy to come, as anticipated and held by hope, though not yet revealed.

And around this ground base is a golden ring, to signify that such bliss in heaven is endless, and more precious than all joys and treasures, since gold is the best and most precious metal. Christ, our dear Lord, He will give grace unto eternal life.

Amen.
Martin Luther

From the ELCA website – for future reference.

Quick Thoughts on the Metropolitian New York Synod Assembly

Well, I’m back! While I’m here catching up on episodes of 30 Rock, I thought I’ve give some first impressions after coming back. There’s a chance this will be very short. There’s also a chance it will be long. We’ll see how many 30 Rock episodes I watch.

I started to write a long detailed post and then realized when I got to the 1000 word point, I hadn’t even finished Friday afternoon’s session yet. That’s too long and I was even trying to be brief. I’ll keep it to just the highlights.

K and I were hoping for fireworks when it came to the resolution supporting gay and lesbian ordination and some sort of recongition of same-sex relationships. In August, the ELCA will host a church wide assembly and that will be one of the discussions. The fireworks were rather muted. Sure, we had the person stand up and basically say that all gay men are pedophiles. And the person asking us to stall and really define what we mean by man, woman, gender, and sex. There were the comments about how a former bishop of ours was gay and how denying love to people is wrong. Amendments were added to the resolution and all were defeated. Even the so-called anti-gay war party basically gave up. We had the one guy wanting a written ballot so he could sign his name to his no vote. The other guy, who in the past had no problem going on a tirade, just asked if his congregation could leave the ELCA quickly (like that would happen). And there was the one guy who brought up his long military career for no real reason at all. But that was it. Everyone was pretty much tired of talking about sex all the time. For the last decade, the MNYS has had to talk about it. Even a theological dialog on Christian Ethnics recently devolved into a discussion of homosexuality. People were just tired of talking about it so much. It passed 75% to 25% roughly. We’d vote by holding up a red card for no, a green card for yes. I expected a 60-40 split. It turned out better than I expected.

Bishop Rimbo is a funny and charismatic guy. He wore a big silver cross to mark him as bishop even though it would be hard to miss him because he’s 6’5″. At lunch, I shook his hand, and his “bling” hit me in the back of the head. Stuff liked that happened all weekend long.

The first part of the Bishop’s report scared a lot of people in the room. We currently have 212 congregations with 69 in a transitional phase for a new pastor. 28 are going to be able to call a new pastor. 41 can’t. And only about 50 congregations have an average weekly worship attendance over 100 people.

Is anyone amazed at the fact that we passed resolutions supporting women’s rights, reading the bible, and being against hunger? And we passed that last one right before lunch on the first day. Hmmm.

The food was bad though I still ate it. Everything was chicken related. Even the desserts were made with eggs and I swear that the Turkey sandwich served today for lunch was probably a chicken in a turkey dress.

The Seminary in Philly threw a good party. Lots of different wines, beer, lots of chips and salsa. The President was very nice, asked me when I was going to attend Seminary (after some hinting by my pastor’s wife) and also asked me to review their website after finding out I was a web designer.

The GLBT people throw an AWESOME party. Lots of great people, awesome food, but the alcohol situation was limited. K took a mexican rubber ducky. I hope they don’t mind.

The resolution on torture (i.e. we’re not for it) went 66 to 44 and looked closer than it really was. We voted by holding up red or green cards and someone asked for a count so we had to do a Serpentine vote. That was neat.

I actually got to vote on a position that only had like 3 other people on my side.

The beds at the Marriott hotel seemed to be curved with a large hump in the middle. And all their tvs are crappy.

There was a prom held at the hotel on Friday night. Nothing kills a prom like showing up and finding 200 clergy walking around the hotel. But when finding out that the clergy partied harder than the teenagers, I bet those teenagers probably wouldn’t mind. K did see one prom goer barely awake, slurping coffee at the lounge, at around 10:30 the following morning.

The Eucharist on Saturday was this big giant loaf thing. It was delicious.

Lutherans love to eat candy.

Lutherans also love to defend their position by comparing themselves to Martin Luther. We can’t help ourselves.

And, from what I can tell, I don’t think Trinity is going to have any problems finding a pastor. It’s good to be at a congregation that is growing, has a stable financial source, and a beautiful building. I’m hoping that the Call Process (that I will be the head of) will be easier than I’m afraid it could be.

Are you ready to get your Synod Assembly on?

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?

Postville – 1 Year Later

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A statement from the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and 16 ELCA bishops (including Bishop Rimbo of the Metropolitan New York Synod) calling for the Obama administration to overhaul ICE and how they handle illegal immigrant families. I like this statement quite a bit and find it very encouraging in light of the upcoming Metropolitan New York Synod Assembly that is upcoming in a few days (and that I’ll be attending). Postville will hopefully be the watershed movement behind the reformation of ICE. The Supreme Court recently ruled against the standard ICE practice when it came to detaining and prosecuting illegal immigrants – getting immigrants to plead for shorter jail sentences in the face of major identity theft charges. And I’m excited to see that the Lutheran church in Postville is actually paying attention to the stranger. I find this all encouraging for the direction of the ELCA. Now if only the government would listen….

The ELCA on a tv near you.

The ELCA is harnessing the power of television to spread the word. And what are we saying? I guess we’re saying that we exist, that we participate in social ministries for the poor and unappreciated, and that our mission is worldwide in scope as we help women in Senegal start their own businesses. The ELCA’s slogan, at the moment, is “God’s work. Our hands.” after all. These two commercials fit that idea very well (and it also doesn’t hurt that the first ad name drops a church with the same name as mine though it is the #3 most common Lutheran church name in the US).


Of course, I have to wonder why these commercials are going to be on Glen Beck’s show unless the ELCA is trying to undermine the ideological sway that Glen Beck has on his viewers. What better way to combat ideological conservative narrow mindedness than with an expression of the all inclusive message of Jesus Christ? It could be the initial salvo against the armor of xenophobia, racism, ignorance, and other such idolatry. Or maybe someone on the ELCA advertising committee is a fan of Fox News. Sometimes being a big tent denomination means that not everyone shares your theological and political viewpoint. Ah well.

Bring some POP as a Crucifer at Trinity LIC.

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I don’t have a lot of shoes. I tend to only wear two or three pairs before they wear out and develop holes in the bottom (which seems to only take about two months it seems). Currently, I’m wearing red Converse All-star Chucks when I go to the gym. I wear black low top Chucks when it’s hot and I bust out the sorts. And I wear a pair of Oxford clones from Urban Outfitters as my work/everyday shoe. The problem with the Oxfords is that they don’t have much traction on the bottom. In fact, they have none. I can slip and slide down a sidewalk like I’m skating in Bryant Park. When I’m carrying groceries from the store, that’s not very fun.

So, today at church, I was going to be the crucifer (and I ended up filling in as a chalice bearer during communion). As a crucifer, I lead the four processions that occur during service, carrying a large cruifix in the process. I’m also dressed in a white and black robe. My plan was to wear my oxfords because that’s kinda dressy and I tend to dress down for church and I wanted to be a little different today. But then I realized that the church’s floors were waxed two weeks ago. I spent all day yesterday running nightmare scenarios in my head where I slip while carrying the cross and it lands on my head and kills me. But since I’m already at the church when it happens, the funeral is short and sweet and quite lovely. And then Aretha Franklin comes by, wearing one of her hats, and brings the house down with her beautiful voice. The place would be packed of course. Hundreds of people would fill out into the streets. And my fiancee would throw herself onto my casket going “I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT YOU!”. It would be very Hollywood and Michael Bay would do the special effects. I’d then haunt the church which would be nice until it’s eventually razed and some condos are put in its place. That’s how it always goes.

Anyways, not wanting that to happen, I wore my red Chucks instead. Nothing makes the old ladies at church excited than seeing my red Chucks carrying the cross or when they bend down and say “Amen” after they dip the bread into the cup. One even told me that she liked my shoes before she said Amen right after I said “The Blood of Christ shed for you”. I couldn’t help it but say “Thanks!” I’m not sure the Church Fathers would have approved.