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In last month’s edition of the newly revised magazine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Living Lutheran, our national bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, posed a question to the congregations in our extended church body. It was a basic and essential question of “why.” This question invites us as members of the church to consider why it is that we exist as communities of faith, and why it is that we do the activities that we do. I found this to be a timely question that could help us to formulate some important conclusions.
Bishop Eaton’s question also brought to my mind some conversations that I had with Lutheran pastors in the former country of East Germany over twenty years ago. They talked about their experiences of the church before the fall of Communism in November of 1989. The churches were packed back then!
People gathered in large numbers because they experienced freedom inside the church’s walls. After Communism fell, freedom spread to the larger world. It seems, however, that for many the church had served its purpose and was no longer useful. Church attendance has plummeted in the years following Communism. Could it be that some in this country have also concluded that the time for church has come and gone? Are there new ways that the church could support freedom and work to inspire and help people to experience “the abundant life that Christ wishes to provide” in Germany, the United States and in all places of the world today? Are worship and teaching the Christian faith still important to us today? Why do we exist at Prince of Peace as a house of worship?
Perhaps some proposed changes in our country could be a way that God is
giving us a clue to these questions. Many of you have heard of the planned
update to the design of currency in this country. Harriet Tubman, perhaps a
lesser known leader in our country’s history, will soon be featured promi-
nently on the face of the twenty dollar bill. Ms. Tubman was an African
American woman who gained her freedom from slavery, but was willing to
risk that freedom to help others to know freedom as well. She had a deep
sense of God’s presence in her life, and she would not accept slavery as an
ongoing institution. She was a Christ like figure willing to sacrifice and
share for the benefit of others. Several years ago three key goals of the New
Jersey Synod were to “grow the church, raise up leaders and build peace.”
If faith communities can empower people like Harriet Tubman in our own
day, leaders with a profound sense of Christ’s presence in their life who are
willing to sacrifice for the benefit of others, the closer we will be to building
a congregation, a country and a world community that is closer to Jesus’ high standards. We may also be able to identify some important answers to the question of “why do we exist today as a body of believers in a loving God!”
- Pastor John Holliday
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