This is a repost from Pastor Robb Harrell who blogs as Lutherpunk. Pastor Harrell’s parish is a multi-ethnic mission church in Georgia.
Dear Friends in Christ –
This is a difficult time for us to be the church together. Whether we like it or not, the ELCA changed on August 21 when changes in ministry policies were approved by our Churchwide Assembly. Some see this change as the Holy Spirit moving in our midst, a sign that God is still speaking in favor of justice. Others see this as the ELCA officially endorsing a sinful, disordered lifestyle and a departure from universal witness of the Church Catholic through the centuries. I do not write to you today to speak either in favor of or against the changes. I write to you today to tell you about my parish, St. Luke Lutheran Church in McDonough, Georgia.
St. Luke is a redevelopment church in one of the fastest growing areas in the region. The church is the result of two churches merging to form a new mission congregation. Sadly, church mergers are often difficult and rarely prove to be successful. Like many other mergers, St. Luke found itself embroiled in conflict. The once promising mission lost more than half of its membership and its founding pastor. A little over two years ago I was asked by our mission director to come visit the mission, which meets in a storefront location in a multicultural neighborhood. We are nestled between an Asian nail salon and a Caribbean bakery (the bakery supplies us with the most wonderful communion bread each week). I fell in love with this little wounded church and its people, and moved my family from a place where we were very content to this new call. It is a rich place to be in mission and ministry together.
In the last two years St. Luke has made great strides and shown signs of stabilization. We average a little over 60 in worship each week. We are engaged in our community, with ministries that focus primarily outside of ourselves. Our primary ministries revolve around food during these tough economic times. Not only do we distribute meals around the holidays, but we feed the residence at a shelter once a month, we maintain a “Food Angels” ministry that identifies people in the community who lack necessary items such as food, baby formula, and diapers. We also maintain a small emergency food pantry in our storefront so that we can feed those who may wander in, which is a regular occurrence. All of the items we distribute are donated by our members and friends. We know can’t do everything and we can’t help everyone, but what we can do is make sure no leaves our church hungry.
While we are committed to this sort of ministry, our real joy is what occurs here on Sunday mornings. A diverse body gathers. Some are wealthy, some are barely subsisting on state assistance. We are the descendants of Europeans, Asians, Africans and Middle Easterners. We are young and old. When we gather, we are one. Our voices join together in singing praise to God the Holy Trinity as we gather around Word and Sacrament. All in all, we are a typical small church. We love one another, we love our neighbors, and we love God.
In order for us to find the stability so desperately needed, the Southeastern Synod has provided us with over $100,000 in funding over the course of three years. Because of this funding, St. Luke was able to call me to be their full time pastor. This funding also allows us to be present in the community in a way that allows us to share the Gospel with a broken and hurting world. All of the money St. Luke has received find sits origins in benevolence money sent from local churches to the synod. New mission starts and mission redevelopments like ours are dependent upon the generosity of local congregations and local Lutherans. Most of us are teetering on a financial edge that established churches cannot even imagine.
I know you are angry and hurt at the outcome of the Churchwide Assembly. I know you need to find a way to make sure your collective voice is heard. Redirecting your benevolence money away from your Synod and the ELCA seems like a good way to demonstrate how hurt and angry you are. I would ask you to reconsider. It is not the “people in Chicago” who will ultimately suffer from your withdrawal of funds. It is small mission churches like St. Luke and the people we serve that will suffer. If we lose our funding – even a portion of it – we may well not be able to continue in ministry in the same way. This deeply saddens me, not as a pastor who would have to seek another call to support his family of five, but as pastor who sees the look on the faces of the hungry as we fill grocery bags with food and diapers, providing a glimmer of hope and sign of love in this broken world.
I pray that God will bless you as you gather for the Lutheran CORE meeting in September. I also implore you, in the name of Christ, to find another way to protest than withdrawal of funds from our Synods and the ELCA. Nothing less than the spread of the Gospel itself is at stake.
Your Servant in Christ,
Pastor Robb Harrell