I’ve been in downtown Pittsburgh for 4 days. What a beautiful city in the summer with the rivers, parks, and outdoor restaurants. But the scenery and food are not what is most memorable about this trip.
I’m in Pittsburgh because I’m a member of the Evangelical Church in America (ELCA) and I’m representing Luther Seminary, the school where I teach, at the national gathering of ELCA Lutherans. My role is easy, I’m an advisor, a resource person. I’m not sure what I’m suppose to do, but here’s what I’ve done. I’ve Listened to pastors and lay leaders from across the ELCA talk about their faith, their love for the people in the communities in which they worship, and their passion for the church (collectively and locally) to make a difference in their lives, in their local communities, and in the world. They are filled with excitement, open to new ideas, and willing to change. And I have also had the opportunity to share what one little piece of the church, a school with a mission for educating leaders for Christian communities, is doing to contribute to the greater mission. I’ve had dinner with alumni, connected with colleagues, and begun dreaming with people about our future as a church.
‘Always being Made New‘ is the theme, and as this church celebrates its 25th birthday, it is putting those words into practice. Yesterday, for example, the voting assembly elected its first female presiding bishop (or top leader of the church). I was on the phone with my daughter as the results were coming in and I had to pause and soak in the moment. I have lived through the birthing of this expression of the Lutheran church and in my lifetime we have gone from not letting women be pastors to now having the top leader be a woman. Wow!
But as historic a moment as that was, it has not been the highlight. The highlight for me has been the under 35 crowd – the youth and young adults who have shown up, stepped up, and spoken up. (And tweeted, and blogged, and shared links, and…you get the picture.) Do they care about church governance? Some do, others don’t. But dealing with governance issues is only a small part of this gathering. What they do care about is the gospel, about putting faith into action, about global issues and local realities, about how we as a church handle our resources, and how much we are willing to change our patterns as we attend to these things. They are not naive, they know structures are needed to tend to such things, so they come to the table and ask really good, and often new, questions. They push and they listen. They ask for your opinion and offer their own. They can live in ambiguity and tension, but want to keep moving toward something important. I have found their presence refreshing AND helpful.
So as I pack up my things tomorrow night, and return to Minnesota, I do so refreshed and thankful. Thanks to the people who have nurtured these younger adults and listened to them. Thanks to the regional bodies who have entrusted them with real responsibility here, and hopefully at home. Thanks to the assembly for making room and listening to new, and often different, voices. And thanks be to God who reminds us, again and again, it’s the Spirit who makes all things new.