I’m going to the Rostered Ministers Gathering and here’s why:
I was so excited and fortunate to attend the 2016 Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA. I wasn’t a voting member; I attended as a resource person. I watched and prayed as Bishop Bill Gafkjen explained the work of the Word and Service Task Force and as Secretary Boerger explained the parliamentary changes necessary to our governing documents if the motion was passed.
I prayed hard when the votes were taken and I rejoiced that the assembly voted to approve the merging of the Associate in Ministry, Diaconal Ministry, and Deaconess rosters into one list of Ministers of Word and Service. I rejoiced because I had spent the last several years explaining who and what a Deaconess is and how we are and aren’t different from women on either of the other two rosters.
I rejoiced that the assembly voted to combine those two rosters because I truly believe that having four separate rosters adds more complexity to the church infrastructure than we need to follow Jesus.
It wasted my time to have to go through the mini course in church history in order to get past the word “Sister” and get into the meat of the conversation.
It wasted my time whenever I was in a call process and had to educate another synod staff, another congregational hiring committee, and occasionally even a call committee about an overly complex system. I had to explain what the various formation processes and credentialing processes were. I had to explain why I, as a deaconess, was qualified for the position a congregation thought needed to be filled by a pastor.
I truly believe that having simplified the organizational chart of the rosters will make easier to explain the partnership between pastors and deacons that equips all the baptized to use our gifts in following Jesus.
That’s why I’m glad that the vote passed and that we’re on our way to articulating a simpler structure around who we recognize as “official” public leaders of the ELCA. But why would I spend almost a week of my time gathering together with other rostered ministers in Atlanta? In August? (Can you say Hot-lanta?)
I’m going to this gathering for the very same reasons I went to professional development conferences that related to my corporate work. I’m going to this gathering for the same reason seminary professors go to academic conferences.
Here are five reasons why I planned to add this gathering into my very busy schedule (before it changed) and why I’m still going to go even though I’m currently on leave from call:
1. I’m going to make and renew relationships. I hope to get to see colleagues I’ve worked with in past calls and to meet colleagues I might be working alongside in the future. It’s called networking and now that I’m on leave from call it’s even more important for me. If you’re in a settled call, don’t think it’s not important for you.
2. I’m going to worship alongside colleagues from across the country and from different contexts. You can’t get hundreds of Lutherans together and not worship. And certainly, when those hundreds of Lutherans are nerdy enough to work for the church, I expect the worship will be some combination of challenging new and familiar. It is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, after all!
3. I’m going to have my imagination stimulated. I’m going to give and receive glimpses of how the Holy Spirit is renewing and reforming the church today. I’m going to celebrate the ministry of others and so that others can celebrate my ministry.
4. I’m going to be prophetic. I’m going to be counted and I’m going to speak up. I’m going to to stand behind and support ministers (on either roster) who are naming the white privilege endemic in our church and the diminishing, even oppression of people of color in our church.
I’m going to point out to my white colleagues where I see our privilege playing out. I’m going to have difficult conversations with people I love and respect about how we need to dismantle systems of racism that are poisoning our church.
5. I’m going to be renewed, refreshed, encouraged, and sent out. Exactly like Sunday morning, we can’t stay on the mountain forever. Jesus is out there, in the world, on the edges and the fringes. Jesus calls us to be there too. Being in those spaces is one of the specialties of the Word & Service roster. Maybe the deacons will be leading the group out?
A few people have mentioned to me that they thought this gathering was only for the people on the “new” Word & Service roster. I think that was the original intent, but soon after churchwide assembly it became a gathering of all rostered ministers. And that leads me to a bonus reason of why I’m going to this gathering:
6. I’m going so that it’s not mostly pastors in attendance. People in leadership in the ELCA that I respect have talked eloquently about the possibilities of faithfully living into this structure as partnership. It cannot be a partnership if we don’t show up. We already know that much of the church is oblivious to our existence, our ministry, and our capacity. Why would we give pastors the opportunity to think that they were the only ones in leadership by letting them be the only ones in this room?
There are people with power in the ELCA who think that pastors are the only “real” people in ministry. I’ve talked with them. Recently. Why would we let them think that we are insignificant by not showing up? I have been told by a pastor that “administration is not ministry.” Why would we let that sort of attitude stand by not showing up?
I’m not interested in spending the week in nose-to-nose arguments. I simply know that the ministry of presence is for more than pastoral care and visitation. The ministry of presence is also how change happens.
So I’m going. I’ll be present. I hope you will be there too.