A few thoughts.
First, this decision has been a long time coming. Just over twenty-two years ago when the ELCA was formed, I saw the roots of this current conflict at a student ministry gathering in Houston, Texas. The conflict tearing the ELCA apart today was fully present there. I do not mean the issue of homosexuality, though then as now that issue was the presenting symptom. At that gathering in Houston we saw our own -- for at that time I bought into it, though it itched in the back of my brain and my heart that something was wrong -- our own ideas of "right" trump a sensible reading of the Bible. We chose an emotional version of political correctness over a simple (not to say simplistic) reading of God's Word. This choice has plagued the ELCA from that day to the present time.
I was encouraged by the genuine spirit of respect Glenndy Ose, the ELCA Minneapolis Synod Bishop's assistant, brought to worship and to the congregational meeting on Sunday morning. She was gracious and kind. Similarly, I pray such a spirit is possible with those who have felt it necessary to leave Central Lutheran. Several people who returned for the vote refused to make eye contact or speak to me, though I greeted them cheerfully. None of those I recognized as having left Central approached me; I approached many of them, simply to offer greetings and welcome. Some spoke to me but refused to shake my hand. One such individual did say that he continues to pray for me, and I thanked him.
I have left the ELCA, and am forfeiting my right to be critical from the inside. I have given up my right to speak as part of that family, and instead I find myself at the outskirts of town shaking dust off my shoes. I told my daughter yesterday that leaving the ELCA for me was like the heart-wrenching decision to amputate a limb in order to save the rest of the body. I grieve over this decision. But the decision has been made, and I don't know how else it could have been made. Many people criticized the process, criticized me, criticized others of our pastoral staff. I hear rumors about our church staff that I would find strange and amusing, if it was not for the malice that drives the rumors. Since Sunday, I find myself breathing deeper and feeling a sense of peace and release that I have not felt in a very long time. And in that way, I rejoice. Joy and grief are not opposites, but familiar bedfellows.
About a year ago, maybe a little less, I told another person on staff at Central that whenever we try to get a lot of people on board for something -- reading the Bible, praying, being a part of some campaign or other, we always get right around three hundred people. No matter how hard we push, we end up between 250-350 people. Almost a year ago we pushed the "REVEAL" study as hard as we've pushed anything in my time at Central. It was an easy thing for people to do; all it required was 25 minutes for an online survey. We communicated the importance of participation, offered to help people who were not computer literate, and talked at length about the critical importance of the survey. After that effort, 363 people completed REVEAL. My thought at that time was that we should accept this and spend 80% of our discipling energy on those 300 people who buy in to what we're doing at Central, if they could be identified, and move forward by leading the ones who want to be led. That strategy never got any traction. In fact, it pretty much fell flat. And in the timing of God, I find myself very glad. (It is humbling and reassuring to look back and see that you were completely wrong.) Now, less than a year later, we have nearly 700 people committed to reading the Bible every day in 2010. And nearly 500 households, representing at least 700 people, have taken home a copy of the book The Hole In Our Gospel that will be our focus for Lent. (I'm so very excited about this book and the impact I believe it will have on Central's people!) Our overall giving as a congregation is up significantly from a year ago. In other words, from a year ago to now, our buy-in numbers have doubled and our giving has increased. In terms of numbers and participation, it seems God is doing something significant at Central. I am excited to see what that looks like in the days to come!
Six years ago, our church leadership was given a piece of artwork that hangs in several offices around the church, including mine. The backdrop looks like a sailboat in the tumult of a hurricane, maybe, if you use your imagination. Superimposed on this image are three phrases that have guided our staff since that time:
Passion for Jesus
Genuinely love one another
It is an honor to serve a church where these three phrases are at the root of all we do. Of course we fall short, time and again. We confess our sin, we turn away from it as much as we are able, and we move forward again in that same passionate, guided, loving mission. May God grant that all that we have been through -- and all we continue to go through, for I'm quite sure the hurricane has not passed -- may serve this end: that people should come to know Jesus as Lord, and knowing him as Lord, they would take the Bible as his trustworthy Word.