Tomorrow the Lutheran Church observes Reformation Sunday, the only date on the church calendar year really unique to Lutherans. October 31 is the anniversary of Martin Luther posting his ninety-five theses for debate concerning the sale of indulgences. He nailed his proposal to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany on the Eve of All Saints Day knowing that in the morning, people coming to worship could read his ideas. In the tradition of St. Augustine before him, Luther’s intent was to spur debate for the purpose of bringing the church back to its true roots – scripture, faith, and grace. As time and debate progressed, it became clear that Luther and his followers would be forced to begin their own denomination, and there have been “Lutherans” for the last 450+ years. Congregations observe the day with the color of red for the fire of the Holy Spirit and the reforming power of the Spirit in our lives. Red is also the general church color of martyrs and reformers.
I begin with that background about Reformation, because I believe just as there was a beginning of a formal reformation about 500 years ago, the church is always forming and reforming. This can be in the large scale changes of churches and congregations coming to new insights and understandings about God, and what it means to be living into being the people of God’s and God’s co-creators. This can also be on the more local and individual scale, where people discern for themselves its time to change or that God might be leading them to a new expression of ministry and service.
I write today with the latter in mind. My mother will be concluding her current role in a Lutheran congregation as the worship band leader, hand bell choirs director, and youth choir director at the end of this month. The congregation she has served faithfully in this most recent role (which has also included time as fill-in accompanist; adult choir accompanist; and Sunday School music/worship leader and Christmas program writer and director among many other things) will be celebrating her with a wonderful lunch tomorrow. I am sad that I will not be able to be there in person to support her and celebrate her. But I believe my mom knows how proud I am of her. In a lot of ways, my passion for congregational life and leadership comes from her. I have seen how much love she has for the people she has served and served alongside all these years. I have also seen and sensed that it’s time to discern what God might be calling her towards next.
You see, she has been serving in this current congregation since the mid-1990s. But, she has been on staff in a congregation now about 40 years. She started serving and leading church choirs and groups when she was in high school, continued while in college, served on staff in a different congregation after college where she met my Dad for the first time, and then when moving half way across the country was at one point the Director of Education for a very large Midwest congregation. Ultimately they returned west, and she served on staff in a couple congregations in roles and leadership around worship and music. She was really an Associate in Ministry before congregations even knew what that meant. Over time church practice and policy has changed, and many people of her generation have lost that official title simply because the larger church has not quite figured out how to best equip, roster, and sustain people with ministry calls other than that of Word and Sacrament. She has seen the challenges of this, but they have not overcome her. She has instead pushed on trusting that she has purpose, and knowing she was created to show the love of God to people in her own unique ways.
I have my hunches as to what might be next for Mom. But today, I give thanks for her and to her. Mom, you are a real leader. You are a real servant and child of God. As you go through this reformation time, I know that you will be excited about what is next. And I look forward to being a part of that journey as your son, from near or far.
For those of you in church leadership, or actively involved in a congregation, what kind of forming and reforming is your congregation going through now? What kind of little reformation are you a part of, or might possibly become a part of?