I recently re-read the first social statement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), “The Church In Society: A Lutheran Perspective,” adopted at the Churchwide Assembly in 1991. This statement laid the groundwork for the importance of such social statements and all the statements that have since been written. They have helped ground the conversation about the identity of the church (and this particular denomination of it) and its relationship and vocations in the world.
Overall, I think it is still a very nice introductory statement now 24 years later. But, as I re-read it, one word and concept jumped out at me more than any other. There is a recognition of the importance of imagination. Early in the statement and under the heading of “The Church’s Responsibility in Society,” it reads that:
“As a reconciling and healing presence, this church is called to minister to human need with compassion and imagination” (3).
This idea of imagination I find encouraging and hopeful, especially as we ponder the church today in our post-Christendom contexts. As we celebrate Pentecost this weekend, we also acknowledge the fire of the Spirit and how in pondering “What God might be up to,” we are called to wonder, sense, imagine and even co-create with God as God leads us through the Holy Spirit.
Later in the statement, there is discussion and reflection about being “A Community of Moral Deliberation.” Again the idea of imagination is included, as the statement reads:
“Transformed by faith, this church in its deliberation draws upon the God-given abilities of human beings to will, to reason, and to feel. This church is open to learn from experience, knowledge and imagination of all people, in order to have the best possible information and understanding of today’s world. To act justly and effectively, this church needs to analyze social and environmental issues critically and to probe the reasons why the situation is as it is” (6).
I believe it shows great humility on the part of the church to recognize that we are still learning, discovering, and growing into what it means and might mean to be the church. We are still discerning and will continue to discerning, what we are called to as Children of God. We recognize that God provides different gifts, strengths and passions and works through them in all people in different ways. It is important to remember this, because when we forget I believe we turn inward, relying completely on what we know now, and no longer asking and wondering with imagination what God might be up to in a new way in the world.
For the work and ministry I feel called into and find myself serving, I find great hope in the church’s openness to imagination. When I see congregations that are being innovative in responding to needs in their neighborhoods and the world, I am overjoyed. When I hear of and see synods and denominations that are willing to try new things for the sake of the gospel and caring for the neighbor, I am encouraged. When I see institutions of the church and para-church organizations (schools, seminaries, social ministry, nonprofits, NGOs, etc.) actively working to provide new experiences and new ways of doing things to continue pondering “what God might be up to” that only affirms me more in the work and ministry I feel part of and see myself as a partner of and collaborator with.
All of this is possible when we remember all we do is grounded in the Gospel and Good News. I have been reminded of this recently, and been helped to further articulate my understanding of what this might mean through the gift of being intentionally coached through the baptismal promises this spring by friend and pastor Sara Vanderpan, as an initiative of the ELCA. I am grateful for Sara’s conversations, support and accompaniment in this process.
In my own journey, it is coming at a great time. This week I am beginning to write my approval essay and other such materials as part of the process of being more formalized in my denomination as an “Associate in Ministry.” In writing and preparing these materials I am going to continue to build off of these reminders of the baptismal promises and the importance of imagination as a gift of the Spirit.
Now it’s your turn. With this in mind, and in celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit this Pentecost weekend, How do you make room for imagination in your life? In your ministry? In your leadership?
Image Credits: Imagination.