The 2017 Nebraska Synod Assembly has come to a close. It was a wonderful few days in Kearney, Nebraska.
We gathered around the theme, “Grace to Us, Grace Through Us.” Over the course of the three days, we prayed these words. We dug into their potential meaning, and we remembered and heard stories of God’s grace at work for us and through us.
All of the fun started with pre-assembly workshops on Thursday June 1st. I spent the afternoon leading a conversation and teaching a workshop about “Stewardship for All Seasons.” About 45 people filled a meeting room, and together we imagined and planned about holistic stewardship for the year ahead.
Following the conclusion of the workshops, was the annual Partners-in-Ministry Banquet celebrating anniversaries and retirements of rostered ministers. One person celebrating a 70th anniversary of their ordination was recognized, and synod attorney Bill Biggs was awarded the 2017 Partners in Ministry Award. The banquet also featured a keynote presentation by Rev. Dr. Tony Campolo.
Thursday evening came to a close with a Lutheran twist on late-night TV shows, with the entertaining and purely awesome, “Late Night with Liz,” or as you might know her better, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. If you were unable to be there, please do watch the video. Bishop Eaton (and Bishop Maas for that matter) is hilarious, and this evening’s festivities allowed them to both show a bit more of their personality and human selves.
The work, meetings, and festivals of the assembly then occurred Friday June 2nd-Saturday June 3rd. All told, 580 voting members were in attendance, including bishops, pastors, deacons, and lay members. When you add in the visitors who were in attendance, there were nearly 700 people attending assembly this year.
We began in worship and closed with worship. We heard the gospel preached and proclaimed by Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and Bishop Brian Maas.
We sang together under the leadership of Jonathan Rundman. We were pushed in good ways by thinking, learning, and imagining with Dr. Anthony Bateza, a Luther scholar and professor at St. Olaf College.
Deacons, or Ministers of Word and Service, were formally celebrated and “welcomed to the roster,” during Friday’s worship service.
Later that morning, the Synod Staff was officially installed by Bishop Maas and assisted by Bishop Eaton. And during Saturday’s service, the Ministry Cluster Deans of the Nebraska Synod were installed formally by the two bishops.
On Friday afternoon we heard the Bishop’s report from Bishop Maas. You might have called it, “The State of the Synod” address, but it was honest, organized, and enthralling. I saw many lay voting delegates listening and engaged, sitting on the edges of their seats.
Friday evening we celebrated with Lutheran Family Services in Nebraska as they mark their 125th anniversary. Following that we heard from Bishop Eaton about what’s new with the larger church, and what she has been working on. She offered some time for questions and answers afterwards too, ending with a thoughtful and important response to the on-going work of the church in confronting racism and engaging in difficult conversations. I especially appreciated her closing words to her final response,
“In baptism we have already died the only death that really matters, and it’s not gonna kill us to listen to each other.” ~ Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton
No, it won’t kill us to listen and talk to each other, and we are called to do this as baptized Children of God.
After an enthralling Friday, Saturday morning was filled with fun, learning, and fellowship at the second annual Nebraska Synod Assembly Ministry Fair. Thirty different groups ran booths or tables with activities and lessons about the different ministries we are all a part of, or could be a part of together as the larger church through our messages and service, or words and deeds.
I split my time that morning between the synod office booth, and then backing up the incomparable Lisa Kramme, the Nebraska Synod Director for Faith Formation, at her booth and interactive experience around Faith Formation and the five baptismal promises. It was tons of fun to see so many people engaged and excited to see what kind of larger ministry they are each a part of.
Saturday afternoon we had our final business session, approving the synod’s budget, and then engaging in more learning and conversation time with Dr. Bateza.
Following that was closing worship, and then Bishop Maas formally called the Synod Assembly to a close.
We’ll reconvene again next year in Kearney. Until then, it will continue to be a joy to see, hear, and discern what the Holy Spirit might be up to all around the Nebraska Synod- its 245 congregations and 100,000 members, as well as the larger Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.