May 17, 2012
Synod Assembly Update
Resolutions at Assembly
The Saint Paul Area Synod of the ELCA will gather this Friday and Saturday in assembly. You may recall the email a few weeks ago included some basic details about synod assemblies. SOTV has 12 delegates attending the assembly.
This Year’s Resolutions
There are five resolutions that have come to the assembly this year:
- Native American Reconciliation
- A Resolution Opposing Voted Identification Amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution
- Facilitate Lutheran Discernment Relative to Military Participation
- A Resolution Opposing Marriage Amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution
- Becoming a Multicultural and Anti-Racist Church
You can review these resolutions in detail on the Synod's website.
Background on the
Marriage Amendment Opposition
While all of these resolutions are of a political nature, the resolution opposing the proposed Marriage Amendment is likely to receive the most attention and will also likely receive media coverage. A similar resolution was approved by the assembly of the Minneapolis Area Synod in February of this year.
A resource regarding the proposed Marriage Amendment is a pastoral letter
written by the Bishop of the Saint Paul Area Synod, Peter Rogness.
The questions raised by the proposed Marriage Amendment reflect much of the debate that took place in 2009 when the ELCA approved its social statement on human sexuality. That statement permitted congregations that choose to do so to call pastors living in committed same-gender, lifelong, monogamous relationships. Issues regarding homosexuality have only increased in profile since the ELCA approved the social statement and the SOTV Church Council continues to have conversation about these issues.
While these conversations will continue, the council also wants to reiterate its conviction that an important strength of Shepherd
of the Valley, as well as of the ELCA, has always been its diversity. As a church founded and centered in Jesus Christ,
SOTV must continue to invite and welcome all people to experience the love of Jesus Christ,
especially our sisters and brothers in the LGBT community.
How Resolutions Reach the Assembly
Resolutions can come to the assembly by a couple of different routes. The synod council can initiate resolutions and so can the council of any congregation. Once the council of the synod or of a congregation proposes a resolution, then it is forwarded to a conference assembly (a subset of the Saint Paul Area Synod). There the resolution is debated and a vote is taken whether to forward the resolution to the whole assembly or not. If the resolution is approved at the conference assembly, then it is forwarded to the synod assembly, where voting members from the entire synod review, debate the resolution, and finally vote to approve it or not. Before resolutions go to the assembly, they receive final review by the Synod Committee for Reference and Counsel. That committee makes sure that the resolution is accurate and appropriate for consideration at the synod assembly.
Voting at Assembly
Assembly voting members from SOTV have met to review the entire assembly agenda, including the resolutions. One thing to remember is that voting members vote according to conscience. They do not vote based upon the direction of the congregational council or the perspective of any particular constituency of the church. They are not like legislative representatives who vote according to the lobbying or point of view of their constituents. Certainly, voting members may consult with the church council or other members of SOTV as they contemplate resolutions for voting, just as they may consult the Scriptures, the teachings of the church, and the guidance of the Lord in prayer. But as they discern how they will vote, it is their conscience that will weigh information and ideas from all of these sources of authority in order to arrive at a conclusion.
Please pray for all those who are gathering this weekend to worship, study, pray, and vote on the business of the church. If you have questions about the Synod Assembly or any of this year's resolutions, I encourage you to contact me directly.
See you in church,
Pastor Chris Smith
October 6, 2011
Guest Blog by Pastor Duane Paetznick
Who Can Give Communion?
Pastors often get the question "Why are there non-clergy giving out the bread and wine during Holy Communion?" This is not a new question. You might even be surprised to learn there is quite a bit of history involved in the answer.
The quick answer is that while Shepherd of the Valley has a number of pastors (seven, counting Pastor Paul), on any given Sunday there are simply not enough pastors to have multiple Communion stations in two worship spaces serving both bread and wine. Thanks to a wonderful group of volunteers, we do not need to have an army of pastors to serve Communion to an average weekly attendance of 3,000 parishioners. Pastors and staff are very grateful for the ministry of these non-clergy volunteers.
But this doesn't really answer the true question that people are asking. They want to know whether it is legitimate to receive Communion from someone who is not ordained. The answer is yes, it is indeed legitimate.
This very same question arose in the early church when some traditores—traitors to the faith—distributed Communion. The traditores were clergymen who had surrendered the Scriptures to the authorities to avoid being jailed or executed for their faith. Some people refused to receive Communion from a traditor because they thought it wasn't "valid." In their view, the traditor was a sinner and sinners couldn't distribute Communion. Eventually this notion was considered a heresy (called Donatism) and the church decided that the person who serves Communion isn't all that important. What is important is that God is working, and making Communion effective for you. Communion does the work of God no matter who serves it.
Another important reason that we, as Lutherans, feel non-clergy can distribute communion is because of the notion of the "priesthood of all believers." This notion, which Martin Luther espoused, basically says that priests and pastors are no more (and no less) a saint or a sinner than anyone else. We're all similarly saints and sinners at the same time (now say that five times very quickly!). Thus, it is a very Lutheran act for non-clergy to distribute the elements of Holy Communion, as we are all priests to each other. You may have even noticed in worship that the pastors often receive their own Communion from non-clergy. And guess what? It works every time!
Update: See photos of the
organ's arrival on
September 8, 2011
The Arrival is Imminent!
No, not the baby. The Pipe Organ! On Monday, September 12, the first shipment of our pipe organ, consisting of the wood casework, arrives. With it arrives the staff of the Holtkamp Organ Company. They will be with us for many weeks, installing, constructing, tuning and voicing the organ. The pipes arrive a few weeks later. A few things to be aware of:
As pieces of the organ are brought into the building, they will be stored in the sanctuary. There just is not room in the rest of the building. So a small portion of the sanctuary will be set aside for organ storage this fall.
As the organ is constructed, come and take a look! Take a few minutes to sit in the sanctuary and watch the diligent staff of Holtkamp put the final touches on our sanctuary. They will be at work beginning from the early morning through the afternoon.
Several events this fall will highlight the new organ. On
October 1, we'll have Oktoberfest Polka worship with a lovely dinner following. We'll offer a report about the progress of installation and invite you to consider giving in support of the organ project. On
October 29, we'll have a Pizza and Pipes Halloween
Party for families with young kids. Wear your costume for the Halloween march and hear fun Halloween music from the pipe organ. A pizza and salad dinner is included. In November be sure to mark your calendar for the dedication of the pipe organ on
November 12-13, and the dedication dinner and organ recital on
Speaking of giving, thank you! Nearly 300 households have made generous gifts in support of the pipe organ project. We are well past the half-way mark in paying for the instrument but still need your help. If you'd like more information, call Mark Ertl (952-985-7320) or me (952-985-7305).
We'll arrange for a tour of the organ as it is being constructed to fill you on the details. It's an amazing instrument that will sustain powerful worship for many decades at SOTV. Join us in investing in this legacy.
See you in worship as we watch our new organ grow this fall!
Pastor Chris Smith
P.S. Don't forget about our Mission and Ministry Safari this weekend: fun, food, and invitations to grow in faith!
September 1, 2011
Guest Blog by Pastor Duane Paetznick
One of our dear sisters in the faith, Esther Dahlberg, died last week at the age of 91. For those of you who knew Esther, you knew that she was a humble, faith-filled person. Amazingly, Esther taught Sunday School for almost 70 years! That has to be some kind of record.
In preparation for her funeral service I had the opportunity to look through her Bible. And I found a treasure trove of material – coming from a life of faithfulness to her Lord. One of the most interesting things I found was a little piece written by Esther titled “Daily Helps for a Living Faith.” As I looked through these “daily helps” I realized that this list of things was probably something Esther sought to do every day. Her list is below. As you read it, I encourage you to ask yourself how you are doing in your own daily faith walk.
Esther’s list of “Daily Helps for a Living Faith”:
1. Pray regularly
2. Read and study the Bible
3. Memorize a verse of the Bible and repeat it throughout the day
4. Sing hymns during the day – and sing parts of the liturgy as well
5. Take a walk – enjoy God’s creation
6. Attend worship regularly
Thanks, Esther, for this list and for giving us insight into how you were able to make your faith journey with such grace and love!
Dear Jesus, help me to constantly be evaluating my own faith walk so that I might grow ever closer to you. Amen.
August 4, 2011
Sexuality Two Years Later
Some History and Thoughts
Two years ago this month, the
ELCA in national assembly voted to allow congregations that
choose to do so to call pastors who are living in committed,
life-long monogamous, same-gender relationships. This vote met
both approval and disapproval among ELCA churches and their
members. The vote also left congregations to figure out the
issue on their own.
the 2009 vote, the church council of SOTV issued a statement
which said, "the outcomes of the churchwide assembly present the
council, the pastoral staff, and congregation with the challenge
of shepherding SOTV through an important time of developing our
own ministry policies related to life-long monogamous,
same-gender relationships." In early 2010 the church council
chartered a study group to examine the ELCA vote and develop
policy recommendations related to the vote. The group was
intentionally composed of SOTV members with widely different
viewpoints on the issue of homosexuality and same-sex
relationships. Beginning in April, 2010, the study group met to
discuss the vote and respond to questions which the church
council had posed in seeking policy recommendations. The group
met periodically until early spring of this year. Policy
recommendations developed by the group were forwarded to the
council in April. The council has discussed the recommendations
at length and approved their release to the congregation on
August 14, 2011.
This has been a challenging
process – one that has taken a lot of energy, time, and
emotional investment. The study group confirmed two important
conclusions. First, there is no way that a community of people
will agree on issues associated with committed same-sex
relationships. Each person in the study group had convictions
about these issues that were different from every other person
in the group (about a dozen people, by the way). So, members of
the group disagreed with one another, sometimes passionately.
But the second conclusion is equally, if not more important: The
issues associated with committed same-sex relationships do not
define the mission of SOTV or any other church. These are
contentious issues, to be sure, much like, for example, abortion
or capital punishment, but they are issues that are not at the
center of our life in Christ. There are all kinds of social
issues that, if given enough power and energy, can divide a
community. It's our job to give each issue the right amount of
energy, no more and no less. That way we can give the lion's
share of our energy to the most important thing: doing the
mission of Jesus Christ as well as we can by sharing the
life-changing message of the Gospel of Jesus and caring for our
neighbors in need.
I used to make a presentation to
eighth grade confirmation students every year on the fifth
commandment: "You shall not murder." I spent an hour with the
kids and asked them three very hard and emotionally freighted
questions: Does participating in war and killing the enemy break
the fifth commandment? Does capital punishment break the fifth
commandment? Does abortion break it? Over the centuries
Christians in good faith have disagreed passionately about these
issues. The kids broke up into small groups after I presented
each question; their job was to come to a consensus in each
group – no easy task! After they finished talking, I asked the
groups to vote. Not surprisingly, the room was divided every
time. And believe me, the kids were passionate in their
opinions, often arguing with great energy. I ended each segment
by talking about the biblical witness and what the church
teaches on these issues. It was always an exhilarating and
exciting evening. Our eighth graders were fully engaged. And
here's the cool part: At the end of the evening, all the kids
left the classroom together and affirmed their relationships
with one another. Even though they disagreed with one another,
they valued their faith and their friendships more than their
disagreements. The issues discussed were important, but they did
not define the students or their relationships. Their faith in
Jesus Christ and their love for one another defined them.
I think our eighth grade youth
provide us with a great model for being Christian community in
the twenty-first century. We will always disagree – this is
true. But, more important than that, we will also always be one
July 28, 2011
Lessons from Norway:
Responding to Extremism with Extreme Love
Commentators have rushed in recent days to distance Anders Breivik, perpetrator of the violence in Norway, from the Christian faith he has claimed. Contributors to Fox News, the
New York Times, The Guardian, and other news outlets have been working overtime to convince their audiences that Breivik is not a Christian.
I understand the angle these contributors are taking. The deranged madman might claim that he is a Christian, but that doesn’t mean that he really is one. The problem is Breivik is deeply convinced that he is a Christian, and more troubling still, that his actions were a legitimate expression of his Christian faith.
Breivik was a fan of any number of anti-Muslim organization and bloggers. His violence against the people of Norway appears to have been fueled by his frustration over a government he viewed as too accepting of Muslim immigrants. In a perversity hard to understand, Breivik drew a line between his frustration over public policy and the politicians behind it and the apparent mandates of his Christian faith. He was on his own personal crusade.
Here’s the sobering truth for all of us: there was a time in the history of the church when Breivik’s actions would have been acceptable. Breivik rooted his hatred and violence in Christian thought and Christian history, particularly the history of the medieval Crusades against Muslims. It doesn’t matter if I, or anyone else, judges him to be “not a Christian.” In his long manifesto he quoted from more than ten books of the Bible, even the Gospels. Anders Breivik is a Christian terrorist.
Breivik’s theology was built out of bigotry, selective Biblicism, and extremism. This isn’t new, of course. From the beginning the temptation for Christians has been to figure out who is in and who is out; to think of the life of faith as an exercise in drawing distinctions and making judgments about others. Such judgments can easily succumb to the temptation to violence.
Events in Norway reiterate the truth that extremism is the surest path to perverting faith. Osama Bin Laden was a Muslim terrorist; he subjected his faith to extremism. He twisted the Quran and the Islamic tradition in directions most Muslims would never accept.
Christian extremism of the Breivik kind is easy to find. Many of the neo-Nazi and militia movements in our own country find their roots in perverted expressions of Christian faith.
There is no room in Christian faith for us to judge others, much less to exercise that judgment in violent ways. Jesus was extreme in only one category: Love. “I give you a new commandment,” Jesus said, “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” “Love your enemies,” Jesus declared, “and pray for those who persecute you.” That’s amazing. In a world of extreme hatred often fueled by misguided religious fervor, I pray that we are always a community of faith fueled by the extreme love of God. Let our love pour out in prayer for those who suffer and grieve in the aftermath of events in Norway. Let our love pour out for all of our neighbors in need. Let us love them and serve them as Jesus loved and served us.
Let our witness be the extreme love of Jesus.
See you in church,
Pastor Chris Smith
July 21, 2011
Walk for Water Success!
The Walk for Water
that took place at
Shepherd of the Valley (SOTV)
last weekend was a big success.
Money is still being received and so we’re not sure what the
total will be, but SOTV did exceed the $15,000
goal by a considerable margin.
Exceeding the goal means that hundreds of
people living in and around the village of Mahove, Tanzania will
have clean water. Water-born illness which was chronic will now
be unusual. Families and children who spent hours and hours each
day transporting water, will now have the time for pursuits that
will bring greater prosperity, hope, and meaning to the people
of the village. Imagine: time for education, time for developing
new enterprises for the people, time for building community and
thinking about the future. Fresh water will bring Mahove new
Water plays a big part in the Bible. Water
is mentioned right after light in the Genesis story of creation.
The waters of the Red Sea parted for the people of God as they
passed through the sea into the freedom of a new life. Baptism
was the beginning of new life as Jesus began his ministry. In
that same Baptism, we became part of God’s family as the Holy
Spirit claimed us and named us: Children of God. Through water
we have new life, too.
In these recent hot days of summer I have
been reminded of the blessing of water. As I have come in from
the steamy heat, I have been grateful for a glass of cold water.
It reminds me that I have new life in Christ. You do, too. It is
an eloquent testimony to the faith of this community of Christ
at SOTV, that our new life in the waters of
Baptism has prompted us to share new life in water for our
brothers and sisters in a small village
across the globe. The water of life in Christ is
in exhaustible, always flowing, fresh, clear, and refreshing.
Let the river flow, Lord. Let the river flow.
See you in church,
Pastor Chris Smith
P.S. - To see photos from last
weekend and stay up-to-date on new
developments from our Tanzanian parish,
June 30, 2011
“Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” This familiar quote comes from a character in a George Bernard Shaw play and is often used to disparage teachers. I disagree with this sentiment: “Those who can, do AND teach.”
I spent the majority of last week at Luther Seminary in St. Paul teaching a class on biblical preaching, about 40 hours in all. Monday morning, I was welcoming my students to class, only a day after I preached myself at SOTV.
The students I teach have been serving in their own parish for years. They are already good preachers wanting to become better preachers, and have decided to earn a doctoral degree in biblical preaching – something I did myself. They come to campus for three weeks each June to load up on seminars and discussion. Then they return to their churches to work on their doctoral thesis.
I get them for one week and my job is to mold them into scholars who can choose a topic for research, develop that topic into a proposal and then do the academic and practical research to develop their idea into a book-length thesis. My students are right in the middle of this process. They will be developing and sending me thesis proposals this year. Last week they (affectionately, I hope) called me “The Taskmaster.” That’s probably because I told them that they had now signed up for an extra part-time job of 10 hours per week being researchers and writers on preaching.
Years ago, I decided that I would like to spend a little time each year mentoring pastors while I also served as a pastor – a little of one and a lot of the other. When the invitation came last year to teach preaching, I jumped on it.
I would not take on this extra work if I did not think it was important. I am passionate about preaching – it is the essence of serving as a pastor for me. Preaching is very hard work,
although it’s probably more accurate to say it
should be very hard work. Ideally, everyone should be a little bit different at the end of worship than how they were when they walked in. A lot of factors can contribute to that difference, such as how receptive you are to hearing the Word of God, how the music inspires you, or how the biblical readings illustrate the overall themes of worship. Despite these many elements, surveys and research prove over and over again that it’s the sermon, and the preaching, that makes the most difference to worshippers.
It’s because of that difference that I preach AND teach –so that God’s message of love for you is more powerful than all the other life-diminishing messages you receive every week. I hope when you leave worship each week you can see the world differently than before, as a place where you can make the difference as a both a giver of love to your neighbor, and as messenger for God’s eternal love to all. In this way, we can all work as doers and teachers.
This may sound like a daunting task, but to paraphrase yet another work from the stage, this time from George and Ira Gershwin’s
song “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” spreading God’s love is great work, and you can do it if you try!
June 9, 2011
Public Leadership, Public Character
Praying for Our Public Leaders
I cannot help but feel saddened by the story of Congressman Anthony Weiner and the embarrassment that he is currently experiencing having admitted to sending inappropriate photos and messages to women over the internet for years. The personal cost will be great and I pray that he receives the help he needs.
The public cost of such missteps is hard to estimate, especially since Congressman Weiner is not the only public leader making poor choices lately. Politicians in both parties and high profile corporate leaders regularly provide the media with fodder for the 24-hour news cycle.
At a time when economic issues threaten the well-being of millions and critical issues require reasoned and sustained conversation to reach workable solutions, we are driven to distraction by what is ultimately unimportant for the public good.
We have only to look to the story of David and Bathsheba to realize this is nothing new. When King David succumbed to temptation, he left the people of Israel leader-less for a time, at a high cost to his nation and the king.
When an individual chooses the path of public leadership, nothing is ever truly private. Integrity in private and integrity in public are mutually dependent and inevitably intertwined. The saying remains true: character is what you do when no one else is looking. The lesson of our age and of ages past is that someone is always looking, even if it is only the God who has made us.
The Bible provides a simple criterion in support of character and integrity in public service that we should all follow: Serve the needs of others in accordance with God's purposes. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.
None of us will ever live up to this great commandment. But that’s the point. Just as we strive as a nation to fully realize the remarkable articles of truth embedded
in our own national constitution, we also strive to be faithful to the vision God has for us. For secular public leaders, there is a further sacred trust that demands that all their actions—public and private—serve, and do not harm, the needs of others.
As a public leader myself, I am reminded that humility is a vital—and often overlooked—component of public leadership. I am also extremely grateful for the forgiveness given to all of us through Jesus Christ.
For that reason, I think that our best response to a story like Congressman Weiner’s is to pray for public leaders who misstep. It's easy to condemn, to make fun, and to ride the bandwagon of media attention at the expense of those who mess up. It's a matter of integrity, character, and faithfulness not to do those things, but instead to pray - for forgiveness, healing, and justice.
See you at church,
Pastor Chris Smith
May 27, 2011
It's (NOT) the End of the World!
Last Sunday evening, the news ticker crawled across the bottom of the television screen, “Pastor moves prediction of the end of the world out five months.” Back in 1994 Pastor Harold Camping (the one who made the most current prediction) wrote a book in which he predicted the end of the world in that year as well.
This is not a new phenomenon. For hundreds of years, people have been predicting the return of Christ, the end of the world, and events much like those depicted in the “Left Behind” series. William Miller predicted the end would come in 1844. The date he chose came and went, then a revised date passed, then another. This came to be known as The Great Disappointment. Interestingly, the first date Miller predicted was in the spring, while the final revised date was in October. Pastor Camping has followed the same pattern.
It is tempting to make fun of predictors like Pastor Camping. Regrettably, I’m certain I have let an ironic comment or two slip from my tongue in recent weeks. The news media, combined with late-light television, have made this whole matter into comic theater.
At the end of the day, this saddens me. Many families sold or gave away everything they had because they believed Pastor Camping. Those folks are completely starting over, wiped out, as if by a tornado. The Christian radio network which supports Camping spent untold thousands of dollars promoting his idea. Thousands of believers donated to the cause. Those same dollars could have fed and housed many in need. Worst of all, Christianity has again been hijacked by a simplistic idea and is once again confirmed as an odd and curious religion, characterized as out of touch and irrelevant.
Jesus did not die and rise from the dead to create a community of faith for such purposes. We do believe He will come again to judge the living and the dead. But the Gospels are crystal clear: Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is among us now, forgiving sin, bringing reconciliation, and raising us to new life. Jesus is calling us to deepening faith, more vital life, and generosity of spirit. Jesus is calling us to welcome all people in His name, to tell the story of His life given for all of us, and to serve those in need here and anywhere in the world where we believe He is calling us to serve.
I do not predict the end of the world. I predict a world transformed by Jesus Christ, through the words and actions of His love that we say and do. We are the Body of Christ. We are Jesus living and serving and speaking His love in a world full of pain and hurt.
Now THAT is relevant.
See you at church,