We Need Rest
Dear Friends –
A few Sundays ago the Gospel reading included the words of Jesus in Matthew 11: 28 –
“Come to Me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
I retired in 2014, but if I were still an ELCA pastor serving a congregation, I would have come to the recent ELCA Rostered Ministers Gathering weary, carrying many heavy burdens, and needing and looking for rest. Post-COVID is a tough time to be a pastor. Many pastors are seeking to rebuild or at least encourage an older and diminishing congregation. They need – and they deserve – renewal and rest. But what was the predominant message that they received at the recent ELCA Rostered Ministers Gathering? That if they are good and faithful ELCA rostered ministers they will make their top priority working to dismantle the structures that have enabled systemic racism ever since the colonial period. They will put their best efforts into working to dismantle white supremacy and male dominance.
I do appreciate the fact that there was one keynote speaker who did express concern for how we are doing personally. He did say that prior to the gathering he had been praying for us and that he wanted to make sure that we know that God loves us. But his was not the dominant voice. One of the keynote Bible studies was on Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus, where it says that Jesus saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove. But that dove was not a gentle presence but a Spirit that then immediately drove Him out into the wilderness where He was with the wild beasts. The Bible study leader then said that being in the wilderness with wild beasts sounds like life in the congregation. What I understood that Bible study leader to be saying is that if you do not fully embrace and pursue all the top ELCA values and priorities you are denying or even working against the fact that God has torn the heavens apart, and if you do pursue all ELCA priorities, you will be like Jesus. You will allow yourself to be driven into a wild-beast-infested wilderness (in other words, the typical, change-resistant congregation).
During lunch one day I was talking with an ELCA pastor whom I had never met before. He was telling me that his congregation had recently voted to become Reconciled in Christ (RIC). I asked him what was happening now. He said, “Nothing.” The leaders who had been working so hard on getting the vote to become RIC “across the finish line” (his words) were so exhausted that they were not ready to do anything else. I asked him (without revealing that I am with Lutheran CORE) how he felt about those who believe that if in 2025 the ELCA Churchwide Assembly votes to eliminate bound conscience (which says that traditional views on human sexuality have a place within the ELCA and those who hold them will be treated with honor and respect) then would not the ELCA, which is very critical of the U. S. government for breaking its promises to Native Americans, be breaking its promises to those who hold traditional views? And would not the ELCA, which claims to want to be inclusive and welcoming, be saying to those with traditional views, “You are not welcome here”? His response was very interesting. He said that he was too tired to think about ELCA issues.
Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you. My yoke is easy; it will fit you perfectly.” The ELCA says, “Take my agenda upon you, whether it fits you or not.” I believe the ELCA Rostered Ministers Gathering was planned not to serve the needs of the rostered ministers, but to advance the agenda of the ELCA.
We have promised that we would keep you posted on the work of the ELCA’s Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church. That thirty-five-member commission held their first meeting immediately preceding the Rostered Ministers Gathering. I attended a workshop led by one of the co-chairs of the commission. Her previous work experience included being a DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) and cultural competency trainer. Whom the commission chose as co-chair certainly shows the priorities of the commission. She shared that during 2023 the commission would be listening broadly, and then those attending the workshop shared whom they felt the commission should be listening to. The person whom I feel was least listened to was an older white male (the only one other than me) who said it was tough going to all these meetings and basically being told that he and people like him are the cause of everything that is wrong. The response of the co-chair was interesting. She said that she could hear his pain, which I suspect is her typical response. She heard and acknowledged his pain, but she did not validate his point. I doubt that he felt really listened to.
We will keep you posted as the work of the commission continues. Many people have expressed deep concern and even alarm over the recent accounts we have given of a congregation that was taken over and closed by the synod and a former ALC congregation that is not being allowed to keep its property as it leaves the ELCA. I will be following up on contacting other congregations that I have been told about that have experienced similar treatments from their synods. We are concerned whether the ELCA – anticipating the votes on the reconstituted Lutheran church and bound conscience in 2025 – is working now to make it more difficult for congregations to leave and former ALC congregations to leave with their property.
As you read this letter, I am certain you understand why as executive director of Lutheran CORE I have such a huge sense of the importance and value of what we do, and why I am so grateful for the encouraging words, prayers, and generous financial support of so many people. Because of your generous giving we are able to continue our work of being a Voice for Biblical Truth and a Network for Confessing Lutherans. We are able to provide financial assistance for four seminarians at the North American Lutheran Seminary. We were again able to be one of the sponsors of the NEXUS program for high schoolers at Grand View University. And we were able to become a sponsor of the interdenominational and intergenerational mission projects of River’s Edge Ministries, an NALC-LCMC congregation in Maryland, where a member of our board serves as pastor. Articles in recent issues of our newsletter CORE Voice have told about these mission trips to inner city Baltimore as well as to help victims of Hurricane Ian in Florida. We are praying that God will show us how we will be able to continue our Spanish language and bi-lingual ministries Encuentros, now that the ELCA’s Metro Chicago Synod has taken over and closed the congregation where it was being held.
Thank you for your prayers and generous, faithful support, which makes it possible for us to do our work. This appeal letter is being sent out by email rather than through the post office. If you would like to write a check payable to Lutheran CORE, you could mail it to our address found below. An optional Response Form may be printed by clicking the “Response Form” button below. Or, if you would like to make an electronic donation from your credit card or bank account, please click the “Donate Now” button below.
In thanksgiving to Jesus for you and for His invitation to come to Him and find rest,
Dennis D, Nelson
Executive Director of Lutheran CORE
P.O. Box 1741
Wausau WI 54402-1741