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November 4, 2016, 8:26 AM

From Conflict to Communion - Together in Hope

As a follow up to my article from October, I wanted to ask the very Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” with regard to the Joint Lutheran and Catholic commemoration of the Reformation in Lund, Sweden.  Gathering under the theme "Together in Hope" and building upon a document prepared by Lutheran and Roman Catholic theologians titled "From Conflict to Communion", this gathering of Lutherans and Roman Catholics from around the world was historic.  Still, some will say, “not much” in response to the question, "What does this mean?"  And in some respects, they are correct.  There was no doctrinal shift, no surprising announcement that Lutherans are now welcome to commune in the Roman Catholic Church.  However, there were some significant developments from an ecumenical perspective. 

First, Lutherans and Roman Catholics agreed to approach their dialogue out of those things that we hold in common instead of what divides us.  As Lutheran World Federation (LWF) President, Munib Younan, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land said in his opening remarks, "With joy we have come to recognize that what unites us is far greater than what divides us."  This approach led to an important announcement at the event in Malmo following the service—more on that below.  It also led to statements of repentance from both communions:

Quoting “From Conflict to Communion” LWF General Secretary Martin Junge said, “In the sixteenth century, Catholics and Lutherans frequently not only misunderstood but also exaggerated and caricatured their opponents in order to make them look ridiculous. They repeatedly violated the eighth commandment, which prohibits bearing false witness against one’s neighbor.”  Representing the Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Koch then acknowledged, “Lutherans and Catholics often focused on what separated them from each other rather than looking for what united them. They accepted that the gospel was mixed with the political and economic interests of those in power. Their failures resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. We deeply regret the evil things that Catholics and Lutherans have mutually done to each other.”  This act of repentance is significant because it acknowledged the ways in which both sides failed to live out of the unity we are working toward.

Third, as part of the joint statement signed at the service, Lutherans and Roman Catholics committed to sharing in Holy Communion as an end goal of these dialogues.  This is important because those who are unfamiliar with ecumenical dialogues often assume that unification into one church is the goal.  IT IS NOT.  Lutherans and Roman Catholics value the diversity within the Body of Christ, and that does not mean we all have to agree on every theological point in order to share Holy Communion with each other.  For example, it means that Lutherans can lift up the role of women in ministry and Roman Catholics can abide by their dogma around an all-male priesthood.  It means that Lutherans don’t have to accept the teaching authority of the Pope as the final authority.  We do need to have serious discussions about these and other issues that divide us, but unification into one denomination is not the goal.  Rather, a shared Eucharistic Table is what we see as the culmination of our ecumenical efforts.

Finally, at Malmo, the Vatican and LWF signed a “Declaration of Intent” between Caritas Internationalis and LWF World Service.  Building upon our common calling to serve others in Christ’s name, the international aid arms of each denomination are committing to “actively look for opportunities to work together increasingly in countries affected by conflict and war, and where large numbers of refugees are on the move.”  LWF World Service Director Maria Immonen continued by saying, “The poor are expecting this of us. The world is expecting us to work more closely together. We need to bring hope, inspiration and faith in humanity through our work together.”  The churches named as a first priority responding to the crisis in Syria. (For more, see: and )

These developments may seem small or slow for some, but in the world of ecumenism, they are giant leaps forward—especially when one considers where Lutherans and Catholics were fifty years ago.  And ultimately, it is up to us to move the dialogue forward.  The joint statement is not simply a document for theologians.  In fact, it ends with a call to all of us: "We call upon all Lutheran and Catholic parishes and communities to be bold and creative, joyful and hopeful in their commitment to continue the great journey ahead of us. Rather than conflicts of the past, God’s gift of unity among us shall guide cooperation and deepen our solidarity. By drawing close in faith to Christ, by praying together, by listening to one another, by living Christ’s love in our relationships, we, Catholics and Lutherans, open ourselves to the power of the Triune God. Rooted in Christ and witnessing to him, we renew our determination to be faithful heralds of God’s boundless love for all humanity."  May it be so, and may we be called to serve as disciples of Christ—together in hope.

(For the full text of the joint statement from the service in Lund, click here.)

(For the full text of "From Conflict to Communion" click here; it is a PDF download on the right of that page.  This resource is the theological foundation for the joint commemoration.)  

November 3, 2016, 8:28 AM

A Big Deal  on Reformation Day

“What happened in the past cannot be changed, but what is remembered of the past and how it is remembered can, with the passage of time, indeed change. Remembrance makes the past present. “
- From Conflict to Communion, a joint publication of the Vatican and Lutheran World Federation

On Reformation day, the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church will hold a joint commemoration of the Reformation in Lund and Malmö, Sweden. Pope Francis, LWF President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan and LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge will lead the Common Prayer service in Lund and then an event in Malmö. (The services will be live-streamed. You can view the live-stream if you wish.)  Update: the service is available at:  

This commemoration will highlight the ecumenical developments between Catholics and Lutherans over the past fifty years.  While the  churches are still far from “full communion”, theses events are certainly significant steps forward for not just Lutherans and Roman Catholics, but all Christians as we both celebrate the unique gifts of each denomination and the unity we already share in Christ as his followers.  Last June on his flight back to Rome from Armenia, Pope Francis even praised Luther.  He told reporters, "The church was not a role model, there was corruption, there was worldliness, there was greed, and lust for power. He protested against this. And he was an intelligent man." (quote from: 

As we look to the future of the church, this event and others like it will mark what kind of church we hope to be for the next 500 years.  The Christian church as a whole has been blessed and enriched through our Lutheran theological perspective; that is our heritage—that is what we remember and commemorate this day.  We do not celebrate the divisions and in some cases, the violence undertaken by Christians against other Christians in our past history.  Rather, we look to the future with hope for what Christ will do through his disciples of every denomination to proclaim his good news of forgiveness and eternal life.


September 2, 2016, 12:16 PM

A Summary of Churchwide Assembly Actions

During the week of August 8-13, nearly 1000 elected “voting members” of the ELCA met in our triennial “Churchwide Assembly”. 
The Churchwide Assembly is the “highest legislative body” of the ELCA, which means that it makes changes to the model constitutions, receives memorials (suggested actions) from Synods, adopts Social Statements, budgets and other governing documents, elects churchwide leadership and helps set the ministry priorities of the overall church for the coming three years.  So since it is important, I thought I would share some highlights from the weeklong meeting:  


At the Churchwide Assembly, the voting members:

  • Accepted the "Declaration on the Way". This jointly written document between US Lutheran and Roman Catholic theologians outlines 32 "Statements of Agreement" where Lutherans and Catholics do not have church-dividing differences on topics about church, ministry and the Eucharist. The document also presents some of the major differences that remain.  You can download Declaration on the Way at: 
  • Approved the ELCA's strategy to Accompany Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO). The ELCA developed this strategy based on our Church’s commitments to uphold and guarantee the basic human rights and safety of migrant children and their families. The strategy: addresses the root causes of migration in countries from Central America and Mexico and the treatment of migrants in transit; works toward just and humane policies affecting migrants in and outside the U.S.; calls us to work with affiliates and partners to respond to the migration situation and advocate for migrant children and their families.
  • Approved the Ministry of Word and Service roster. When the ELCA was formed, there were various names and roles for individuals who carried out recognized word and service ministries (historically known as deacons in the church), but who were not called to preside at communion.  The ELCA received all of these individuals from predecessor denominations,(variously called associates in ministry, deaconesses and diaconal ministers) and maintained separate “rosters” for each.  Now, we are uniting the rosters into a single, roster of Ministry of Word and Service and calling everyone on those rosters “deacons” beginning in 2017.  See this page for more:
  • Approved the 2017-2019 budget proposals. While the budget is annually overseen by the Churchwide Council, the Churchwide Assembly approves plans for forthcoming triennium. What is important to note here is that the ELCA Churchwide organization has a budget of approximately $65 million annually—of the 1.8 BILLION collected through all ELCA congregations combined. This funds Churchwide staff, all our Missionaries, Global church work, redevelopments and new congregation starts, Churchwide meetings, dialogues and much more.  We do A LOT with the resources we have; and that does not include approximately $25 million a year for ELCA World Hunger programs in the US and around the world.  For more about how the church uses its financial resources, click here: 
  • Approved various memorials – or proposals – from the ELCA's 65 synods. In addition to memorials considered "en bloc," the assembly separately approved the following: deepening relationships with historic Black churches; toward a responsible energy future; repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery; peace with justice in the Holy Land; justice for the Holy Land through responsible investment; African Descent Lutherans; call to discernment on U.S. foreign and military policy; welcoming refugees; and supporting military personnel, veterans and their families.  See this page for more: 

In addition to all this, there were opportunities for amazing worship, education about a variety of topics going on throughout the church at the first ever “Grace Gathering” in conjunction with the last half of the Assembly, and a bunch of other business matters including election to various boards and committees and adoption of amendments to the ELCA Constitution.  All told, it was a very productive and positive Churchwide Assembly, and a reminder, to use Presiding Bishop Eaton’s words, that “we are church together!”

-Pr. Nathan


Photo credits go to the ELCA Media department.  Photos from each day are available here: *Top Photo: Bishop Mike Rinehart Welcomes Voting Members to New Orleans.  *Middle Photo: Roman Catholic Bishop Dennis Madden receives a chalice as a gift in response to the acceptance of Declaration on the Way.  Bottom Photo: SEMI Synod Bishop Don Kreiss leads the Assembly in evening prayer.

July 14, 2016, 9:35 AM

Welcome and Grow

“Now as [Jesus and his disciples] went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.” –Luke 10:38  (From the Gospel reading for July 17, 2016)

I was recently reading a couple of articles about church growth, and I found myself nodding my head in agreement with much of what they were saying.  I know too that growth may seem counter-intuitive to think about this during the summer months, but the truth is a lot of transitions happen during the summer months as people move for new jobs before school starts in the fall.  In addition, many people travel during the summer months and by extension become visitors in worship, so I thought I would share some scriptural foundations followed by some thoughts and suggestions about ways in which we can welcome others and grow together in faith.

“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”  -Romans 15:7

First, expect visitors and be intentionally welcoming of them.  Say “hello” to others and make sure they know where they are going.  By the time visitors make it into the sanctuary, my hope is that they have received three warm welcomes—one from the greeters as they walk in, and two from other members of the congregation.  It may not seem like a great distance, but that 30 (or so) feet from the entrance to the sanctuary can seem pretty daunting if you haven’t been in a while, and all you get are stares instead of friendly faces, smiles and sincere greetings.  After worship, if there is someone you don’t know, introduce yourself and invite them to join you at your table for refreshments.  And the next time you see them, go up to them and welcome them (even if you don’t remember their name—re-introduce yourself and say something like, ‘I’m sorry, could you remind me of your name again.”)  

“Again he sent other slaves, saying, 'Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.'”  –Matthew 22:4

Second, be invitational.  The days are gone when you can assume everyone goes to church, so don’t be afraid to invite others to come to Holy Spirit.  This goes for not only to people outside the church but also to members of the church you haven’t seen in a while.  It may not even be for worship—consider inviting someone for an event like our Food Distribution, or Vacation Bible School (August 1-5 starting at 6:00 pm), or the Big Band Dance (July 23 from 8:00-11:00 pm) or Bible Study (Wednesdays at 6:45) or Young at Heart, or a Cultural Awareness workshop, even a Thrivent Class (coming this fall)… I hope you get the idea that there is a lot that goes in our community of faith, and even if the invitation isn’t for worship, it might either become an invitation to worship with us, or a reminder to the invitee to attend his/her own congregation.  And if you want to take some object to make the invitation easier, we can get you a “Welcome Bag” to bring along.

“What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” -1 Corinthians 14:26

Third, make worship an engaging experience.  Worship is more than just good music, or an interesting sermon, or receiving Holy Communion.  We can all contribute to making our worship an engaging experience in the way we share the peace, offer prayers and engage in responses.  We include punctuation in the responses for a reason—so when you see, “Thanks be to God!” at the end of the service, it’s because that response is intended to express thanksgiving and gratitude to God for what we are called to do in the world.  And if our verbal response is lack-luster, then how do you think others will perceive our physical response to what we have heard and received in worship?  

Studies show that most visitors (at least subconsciously) decide if they’re going to come back within the first few minutes of being at a church. This means parking, greeting and building condition matter.  But chief among the reasons why people come back is worship—and especially their experience of other people in worship.  So go ahead, underline some words or phrases that catch your eye in the bulletin, offer earnest and heart-felt responses instead of just reading words off the page of a bulletin, get out of your pew (if you are physically able) and greet others during the peace—knowing that we are not just saying “hi” but rather offering the peace that Christ gives to us, and finally, don’t be afraid to sing out—even if you don’t think your voice is that of the next Frank Sinatra.

“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”  –James 5:16

Finally, be prayerful.  Pray for others in the church, and don’t be afraid to tell them because Jesus calls the church community to care for one another.  Sometimes we fail to do that, but (hopefully) what sets us apart from other communities is our willingness to ask for and receive sincere forgiveness when we do—simply put, to engage in Christ-like living.  It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from an American journalist, Abigail Van Buren, “The Church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”  So don’t be afraid to take home a devotional… or pull out the Small Catechism from your confirmation days (you can even download a free copy on your phone now from Augsburg Fortress)… or sign up to be a part of the prayer team… or all of the above!  Pray for one another, confess your sins at the beginning of worship, ask for and grant forgiveness.  Because these actions are powerful and effective for stirring the faith within each of us.

I could go on, but I pray these four suggestions help us as a community better welcome others into the life of Holy Spirit Lutheran and grow in faith.    

-Pr. Nathan

June 7, 2016, 9:47 AM

What Exactly is that Path Behind the Garage?

“Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.” -Psalm 25: 4  (NRSV)

As I was working with some members to freshen up our labyrinth behind the garage last week, I was asked a few questions about the labyrinth and its purpose.  So, if you have ever wanted to know more about it, here you go:

Labyrinths have been a part of human history for more than 4000 years. They can be found in almost every culture and every religious tradition around the world and are typically used as a tool for meditation and prayer.  Labyrinths are typically made of stone, grass, pavers, or shrubs laid out in a set geometric pattern. The first documented example available of labyrinth use within the Christian tradition is in 324 A.D. when Christians constructed a labyrinth on the floor of their church building in Algiers, North Africa. The most famous medieval labyrinth was created at Chartres Cathedral in France around 1200 A.D. when labyrinth prayer began to be seen as a substitute for making a pilgrimage to a holy site—especially the Holy Lands, which were under increasing attack by the Ottoman Empire at the time.  The Labyrinth itself is meant to symbolize a journey toward God, hence it is sometimes used during Lent as a reminder of our own “Lenten journeys”.

In walking a labyrinth, the individual is invited to leave behind the noise and hurry of life.  As you walk, the path moves you slowly toward the center and toward God.  At times you are closer to the center, but further along the path, you may also find yourself further from the center.  This represents the reality of any spiritual journey—it is filled with times of closeness and distance, but as long as you keep moving along the path, you are always getting closer to the center and to God, no matter how far away it looks in real space.  When you reach the center, you can stop and rest in the presence of God, and listening for direction before you begin your journey back into the world.

Not all labyrinths are the same shape or size, but a prayer labyrinth is never a maze.  You will not be confronted with a “fork in the road” that is intended to trick you into going the wrong way, because no matter which way you turn, no matter how far away the center appears, spiritual journeys remind us that God is always there.

If you have never walked our labyrinth, I encourage you to do so—it is a great way to pray for friends and family as you get a little exercise and remember that God is guiding you along the path of life.

With prayers for you all from the labyrinth,

-Pr. Nathan

               The labyrinth at Holy Spirit Lutheran Church - open for anyone to use!

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