Below is a speech written for the Past, Present, and Future of Augsburg Event sponsored by the WELCA on Saturday October 25th, 2014. As the Keynote, I was asked to envision the church of the Future and share some ideas for Augsburg.
Below is a transcript
Asking a Pastor to discuss the future of the church is dangerous business.
If I say too little, there would be good reason to question my vision and spiritual leadership. But if I say too much, people may become fearful that their church of the future may become unrecognizable. For this reason, prophets are rarely acclaimed in their own time. So then, we can say that inspirational speaking has a ‘sweet spot’ to push a little but not too far.
I’m going to go out on a limb today, if you promise not to cut the branch while I’m on it. Deal? Good.
I have been Lutheran all my life. My parents were that perfect mix of catholic and Baptist, which inevitable leads to Lutheranism.
We loved the Lutheran church because they were just like us- mild mannered but not dull; kind-hearted but not unreasonable, intelligent but not snobbish, moved to justice work but not at the risk of losing sight of worship.
I am confident that the future of the church will be full of mild-mannered, intelligent, reasonable, kind-hearted, worshipful disciples working for justice.
We are a stable church. Steadfast in worship, generous with our time, strong in our assets. We have had stability for a very long time and have come to own considerable amount of property and are currently debt free. These strengths are due to faithful people for 125 years, and as we project the next 125 years, we can honor the past by remaining faithful to Jesus’ mission to worship God and serve the needs of our community.
It goes without saying that following Jesus mission for us will require change over time.
Pastor Rinn once told me that people did not want to change- then he showed me a list of changes that had been made during his tenure.
Change is a part of life. The church did not achieve perfection in 1517. Nor has it in 2014.
With that in mind, I have five prophetic dreams for the church, much like my namesake, Daniel had in the court of the king of Babylon.
Prophetic dream #1: Environmental Concern
When Pastor Goeres was vicar Goeres, he was given a piece of paper where Augsburg checked boxes about the type of ministry he was to encounter here.
Inter-generational ministry? Yes.
Urban ministry? Definitely.
There was only one box left unchecked on the list of 20 or so. The box left unchecked was environmental ministry. My dream for our future is that we engage this discussion whole-heartidly, in order to be consistent to the biblical tradition of being good stewards of the earth.
The most common noun in the entire bible is tree. We are the caretakers of God’s creation and we are simply failing at it as a global society, as a nation, and as a church.
Environmentalists use the saying “reduce reuse and recycle” and we typically don’t realize the hierarchy in that order. Environmental care is best taken when we reduce- reduce the amount of paper and Styrofoam we use, reduce electricity usage, reduce waste. The second best environmental tool is to reuse. Once we already have something on hand, be it a cup or a sheet of paper, we ought to reuse what we have. If that does not work then and only then should we utilize recycling. Simply looking toward recycling is to doing “C+” environmental work at best. Yet our building, as vast as it is, has only one standing recycling bin. There is one recycling bin in the entire church. Of the other churches in our city that are the size of ours that I have visited, we are dead last in environmental care or concern. Of the other Lutheran churches in our synod, again I would say we are dead last. My vision for the future is that we take creation care seriously. This is a calling from God, the first calling he gave humanity, in fact. The status quo is not up to this task: we can dream a better dream.
Prophetic Dream # 2: More Arts at Augsburg.
I think you’re going to like this one:
More music! More theatre! More art! Some of us have a dream of Augsburg opening a music school. Dr. Olsen is a professor of Organ. Mr. Tippette is a up-and-coming composer who teaches several different instruments. Emily has taught guitar lessons and Suzie Perkins taught violin to half of our youth. Jan Wall named her vineyard and winery after a musical expression even! Our cup overflows in the music department and expansion seems like a bright vision for the future. But why stop there?
Cary Stevens and Joanna Britt are amazing artists, among many. We have a group of photographers, poets, and writers.
As you know, I write plays in my spare time. I have a degree in theatre and believe that walking in someone else’s shoes is the key to seeing another’s point of view. Wouldn't it be great if they knew we were Christian by our Art?!? We can dream a better dream.
Prophetic dream #3 : Tolerance gives way to Acceptance.
We have a lot of different people in our church who have to hide their true selves to feel safe. Tolerance is when we put up with people and allow them to be around. Acceptance is when we embrace them no matter what. I don’t think I have to tell you which one Jesus would have us do. We have mothers afraid that their children are not fit for worship; men who are sneered at for wearing shorts; grown adults who have to hide their private life, who they love from the church; youth who no longer feel welcome at Young Life, which operates on our property. Tolerance is not good enough when we can dream a better dream.
Prophetic Dream #4: Adult Education
The average person walks around with a fourth grade biblical education.
My bible study on Wednesdays averages anywhere from 5 people to 40, and Pastor Rinn’s have similar numbers. But when you think about a nearly 900 member church, this is not a good number. We Lutherans believe in reformation of the church. That cannot happen (better: should not happen) without an educated populous. Delving into God’s inspiration and understanding how centuries of faithful people followed God is the foundation of moving forward into the future God has given us. We can dream a better dream.
Prophetic Dream #5: Welcome the Stranger
We have a very welcoming church, and on Sunday mornings we have visitors each and every week, often between 10-20. Regularly new members will say that the extension of friendship in the sanctuary was the key to making them feel at home. But Christ rarely spoke to people in the synagogue, preferring the marketplaces and the roads to encounter people. We already do this with our various outreach ministries , including our homeless shelter, which operates every night in our family life center for four months out of the year.
In the Spring of 2015 we will work on two houses for Habitat, as we partner with the down-town churches to build community.
I have a dream of another ministry of one that has lain dormant for many years: a refugee ministry.
Refugees are different from immigrants. Refugees are people who come from a part of the world that leaving their homes was the only option to survive. Refugees never get deported. They live here until they gain permanent citizenship, which usually takes 5 years.
This dream involves a piece of property. There is a property on 5th street, an old house from the civil war era, that was part of millionaires row. Joyce Holton and I went in it a few weeks ago and saw all the beauty of a 1860s Victorian mansion, covered by decades of dust and neglect. The church council has agreed to get an appraisal of this property to see what it would cost. It’s a dream, sure. But all good things start there.
There was a Lutheran minister in the 1890s who wanted to start a different kind off church downtown, a mission start for people unlike any Moravian church around.
Pastor Lutz, knocked on doors and started a church plant for a Lutheran church. And he called it Augsburg.
During the 1920s our church relocated to this spot and built our Sanctuary. But in the economic downtown of the great depression, the Moravian church gave us an interest-free loan. We owe our survival in part to the dreams of those who came before us, who were willing to try something new, who saw a vision of something that did not exist, and who remained steadfast in the vision that Christ has put in their hearts.
I see an Augsburg that has a bright future to be sure. Where kind-hearted Lutheran tackle deficiencies in the church and build on long-standing strengths. Where we embrace change with full knowledge that the future is never the same as the past.
There is a saying in the waiting room at my children’s pediatricians’ office. It’s from India and it says, “We do not inherit this land from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”
Children are full of dreams. They are also the ones whose faith Jesus tells us to exemplify. It is our job to help this faith and these dreams be realized.
Let us pray.
God of the Future, draw us to you. Lead us on your paths to learn your ways. Enable us to be leaders that believe in things unseen, with the guidance of our forebears, let us be workers for the new Kingdom of God. Amen.