October 2012

A Tweet A Day for Advent

Advent: A Good Time to Experiment with Twitter

Statistics show that Twitter is one of the most powerful tools of Social Media, out-ranking even Facebook for the purpose of drawing traffic. Yet there is a huge barrier keeping people from using it.

We just don’t think that way . . . (2×2 included).

But Advent might be a good time to start using Twitter. Advent includes a tradition of daily reminders anticipating the coming of the Messiah. There are tons of methods used, including special devotions, colorful calendars with a door to open for each day as we wait for Christmas, and numbered decorations to add to a tree.

If you are at all dedicated to fully using Social Media, consider an Advent Twitter campaign. But start now. Encourage your members to sign up for Twitter accounts and start collecting followers among their friends.

We are going to try this experiment, so we hope you join us. Take some time in the next couple of weeks to become familiar with Twitter, so that you are ready to go with your Advent Twitter campaign come December.

Here are a few links to help you get started:

Remember: it is every church member’s responsibility to spread the Word. Twitter is one way to do this.

The power of Twitter is in retweeting — the people you send a message (or Tweet) should then broadcast it to their friends (retweet). If your Advent campaign is successful, you’ll attract more followers from the followers of your network.

It will be an interesting experiment to measure the mission power of your congregation might have as you encourage members to retweet.

Twitter is totally opt in, so you do not have to feel intrusive. Anyone can stop following at any time.

Here’s our contribution to help make this experiment easy. Here are messages, already measured to fit Twitter’s 144-character limitation. You can Tweet these manually once a day, or if you are already using Twitter, you may have discovered services that allow you to schedule tweets. (Google “schedule tweets”)

Our list of tweets.

Feel free to use our tweets, add to them or reorganize them. Try to include local references from time to time. There are more than enough and more can be added. Most are short enough that you can create a “short link” to your church web site. (bitly.com or tinyurl.com)

NOTE: In some cases, the Bible verses were shortened to fit Twitter’s 144-character platform.

  1. ADVENT WREATH: symbol of victory, an unending circle symbolizes God. 4 candles for 4 weeks.
  2. ADVENT CANDLE 1: HOPE—God will keep his promises.
  3. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.—John 1:1
  4. Gabriel tells Zechariah that he and Elizabeth will have a baby boy named John. They were old and had lost hope.
  5. Gabriel visits Mary and tells her she will have a baby boy. Mary had not yet married!
  6. CANDLE 2: PREPARATION—Are you ready for the big day? God gives you time to get ready!
  7. And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.—Mark 1:4
  8. Advent means coming. God’s Son is coming? Are you ready? How will you get ready?
  9. God loves us and is sending us his Son. How can you show your love?
  10. All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.—Psalm 25:10
  11. Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.—John 14:6
  12. CANDLE 3: JOY—But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
  13. Elizabeth says to Mary: Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!
  14. Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices… for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.—Luke 1:46-49
  15. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.—Ephesians 2:17
  16. CANDLE 4: LOVE—God is sending Jesus to earth because He loves us.
  17. Imagine this: The wolf will live with the lamb . . . and a little child will lead them. (and there’s more read Isaiah 11:6-9)
  18. Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife—Matthew 1:20b
  19. To Joseph: Name the baby Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
  20. Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua, which means the Lord saves.
  21. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.—Ephesians 2:17
  22. Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.—John 14:6
  23. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son.—John 1:14
  24. To you, O Lord, I lift my soul. Show me your paths and teach me to follow;
 guide me by your truth and instruct me.—Psalm 25
  25. Herod sent the Magi to Bethlehem and said, “Report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”—Matthew 2:8
  26. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman.—Galatians 4:4
  27. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.—Romans 6:23
  28. Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness;
 come before him with joyful songs.—Psalm 100:1,2
  29. (A favorite summary of Advent from St. Augustine): You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in You.
photo credit: Jorbasa via photopin cc

Adult Object Lesson: November 4, 2012

Hearing, Obedience and the Commandments

Adult Object Lesson: Deuteronomy 6:1-9Psalm 119:1-8Hebrews 9:11-14Mark 12:28-34

Today’s scriptures have a common theme. They are about listening and obeying. In fact, in today’s gospel, Jesus takes and passes a test!

Today’s object lesson is about following directions. Your congregation will take a test.

 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

The Old Testament Lesson is called The Shema, the Hebrew word for Hear. It is the key Bible text in the Christian/Judaic scriptures.

The Psalm reassures us that there is happiness in following God’s ordinances.

The Epistle and the Gospel dance around the established authorities of scripture—the priests, scribes and Jesus.

Today’s Gospel follows a number of exchanges between various religious leaders who challenge Jesus. There seems to be some confusion among Jesus’ followers. In comes a scribe, a fellow who is used to being the “go to” guy when such questions arise.

Scribes were respected teachers, entrusted to copy and interpret scripture.

So, in this exchange, we have “dueling teachers.”

As we read today, we might be waiting for this scribe to get his comeuppance from Jesus, the great teacher.

That’s not what happens!

The tables are turned. This time Jesus is quizzed.

The question: What is the most important commandment?

We can be amused that Jesus passes the scribe’s test, but Jesus took him seriously. He could have answered, “How dare YOU question ME!” But Jesus embraced the moment. He enjoyed the exchange just as any good teacher might enjoy debating a worthy colleague.

Jesus’ answer assures the scribe that He has not departed from the traditional Jewish teachings. And so the scribe, who clearly knows his stuff, is neither embarrassed nor intimidated.

The following exercise is adapted from a “listening” exercise used with school children. There is no trick. It’s just seeing if you can follow directions. Educators claim that despite the simplicity, it is, in fact, a challenge. The only suggestion from teachers is to tell them you will not repeat a direction more than once. They have to LISTEN if they are to OBEY!

You might interweave this with your actual sermon.

Make sure there is a blank piece of paper and a pencil handed out to each worshiper before the sermon or with the bulletin.

Before the sermon. Instruct the congregation to fold their piece of paper in half lengthwise. Then ask them to open the folded piece of paper and fold it a second time crosswise. Again, have them unfold the paper. They should have a piece of paper that is neatly divided into four sections. Have them number the sections. 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Have them draw a roughly two-inch circle in the center where the folds cross.

Have them write inside the circle, ” I will love the Lord with all my”

Tell them to listen carefully in the sermon for further directions.

Interspersed in your sermon give the following directions.

In section 1, write HEART

In section 2, write SOUL

In section 3, write STRENGTH

In section 4, write MIND

Congratulate them for following your directions. Challenge them to follow the directions of the commandment.

Bonus question: What is the second most important commandment. (See if they were really listening!)

The Story of the Grinch Is A Modern Parable

More About Our Whoville Party

Last January, Redeemer Lutheran Church, the parent organization of 2×2, held a Whoville Party to celebrate Christmas. We wrote a small post about our experience.

That post has attracted traffic all year and today someone asked for details.

So here goes!


Last year’s invitation

The idea for our Whoville Party came from our unique place in the Church. We have been locked out of our sanctuary in a property dispute with our regional body. As we approached our THIRD year of no church in which to celebrate Christmas, we were struck by the similarities to our situation and the famous Dr. Seuss story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 

To add to that experience, just as we were beginning to plan our Whoville Party, the local church authorities made an announcement inviting people to help “clean out” our church just a few days before Christmas. The parallels were difficult to ignore!

So the story of the Grinch is very real to us. And we are planning to party again for our fourth year of being locked out of our church at Christmastime by the church leaders who manage to miss the message of Christmas year after year.

We borrowed space from a local theater and set about making a party that families and other community groups might like to attend.

Here are some of details. Some of these we tried on our first Whoville Party and some are things we will try this year.

First, let us point out that the story of the Grinch is a modern parable and though it is written to appeal to the broad Christmas audience, it is not difficult to relate it to the teachings of the original Christmas Story. We encourage any Christian group to tie the powerful biblical story of Christmas to this secular story.


We happen to have a fine artist in our congregation who created murals on large sheets of foam core and sign board triptychs used by businesses for trade show displays. These can be purchased at any office supply store. He painted images of Whoville to decorate the walls. If you have no artists among your group, there are plenty of images online that you can have printed on banners. Just Google images for Whoville. Banners are not as costly as you might think. Look up some large format printers online. You can put a few hundred dollars into this and reuse the same banners every year.

You can look at the illustrations from the book and string garlands and stockings like those depicted.


We rented a Grinch costume and one of our young men played the Grinch. Be careful how you do this. Little children are afraid of the Grinch. You might also want to costume a Santa to help the little children feel safe. (Renting a costume costs about the same as buying one, we found. Shop now!)

You might feature a costumed Mayor of Whoville to circulate through the town throughout the party.

Story Corner 

We had a story corner where children gathered to hear the reading of the Grinch Story. You can also read the Christmas story or even a Santa story, too, if it fits your plans.

Party Games

We had game stations and punch cards (on strings so they could wear them around their necks) for each attendant. If they played all the games, their punch card was entered in a drawing for a prize.

The games included:

Best Whoville Outfit: Announce a prize ahead of time to encourage attendants to come dressed for the spirit of the party.

Dress the Grinch: blindfolded children pull clothes out of a box and dress the Grinch.

Pin the antlers on Max: A drawing of Max without his antlers is posted on the wall and blindfolded contestants pin the antlers. You might add some other characters to the drawing so the antlers could end up on any of them for more fun.

Find the Heart Scavenger Game: Hide a little cut-out heart and the heart that grew three sizes. This can be a progressive game. When the little heart is found the finder gets to hide it again for the next person. The big heart can be the station where they report finding the heart. They can sign the big heart before sneaking off to hide the heart again.

Bean toss:  Make a big heart the target for a bean bag toss. You can cut it out of foam core or just lay a large heart on the floor.

Whoville Photo Op:  We had some life-size posters of Whoville with the faces cut out for people to pose behind to have their picture taken.

Face-painting: Local face-painters added Whoville images to faces.

Challenge Course: You can also fashion some type of challenge — like limbo  —How low can you go? Kind of goes with the Grinch doesn’t it? Or you might just create some other type of obstacle course.

Many of the Games listed here can be adapted for a Whoville Party.

Think of ways to use the Whoville or Seuss characters.


We featured Green Eggs and Ham Soup and Roast Beast Sandwiches. Both were popular.

Here’s the recipe.

Recipe for Green Eggs and Ham Soup 

Quantities depend on how big your pot is! We made a huge pot, so we are guessing at the quantities for a more normal batch. This was the one and only time we made this, so the only proof of the pudding was in the eating!

In a mixture of olive oil and butter (or just one or the other), saute a large onion, 2 spears of celery, 2 carrots, and 4 diced potatoes. As these ingredients soften, add a quart or so of water and a cup of dried split peas. Simmer on low for an hour as the peas soften. For spices use red pepper, garlic powder, savory and parsley flakes, chicken bouillon, salt and pepper — all to taste. We also added some Goya Ham flavoring. If your Whovillians don’t like chunky soup, blend it with a hand blender. Add milk until it is creamy to your taste. Add 3 to 6 sliced or diced hard-boiled eggs. Add ham. We used a pound of Tavern Ham lunch meat and ground it up in the food processor first. For more texture, rinse and add a can of Goya Green Peas. These are not as mushy as other canned peas. This would be delicious served with buttery croutons.


Advertise admission to the party as a gift to fill the Grinch’s sleigh for the needy. Decorate a large box to resemble a sleigh — cutting the shape of the sleigh out of foam core to attach to the side.


Have a Christmas Tree in the center of a large area and gather all your Whovillians for a Carol Sing. (Decorating the tree might be one of the activities.) This may be a time to tie the Whoville Fun to the Gospel.

Web 1 (Ready), Web 2 (Set), Web 3 (Go!)

This is the second in a short series of posts springboarding from an article in The Jewish Week, written by Rabbi Hayim Herring.

Lagging Behind the World We Hope to Reach

I attended a convocation of churches this weekend. About 20 churches met to celebrate the Reformation, conduct some business and listen to some teachings offered by their bishop.

Today, as I waited for Hurricane Sandy, I went through the delegate list and visited every church website — at least those that had websites.

The websites were without exception static “brochure” web sites. A couple were very nicely designed, with full presentations of their ministry. Several others were minimal sites provided by directory services. A few had Facebook websites but they had done nothing with them except list service times. I was the ninth visitor to one of them, which indicates how effective they are.

Only one provided content that might attract traffic from outside their existing community and that was minimal.

As the Web matures we are starting to identify its evolutionary stages.

Web 1 describes the early days of the web from the early 90s, when organizations struggled with clumsy html code to produce static pages with no interactivity. Using the web well meant hiring some help. Help with technology is not on the approved list of church expenses. Organists and sextons are expenses church people understand. Web masters? Not in the budget. Pity! Web masters have real potential to influence the growth of a church! This has become easier.

News flash: You no longer have to know code to create attractive sites. Anyone can do it.

The move to interactivity began about 2004 and has been mushrooming. This is Web 2. Unfortunately many churches are locked in the frustrations they encountered in the infant days of Web 1. If fear of code and technical ability is stopping your church from using the web, relax. The web has become almost as easy to use for originators of content as it is for consumers of content. It is becoming more powerful every day — and that’s no exaggeration.

We can now become involved with the people who visit our sites. Isn’t Involvement why churches exist?

Web 1 influenced the world. Web 2 changed the world.

Most churches are barely embracing Web 1. This failure is creating a widening gap between them and their communities. Catch up is going to be a tougher and tougher hurdle. Still, there is a hesitance to believe that the web can be of value to church mission.

This is foolish.

  • The web can connect your congregation’s members.
  • The web can connect your congregation to your community.
  • The web can connect you to other churches with similar or complementary missions.
  • The web can connect you to the world.

It has never been easier to go out into all the world, yet the Church is late to the airport!

Congregations were never meant to live in isolation, yet we often do — barely aware of what the congregation a few blocks away might be doing. We view other churches as competition, not potential partners.

We are defying our mission.

Rabbi Herring discusses this in the essay we referenced in two previous posts (1 and 2). He suggests that organizations, including religious organizations are poised to enter a third era of Web capabilities— Web 3.

Having lived in the interactive era of Web 2.0 for not quite a decade, we have an understanding about the nature of online community, the need for a vital organizational web presence and the requirement of interactive and dynamic communication with constituents. While still in its early evolutionary stages,

I’d like to suggest that we are already in transition to a Web 3.0 environment. Web 2.0 meant that Jewish organizations needed to replicate their bricks and mortar presence online. Bricks and mortar and bytes and click ran parallel to one another.

Web 3.0 means that defining principles of online social media, like collaboration, co-creation, improvisation and empowerment must now be practiced in the physical world. In other words, the characteristics of the web that enable individuals to self-direct their lives must now flow back into all organizational spaces: in someone’s home, on the web or inside institutional walls. This is definitely another paradigm shift for organizations.

Rabbi Herring’s observations are astute. Those few congregations that have embraced the power of the media are about to take their interactive and collaborative experiences and transform what goes on within their brick and mortar churches. It will be the elusive formula for transformation.

We at 2×2 are starting to dip our toes into this water, cooperating with some of the churches that correspond with us. It’s exciting, It’s a little scary. But it is invigorating and promising.

Those that haven’t bothered to understand Web 1 and are oblivious to Web 2 will not reap the benefits of Web 3.

Someone said recently . . .

Bragging today about avoiding the internet is like bragging you can’t read!

Hey, Church, it’s your choice!

photo credit: gualtiero via photopin cc (retouched)

A Reformation (Transformation) Message

Things tend to need reforming along about the time that we are most satisfied.

We have been Lutherans for nearly 500 years. We know how things should work.

  • Every church should shall have a pastor.
  • Every congregation should maintain a building.
  • Every congregation should support an organ.
  • Every viable church should have 150 supporting members.
  • Members should tithe.
  • Parents should place the scriptures in the hands of their children and bring them into the fellowship of the people of God.
  • Christians should live in harmony.

The list used to be a little longer.

  • Every pastor should be male.
  • Women should wear hats in worship.
  • Children should be confirmed before they are welcomed to the Communion Table.

Today, the “shoulds” of church life are not the reality. They may never again be reality. Maybe they never were. And they always bear reexamination.

And so the Church presents a new “should.”

You should transform.

Just how we are to do this while worshiping the “shoulds”  of the past is left to us to figure out without much guidance.

Perhaps the first step in church transformation is to reexamine the list of “shoulds.”

Place that list next to Scripture to see which are mandated and which are manufactured for the convenience of leaders now or long, long ago.

That’s what Martin Luther did. We “should” emulate that!

Can Lutherans learn from the past as they plan for 2017?

How do you share the grace of God in Christ with someone whose days are filled with messages that they do not measure up and who feel excluded rather than welcomed? How shall we talk about faith in a culture of mistrust and deception? In a world steeped in violence, how do we talk about the cross of Christ as the place that reveals both the depth of God’s love incarnate and where Jesus’ life for others is offered fully?

Bishop Hanson wrote this as part of a message in the recent issue of The Lutheran Magazine. He was looking ahead to the 500th Anniversary of Luther’s brave, death-defying actions, which spurred the Reformation of the Church and laid the groundwork for changes in society that we enjoy today.

Don’t expect such actions from Luther’s heirs.

A recent visit to China sparked Bishop Hanson’s comments. He doesn’t need to travel far to find a culture of mistrust and deception.

We, at Redeemer, who have experienced little but abuse within the ELCA, wonder if Bishop Hanson recognizes that his own people feel unwelcome, unvalued, violated, and deceived. We have learned to distrust the church he leads.

We know we are not alone. There has been a mass departure from the ELCA under Bishop Hanson’s watch.

Similar land grabs continue. Synodical bishops act with the certainty that Bishop Hanson will not require them to honor the intent of the ELCA’s founding documents or constitutions. Dodge’s sheriff  has gone fishing (and not for people)!

The Redeemer travesty has featured personal attacks on lay people with no way within the ELCA to object or defend.

Bishop Hanson, Lutherans are weary of empty words.

We point out once again the decision of the Pa appeal court. It may add up to a win in the short run, but this could come back to bite hard.

The appeal court’s minority opinion determined that if the law were applied, Redeemer’s arguments have merit and deserve to be heard. The majority opinion cited Separation of Church and State, relying on the Church to police its own rules. There is NO mechanism within the ELCA for this. The result: a weak church where everyone can legitimately fear injustice within their own body. Safer perhaps to criticize other cultures!

Redeemer wrote to you for help in 2008, Bishop Hanson. After about ten letters over the course of a year, we gave up. You blew us off, expressing regard for a colleague over concern for a congregation.

You advised both us and Bishop Burkat to talk it out. Today, nearly five years later, there has been no talk, just law suits.

Bishop Hanson, we want peace. We want to work things out within the Church. This is a mandate of scripture (1 Corinthian 6). It’s not going to happen if Church leaders don’t believe the scriptures they preach.

Your sheep need their shepherd. Your bishops need their shepherd.

Help us find answers to the questions you pose. Lead us in our ongoing birthright — the Reformation!

photo credit: Adam Polselli via photopin cc

Vignettes from Our 2×2/Redeemer Faith Community

God is doing something new in East Falls!

The Power of Persistence (and being yourself)

One Redeemer member often reminisced about life in Tanzania. One of the things she missed most was walking out to the back yard and grabbing a few bananas from a banana tree.

She’s been in East Falls for some 16 years now. Firmly planted, but still missing home. Nostalgic, she planted a banana tree by the front door of her row house.

It grew to be a sizable tree, but it did not bear fruit.

It was an oddity that people went out of their way to see. Her children explained, we cut it back every year but it keeps growing—but no bananas. The climate won’t support bananas. There is no hope for bananas.

This year, it grew bananas—a small bunch of green bananas, but BANANAS!

A miracle! No one expected success at something so hopeless in East Falls!

But then, East Falls is like that! The demographics don’t support having a church here. But here we are! And we grow green bananas in our ministry every day.

Next year, who knows!

2×2 is a real church! Don’t tell the ELCA!

Our own denomination doesn’t recognize us, but that doesn’t matter. 2×2 is a real church. Other people recognize us!

Our web site, which is starting to grow exponentially, has had record traffic recently. Some of it came from a chatboard for a Christian movement called The Truth. The Truth has a global network of house churches that meet in groups they call 2x2s. They have a “Christ is Lord” creed and are avoiding the costs of hierarchy — the model 2×2 believes will become the church of the future.

In their online chatroom, a member asked, “Is there an actual church that goes by the name 2×2? Someone answered, “Yes.” New question, “Where?” Answer: “I’ll send you the link.” The link was added soon after — to www.2x2virtualchurch.com!

God is doing something new in East Falls! Join us!

We are open 24/7 on the web. We meet monthly at Old Academy Playhouse in East Falls, Philadelphia, Pa.—first Sunday of the month, 10 am. Subscribe to 2×2 for more information on other activities.

banana photo credit: heritagefutures via photopin cc

The Church as Club. Want to Join?

This begins a short series of posts springboarding from an article in The Jewish Week, written by Rabbi Hayim Herring.

Is the Church a club? 

Rabbi Herring suggests that there is a “club” aspect to religious life.

The rabbi and blogger discusses the way religious, civic and non-profits rotate leadership, sharing expertise. He recognizes that organizations benefit from working with a field of trusted leaders. But he points to a serious downside.

“In this model of involvement, there was a right way and a wrong way to get things done and one year’s program often served as the next year’s template. This pattern of involvement created predictability for organizations but, over time, unresponsiveness in addressing new community problems.…

“Yet, this informal rotation of leaders from one organization to the next created the appearance of a privileged club and also fostered a narrower sense of communal vision.”

This is often true within Christian leadership circles.

Just this week, I opened a newsletter from a local Lutheran Service Agency. I glanced at the Board of Directors. The names were familiar. Some of them had served on the same board off and on for decades. Other names I recognized from other Lutheran Agency and Synod boards, councils, and committees. Many of them, too, have been serving for decades.

A great pool of expertise . . . sure! But the same pool of leadership is likely to ensure that proposed initiatives will be cookie-cutter in nature. They aren’t settled in these leadership roles because they rocked the boat! They are appointed, elected, and re-elected because they are predictably safe in their leadership style.

Same people, similar thinking. At worst, the boards become rubber stamps for leadership. And all in all, there is an element of the “club.”

I recently read reports of the last Biennial Meeting of the ELCA. Wow! It was exciting. It was inspiring. It was moving. People had stories to tell. But I didn’t get a sense that anything happened, that problems were hashed out, that new directions were forged. It appears to have been a showcase for the leadership “club.”

Synod Assemblies, too, have a “feel good” (strike that) “feel great” ambiance. The voices of the Assembly are drowned out by the “show.” Participants must return to their churches pumped with stellar reports.

This was reflected in one of our Ambassador visits. One pastor introduced the lay representative to a Synod Assembly that had taken place just the week before. The young woman told of her thrill at being there, her awe in meeting the bishop, and the exciting worship expression. She added that she couldn’t remember much about the meeting part and didn’t understand a lot of it. But it was a great experience. She couldn’t wait to attend again.

If the Church is an organization charged with service in the world where service is most needed, you’d think there would be some sobering discussions leading to unsettling feelings, cries for solutions and service, and the introduction of new issues that might open a door for the interests of new leaders.

But church problems are pretty much glossed over in quickly read reports. Questions? You have 10 minutes. On to the next stirring worship service.

The Church can so easily become a club. If you are “in,” you work hard to stay “in.” If you venture to raise issues, you risk informal (or even formal) censure and you may never feel like a part of your church again.

Is it any wonder that people are not breaking down the door to get “in”?

photo credit: JLM Photography (aka Spookman2011) via photopin cc

If SEPA Leaders Cared . . . .

ELCA motto appended to reflect SEPA's actions in East Falls.The Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has been embroiled in trouble, largely of its own making, since 2008. It wasn’t sudden, there was a nearly decade-long prologue of neglect.

During this long period of absence from the ministry of Redeemer Lutheran Church in East Falls, SEPA leaders made unfortunate miscalculations.

SEPA had discouraged professional leadership from serving in East Falls. The strategy they were following—as published at about the same time in a book co-authored by then Synod staff member, Claire Burkat—was to let Redeemer die. SEPA presumed that lay people with no one to tell them what to do would drift rudderless and get tired. One day, the last Lutheran on board would call the Synod and beg for a lifeline.

This may have seemed like the easy way to gain the congregation’s valuable property and substantial financial assets. It is proving to be disastrous—for Redeemer and the entire Synod. It may even trickle UP to the entire ELCA as other Synods (having read the book) attempt to implement the strategy!

The book leaves out the last chapter. It doesn’t always go as planned.

The group of elderly members that Bishop Almquist assumed would soon fail by attrition did not go to their heavenly reward without laying a new foundation for the church they loved. Redeemer grew during SEPA’s years of neglect. By the time Claire Burkat was elected bishop, there was a new group of Lutherans in East Falls, who had no idea they were heirs to SEPA’s prejudice.

Had Bishop Burkat worked with Redeemer’s leaders (as she falsely claims she did), she would have seen great promise. But her intentions for Redeemer were announced long before she ever set foot on the corner of Midvale and Conrad Streets on that ill-fated day in February 2008.

Consequently, Bishop Burkat, intent on exercising powers not found in Lutheran governing documents, led SEPA into a financial boondoggle. They lack the leadership skills to retreat. They are relying on the secular courts to resolve Church problems. Courts don’t want the job.

Had Bishop Burkat cared about the people of East Falls and its mission, she would have strategized to protect her sheep as if they were as valuable as the property she coveted. The ministry that was initiated and nurtured with the investments of the laity would not have been shuttered, but would be earning a steady income, paying the congregation’s obligations with no dependence on SEPA and its member churches.

But SEPA had its own problems. It had been living on deficit budgets for most of its 20-year history. In 2008, that deficit was $275,000, approved by a Synod Assembly at a time when giving was down in nearly every congregation. There was no plan for making up this deficit except to close churches and seize assets. Bishop Burkat is insulted at this suggestion. But it was explained to that Assembly that money to make up shortfalls traditionally comes from the Mission Fund—which is the repository for the assets of closed congregations. No other plan for funding this huge deficit was presented.

Bishop Burkat further denies that selling church properties is part of synod’s survival strategy even in the face of evidence that she offered Redeemer’s property for sale to a Lutheran agency without the congregation’s knowledge just prior to the Synod Assembly that approved the huge deficit and voted to take Redeemer’s property.

There WAS (and perhaps IS) a plan to close churches and sell their property.

Bishop Burkat seems amazed that anyone would resist her clandestine takeover, fraught with deceptive maneuvering, and which defies Lutheran polity. Lutheran congregations own their properties and manage their own assets.

Resistance is a right of every congregation. But SEPA found a way to sidestep congregational rights. Declare them “terminated.” Deny them access to the constitutional benefits of church membership. Treat members as enemies.

What is going on in East Falls is dismissed in Bishop Burkat’s mind as “heart-breaking”—as if she had no leadership influence to prevent or remedy it.

She has become a victim of her own lust for power.

And it is costing all of SEPA.

If Bishop Burkat had cared about East Falls . . .

  • Redeemer would be open for worship.
  • The school Redeemer was about to open as a Christian day school would be operating to the benefit of East Falls and the income of $6000 to $10,000 a month for Redeemer.
  • Redeemer’s mission capabilities, which have continued to grow despite repression, would also be showing fruitful reward. They are already gaining influence.
  • The congregation’s expenses would not be burdening all of SEPA. (The price tag is well over $320,000.)

Instead you have locked properties and alienated members and a community that will always be reminded — The Lutherans? Yes, they are the Church that sues its members.

Even if Bishop Burkat did not trust the loyal Lutherans of East Falls, whom she did not know, she could have done something to keep the problems from escalating. She could have tried to raise funds. She could have worked with the people she leads. She did nothing but turn to the courts (which the Bible expressly discourages—1 Corinthians 6).

The Church does not need leaders to do nothing. We need leaders to solve problems. In this, SEPA leadership has failed. Pride and greed have blinded all sense of mission. Hatefulness and vindictiveness have replaced the messages of love and forgiveness. There is no effort to reconcile. SEPA wants to WIN at any cost. Silence the pastors. Call in the lawyers.

The only people who can fix this, the Lutherans of Southeastern Pennsylvania, are content to let the church attack lay people as their preferred management solution. They foolishly do not envision being in the same situation. Our Ambassador visits reveal that there are dozens of congregations in SEPA that are no larger or wealthier than Redeemer. As Redeemer goes, so will they.

In looking for the WIN, we are all LOSERS.

Speaking to the Individual . . . the Way God Does!

In the Bible, God speaks mostly to individuals. When he wants to get the attention of many, He sends a messenger. A prophet. A king. His Son.

Gatherings of the faithful have been the traditional settings for explanations of God’s Word, delivered by one earthbound messenger—the preacher!

This was difficult to do more than once every seven days.

The sermon is the focal point of gatherings of the faithful. It was the most efficient way to reach people—back then.

Sermons were developed for people accustomed to listening to speakers. The pedestal was the norm. The pulpit made sense. These days, if you don’t grow up in the Church, your opportunities to listen to orators are few. As for the pulpit . . . people aren’t coming in once a week to stare at it any more. It’s easy to understand. Their listening caps are dusty!

The modern mind thinks differently. With all the information available to us, we’ve learned to process ideas in bite-sized pieces. We can wish this weren’t so, but it is. Very few people will listen to a 30-minute sermon and those that do drift in and out of attentiveness. This is natural, but listeners criticize themselves and interpret this as “they aren’t getting anything out of it.” They actually feel a little guilty and soon tend to stay away.

The Information Age brings new opportunities to connect and communicate. Pastors can be a daily presence in their congregation’s lives without anyone setting foot in a church building. They will have to learn the power of short and sweet. It will be a new expression of daily devotion. Effective communicators will hone their messages to 150 words. Pastors are in a unique position to do this with a local slant that will interest a following. BUT, they won’t be limited by geography!

This approach to preaching has more potential for growing a faith community than the dedicated weekly sermon delivered to only the most faithful.

You’ll need to tap into the web and social media, though. It’s there. It’s powerful. USE IT!

photo credit: Nick in exsilio via photopin cc