He makes a good point. We attended worship yesterday and heard not a word about this horrific event that should be rocking all Christianity.
A church with 250 people in worship was blown to smithereens last Sunday. 85 dead, including 17 children. 156 seriously injured. That’s about a tenth the number of people who died on 9/11 at the hands of terrorists and they were people who were simply attending worship.
The terrorists didn’t target Americans this time. Too expensive probably. Instead, the targeted Christians because, silly Taliban, they think Americans are Christians.
As a minority religion in a very protective Muslim state, Pakistani Christians are the bravest of the brave. They face life-threatening persecution every day.
Where is Christian outrage?
Christianity has become a religion of comfort in our free society. Many go to church seeking solace, ease. We are not ready to take on the responsibility of evangelism in a hostile land.
And yet it is our job.
2×2 is collecting money to send to the Pakistani church to help with ongoing medical bills for the seriously injured. They tell us they are not certain they will receive good care in Muslim hospitals.
If you’d like to help here are three ways to contribute. We have been in regular contact with the church leaders in Pakistan for two years. You can see photos of their ministry under our Friends in Ministry tab.
If you would like us to send your contribution for you, mark your check Pakistan and we’ll wire the money. Every cent will be wired to Pakistan.
c/0 Judith Gotwald
591 Hermit Street
Philadelphia, PA 19128
The mulberry tree is a weed tree. Unruly. Persistent. Problematic. Uncommercial.
Mulberry trees are common. I could pull a dozen from garden to use as an object this week. The sooner I pull them the better as they are difficult to get rid of once they take root.
If you have no mulberry trees use this painting by Van Gogh.
Jesus says, “If you had faith the size of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
We tend to concentrate on the size of the mustard seed when we tell this story.
Mustard seeds are small. Point made.
Today let’s concentrate on the mulberry tree.
Here’s some information about mulberry trees.
They are widespread. They grow in the Middle East, Europe, Asia and boy! do they grow in North America.
They are a wide, bushy tree. I played under one as a child, imagining each branch dipping to the ground as carving out a separate room in my playhouse, fort or castle.
Most trees have needles or leaves that are very alike. The basic heart-shaped mulberry leaves can develop lobes that create many different shapes.
They bear both male and female flowers.
They can begin to grow again, even years after we think we’ve eradicated them.
They can thrive in the harshest conditions—even next to the sea. Jesus would have their mustard seed-sized faith plant the tree in the sea!
Their fruit is sweet and edible but not commercial. The berries are soft and fragile. Yet dropped by birds, they grow anywhere.
Their fruit stains everything. My back porch is purple in the spring.
This time, when we read this well-known parable, think about how God would put our small faith to work. He would have us moving weed trees, working with a tree that has a mind of its own and diversity in appearance, that can be found almost anywhere, that has potential value if handled with care and which bears a colorful fruit that can leave a lasting impression. If they weren’t so persistent in being what they are, they would be considered beautiful—a subject for painters like Van Gogh.
There is nothing more frustrating than standing in the voting booth and reviewing the slate of names for judge. It’s an important role, but the average voter has no interaction with judges and knows nothing about list of candidates. They rarely campaign.
Choosing a bishop is just as challenging.
Every six years about 500 Lutherans in the Delaware Valley gather to elect a bishop. The process is repeated in 64 other ELCA synods.
About a third of the delegates are clergy. The majority are lay people. Clergy know other clergy that they went to seminary with or with whom they might have served on a committee or in a regional cluster. Laity tend to know few pastors other than their own. Very few delegates know much about the people who will be nominated. Our interdependence is built on isolation.
How does this eclectic group make a wise decision that will affect everyone’s ministry for the next six years?
A few people will throw some names into the ring. Some might be part of an organized nomination effort. Some will be favorite sons and daughters, usually of more influential congregations. A quick short (very short) bio will be circulated. The bio will list where they’ve served but not much more. From that point it’s a crap shoot. Lay people faced with a slate of unknown names are likely to turn to their pastor for advice. That amplifies the voice (and responsibility) of the clergy.
Often, the successful candidate will have name recognition. They may have served on the bishop’s staff and circulated among congregations for six years or more. They may have never served a congregation but worked with a church agency and had the responsibility for visiting with congregations. Their names are known to a wide audience.
In either case, the actual shepherding experience is limited. They are accustomed to seeking and celebrating short-term successes.
Parish ministry is for the long haul. So is the work of a bishop.
If you’ve been a dedicated pastor, serving one congregation for any length of time, you are not likely to ever rise in the ranks of church leadership.
But interim pastors . . . they get around. Over the course of five years, an interim pastor might meet with six or more congregations. They are gaining recognition without ever committing to anything but short-term advisory status—an extension of the synod staff with the paycheck coming from the parishes.
They are not likely to have worked through a long-term ministry challenge. They have never had to balance congregational dynamics for more than a few months. A six-year term is likely to be the longest commitment that might be added to their résumé.
But they will have what it takes to become bishop. Name recognition.
Pastors who commit to serving one congregation and do an excellent job of shepherding and leading—they haven’t got a chance.
Today marks the fourth year that the members of Redeemer have been locked out of our sanctuary by order of Bishop Claire Burkat, bishop of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (SEPA / ELCA).
Four years ago, on this date, the Rev. Patricia Davenport came to our church on Sunday morning and oversaw the changing of locks. Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy!
Today I drove past our locked church and noticed that the streets were uncharacteristically parked full. Bishop Claire Burkat had criticized our church for having no parking lot. “A church with no parking lot cannot survive today,” she said. We explained that parking had never been an issue at Redeemer, but the truth did not serve her purpose. Bishop Burkat’s argument was self-serving nonsense. Many of the churches we visit have no parking lots, including Saints United, where we visited this morning.
There is a reason the streets were parked full this morning. Across the street from our sanctuary, a new church was holding its first service in the public school auditorium. Apparently, the lack of a parking lot is not deterring them. The doors were wide open an hour before the advertised worship hour and people seemed to be plentiful.
We are disappointed. While the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has sat on its hands in mission for four years, two other churches have begun meeting in our neighborhood. Epic meets at the local movie theater. and now Authentic Life Ministries is meeting next to our empty sanctuary. In addition, a Presbyterian branch holds house worship in our neighborhood.
As for Lutherans—nothing.
All the excuses Bishop Claire Burkat gave to justify her lust for our property and endowment funds are pretty well blown away. SEPA’s behavior in East Falls was a covetous land grab. They will always have difficulty establishing a church in the neighborhood where they spent four years suing church members. Perhaps they think the rest of East Falls doesn’t know about them. They do! We still live here. People will not be lining up to come to a church that sues its own members.
If the ELCA wants a Lutheran presence in this part of Philadelphia, where two Lutheran churches have closed in the last ten years, our doors have been locked, and the only remaining church is barely alive, they should start talking to the members of Redeemer and working with us for a change. The last six years of costly legal battles might have been avoided had this been attempted earlier. All their nonsense excuses—parking, demographics, no clergy willing to serve— are proving with each passing day to be pitiful.. They wouldn’t listen to their own people. Now other denominations are taking advantage of their failures. Talk about LOSE-LOSE scenarios!
But then, despite their rhetoric about wanting a word and sacrament church here, they tipped their hand in 2008, when they offered our property for sale to a Lutheran agency behind our backs.
It’s never been about mission. It’s always been about money. When money from live churches isn’t rolling in, create some dead churches and take their properties. A strange economic stimulus program, indeed!
We’ve had a tough week with the loss of one of our ambassadors this week, but we decided the best thing for us was to be together this morning and get back in the saddle.
The list of churches we haven’t visited is getting shorter. Today was our 74th visit. We were back in the Northeast part of the city again.
Saints United is another church in transition. Sometimes it seems like they are ALL in transition. Today they were saying goodbye to their nine-month interim pastor, Rev. Dr. Laurie Andersen. I think we saw her last fall at St. John, Mayfair, too. She gets around.
There were between 40 and 50 people present for worship. There were about six children. All but one small girl seemed to be of grade school age. They were all engaged in worship. For the most part, younger children, youth and young adults were absent. The general demographics, like most churches, is older.
The children were dismissed for Sunday School but returned for communion which allowed barely a half hour for instruction.
They greeted us warmly, although we didn’t talk to many. We are somewhat in shock, still grieving, and not feeling very talkative. But they were quite welcoming and invited us to stay for refreshments.
Today’s service centered on saying goodbye to two people, Rev. Dr. Andersen and their church organist, Judith Lovat, who recently resigned. They look forward to a period of substitute pastors and organists, beginning with one of Redeemer’s former pastors, Jesse Brown, who will preach in October.
The service differed from other services we have attended in a fifth Sunday of the month custom of augmenting communion with optional “stations.” Worshipers could stay at the rail for prayer, visit the baptismal font for prayer or walk to the back of the church and light a candle with prayer.
The sanctuary is long and narrow but they had an adequate sound system. They had artistic reliefs on the wall. On another day I might have taken photos. But we aren’t ourselves at the moment. The only photo I took was the photo of our first impression—a large and imposing fence around their educational wing.
One of our ambassadors has some familiarity with the congregation and told us that they came from a Missouri Synod Lutheran background and once had a school there serving grades 1-8. The school has been closed for a while, he said. We hope they consider reopening, especially since it could help their financial picture (if not their mission).
They have a Kids Club, but I couldn’t find out too much about it. The website has some pictures but no explanation that I found.
Well, we’ll make them OUR Companion Church. We’ve been online friends in ministry for nearly two years. If you’d like to contribute to our effort, here are the addresses.
Right now, Pakistani Christians are living in fear, but we are sure they will soon surface. They went through something similar earlier this year when a video ridiculing Islam went viral. A Lutheran church burned during that uprising. The only way we know is our Pakistani friends told us.
Imagine what the response might be if one of our churches here in Philadelphia had been blown up during worship—or in Alabama—or any of our United States. The casualties would be lower as there are few churches with 250 in attendance. But the outrage would be real.
We wish the people of Saints United well. As always we hope that they might consider helping Redeemer be as great a church as they are. All the churches of SEPA Synod are responsible for what is happening in our neighborhood—whether they know it or not. They can turn things around if they speak up.
Do Your Congregation’s Goals
or Measure Mission?
Small churches are often asked to draft mission statements.
This is a common step taken in the corporate world. Things are a bit different there.
Most corporations are founded on the dreams of one person. The mission statement, in the corporate world, is often an effort to get everyone on board with what the management has already defined as the Corporate Mission. The people owe their paychecks to management.
The process is different in congregations. Congregations are more grass roots. The people drafting the Mission Statement are also the people providing the funding.
It helps to have an understanding of goals before a Mission Statement is drafted. It may be too late for that. But it is never too late to set goals.
In churches you have “management” in the form of clergy and regional offices. They carry a lot of weight even when the constitutions give the laity the job of management. In more hierarchical denominations, there is some remote leader who has some ultimate say.
The larger Church has goals for congregations. They may not be the same goals as the people who fill the offering plates—and the people who are given the task of drafting the mission statement.
Mission statements are different from goals.
Mission can be worked at incrementally and can withstand setbacks—even failure.
Goals are measurable and potentially more critical for survival.
Goals change from year to year. Mission statements can change too but have a longer life.
You can achieve your mission without achieving your goals, but you are likely to be judged for failing to achieve goals.
Mission statements are lofty.
“To preach the gospel to every nation.”
“To make the name of Jesus known in our neighborhood.”
“To serve the needy with the love of Christ.”
Goals are practical.
To make this year’s budget.
To accept 20 new people each month into membership.
To improve worship attendance.
To hire a second pastor.
To replace the boiler or roof.
To engage families.
Congregational goals are often at odds with goals of church leaders. The goals of church leaders might read like this:
To find employment for pastors.
To make sure benevolence is a budgeted item.
To protect congregational assets.
To make sure that congregations are faithful to doctrine.
Ideally, there is some commonality between a congregation’s goals and a regional body’s goals.
Work for a balance between mission and goals.
One can become the means to the other. This presents a confusing message to members and potential members. ”Is this church about mission or is it about goals?” A sure sign that a congregation is confusing mission and goals is when you hear this gripe: “All they are interested in is my money.”
You can acheive your goals and fail to achieve your mission. Many churches that are considered successful are very good at reaching goals with no mission direction.
Take a look at your ministry. Did you meet your goals this year? Did you have any goals? Did you fulfill your mission?
Churches never close for lack of mission.
Churches close because they didn’t reach goals—their goals or someone else’s goals for them.
Oddly, mission failure will probably be cited as the reason. It won’t matter how wrong this is. Damage will be done.
Do you see where the trend for growth is? It is in SMALL CHURCHES!
Pastoral Churches with 51-150 members have a much slower rate of decline than all other categories.
Small Churches are actually showing growth. Significant growth.
Small Churches and Pastoral Churches together comprise a significant percentage of all churches. Things aren’t as bleak as we sometimes think. We are just defining success inaccurately.
This report was published in 2008, the year lawsuits were filed in our church case. The chart shows the change in worship attendance from 1990 to 2006—the year Bishop Burkat first approached Redeemer with a copy of her constitution in hand.
Redeemer was one of the churches showing growth when this report was published in 2008. In fact, in 2006, we were the only small church in SEPA Synod that church statistics showed as growing. Most congregations in every category were showing decline. These records were altered during the court battle. There SEPA represented our congregation as having only 13 members at the same time they were holding us to a quorum for 82 members. In fact, we had tripled our membership between 2006 and 2008 to more than six times the 13 SEPA was counting.
More interesting are the figures for Mission Churches. SEPA was hot to make Redeemer a Mission Church. As it ends up, we were smart to resist this proposal.
The status of Mission Church sounds like leaders are trying to help—but the status of Mission Church actually changes the relationship of a congregation to the Synod. If they accept the status they forfeit rights to their property. It is really just a sneaky way to gain control of congregational property. They tell congregations that’s it is about starting fresh without the baggage of the past. That’s a ploy. It’s about property. Once Mission Status is assigned, the congregation will not be able to leave the ELCA with its property — EVER!
Churches with Mission Status are failing faster than any other category save Mega-Church. When they fail, property issues are already decided.
We discovered this for ourselves when we visited Spirit and Truth in Yeadon a few weeks ago. Their story was cited as an example of what SEPA could do for us if we would only cooperate.
In 2006, Spirit and Truth was a freshly chartered church. SEPA had started this congregation by closing the existing congregation and making it a mission church. New name. New management. New rules. The people of Yeadon—old and new—lost control of their property. Now, eight years later, their numbers are lower than when they were chartered.
If SMALL CHURCHES are where the best potential for growth lies, why are they targets for closure? Why are they encouraged to enter a failing model? Why are members expected to transfer memberships to churches that face tougher challenges?
The answers lie in the needs of hierarchy to control property and manage the stable of professional leaders. Members and mission are lower priorities. When budgets are failing, there is little incentive for SEPA to help small churches succeed. Small churches are their security blanket, their bank, their nestegg for their own rainy day.
The thinking is shortsighted. Small churches have the best chance at making a difference, but there is no plan to provide the necessary leadership. The lucky ones have able lay leaders. Failing that, they will soon be on the list of churches that synod feels must be closed. (But first your synod might pretend they are going to try to reopen the church as a mission church, so they’ll benefit from the property.)
Time for the ELCA to pay attention to its own data!
Time to find answers for strengthening small churches.
That’s where your best potential for long-term mission success lies.
We just heard that 17 of the dead in the Pakistan church bombing are children. All the dead are not accounted for as officials believe many removed the bodies before responders arrived.
The Pakistani church reports serious suffering among the injured. They are asking mostly for warm clothing. I am happy to report that one Christian read our report and wrote that they were sending a check.
We will send anything that you send to us with Pakistan written on it directly to the pastor of New Life Fellowship.
Send the checks to 2×2 Foundation, c/o Judith Gotwald, 591 Hermit Street, Philadelphia, PA 19128, we will collect the contributions and wire them for you. We will publish a picture of us at the bank with the check to verify that all the contributions — 100% — are going to Pakistan relief.
The ELCA has always been proud of its disaster witness. As for evangelism—the ELCA has divided the world in 65 pieces with each synod adopting a mission region. I looked online at the list of “Companion Synods.” Tanzania has multiple ELCA companions. Pakistan didn’t make the cut. That whole part of the world is missing from our mission efforts.
Here is a country where ministry is very difficult—life threatening. Every day. And we are absent from helping—even from the security of sanctuaries of freedom half a world away.
The Church tends to live in a bubble of bureaucracy. Someone somewhere else will deliver on our prayers and cares. We’ve done our job by repeating “Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.”
Of course, there is always the fear that our help will be misused. We want the help to get to the right people. Often, that means we don’t help at all.
We at 2×2, the remnant of Redeemer Lutheran Church in East Falls, know all too well ineffective church assistance. We can’t count the number of pastors who tell us they pray for us. After six years of persecution, we know very well the power of prayer with no action. We’ve had a lot of attacks, many very personal. But at least no one has blown up our whole congregation.
The bombers were angry at the United States. They still equate America with Christianity.
The Pakistani Church is desperate for help in recovering from this attack. One pastor wrote to us this morning in frustration. “Now is the time for practical help. Now is the time to show that ministry is more than words.”
Pakistani Christians are an unwelcome minority in a Muslim culture. They know their lives are dangerous. They are not sure they will get good medical attention because of who they are.
Many are not affiliated with western mainline denominations, although the bombed church was Anglican. They have asked for food, medicine and clothing. They have not asked for money, although money is the most practical way to help them. We don’t know what medicine to send, we don’t wear the same clothes they wear and food is difficult to send. So money is the practical answer.
The ELCA took all Redeemer’s money. But still we will try to help.
If you can help Christians who are actively dedicated to Christian ministry in the hardest part of the world for Christians to serve, please consider sending a gift to the addresses below.
c/0 Judith Gotwald
591 Hermit Street
Philadelphia, PA 19128
Be calm. Wait. Wait. Commit your cause to God. He will make it succeed. Look for Him a little at a time. Wait. Wait. But since this waiting seems long to the flesh and appears like death, the flesh always wavers. But keep faith. Patience will overcome wickedness.