Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Guiding theological question: During the unique circumstances of these days of Covid-19 we propose to explore this question, asked in two ways: “How shall we respond to our callings as a congregation and as individuals while in exile from normal patterns of life? What is our vocation when circumstances derail any sense of normalcy and we must search scripture for models of faithfulness during significant disruption?”
Guiding Scripture passage: The story of the Exile is imbedded in several biblical books, beginning with the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah. From Jeremiah 29:4-14.
Signs of change:
As we have begun our small group leadership team, we are beginning to hear the conversation change. The leaders are articulating both how they are called right where they are right now, while at the same time considering how God continues to lead them into the future. This is true even if the future looks uncertain and if retired life looks different than some of our folks had imagined.
We see a revitalization occurring in conversations that are happening in our various groups. Our men’s groups are now more vulnerable with one another as they seek to ask the question, “What is God up to in my day to day life?” Or “How might the Holy Spirit be calling me in this time of pandemic”. One of our staff members made the comment, “Now that I understand Vocation, I see the connections all over the place.” Folks are beginning to understand that vocation is not just a term about work, but a term about all our realms of life.
In this time of pandemic, we also see a more concerted understanding on the part of our members to stay connected. Part of being “called today, led into tomorrow” is seeing that we are not only called as individuals, but also as a community. We are called to serve one another. The pandemic hasn’t taken that away. Instead we are finding that we need to be more creative in how we serve.
Year 2 Activities
- Interview sermons: Pastors will interview members of our congregation and our community during their sermon. This type of sermon will be a great way to have our congregation learn about the rich calling stories of members and our community. When you hear someone else’s stories of calling, this can change the lens that you look at your own story.
- Sermon Series on vocation: The pastors will pick a season to really focus on vocation. They will use our theme of “Called to Trust God’s Future” with stories of Exile.
- Podcast: Create a podcast that is similar to StoryCorps. We hope for it to be a platform to show how God is working in their lives. This will be an extension of the Interview sermons and the multimedia photo and video project.
- Weekend Workshop with outside speaker: We did this last year and it was a great way to kick-off the entire project. This might have to be a webinar, but that might open us up to some speakers we wouldn’t normally be able to get to come to Spokane.
Year 1 Learnings
- Our first key learning is that we are called by the Holy Spirit. As Lutheran Christians, our particular claim is that this first happens for us in Baptism as God’s decision. This is lived out each day as we die the day before and rise in the morning to see what God has in store for us in the day to come. We are not always comfortable as Lutherans talking about the work of the Holy Spirit, but some of our team has had their imagination captured by how the Holy Spirit is capturing their day to day life.
- Our second key learning is that listening is at the heart of our callings. Bennethum’s book, Listen! God Is Calling!, started this journey for our church. So much of our Collegeville/CCI journey has been about listening. We see this most directly in that which gives us focus. Pray↔Study↔Work, and the practices put before us such as Lectio & Visio Divina, evening silence, vulnerability, storytelling, discernment, silent pilgrimage, spirituality, and reflection. Through our projects & worship we are hoping St. Mark’s is inspired to learn more about listening & “called by the Holy Spirit in all the realms of life”. Listening for that “deeper sense” takes engagement on our part!
- Our third key learning is that our Lutheran Christian understanding does not need to be an exclusive claim. While many of our members identify with the sacrament of Baptism as their starting point, we do acknowledge that in our attempt to be inclusive as a community, for some, Baptism can be seen as something that could possibly exclude. We are challenged to continue as a team to figure out how we claim the richness of our Christian understanding of Baptism without it becoming an insider language type of word. We will continue to struggle with how to communicate how the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, sanctifies, and keeps us in faith.
- One other key learning is that retirement is a struggle for many as they seek to see how their calling shifts in the different realms of life after their previous vocation ends. We see as a leadership team that there are many similarities of the search for purpose with recently retired folks and young adults who are in the midst of moving from adolescence to adulthood. We are hoping to find ways to bring these groups together to specifically look at the question of calling in their day to day lives.
Resources Developed by Saint Mark's
- Logo — parishioner Kate Bassett designed a logo for the Saint Mark’s initiative. Check it out along with a description.
- CCI Launch Weekend with Dwight DuBois — the team planned events Friday – Sunday to introduce the congregation to the CCI in fall 2019. Materials from the weekend include: weekend schedule; presentation handout; and what’s next? handout.
- Vocation video interviews — the team filmed call story videos with a variety of community members and produced a list of interview questions as well.
- Sermons on calling — preached by Pastor Kate Lepard on Epiphany and Pastor Martin Wells on 6 Pentecost C.
- Interview sermons — Pastor Jason Van Hunnik of Westwood Lutheran Church in Saint Louis Park, MN offered some advice to the Saint Mark’s team for conducting interview sermons. Pastor Jason spoke at the CCI annual meeting in June 2019.
Recommended Prayer & Study Resources
Holden Evening Prayer – every service we send our congregation out with this dismissal:
God is calling us today, leading us into tomorrow.
Together, let us pray.
Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We want this to be a prayer to help deepen our congregations’ sense of calling in their lives as they take Sunday into the rest of the week. The Holden Prayer, so named because it is used regularly at Holden Village (a Lutheran camp in Washington state) as visitors depart the village. Written by Anglican priest Eric Milner-White, it was first printed in the Service Book and Hymnal in 1958 and has remained a mainstay in Lutheran worship since. At St. Mark’s, we have used this prayer to send forth people from this place, whether they are going off to college or moving for a new job. Our choice to use this prayer at the end of the liturgy as we scatter from St. Mark’s into the world stems from what these words have to say to us as people of God. Wherever we go, whatever we do, it is God who is leading and supporting us: indeed, called today, led into tomorrow. We hope as we continue our vocation project that praying this prayer together weekly will help ground us in this reality that even as we do not know precisely to what God is calling us we can have faith that God will guide and support us in it all.
Before applying for the grant, the church council and members of our team read “Listen! God is Calling!” by Michael Bennethum. Bennethum “presents Martin Luther’s teaching on vocation as a resource both for individual believers, helping them find deeper meaning in their ordinary daily labors; and for congregations, encouraging them to develop a climate that supports their members at work.” This book got us excited about vocation and CCI. We were ready to explore vocation with our congregation, even if we didn’t receive the grant.
“The Scattering” by Dwight DuBois was the book we used for our launch focus. A lot of our congregation read the book before Dwight came for our kick-off. One of the big takeaways from this book is “When we become as good at the scattering of the church as we are at its gathering, both pastors and members will find new joy, new purpose, and new vitality as we give ourselves away for the sake of the gospel.”
Share one story that illustrates your congregation living out your mission.
Saint Mark’s mission is “to share the gospel through worship and service; and to be an inclusive community for justice and peace among diverse peoples.” Beyond our feeding and clothing ministries, the second foci of our “work” has been to join our national church in the emphasis: “God’s Work, Our Hands.”
For the last two autumns, in partnership with Spokane Riverkeepers (a member of the International Waterkeeper Alliance), 40 members participated in a cleanup along the Spokane River. As a group, we focused on what it meant to be cleaning up areas that were overnight sites for the homeless. As a follow-up, a member of our congregation wrote a reflection piece for our newsletter on the experience of working alongside her children. When this family encountered one of the camps, the family decided to leave it undisturbed because it held the treasures of another person, another child of God. These kinds of events and reflection together have added depth, compassion, and wisdom to our serving.
Saint Mark’s always responds quickly to specific needs in our community and abroad, from social justice concerns to disaster response. We understand this to mean our members are eager to “take Sunday into Monday,” and they are ready for this vocation challenge.