I'm starting to meet more people around my new/old synod in Southwestern Washington. It's new synod because my wife began serving here in May after 8 1/2 years in South Dakota, and I officially began here with a call in September. This is the third synod I've served in 11 years, and the hospitality is cordial. It's challenging to maneuver in new collegial circles, because colleague fellowship looks different in each place. I always find smart, gifted and faithful people. I'm not sure if I'm finding joyful people (outside of my ministry partner at First Lutheran Community Church--he could find joy in the most dire of circumstances).
The Southwestern Washington Synod is an old synod for me because it was my home base synod when I came home from college and seminary for breaks, and it sponsored my candidacy. The SW WA Synod didn't explicitly mean anything to me until I needed it for the candidacy process, and they were willing supporters and advocates. Once I made it through the candidacy process, Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Olympia gave me a great send off in congratulating me and praying for me and my wife in ordination. We were off to the Greater Milwaukee Synod for our first calls--that synod was new to both Melanie and me and a great place to start our ministry. Regardless of where we have served, I could always find some level of joy in my colleagues. Sure, they complained sometimes like I did on our tired days. We were weighed down by committee responsibilities and anxious church councils, conflicts and stewardship. We grieved with our communities about deaths and changes that we didn't understand. But we were generally hopeful people together. It didn't matter if I was in an urban, suburban or rural setting communicating with local pastors, we also often talked about what God could be doing in our communities.
Since my return to the SW Washington Synod, I have seen the economy and the fallout from the Churchwide Assembly decisions weigh heavily on my colleagues. I have yet to meet a pastor whose congregation wasn't affected by either the economy, the decisions, or even the general downward trend in the denomination of attendance, membership and giving. Certainly, there have been bright spots regarding ministries. However, I'm missing out on joyful anticipation of God's action in my colleagues. The body language and level of conversation point a deflated sense of being. I hope God is breathing life into my colleagues. I think I can help and relay some hope--I have some things at First Lutheran Community Church for which I am hopeful. I have a group with whom I'm meeting on Sunday to discuss a new evangelism/outreach project. I have a Transition Team that will begin meeting in the next week or two--their enthusiasm is contagious. I also have a faithful and efficient staff with whom I work. But it's hard not to feel the effects of a negative trend. The people of God's lassitude from the downturn is palpable. Their slouch is noticeable. Am I imagining things? Is this lassitude I see anecdotal? Or are there pockets of hopefulness in God's mission that can be see beyond pain and together embrace an active and faithful God? Rather than trying to cut a church into prosperity, we can talk about taking risks, harnessing the power of the Holy Spirit, and ushering the creativity that God shared with us in the first place?
Maybe I'm not looking hard enough, or my observational scope is limited. Maybe I'm overly optimistic to see opportunity in what appears to be a greater challenge than mere pastors and congregations can bear. I hope my observations are merely anecdotal, and that in the next few days and weeks, I will hear joyful stories of anticipation in what God is doing with my sisters and brothers at their mission outposts in Southwestern Washington.