Posts of Bishop Tim Smith’s reflections
Some of you are quite aware of our four new vision priorities for the NC Synod—Vital Congregations, Healthy Leaders, Collaboration, and Prophetic Voice. Visions can be exciting and inspiring. Structure, not so much, but structure is really important. It’s been quite a number of years since we had a major constitutional overhaul in the NC Synod other than the required changes every three years after a churchwide assembly. Structures should serve the vision—not vice-versa. Accordingly, our staff and our Synod Council have been working for a full year on making some proposed changes to our NC Synod constitution that we believe will help us to operate more clearly
Children’s TV personality Mr. Rogers learned from his mother that amid news of tragedies and disasters we should “look for the helpers.” Without diminishing the devastation in eastern NC wrought by Hurricane Florence, I and those affected most profoundly are indeed heartened by and are even among the helpers. I could share many details from specific situations in what is, unfortunately, quite a widespread area. I want to share just a couple of the many stories that involve both devastation and helpers. While statistics are important, stories are compelling.
This month’s Bishop’s Reflection is a revision of a Facebook post Bishop Tim Smith shared last month (August 2018) in response to the findings released about the egregious misconducts against children by Roman Catholic priests.
In 2018 it should go without saying, but in truth it’s the “without saying” that in part makes possible the horrific revelations of sexual abuse and systemic institutional and personal cover-ups among priests in Pennsylvania that we learned about this week (Aug. 14, 2018).
“This is not a performance,” I always tell the nervous 3rd-grader in the parish the first time they go to light the candles on a Sunday morning right there in front of Momma and Aunt Maggie and the grouchy altar guild lady and God and everybody. “It’s worship, and we aren’t perfect, nor are we supposed to be. We give God and God’s people our best, but when we fall short, God does the rest.” Luther’s Sacristy Prayer essentially says the same thing. “Were it all up to me, I would bring it all to destruction.” Yep. We have this treasure in earthen vessels.
Vital Congregations. Healthy Leaders. Collaboration. Prophetic Voice. These are the four pillars of the new vision and focus of the NC Synod staff and Synod Council unveiled at our NC Synod Assembly just over a month ago. Vital Congregations and Healthy Leaders also happen to be the two consensus priorities of the ELCA Church Council and of the ELCA Conference of Bishops. So what is vitality?
2018 Synod Assembly
There are numerous reasons one might attend a synod assembly like our upcoming one June 1-2 in Raleigh. Maybe it’s duty, as in, at a congregation council meeting, “Okay, people, somebody has to go. Our constitution requires it.”
Youth Gathering Exposed
I was minding my own business, which was Redeemer in Atlanta, three years ago when final preparations were being made for the triennial ELCA Youth Gathering (Gathering) in Detroit. That is to say, I wasn’t really paying close attention. We had others on staff planning to go.
Fast forward three years, and it’s Gathering time again, this time in Houston, and this time I am the bishop.
Over 90% of us, psychologists claim, are fairly serious, go-out-of-our-way conflict avoiders! We’re path-of-least-resistance people. I’m guessing that if surveys were done only in the South, the conflict avoiders would be north of 95%.
The penitential seasons of Advent and Lent have always been renewing for me. They are headed somewhere, for all their reservation, to something hopeful and joyous. Even more appealing to me is their invitation to discipline.
A most blessed New Year to each of you!
As you read this, I am at Bishops’ Academy (annual continuing ed. for bishops) and preparing for our January 9 synod-sponsored trip to the Holy Land. I want to share with you some re-visioning that our (mostly new since I took office 2 ½ years ago) synod staff has been praying and working on and that Synod Council is now pondering and tweaking and that will come to fruition in, we hope, increasingly tangible ways in this new year.
Credo for Advent
Credo. Latin for “I believe.” We all believe in something. We all have that pebble tossed into the pond of our life, a center, from which all of our values and convictions and actions emanate. Scientific method. Logic. Trickle-down economics. Karma. God. That something, that center, is what or in what we believe.
Thankfulness in all things
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
Martin Rinkhart was a Lutheran pastor in Germany in the early 1600s. The Thirty Years’ War was raging throughout his ministry at Eilenberg, a tragic fallout from the Reformation we just commemorated that pitted not just theologies and pieties but weapons of war, Lutheran against Catholic. Eilenberg was a walled city, so thousands sought refuge there from the horrors of war. The resultant overcrowding caused both hunger and disease.
Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for the Washington Post via Getty images
Caribbean Disaster Relief
I write to you this month from the ELCA Conference of Bishops, where we have been eagerly awaiting word from our colleague Bishop Felipe Lozada of the ELCA’s Caribbean Synod, which includes the devastated U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) and Puerto Rico. The destruction was so very great from the two Category 5 Hurricanes Irma and Maria that we did not hear from him until this past Friday.
I was privileged during the summer between high school and college to attend 23 days of Outward Bound in the Colorado Rockies. I was told that we would be climbing 14,000-foot peaks with very thin air, carrying heavy packs, and surviving on minimal food. Though I was a serious high school athlete in very good shape, I took seriously Outward Bound’s advice to run in our boots in advance to break them in. By the time my flight left for Denver from Charlotte, I was jogging on average 8 miles a day, 5 days a week, in my hiking boots.
A pastoral message from Bishop Tim Smith
When Wendy and I lived in Berlin on our seminary internship in 1984 and 1985, horror stories of the Nazi Regime of the ‘30s and ‘40s in Germany regularly shocked us. There was the spouse of a retired pastor whose reach across the dinner table to pass us the bread revealed her concentration camp serial number tattooed on her wrist.
All she had…
Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)
Partners congregational visits
Synod Council members at our December 2015 meeting lamented that Mission Support receipts were nearly $178,000, or about 10%, behind budgeted expenses. The Council directed the NC Synod staff to develop a program whereby representatives would be trained to go to all of our congregations to lift up the many vital ministries of the synod in hopes of a much needed uptick in mission support.
Still, as I traveled about the synod, I realized how many of our congregations are struggling.
My father-in-law always intrigued me with the stack of novels he brought to the beach for family vacations. Even more interesting was his habit of reading the last chapter first, wanting to know how the story ended,
A Culture of Call
As I write from the ELCA Conference of Bishops in Chicago this first week in March, there are many blessings to celebrate, yet many obvious and pressing challenges facing this church.
Lenten message from the bishop
Editor’s note: Though Lent doesn’t begin until March 1, Bishop Tim wrote this in time for congregations to include it in their March newsletters or Lenten bulletins.
“Lent” actually comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word “Lencten,” which we would translate “lengthen,” referring to the lengthening of days or springtime.