Bishop Tim at the podium

Congregational Vitality is assembly focus

Those entering the 2019 NC Synod Assembly today were confronted with a question: “What is Congregational Vitality?” It was on display throughout the room, on the front screens and on every tabletop. Fortunately, the answer read in bold just below the question: “Communities of Jesus that nurture life-changing relationships with God, each other, and the world.” Thus began our focus on congregational vitality.

In the Opening of Assembly, Bishop Tim Smith addressed the 466 attendees gathered letting us know that this is our assembly. “Synod means walking together. We are here to walk together,” he said. As we walk together here, he explained that we would be not be focusing on numbers and metrics alone to learn about what God is doing in our synod. While those things do matter, it’s important to remember why they matter—because they are connected to people. By taking our focus away from numbers and metrics, we are able to focus on life-giving relationships.

Diving deeper into the definition of vital congregations, we see, first of all, that the Gospel of Jesus is the central focus. We are “Communities of Jesus.” Note that it doesn’t read “Congregations of Jesus.” That’s because the work of Christ is not done in church congregations alone. As Bishop Smith points out, we have all sorts of communities within the NC Synod that are doing Christ’s work. In addition to our churches, the Spirit is working in and through agencies, service organizations, institutions, camps, and more. At this year’s assembly, we will recognize and celebrate what’s being done in each of those vital communities.

In our vital communities, we “nurture life-changing relationships.” That’s what it’s all about—relationships. “You already knew that,” says Bishop Smith. So why would we focus on something we already know? Bishop Smith shares his theory. Isn’t it true that the things we need the most are the things we long to hear? Even though a spouse knows they are loved, shouldn’t their partner tell them “I love you” from time to time, as a reminder? Yes, it’s meaningful to hear things we already know. That’s what we do in our communities and at Synod Assembly. We gather over and over to hear the things that we know already to be true because we need to be reminded of those things often.

So, as we gather at synod assembly, Bishop Smith promises that we will hear stories of vital communities. We will also be inspired to strive for justice and peace as a baptismal promise, not a political ideology. We are the church, drawn together by the gracious love of Jesus to join in the reconciling work of Christ in the world. The whole reason we’re together is because we’re stronger for it. To God be the glory. Amen.

See all of this year’s assembly stories!

Writer: Carissa Abraham serves as Director of Faith Formation & Engagement Ministries at her home church of St. Mark’s in Mooresville.
Photo:  Sage Rufsvold is a graduate student in the Communication Studies program at UNC Greensboro.