Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fall Conference

Sunday evening through Tuesday afternoon, I was at the Tri-Synodicial Fall Conference where clergy from all three Iowa synods, Southeastern, Northeastern, and Western, gathered together to worship, fellowship, and study. The theme for our gathering was “GOSPEL ETHICS ROOTED IN THE LUTHERAN CONFESSIONS.” The event was held in West Des Moines.


            The first evening was all about fellowship. We ate dinner at Faith Lutheran in Clive.  Then we had some fun with our bishops during a hilarious round of Jeopardy. Of course, Bishop Burk had the best sense of humor! (Even though Bishop Preus won with 0 points.) After our laughs subsided, then we joined for evening prayer. This reflective time of candlelit prayer guided our time with God. Finally, we split into our synods. Bishop Burk told us about the prayer concerns in our synod. The entire evening was a great mix of old friends and new friends, of good laughs and peaceful contemplation.


            The second day of the conference was another full day. After a brief devotional, we listened to Dr. Per Anderson. His main emphasis was on forming a “community of moral deliberation,” a fancy way of saying that congregations need to discuss important ethical questions. Dr. Anderson also shared a study about the millennial generation. This study had very negative results, and the young pastors in the room, including me, were offended by his remarks. I won’t go into that here.

            The second lecture was by Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda. She talked about different perspectives on neighbor love, including references from Martin Luther and the Bible. Clearly, our love for our neighbors is rooted in God’s love for us and expressed in many levels of society. Christ has freed us from death which also frees us to love our neighbors. Dr. Moe-Lobeda showed us how we have suffered and benefited from injustice in our own society. We all became a bit uncomfortable as we thought about all of the injustices that we benefit from. For example, many of the pastors attending the conference have mutual funds that benefit from companies that offer undervalued wages.

            After Dr. Moe-Lobeda’s lecture, we had a three-course lunch in the hotel. I sat with a variety of pastors from all three synods. We shared many of our greatest joys and challenges in ministry.

            Then Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson spoke. He was refreshingly honest and real with us. As he talked about his joyful opportunities as presiding bishop, his eyes filled with tears. He clearly was honored to give twelve years of his life to the ELCA as presiding bishop, and we were honored to have him among us. We gave him standing ovations when he was introduced and when he was finished with his message, which was a small way of us sharing our gratitude for his ministry. 

            We had quite a bit of free time in the afternoon, followed by worship. This Eucharist service was quite special, full of special music, a powerful sermon by Bishop Hanson, and communion. We could truly feel the Holy Spirit moving among us.



            In the morning, we shared devotions before Dr. Anderson lectured again. This time, he refrained from talking at length about young adults, for which I was grateful. Instead, he talked about contextual ethics and how we can help change the world through big and small actions. Even if we can’t make a big difference among institutions or the corporate world, how we interact at home and in church can influence those around us. By being careful about what we purchase, how we speak, and what we do, we can be counter-cultural.

            Then Dr. Moe-Lobeda lectured about systemic sin and what we can do about it. As always, whatever we do is deeply rooted in our relationship with God. Faith in God in Christ Jesus gives us the hope to make a difference. And through the Holy Spirit, we might find the courage to show God’s love to our neighbors.

            Finally, Dr. Anderson and Dr. Moe-Lobeda answered any last questions from the gathered clergy. We closed with one last time of worship, and we grabbed our lunches and left.

            All in all, I had a wonderful time at this conference. I had great conversations with pastors that I knew and those I didn’t. I heard some wonderful speakers that challenged my way of thinking of the church. I tatted two crosses and reflected on my time at Zion. Most important, I worshipped the Lord with my colleagues in ministry.

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