Pastors’ Corner

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Proud of Our ELCA Journey

The Pacifica Synod Assembly was held in Irvine, CA two weeks ago.  Before we dive into the specifics of what all happened over those three days, I want to take a cue from Bob Michelet.  When he shared about the assembly during worship on the Sunday after the assembly, he wisely reminded us that part of being an “All Are Welcome” church means doing our best to not use insider language and jargon.  Or at the very least, making sure to explain it when we do.  So, to back up for a moment, I want to talk about the church on a larger scale than just what happens at Bethlehem.

We are part of a larger national church called the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America).  It was founded in 1988, and it is organized into geographical regions called synods – there are 65 of them in all.  The size of a synod is determined by the density of Lutheran churches in that area.  For example, Minneapolis, MN is its own synod, as is the city of St. Paul, MN because there are just that many Lutherans up there in the frozen north.  Conversely, the Rocky Mountain Synod covers all of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, most of Wyoming, and part of Texas.  We are a part of the Pacifica Synod which covers the very bottom of California (south of LA), Hawaii, and soon will include Guam, as well as all other US territories in the Pacific.  Each synod has a bishop, and there is one presiding bishop for the whole ELCA.  Once a year, every synod gathers to conduct whatever business needs to be done as well as share the amazing work that is going on in different congregations, as well as in the larger church.  

This year’s assembly was special for a number of reasons.  For starters, it was the first time in three years that we have been able to gather together in-person.  The 2020 Assembly was canceled entirely, and the 2021 A-Zoom-bly happened on Zoom (hence the clever name).  It was also important because we had the privilege and responsibility of electing a new bishop.  Bishop Andy Taylor decided not to seek a second term, which left the field wide open.  It was a wonderful, spirit-led, and discernment-filled process that ultimately resulted in Dave Nagler being elected.  Dave served as intern and then associate pastor at Bethlehem back in the 90s.  He spoke with clarity of purpose, prophetic wisdom, and graceful humility, and I think that his leadership is exactly what this synod needs as we navigate what the church is going to look like as we come out of this pandemic, and given everything that’s going on in the world. 

I am incredibly proud to be a part of the ELCA.  I love the tradition that it grounds us in, the community that we get to be a part of because of it, and the collective discerning of God’s will for us as the people of God.  For more information about what happened at this year’s assembly please visit the 2022 Pacifica Synod Assembly Final Review Publication: https://www.pacificasynod.org/news-events/2022-pacifica-synod-assembly/

Blessings,

Pastor Sam

Diving into Gratitude

Dear People of Bethlehem,

I find myself in a place to give thanks to God for all that has been and all that is yet to be.  I remember as a child standing at the very edge of the diving board.  My toes curled over the board, my arms poised above my head, too afraid to dive in, but too uncomfortable to stand there cold and wet, with the scratchy board under my feet and my heart in my throat.  There was nothing to do but take to the water.  The space in between was never meant to last.  It feels like its time to take to the water.  To enter into tomorrow’s blessing, whatever it may be.  There is some apprehension to be sure, but this space was never meant to last. 

And I am grateful.  For what has been and for the lessons along the road.  And more grateful still for the anticipation, the newness in the air.  It is time for God’s new thing, and we are blessed to be a part of it — together.  It is time to plant something, and I can feel it rising among us.  It seems we are always running after the Spirit, because she has wings, and we do not. 

But beloved of God, we have an unsurpassed gift in one another, and that is the gathered community.  It is our greatest gift and our deepest asset.  We cannot do this alone.  Individual spirituality is an important gift, but it is the community we desperately need now.  And that, the pandemic has taught us.  We must come together and tell the old, old story and sing together our deepest songs.  We each bring our own wisdom, compassion and courage and we need each other if we are to live into God’s new and unfolding grace.  And so we come together bearing our individual stories, for the sake of all that we might learn in each other’s company.  Together we sing the songs of this new day and together we have the gifts and strength for all that lies ahead. Together, we serve and bless this world.  If you have not come to church in a while, I invite you, for the grace you will find here and the grace you will offer us.  If you are with us each Sunday, God bless you for the gift you give us.  The swimming pool of my childhood was never as joyous as when it was full of too many kids, all drenched together.  In the waters of baptism, we are drenched together in grace.  And that is how God meant it to be.  All are welcome!

Your sister in Christ,
Pastor Laura