Pastor Russ Norris
The story of Jesus doesn’t end with Jesus. It continues in the community of men, women and children who repent, believe and follow. (Bishop Jim Hazelwood)
Our celebration of Easter – a “week of weeks” – comes to an end on Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. The story of those first Christians, those who knew Jesus and were witnesses of the resurrection, is described in the Book of Acts. Written some time at the end of the first century, 30-50 years after the events it records, Acts addressed a church wondering “where to next?” Peter, Paul and the rest of the apostles were all gone, and the kingdom had not arrived as anticipated. What were the followers of Jesus to do? Could it be that we are asking similar questions in our own day and time?
During the first three centuries of the Church, the followers of Christ were a minority in a world that looked on them with suspicion. It was risky being Christian then. The followers of Jesus met in secret in one another’s homes. Those early Christians were asking questions like: What is God up to now? Why are we here? What does it mean to be the Church of Jesus Christ in this new time and place?
In many ways, we mostly white, middle class Lutherans who grew up in post-World War II America are asking similar questions. We remember the days of full Sunday school classes, full churches, and full offering plates.
We remember a Lutheran identity rooted in Scandinavian or German culture. We find ourselves wondering: What happened? Did we do something wrong? Why are we here? What is God up to in our world?
Some have suggested “the church is dying”. I reject that idea. The Church of Jesus Christ is not dying and will not die. It is eternal, and as Jesus said, “the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” The church is not dying, but it is undergoing a dramatic shift. Some congregations may need to close, but all congregations will need to change.
In the future, there will be many different models of “church”. The model we all grew up with, with a church building, a paid professional ordained minister, supported by voluntary offerings – that model may be only one of many models. Our challenge is to allow the Spirit to guide us in new directions. What sort of a church will Joy in Christ be in this new world?
That is the challenge the church council will be discussing at its spring retreat on May 5th. Over the last several months we have begun to explore our opportunities and options in this place and time. Members of the council have been reaching out to interview community leaders and clergy to better understand the challenges and needs our neighbors face. We are in conversation with Lutheran and non-Lutheran churches to find ways we can collaborate in our ministry and outreach. We have been exploring new forms of worship to celebrate God’s presence today.
In short, we are actively working to answer the questions that confront us in this time of change: Why are we here? Where is God in our world today? How can we live the Spirit of Christ in these changing times? We don’t know for sure what tomorrow will hold, but we are united in our conviction that the Spirit will continue to guide God’s people in the days to come as it has throughout the ages
Pastor Russ Norris