Finding grace in a new way
With 40-60 individuals participating each week, our online Bible study is larger than most congregational gatherings for Bible study that happen regularly at brick-and-mortar churches. Through social media, email and phone conversations, I’ve also been able to provide pastoral support, prayers and collegial support to the community participating in the study.
Last month I got to witness the literal fruits of our Bible study when my grandmother and I took a road trip to Chamberlain, S.D. There we visited Maria, one the most active participants in our online study, and visited the community gardens that Maria lovingly tends with other community members to grow produce for local food pantries and the domestic violence shelter.
As we planted cucumbers, we compared the strategies Maria was using locally with the methods Welcome used to help create the Free Farm at St. Paulus Lutheran in San Francisco. Grandma and I learned about the struggles of the local American Indian community, how the local facility for cognitively impaired individuals is supporting the effort and beginning to plant their own community garden.
We also stopped to visit Duane Neugebauer, pastor at Trinity Lutheran in Chamberlain. He told us about how a trip to visit Lutheran World Relief projects overseas helped him gain a deeper heart for poverty work and a deeper appreciation for how Lutherans can respond to poverty all over the planet. Each month Trinity supports a hunger or poverty project locally or abroad through a “noisy offering.” The children of the congregation make a joyful noise as they drop coins and the occasional paper offering into a metal can.
Grandma and I enjoyed our road trip and we got a lot of ideas about ways our congregations could participate in similar projects. Yet, as I reflect on my trip I’ve been thinking about how our journey to meet Maria is similar to the road trip stories in the Bible that enable the characters to find grace in a new way, to hear or see God’s voice in our communal conversations and share the good news with people in other regions.
Much of what we know about early Christian evangelism comes from the writings of Paul to different groups of people (the Corinthians, Colossians, Galatians, Thessalonians and others). The writings of Martin Luther include volumes of letters from mentors, friends and family members who encourage him and help him reflect on the issues that will later be called the beginning of Lutheranism. In the regional Lutheran archives around the country, you can find the letters of pioneer Lutheran pastors who built some of the first congregations in the United States, the missionary work during the ’60s to reach out to teenaged baby boomers and the collegiality and mentoring of those who united to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
This summer consider checking out a Lutheran congregation while you’re on vacation. Learn what they’re excited about and let them know what inspires you about your faith community. Consider participating in the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, either in person or by watching the live streaming on the Internet.
I remember getting stickers in my attendance book when I went to Sunday school while on vacation. As an adult, there are fewer tangible rewards for church participation. Yet, these connections help us reignite or kindle that light of faith that Christ promises will pierce even the deepest darkest spaces.
Megan Rohrer is an ELCA pastor and the executive director of Welcome — a communal response to poverty — in San Francisco.
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