Farewell from the secretary of the ELCA
By David Swartling
Dear colleagues and friends:
I recall with fondness one of my first official activities as secretary of the ELCA — preaching at the farewell service and reception for a departing colleague. I chose as the text for that service the wedding at Cana from John 2. Although a retirement and a wedding party seem dramatically different, the occasions in reality are remarkably similar. Both involve beginnings and endings, both involve changes of vocation, and, of course, both involve parties! And, with Jesus present, both involve the possibility of transformation!
Now, six years later, the tables have turned, and I am reflecting on my own retirement from the churchwide organization, my own ending and a new beginning. What a six years it has been! From my present perspective, the time seems to have passed quickly, but in retrospect it has been a remarkable odyssey, and much has occurred. My reflections on these years compel me to say two things: “Wow!” and “Thank you!”
The “Wow” reflects what we have been through together — Churchwide Assemblies, hundreds of governing document amendments, a social statement on human sexuality, ministry policies, congregational disaffiliations, a recession, diminished Mission Support, restructuring, lawsuits, health care reform, seminary and college mergers, and much more. It has, indeed, been challenging. Yet being on this journey with you has been enormously rewarding.
And that brings me to the “Thank you!” The joys of serving as an officer of this church often spring from relationships with colleagues. In my six years at the Lutheran Center and as a representative for this church in synods and other venues, I have been greeted and treated with respect, support and affection. I have met wonderful people — both rostered leaders and laypeople — who are inspired by their faith and are ambassadors for Christ in their individual vocations. They evidence a living faith and what Presiding Bishop Hanson refers to as an “evangelical missional imagination.” Perhaps most profoundly, my own faith has been nurtured and strengthened by my relationships with colleagues at the Lutheran Center and throughout this church. Words cannot adequately express my admiration and gratitude for such colleagues, so I will say simply “Thank you!”
I hope you remember me in this posture of the photo above, holding the red book — the Constitutions, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I hope that you say, “This is a missional document!” I hope that you remember that the governing documents of this church contain gospel as well as law, that they teach us that the ELCA does ministry better together as interdependent congregations, synods and the churchwide organization, and that they remind us that we are a “both/and” church with room in it for people who can disagree without being disagreeable! Indeed, in an “either/or” world, the ELCA proclaims that we are a “both/and” church!
So, now, as I prepare to depart, I am again drawn to the story of the wedding in Cana because it is about transformation — transformation of something ordinary into something extraordinary, with the help of Jesus. The life of Jesus and the lives of the newly married couple and perhaps many participants were transformed forever by that encounter in Cana. In different ways, their lives moved on in new directions, but were never the same again. Now, it is time for another transition during which Jesus will work in unexpected ways for us in the ELCA and for us individually, to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, to empower us to proclaim and witness to the good news, and to make everything new. This is most certainly true!
David Swartling is concluding his term of office as ELCA secretary. He was elected to a six-year term on Aug. 11, 2007. At the time of his election, Secretary Swartling was a member of Bethany Lutheran Church, Bainbridge Island, Wash. He served that congregation and the ELCA in a variety of positions.
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Recap of the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly
The family reunion that is the Churchwide Assembly