Friday, May 23, 2014


On Good Friday I took a brown Sharpie and masking tape to the wood paneled wall in our sanctuary. I aimed to outline a stocky, barren tree trunk and it kind of worked.

Since then, we've been adding leaves. Every Sunday and Wednesday bulletin has a green sticky note in it. And we write down one sign of resurrection in our midst. There is new life everywhere and twice a week I get to declare it on the tree.

This week I wrote "Patricia Lull". She's the newly elected bishop of the St. Paul Area Synod and I'm thrilled. A great leader right next door!

I shared my enthusiasm with Matt since he has met and enjoyed P. Lull. "Can you believe it? My presiding bishop and the two local bishops are both strong, brilliant women. And I'm a 32 year old solo pastor - this didn't happen thirty years ago! Time are changing - it's exciting."

"Yeah. Now if you can just get that church of yours to stop dying."

Sometimes my husband is a Wet Blanket Truth Teller. This was one of those times. He's sort of right, of course. The ELCA is in a nose dive (and has been for my whole life). One woman, one bishop, and one pastor cannot change this fact.

But he's not all right. I'm not sure "don't die" is the call. And it's not my church. Then native instincts emerged as foreign words I'd never spoken before:

"The big church - the Holy Spirit's church - will be just fine. But my little congregation and denomination probably won't be. Yet it's not my job to stop them from dying. In fact, I think I am called to help them die with dignity and grace. We can rebrand and reimagine and reignite all we want, but these efforts are shaky at best when our hearts and gaze are focused elsewhere:

We are terrified of dying. And we will be terrified of dying until we actually die. And until we actually die, it will be hard to multitask the fear of dying with growth that comes from really listening to the Holy Spirit's desires."

I startled myself. I guess I knew this somewhere in my heart, but I was most caught off guard because the realization didn't make me feel sad or guilty or worried. And so, like the chatty extrovert I am, I continued:

"I am not afraid of this death. My denomination has been in decline my whole life - I don't remember the good old days, so I can't lust after them! But I refuse to believe that this death is an ending because, in Christ, death never has the last word. So I believe part of my call is to be fearless and to name things that make folks uncomfortable and ashamed. I believe I am called to carry the death clothes and perfumes and oils. I believe I am called to remain calm when it looks like the end and I believe I am called to watch the tomb for resurrection. Because this rebirth will be so much more beautiful than all the things we've been carrying. And God gave me a big voice for announcing and shouting and proclaiming. So I'm gonna use it."

I don't think this death and life will happen all at once in the church. It will not be found in the changing of the guard or bureaucracy or property management or membership or statistics or dollars. But it will be found in white knuckles relaxing and risks taken and stagnant ministries laid to rest. It will be found in new discernment and compromise and collaboration and whenever egos are checked. It will be found on sticky notes and in vulnerability and wherever people put down their fear of dying to carry God's stuff for awhile.


val said...

Yes, yes, the lack of interest or need of a brick and mortar location. It's Amazon, online, instant everything.

The church appears everywhere, oddly enough.

Jay's uncle is a Lutheran pastor, retired. He told me that once upon a time the pastor was considered an expert on matters spiritual, and people listened.

Then the culture changed and everyone thinks they know as much as a theologian.


I am glad for you. love, Vak

Keith said...

Well said. Just what I needed to hear - another pastor who is aware that death is imminent for many of our congregations - and this is not to be feared nor avoided, but embraced. Thanks for such a thoughtful and transparent piece. -Keith Long, Pastor @ Big Bend Lutheran Church, ELCA

Jill said...

Meta, I remember this conversation we had about "death" at The Blue Door. What I didn't pick up on until I read this blog just now was the part about resurrection. I have faith in the resurrection and I have faith that more pastors like you who are willing to be real and talk about hard stuff will bring that resurrection about.

Meta Herrick Carlson said...

Alleluia! Keep your eyes open for little deaths and resurrection. Speak about them and help other to become less afraid of what it means to be creatures and seasons and souls.