Parenting a Transgender Child

Today, we release Episode 5 of our Podcast interview with Heidi Richards.  She is the parent of two children, one of whom identifies as transgender.  In part one of this two part interview, we discuss the early years of how she navigated some new territory for her and her child.  Heidi is a courageous, smart and loving mother.  I was so impressed with her candor and willingness to sit down with me and answer questions, that many people might have on this particular subject.

You can listen here or by subscribing to the podcast via Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

I'll release part 2 later this week. (After I finish the editing process)

The Podcast Launches....Now

We launch our podcast today.  You can listen to the Podcast here (see below -click the play button in the bottom left) or you can subscribe via Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.  There is also a Podcast Page on this Website, and we will have all the episodes there as well.

Today we release four episodes.  Part One is an Introduction which we refer to as Episode Zero, followed in the same podcast episode with a reading of the latest version of my article on a Church Being Re-Born.  Episode Two is an interview with Tim Stein about his new venture called Verse 4, in which we explore the struggles of churches at the close of their time of ministry.  Episode three and four is a two part conversation with Rev. Laura Everett about what she is seeing in dynamic churches in New England.  Enjoy.

More to come in the weeks and months ahead.  If you listen to Podcasts regularly consider subscribing in Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or your favorite Podcast App.


What to do for Christmas gifts this year?  My wife and I have talked about giving each other one of the genealogy tests.  You know the ones they advertise on TV.  You swab a little flesh off the inside of your mouth, mail it off, and two weeks later they send you a report of your DNA.  Supposedly it reveals a pattern of your own ancestry.

Nativity, He Qi, ink and gouache on rice paper.  

Nativity, He Qi, ink and gouache on rice paper.  

Human being are meaning seeking creatures, and one of the ways we seek meaning is by looking backwards.  We look to our past to understand our present, which gives us glimpses of where we might be headed.  Perhaps that is part of the reason that Matthew was so keen to include that genealogy of Jesus.  Not exactly the most riveting way to start the greatest story ever told.

The family tree of Jesus Christ, David’s son, Abraham’s son:

 Abraham had Isaac,
Isaac had Jacob,
Jacob had Judah and his brothers,
Judah had Perez and Zerah (the mother was Tamar),
Perez had Hezron,
Hezron had Aram,
Aram had Amminadab,
Amminadab had Nahshon,
Nahshon had Salmon,
Salmon had Boaz (his mother was Rahab),
Boaz had Obed (Ruth was the mother),
Obed had Jesse,
Jesse had David,
    and David became king.                                                                                                
 David had Solomon (Uriah’s wife was the mother),
Solomon had Rehoboam,                             Matthew 1:1-11a (The Message)

The story of Jesus birth has a deeply profound message.  Namely, that God shows up in the darkest moments, God shows up in the times when you think God isn’t there, God shows up in the people you think “no way.”  So, what’s the deal with all this ancestry work here?

The Christmas story is not just about pedigree, or is it?  Look at some of those characters in the genealogy.  I’ll pick a few of the less well known.  Notice the reference to Tamar and Judah.  You can read about it in Genesis chapter 38.  What you’ll discover is not exactly the most noble of behavior.  Then there is Ruth, a foreigner, yes an immigrant.  She is someone not from one of the tribes of Israel.  Hmmmm, what does that tell us?  Then there is David and Solomon, and you may recall their story.  The mixture of exemplary leadership, and self absorbed narcissism.   

If a genealogy tells you about yourself, what does this genealogy tell us about Jesus Christ, the divine embodiment in human form?  What does it tell us about the nature of God?  Among other things, it suggests God is not particularly focused on purity.  God is more interested in showing up in the ordinary and the unexpected.  God shows up in immigrants.  God shows up in people whom we might deem less than noble. 

The story of Christmas has historically been presented too simplistically. In recent times, the commonly held narrative was this:  “Humanity has a problem that needs to be solved, so lets send Jesus to redeem it.”  Instead, I’m wondering if the story of Christmas is more about a reality needing to be expressed:  “Humanity is complex, often bewildered, wandering without purpose or connection, let’s enter into life to remind them that God is in their midst.”

Once again the message seems to be: “God shows up in the darkest moments, God shows up in the times when you think God isn’t there, God shows up in the people you think ‘no way.’”

When our DNA results arrive in the mail I wonder what it will reveal of our past.    We might be surprised.  I’m guessing we will also realize how God shows up in our past and the present.  Maybe we’ll get a glimpse of how God is pointing us into the future, as well.  One way or another, God shows in our midst.


Image above: Nativity, He Qi, ink and gouache on rice paper. See his website here



How to Design a Fair Decision-Making Process

I found this on a post by Al Pittampalli.  He has written a great little book on how to have productive meetings, and often has helpful resources like this article.  You can read more here.

First, communicate a clear, transparent process in advance of the decision. For example, the next time you’re thinking about changing the school dress code, send a memo first outlining the three-week process: week one — online survey to get feedback from parents, week two — town hall to get input from students and faculty, week three — executive meeting where the decision will ultimately be made. Furthermore, you’ll earn extra points if you indicate the criteria by which leadership will make their decision.

Second, leaders should be clear about how each individual or group gets to contribute to the decision, particularly: who gets a voice and who gets a vote? Leaders, however, not wanting to offend, frequently hesitate to make the distinction. Ironically, this ends up creating more offense in the long-run as people inevitably find out. Better to let them know up front.

Third, once a decision is made, leaders should explain not just what decision they’ve reached, but why. Communicating a clear rationale helps people understand that the decision was made based on the pre-determined criteria, not, as some are inclined to believe, the capricious whims of the leader.

Finally, and most importantly, leaders should be persuadable. If you’re heart is already set on a particular course of action and you have no good faith willingness to change your mind, then better to jettison the idea of a process altogether. Make your decision, communicate it to others, and move on. But if you do choose to go through the effortful and time consuming exercise of inviting others to the table before making your decision, make sure you come to that table with an open mind. Because people are generally good at sniffing out when the decision was a fait accompli.

Of course, a good process (and mindset) won’t guarantee people will like your decision. In fact, no matter what you decide, someone, somewhere undoubtedly won’t. That’s okay. Your job isn’t to convince them that the outcome is good, it’s to maximize the chance they see the process as fair.

Podcast Coming in 2018

For those of you that watch this blog regularly you probably noticed an addition to the menu bar at the top.  The link to "Podcast" just appeared.  That's right.  Launching January 3, 2018.  Stay tuned.

What's a podcast?  It's like a radio talk show, only you get to listen to it when you want.




Conversations on Life, Faith and the New Church being Born

(Local) Politics & Religion Part 2

Ah the blog series post, where I assume you have read part 1.  (It's below on Nov 29)

When people think of politics, they often think of Washington DC, the President & Congress.  I awoke this morning to learn of the upset victory of the Democrat Doug Jones defeating expected Republican Roy Moore.  I can see on my Facebook feed, a bit of attention to this race, along with various prognostications of what it means.  That's good.  I'm glad people are engaged.  But, we are missing something if we focus only on the national level.  Local politics may not involve international diplomacy, but you'd be surprised how much it impacts your life.  

This evening I made a brief visit to a campaign fundraising event for Teresa Tanzi.  She is the State Representative for District 34 in Rhode Island (Peacedale, Wakefield, Narragansett).  She is actually not my representative.  I live a few miles to the west of her district.  But, I went cause I know her through a mutual friend.  OK, well, he's not really my friend, as in college buddy.  OK, actually I know her cause she is married to my doctor.  So we're not friends, but we know each other.  Oh never mind.  I went cause I had a connection, and I've liked what I've seen in Ms Tanzi.  She strikes me as honest, committed to doing the right thing and she is a person of stamina. i.e. she is in it for the long haul.  She recognizes there is a long arc to the curve of justice, and wants to be a part of that curve.  Plus I saw on Facebook they were having the event at a new local brewery called Whalers Brew, and they were serving Oysters by the folks at Bluff Hill Oysters.  Hey, a guys gotta eat.

My motive was simple.  Go meet, support, cheer on a good person in local politics. Check out her web page.  She's been hard at work.

Should pastors and bishops be doing such things? 

My view is simple. If people of faith are not engaged in local politics they are not fully living into the call of God to be about the work of building the Kingdom of God here on earth.  Yup.  You not knowing your local political leaders, government officials, you not doing' your job.  That's true for clergy as well as the people in the pew.  In my view, we are all called to invest in civic engagement.  

In recent years, as in the last thirty, the most vocal and engaged people of faith in politics have been from the conservative side of the spectrum.  The rest of us in the middle and to the left of the religious and political spectrum have been largely absent.  We've either separated politics from religion or we've walked away from one or both.

"But, I don't like politics." you say.  OK, I hear you.  My question is this: Do you like your roads paved, plowed and planned?  Do you care about the education of your children, grandchildren, neighbors' children?  Are you concerned about how much building goes on in your community, and/or how green space is near you?  I could go on.  All that is politics.  If people aren't engaged, then decisions get made by people who are influenced by people who are engaged. 

Get connected with your local leaders.  Follow them on line, go to town hall meetings, and support people who want to make a positive impact.  And, hey, if nothing else, there might be good food.


My Advent Letter

Below is the text of my Advent letter to the Pastors and Deacons of this synod.  

Dear Colleagues,

Advent is among us.  It’s a time of stirring.  We pray each week for God to stir up - a frightening prayer when you think about it.  In the words of one woman, “I’m praying for God to calm things down, I don’t need stirring… yet I know that God is in the stirring business.”

A few things for you this Advent season:

First.  I encourage you to embrace this time of year.  Carve out space and time for scripture, candles, the variations of blue.  It is a full time, filled with the range of everything from generosity to self-centeredness, from the mystery to the manufactured.  Perhaps no other time of year brings out such a range of responses from people in our society.  While I am disgusted with consumer capitalism run amuck, I confess to thoroughly enjoying hanging the outdoor lights and listening to Peter Mayer’s Stars and Promises CD.  This year, I am attempting to be drawn into the time, which hopefully leads me to solidarity with the suffering of others.  Somehow in that there will be “room” in the Inn, or the Stable, or the back yard or shelter.

Second.  I am increasingly aware of what it is like to be a woman in our society today, more particularly a woman in church leadership.  More and more of you are articulating to me, or members of my staff, the challenges that the past year have brought you in your ministry.  Sexual harassment, discrimination, belittling, etc. are challenges you face on a regular basis.  I’m also hearing a brave call to not be victims, but be strong women of integrity.  I’m open to supporting you in ways I probably don’t fully understand, and want to be with you as an encourager, and advocate.  But, I also, want to say a word to the men.  It is time for us to police our own.  Forgive my crass language here, but let’s be honest.  We’ve allowed this $^!t to go on.  We’ve not called out our colleagues, friends, uncles, brothers, partners for their stupid comments, sexist talk, belittling words and harmful actions. Guys, we need to be candid and begin the hard work of learning how our own fears, failures and longings are at the root of our behaviors toward women.  I’m equally open to finding ways that we can do our own work.   Let’s find ways to change this for the better.   

Third. I have just returned from a significant visit to our companion synod in Jordan and the Holy Land.  Twenty-three of us walked among the stones of ancient ruins, the shores of Galilee and through the wild brush along the Jordan River.  We also walked with our brothers & sisters in the Palestinian Lutheran churches on the West Bank and in Jordan.  I learned much, and would like to share what I learned.  If your conference is interested in hosting a “Lands and People of the Bible: Yesterday & Today,” I am available for such an event.  It would be a talk, some photographs and a Palestinian meal.  The goal is awareness, deepening of our faith, and strengthening our relationship with our Companion Synod.  Contact Lyn ( ) about your interest, and we will look into scheduling options.

Finally, but it’s never over.  Version XI, that would be version 11.0 of the paper “A Church being Reborn,” which we discussed at convocation, is now available.  The latest version has several updates.  First, there are some editorial fixes to language and concepts that you have suggested. More significantly, you will find further reflections in the area of deepening spiritual vitality, some updates to the ministers as entrepreneurial leaders section, and the addition of an addendum based on one congregation’s reading and life experience in the midst of labor.  You can download the latest version here.  This is a public document.  Please feel free to share it with colleagues and discuss it in adult forums, church council meetings, etc.  You will note the addition of some “Stir it Up” artwork.  Could that be a hint of our 2018 theme?  I’m also available to discuss this document with anyone who wishes to engage.  It’s not perfect; it’s a work in progress, and there will be a version 12, and then 13, and so forth.  We are writing and living this together with Jesus.

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. With your abundant grace and might, free us from the sin that would obstruct your mercy, that willingly we may bear your redeeming love to all the world, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

Advent Blessings, Still in One Peace,

Bishop James Hazelwood

Why naming Jerusalem the Capital is Controversial

I've just returned from a 2 and 1/2 week trip visiting Palestinian Christians on the West Bank.  It was a whirlwind tour that took our group of 23 to every congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL for short)  I'll be going back in January for the Consecration and Installation of the new Bishop.

Later today, according to news reports, the current US President will make a declaration of acknowledging Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel.  This highly controversial move is viewed around the world as furthering division, and most likely will sideline any efforts to achieve a meaningful and last Peace.  Why?  This article and the summary video explain it best. But the bottom line is that the move is a clear indication that the US is taking Israel's side in the peace talks.  This means the US looses it's opportunity to be an honest broker or moderator.  It's like having a referee in a game who is on one teams payroll, and is a fan of your side.  The big problem here is that this is no game, this is the central middle east divide. Click here



Politics & Religion Part 1

This blog post will be more ramble than fine tuned essay.

I recently engaged with someone on the topic of religion and politics.  They were holding the position that politics doesn't belong in the pulpit.  My response was "it depends."  I continued by pointing out that it's pretty close to impossible to read the Bible, both Hebrew Scriptures and the Gospels of Jesus and not see tribe engaging with forces of empire, poverty, war & peace as well as  a whole range of economic manipulations of people.  

Yet, I also tried to acknowledge the power dynamic of the pulpit.  Let's be honest.  Preaching in such a way that allows the preacher to light up the room with a whole lot of right wing or left wing rhetoric is both irresponsible and unfair.  It's unfair cause your in a one way conversation, i.e. you have all the power.  What's the person in the pew supposed to do?  Break all norms, stand up and scream "I disagree with you.."  It's irresponsible because the preacher is not deeply engaging the scripture and the cultural/political/social context.  They are simply ranting.

Now, having stated the above, I also want to maintain strongly that the Bible is very much a political library.  Most of it it written by and for a people that were living under oppression.  In the Prophets time, that might have been under the Greek, Persian or Assyrian empires.  IN Jesus day, it was under the Roman system, and one could argue a High Priest run system in the religion of his birth.  The scriptures were the poetry of imaginative response to the situation of the day, to roughly quote Walter Brueggeman.

Today, politics is all around us.  No, I'm not talking about Donald Trump, though his public persona is clearly dominating.  I'm referring to everything from our current consumer culture to how the local school board prioritizes for next years curriculum.  I'm referring to the paving of roads to the treatment of people who don't look like you.  I'm referring to an opioid drug crisis, the rapid increase of unhealthy foods and the rampant obsession with our social media narcissism.  Does the Bible speak to that?  Does religion have a voice in any of this?  Of course it does.

The challenge is to help people see the scriptures as having a voice, a critical voice, in our current cultural, social and political context.  To deny that, is to render religion impotent.

More to come...

Going Forward as a Synod of Experimentation

For the last couple months, I've been working on a paper that could form the basis of some principles for the New England Synod.  It is intended to be an ongoing work in progress.  In fact, there have already been 9 versions.  I'm releasing version X today, so I can get out in front of the next iPhone.

Next week, at our bishops convocation, I'm inviting all of our deacons and pastors to discuss this latest version.  I'm also inviting you, readers of this blog, to engage in the conversation.  Let's see where it takes us.

Here is the link to the paper. Click Here

If you have thoughts or comments or suggestions, you can email them to my attention at Thank you.


Lutheran Roman Catholic Dialogue at St. Michaels College

Last week I was invited to be a part of panel discussing the Lutheran Roman Catholic Dialogues.  It is part of a series of Reformation Commemoration events we are sponsoring around the New England Synod.  In addition to myself, there were two academic scholars.  My role was to talk about the practical implications of the relations.  You can listen to an audio recording of my talk by clicking here.



Two Lines: From Calvary to Charlottesville

For two thousand years, the western Christian tradition has had two lines running through it.  (OK, probably more than two, but for the sake of this essay, I’m focusing on two)  Christianity has seen these two lines emerge again and again - One line emphasizing and protecting the establishment or the powerful, another line calling for justice for the dispossessed.

Social Historian Rodney Stark described these lines when he wrote of the lineage of the papacy having an emphasis on power, which is occasionally interrupted by a lineage of piety.  Those popes that emphasized power have dominated this lineage According to Stark, and have focused on incurring wealth, status and authority.  There have been interruptions to this lineage when pietists have been chosen.  It’s clear, in my mind, that Pope Francis manifests a recent example of the pietists’ lineage. This line has emphasized care for the poor, ministries of peace and reconciliation as well as a call to Justice.

During World War II, there were clear divisions in the church in Germany.  On one side you had those acquiescing to the Nazi’s abuse of power, even to the point where Martin Luther’s horrific words about Jewish people were used to justify the holocaust.  Yet, at the same time you had Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonheoffer, leading a movement to resist the Nazi’s.  Two lines, both claiming the faith was on their side.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr was challenged on many fronts but one that is not often discussed is the challenge to his reframing of a biblical understanding of race, slavery and civil rights.  King was pushing back against the dominant narrative that was using scripture and theology to justify exploitation of black people.  One of the important aspects of the 1950s and 1960s civil rights movement was King’s successful neutering of the dominant, largely white, theology that claimed white race superiority.  There were two lines running through American Christianity at that time, and we see it again today.

Christianity as a religion has been coopted by empires and the powerful, and used as a weapon against people, often in service to the rich and the dominant.  Christianity also has a line that runs through its history of siding with those who are oppressed, tortured and neglected.  These lines met again in Charlottesville, VA over the weekend.

Both sides claimed obedience to their faith.  I wonder if Bob Dylan would like to add a new verse to his song “With God on our Side?”

Increasingly our world is forcing everyone to make a choice.  It’s as if there is some force at hand that is pushing us all into a duality.  You are either with us or against us.  My team or their team.  My side or their side.

Are there many sides, as has been suggested?  Yes, there are.  But that doesn’t mean that all sides should be followed, supported or endorsed.  As I think about the two lines that run through the Christian tradition, I’m choosing the less dominant, the marginalized line – indeed I'm choosing a side, and it's the voice that speaks of justice, equality and love.

Not some sugar coated, sweet tasting love.  Not puppy love. Not the love that gets sung about in one hit wonders or romanticized in movies.

I’m thinking of love that gets expressed in acts of courage, moments of sacrifice.  It’s a bold and audacious love.  A love most profoundly expressed on the cross at Calvary.   There the GodMan was crucified for embodying a love that was so frightening to the dominant power structure of his time, both church and state.  

Jesus bleeding for all humanity – longing, hoping, praying.  Dying as an act of love, still clinging, even today, to his vision that we will see in one another – his face.  Yes, when we look at another human being, we are looking at the face of Christ.  To deny that, is to deny Jesus.

The long lines of power and peace continue to weave there way through history, and no doubt will continue until the Peace of God is fulfilled. But, in the mean time, the all too mean, meantime; there comes a time in life when you need to make a choice, and choose which line you are going to stand in.

Where will you stand?

The Legitimate Critique of Minimalism

Several of you have forwarded to me this internet article on a critique of Minimalism.  It’s worth the read, but if you don’t want to, here is my summary.  The point is that only those who can afford to be minimalists, can do so voluntarily.  A second related point of the article is that we tend to turn everything, even minimalism, into a product to buy. There are additional cheap shots at décor and design, as well as straw man arguments of people who shop at IKEA.

First, the points I agree on, then my critique of the critique.  OK.  I’d say the author has a valid point, though it tends to be a bit whinny for my taste.  I mean it’s ok for me to whine, but not others. JThere is validity to a choice to pursue a more minimalist lifestyle is one that those who have can choose.  If you are poor, then you are already a minimalist, and that stinks.  Only rich white guys get the joy and freedom of simplicity. So goes the argument.  There is some merit to this argument. 

For me personally, I have a comfortable middle class life, with a respectable income.  Actually, by global standards it’s outrageously excessive.  My friends in Honduras make less than 10% of what I make in a year.  My comfortable North American US lifestyle affords me many choices, that others don’t have.  I can choose to live a life where I spend less on junk, save more for the future and be outrageously generous.  Yes, I’m also white, and not only male, but I’m 6’7”  All these things place me in a position of great power in this society.  With that comes the freedom of choice.  Not everyone has that freedom – I get that.

The other valid point is the commodification of, well just about everything in our society, even minimalism.  Yes, this is true.  In the words of Andrew Carnegie, “The business of America is business.” (I think it was Carnegie maybe Rockefeller)  We are a consumer driven culture.  The people who have championed minimalism have written books, gone on tours, made films.  Those activities are the same activities of everything from U2 rock tours to the latest business seminar or product.  In addition, those of us who are moving along this minimalism path have purchased books, subscribed to Netflix to watch a documentary.  So, yes, even minimalism can be coopted by the very economic cultural bubble it is challenging.

Now let’s push back on this article as well as other patterns I’m observing.

The clearest point I want to make is best captured in the phrase, “no good deed goes unpunished.”  Increasingly, the chronic anxiety in our culture is fighting to grab those people and movements attempting to make change and pull them back into the homeostasis of the status quo.  The implication of these critiques is a DE legitimization of the whole endeavor.  We are trending in a direction that says the contributions of Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Jefferson or Martin Luther are discredited because of their flaws.  Do we toss out the Reformation because Luther was clearly anti-Semitic?  (Yes, I intentionally chose three white men to make this point, because I recognize how the merits of my argument could be harder to hear if I had chosen others)

Was Luther also probably a really unpleasant person around the dinner table? Yes.  Was Jefferson a slave owner? Yes.  Did Woodrow Wilson have segregationist views? Yes.  Does that mean they did not also make valuable contributions to further society?

One of our theological convictions in the Lutheran expression of Christianity is that we are both saint & sinner simultaneously.  I’m endeavoring to write an essay here that is intended to move the conversation along in a positive manner.  Am I also a little defensive of the critique of something that is positively impacting my life? You bet.  Both are true.

A second point that needs to be acknowledged is around the topic of minimalism and the wealthy.  Is minimalism for the wealthy?  Yes.  Yes it is.  We are the ones that most need minimalism.  We in the consumptive US North American are the greatest abusers of greed, and its environmental impact.  It’s economic destabilization.  Mostly, of it’s spiritual vacuity.  Was Sigmund Freud right when he wrote his book, “Civilization and it’s Discontents”?  Are we miserable despite having achieved a standard of living that exceeds all of human civilization? 

So yes, Minimalism is a legitimate response for those of us in the US Middle Class and Up?  We are the ones who need to hear the message.  My friends in Honduras, they don’tneed minimalism –they need economic justice.  You and I buying T-Shirts that are made in San Pedro Sula are not helping them, we are actually empowering an abusive borderline slave labor system in that country.

Finally, a reminder that minimalism is not one thing.  It is not a duality, where you are in or out.  It’s more helpful to think of it as a spectrum.  Yes, some minimalists own 333 things, others don’t own a house and travel the world with only 51 things.  But, others live in Arizona suburbs, with spouses and kids that are not so minimal.  Still others home school their child, and ride a bike everywhere they go in Colorado, including grocery shopping.

I’m on a minimalism journey.  I’m spending less, giving more and saving more.  Do I own a car? Yes.  But, my next one, won’t be a brand new one, and I’ll try to take the one I have as far as it goes.  Do I own a house?  Well, the bank and I do, and I’m working a plan to rid the bank portion quickly. Do I love books?  Yes, but now I use the local library system for about 90% of those books.  I haven’t bought new clothes since last November, and my goal is to make it through all of 2017 before I do so again, and even then what do I need vs want.  How many shirts does a guy need?  My wife and I have decreased our restaurant meals by 80% this year.  We are eating in, enjoying cooking, shopping for local food more.

Why am I doing this?  What’s the real purpose behind it?

Is it because I’m in need of a sense of being morally superior to some people?  Am I looking to justify my judgmental side?  Do I just need another project?  Perhaps those play into this new endeavor.  After all, I like you am a mixed bag of angels and devils.

I’d like to think that my motivations also include a desire to live more consistently into my Christian faith.  Living more simply does give me a clear sense of integrity about being a follower of Jesus.  Richard Foster’s Freedom of Simplicity has helped me here.  In addition, I’m moving along the minimalism path because I am reaching a point in life, at age 58, where I am fatigued of the whole ‘stuff’ thing.  There is just too much crap in life these days.  It’s on TV, it’s on You Tube, it’s in stores.  It’s plastic, it’s cheap and it’s just all clutter.  Is that a midlife thing?  Could be.  Then there is a desire to learn the art of discipline.  I’m finding there is real value in discipline.  When I’m melancholic, and want to buy something, I’m asking new questions.  What’s this about inside me?  What void am I filling?  Why not just live with the melancholy rather than trying to push it away?  Finally, I’m in a reordering of my priorities in life.  What gives me deep pleasure?  It’s increasingly some simple things.  A meal with friends, a bike ride, mowing the lawn or even sitting down to write an essay on minimalism.

My Letter on the Sanctuary Resolution

Dear Members of Congregations and Leaders of the New England Synod,

Earlier this month the New England Synod gathered for its annual assembly in Springfield, MA.  There were 450 voting participants (300 laypersons/deacons and 150 pastors). Among the business items addressed included a resolution on the subject of Sanctuary

The purpose of this letter is to provide some clarification around that resolution.  Before reviewing the specifics of the resolution, I feel it would be beneficial to provide you some background information around process. Therefore, I have divided this communication into three sections:

  1. What is a resolution and how does it come before the Assembly?
  2. What authority does a resolution hold in the Synod?
  3. What does this resolution on Sanctuary mean?

What is a Resolution & how does it come before the Assembly?

As the highest legislative body of this synod, the assembly acts on multiple governance matters including, but not limited to: approval of an annual budget; and election of officers, members of the Synod Council and other Synod Committees. 

In addition, our rules and procedures provide the opportunity for members of this synod to offer resolutions. A resolution calls for an action—often a policy decision—that is concrete, specific, and within the power of the Assembly to implement.  (Note:  These should not be confused with ‘continuing resolutions’ which are amendments to the synods governing documents, namely its constitution and bylaws.)

The process for resolutions to come before the assembly is an open one. This is announced each winter by various means of communication. Anyone in the New England Synod (members of congregations, pastors/deacons, members of the Synod Council etc.)  may introduce a resolution by submitting it at least 45 days in advance of the assembly. 

Resolutions are then reviewed by the Reference & Council Committee, which is elected by the Synod Council. The Reference & Council Committee may adjust the language of the resolution, typically in concert with those who submitted it. Once an agreed upon version is drafted, the resolution is published in the Assembly Handbook (online) and in the Assembly Guidebook. The resolution is then brought to the assembly for consideration.

The resolution is brought before the assembly by the Reference and Council Committee.  This is then followed by discussion/debate on the “resolved” portions of the resolution. The Bishop, serving as the Chair of the Assembly, is charged with the task of managing the discussion/debate or as I like to say, “helping the assembly do its work.” My role is to ensure that a proper and fair process of debate/discussion ensues. This may include attending to any proposed motions, amendments, or questions of order.

What authority does an approved resolution have in our Synod?

A well-written resolution addresses a topic of concern that is a call for action, that is concrete, specific and within the power of the synod to implement.

‘Resolutions’ are brought to the assembly for the purpose of discussion in order to provide guidance to the ministries of the Synod and the Synod Council. No resolution passed at a Synod Assembly has any authority over congregations, members, or rostered ministers (pastors/deacons) of that synod.

One of the confusing matters to many people is what I like to call the ‘hybrid’ polity (polity is another word for church governance) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). What I mean is our “both/and” approach. We lift up a form of congregational autonomy….. while also agreeing to be in a connected system of congregations and synods. 

Many times, I am asked questions that carry with them many assumptions about authority. In relation to the topic of this letter, resolutions passed at a synod assembly do not have authority over congregations, members, or pastors/deacons. Rather, as noted previously, it is to provide guidance, and other specifics (depending on how it is written), to the Synod Council and ministries of the synod.

As to the authority of the resolutions over pastors and congregations, etc., there is only the authority of influence. That is why the language of resolutions is often to “encourage or invite.” 

As a separately incorporated entity, the congregation, the Synod and the ELCA are legally only bound by the actions of their highest legislative body with some exceptions.

What does this resolution on Sanctuary mean?

The resolution on Sanctuary was brought before the June 2017 Assembly. There was a period of discussion/debate during which two amendments were offered, one eliminating a reference to “this administration” and another adding the last resolved regarding immigration reform. Those were approved by the assembly, and then the amended resolution was adopted by the assembly. A copy of the adopted resolution is on the final page of this letter.

The practice of this Synod has been that all approved resolutions are brought to the Synod Council at its next regularly scheduled meeting (September 2017). Typically, there is a discussion about the resolution and what actions, if any, are called for by the resolution. That will be the case with this resolution. The Synod Council will review this resolution, and respond appropriately.  Since the Synod Council is the governing body that acts between Synod Assemblies (which occur once per year in June), it is appropriate to wait for that September Synod Council discussion before engaging in any actions. 

One suggestion that has been made, which we will investigate for future resolutions, is some kind of process that allows for the synod as a whole to have an opportunity to discuss proposed resolutions in advance of the assembly. I think there is merit to this point, and I’ll bring this to the Synod Council as well.

I recognize that some congregations and individuals are looking for clarity in the meantime. Therefore, I will offer my understanding of both this resolution as well as our church governance structure. Here are some options that congregations, individuals, groups etc. may want to engage this resolution, if they choose to:

  • Hold Sunday adult forum conversations or a series of evening discussion and consider inviting people from a number of different perspectives on this topic
  • Form a book study using either Welcoming the Stranger: Justice & Compassion in the Immigration Debate by Soerens & Yang” or They are Us: Lutherans & Immigration by Bouman and Deffenbaugh or another one of your choosing.
  • Invite members of a congregation to meet with nearby organizations that work in the area of refugee resettlement or immigration issues
  • Seek out elected officials to meet with and discuss this subject
  • Engage with organizations, congregations or others who are already involved in the Sanctuary movement, possibly contacting organizations that are named in the resolutioni.e. LIRS (Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Services) has both persons who are knowledgeable in this area and also resources to share.  I will add here that any congregation considering becoming a sanctuary would do well to consult with legal counsel, as well as others with experience, before entering into such work.
  • Invite members of your congregation to advocate for immigration reform by writing to congress.
  • Study the ELCA Social Teaching Statement on Immigration

As with all resolutions, this resolution uses language that includes “encourage, assist, coordinate, engage.”  It does not use language that includes “require, demand, expect.” 

In my personal view, resolutions are best used as opportunities to engage people at a point that best fits their starting point, and moves them forward. You and your congregation know that starting point best.

It is my hope that this letter provides some clarity for you and your congregation or ministry setting.



Rev. James Hazelwood