It has now been a while since I unpacked my bags from attending the Churchwide Assembly. I’ve sorted through (and recycled) much of the paper that I brought home, written a church newsletter article, entered information for new friends in my contacts, and gotten a good night of rest. I have also had the opportunity to share with the congregation I serve, the conference that I’m part of, and many friends, my response to Bishop Hanson’s parting question, “What will you say when people ask you about your experience?”
My response to his question has become a bit more articulate than what I said upon initially returning: “I’m tired. It was an amazing experience. I’m exhausted.” However, those sentiments still hold the bulk of my reflection. The week was long, full of emotion and information.
For me the opportunity to be part of a churchwide assembly truly was an amazing experience—from worship to the plenary sessions, from the reports to reconnecting with friends and colleagues, the week was full of enriching and life-giving opportunities.
I heard deeply moving faith witnesses spoken on the floor of the assembly and in the hallways and around the breakfast table. I saw the passion that so many people have for the church as a structure and for the Gospel that we attempt to embody and preach and live. I aligned myself with speakers and red or green microphones and then pushed a button, casting my own vote on matters that will continue to shape our congregations and the people who come together to hear grace in these places.
One of the great and unexpected gifts of the assembly came from the conversations and questions that I shared with others. Through these exchanges I heard the stories of agencies and congregations across the country, and the wisdom and experience of other leaders within the church. And, in return, I was able to share the stories and questions that I have, each of us in turn witnessing to the reality of the Gospel in our lives.
I remember my first time attending a national youth gathering and seeing in a very real way that the church was much larger and more diverse than the small congregation my family attended in northern Minnesota. On many levels a churchwide assembly is different than a youth gathering; however, the experience was no less powerful for me to again see an expression of the church bigger and wider than what probably each of us experiences on any given day. To recognize and see the connections that we have with agencies around the world, with ecumenical colleagues and churches, and with our own brothers and sisters in Christ from across the ELCA energized me to return to my own ministry context.