Annual Pastoral Report – June 2012

Posted on June 18, 2012


Annual Pastoral Report – June 2012 – Pastor Ted Johanson

“Early to Rise” – Building Renovation Ideas and Call Committee (Still Ongoing Processes)

Even during my first week with Dekorra I heard concerns and ideas about the building and possible renovations.  As the issue was bantered about in the council meetings in late 2011 it seemed that I observed some intensity, opinion (pro, con, indifferent) and unsettledness about how to proceed.  Early in 2012, Ken Erdahl began working with a number of architects to set up initial meetings (at no cost to the congregation).  Such efforts brought about four interviews in April.  Considering the interviews, the council chose to recommend one of the four architects to the congregation along with recommending a contract for a Preliminary Design.  The congregation considered this in its May 13 special meeting and adopted the recommendations.  This will begin a process of interviews and conversations with the architect that can lead to a strategic building plan and ideas for how renovation might be carried out to meet identified needs and hopes of the people of Dekorra.  Conversations will begin in the next weeks.

A second development that began during my first month with Dekorra is the formation of a Call Committee and their first meeting with Bishop Burnside.  The committee took on the primary task of writing the Congregational Mission Profile, the document used in the call process to introduce pastoral candidates to the congregation.  The profile reached a submission form early in 2012, initiating the bishop’s process of gathering and submitting candidates to the Call Committee.  After initial interviews the committee has continued to consider and meet with pastors about Dekorra’s pastoral interests.  The council (at the time of this writing) has not received a specific Call Committee recommendation.

Sacraments – A Study and Some Changes/Developments in Sacramental Practices

Having observed a wide, embracing written invitation in the Sunday bulletins to participate in the sharing of bread and wine during distribution, I also noted Dekorra’s understood practice of not typically offering bread and wine to those who are under 10 years of age.  This practice seems to be informed by a bylaw of the congregation adopted in 1995 which states that “Preparation for Holy Communion will normally be provided for persons as young as ten years of age.”  This bylaw was adopted prior to the 1997 ELCA statement The Use of the Means of Grace which provides helpful perspectives and descriptions to inform our church of our understandings of sacramental ministry and how we might pattern our practices.  A number of people met with me between worship services during the last few months of 2011, stretching also into 2012 for a number of weeks.  Based on that study a few developments have occurred at Dekorra:

  • A group of people was trained and recognized by council to serve for a year as Communion Extenders, bringing the bread and wine of communion to people not able to worship with us on Sunday morning.  Throughout 2012 this “extension” has been connected to the first Sunday of the month.  It isn’t about lay people being “presiders” of communion but is best seen as communion servers bringing the bread and wine of worship right out the door to the home of a person, just as we sometimes bring the elements of communion to someone in a pew who has difficulty coming forward.  An “extension” liturgy of our ELW hymnal (ELW supplement: Pastoral Care) serves as our guide.  Also, new communion kits have recently been purchased to support this ministry.
  • As the Worship Committee learned about aspects of The Use of the Means of Grace it began planning to include Holy Communion in every worship service.  It was decided to try weekly communion in January and February – the season of Epiphany.  The practice continued in Lent, then Easter.  This every-week practice has shaped worship throughout 2012 and continues to be the plan for summer.
  • I’ve challenged the council to consider how Dekorra offers the bread and wine of Holy Communion.  Do we invite and welcome ALL the baptized, regardless of age?  The council at this point has supported my using pastoral discretion in conversation with parents and children (of any age) who indicate interest in participating in communion.  This means that I typically meet with and provide instruction to parents and children together.  Because I still perceive some discomfort among the council about the question of age and communion I tend to “rein-in” my interest and passion to invite children (of all ages) to receive the elements of communion along with their parents and everyone else who is coming forward at the time of communion distribution in worship.

A Pastoral Recommendation – Remove or Replace the Communion Bylaw

As I mentioned above, the 1995 bylaw predates the 1997 ELCA document The Use of the Means of Grace which serves to shape our ELCA sacramental understandings and practices.  It is appropriate that the bread and wine of communion be offered to ALL in our worship services who wish to participate, regardless of age.  Even though I do not interpret the existing bylaw as indicating a kind of “withholding” of communion preparation to those under 10 years of age, that seems to be the general interpretation.

I suggest that the congregation consider removing the bylaw, or replacing it with something like: “Dekorra Lutheran Church shall use current ELCA statements, documents, hymnals, and worship resources to shape its sacramental understandings and practices, including the 1997 ELCA statement on the practice of Word and Sacrament: The Use of the Means of Grace.”

Such action requires that an amendment proposal be submitted to the council at least 60 days before a regular or special meeting (that is called to include this purpose) and that the council notify the congregation at least 30 days in advance of such a meeting.  The notification shall include the amendment proposal and the council’s recommendation concerning the proposal.  A single meeting of the congregation can enact a bylaw change with a majority vote from a properly gathered quorum.

Confirmation – Worship, Study, Growing, Relationships

Worship with communion was part of every Wednesday confirmation gathering this year.  Those services provided variety and exposure to many of the special services in our hymnal along with a good amount of the hymnal’s new music.  With a steady connection to what it means to live a life of faith as a baptized person of the church we used four books to support the learning activities: Here We Stand (Student Book), Lutheran Handbooks I and II, and the Bible (“Extreme Faith” – American Bible Society).  A number of outside-of-class experiences were organized and promoted but there was little response from the confirmation students.  I’m disappointed that the young people missed some of the significant faith and growth experiences with other young people of the church.  An example: all of the students at Dekorra will miss being part of a gathering of 45,000 ELCA young people from around the country who will gather together inNew Orleans this summer for worship, learning, service to the area, and more.  These experiences are powerful and meaningful in helping to shape and nurture faith for those who participate.

Those in 8th grade affirmed their faith before the congregation on Sunday, May 20, received a confirmation blessing, and became confirmed members of the congregation by council action.  I enjoyed working with and teaching the two dozen 7th and 8th grade students this past year.  Merry Seng was hired to provide support to the confirmation program.  I’m grateful for her very helpful presence and effort.

Stewardship Emphasis – Pledges of Time / Talent / Treasure (Advent 2011)

With a several-week emphasis on stewardship people of Dekorra were challenged to individually define a pledge relative to intentions to share God’s blessings of one’s time, talent, and treasure within the life and ministry of Dekorra.  I held the pledges in confidence and returned them about six months later as a reminder of what was pledged.  About two dozen people turned in a pledge during the Advent season.

Mission Statement Thoughts

Dekorra’s website states a mission statement.  I’ve challenged people to commit this part to memory:

Dekorra Lutheran Church is a Diverse, Intergenerational, Growing

Christian community that is gathered by God.

(Remembering “DIG congregation” can help to recall “Diverse, Intergenerational, Growing”.)

I think that this part of the statement is a good and helpful description of what Dekorra is, has been, and wishes to be.  (Re: “Intergenerational” – it was noticed last fall that there are at least two or three dozen three-generation families at Dekorra, a somewhat unique aspect, I think.)  This is actually only the first part of the mission statement on the website.  This part of the statement might better be seen as “visionary” than describing mission.  It envisions a past/present reality and a hoped-for future reality.  The remaining phrases of the congregation’s mission statement better describe Dekorra’s mission (its primary purposes):  “Dekorra is gathered by God for: worship, prayer and praise / learning together / enabling one another in diversity of gifts / refuge and renewal in the spirit.”  (It’s a bit harder to commit to memory all of these details of the mission statement; but they do inform us of what Dekorra’s mission, purposes, and priorities actually are to be.)

Congregational Events – Some Systems Ideas, Dekorra’s History and Some “Wonderings”

The idea of gathering people together for conversation (to be led by my wife, Joan, who serves as a consultant to many congregations through my bishop’s office) surfaced in October.  With some observed increase in anxiety and a few “eruptions” in emotional behavior I promoted two gatherings in March.  I attach to my pastoral report two pages of notes that were made during the two gatherings.  The gatherings provided a means to introduce “emotional-systems” concepts that undergird Peter Steinke’s program: Healthy Congregations.  (I also provided Workshop One of this material to a few individuals.)

Changes in Council Leadership

The council experienced a number of changes during this past year.  Vacancies that developed were filled by council appointment.  Walt Bublitz, who served as Dekorra’s president for a number of years, resigned from council membership following developments within his family life.  Again, the council appointed a new president, Ken Erdahl.  The elections of this annual meeting will reestablish council membership.

Interim Processes and Congregational “Developmental Tasks” During an Interim Time

As I stated early in my time at Dekorra, there are five primary processes that help to shape how an Intentional Interim Minister organizes and shapes pastoral leadership: 1) Join the system, 2) Assess the system, 3) Connect with the bishop’s office and wider church, 4) Find direction, 5) Exit the system.  Part of the fourth process (Find direction) is to carry out the kinds of leadership and tasks that are typical for the office of pastor in a congregation.  Because of the nature of interim ministry, that might look a bit different from what could be more typical with a “settled” ministry and a “regular call”.  I suspect that I’ll soon be carrying out the fifth interim process as a call process moves toward successful completion.

The congregational Developmental Tasks are these: 1) Come to terms with history, 2) Define a new identity, 3) Allow needed shifts in leadership, 4) Reconnect with the office of Bishop, 5) Commit to new directions and new ministries.  Together, we have endeavored to attend to these tasks in various ways.

Unbinding the Gospel – Test Study – Two or Three New Groups in Fall?

A group of ten people carried out a ten-week process of studying the book Unbinding the Gospel and met weekly for discussion about the book’s contents and ideas.  We mostly addressed evangelism and faith.  I challenged the members of the test study group to consider serving in teams of two or three people to help organize and lead two or three similar study groups in the fall.  I can imagine this process being helpful in the start-up months of a new pastorate.  I continue to encourage people to think about this and take up the challenge to make the “Unbinding the Gospel” experience a part of many more people’s lives at Dekorra.

I Appreciate Working With the Staff of Dekorra – Two Thoughts About Staffing

As I write this, the call process seems to be in a good position; people of Dekorra might soon have an opportunity to vote on a new pastoral call.  Regarding staffing approaches at Dekorra at this time, I think that two things will be important during the first year or so with a new pastor: 1) provide continuity of support, and 2) have open dialogue and consideration on how best to provide staff for the future.

I am thankful to the three staff people at Dekorra: Merry Seng (Confirmation Coordinator), Laurie Nieting (Office Manager/Bookkeeper), and Claudine Hanson (Organist/Choir Director).  All three have provided helpful support to the pastoral ministry and more importantly to the congregation’s overall life and ministry.  I am thankful for their work and presence.  All three of these employees know Dekorra well: its people, its ways of doing things, its history.  I am advocating that all three staff people continue in their current roles at Dekorra as the congregation begins a new “pastoral era”.

At the same time, it would be helpful, especially during the first year, to make space for creative dialogue about how the congregation might best use its resources as the future unfolds to provide staff support to its life and ministry.  I’ve offered some specific recommendations about this to the leaders of Dekorra.  The recommendations suggest possible ways to address both of these concerns.