by Melinda Melhus, '01
This is a time of great joy for us here at Luther Seminary, this annual convocation," said David Tiede, Luther Seminary president, as he opened the mid-winter event in January to a packed house in the Chapel of the Incarnation.
"Last year we began to change the focus of Convocation from a time of reunions to a Convocation of ministries," Tiede said.
This year's theme, "Following Jesus: Congregation as Teaching & Learning Community" was the second in a series of three convocations based on "the great message of our Lord" to preach, teach and heal, according to Tiede.
Last year's event, which focused on healing, "was an amazing experience because of all the ministries that showed up," he said.
"This is also a chance for us here at Luther Seminary to hear from you what is happening in this great time of Apostolic Mission and Ministry."
Keynote speakers Dr. Walter Brueggemann, Dr. Mary Hess and Dr. Darrell Guder opened the first plenary session with an informal discussion on the conference theme: "Rescripting the Church's Learning and Teaching in Changing Contexts."
Each spoke autobiographically about their growth in understanding and practice as related to the theme. The trio then discussed overall concepts and objectives for the conference.
Brueggemann is the William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Ga. Well-known as a theologian, author and lecturer, his interest in interpretation drives his Old Testament studies.
Hess is assistant professor of educational leadership at Luther Seminary. She is also director of the privately funded Religious Education and the Challenge of the Media Culture Project.
Guder is the Henry Luce Professor of Mission and Ecumenics at Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, N.J. He is noted for his teachings and writings that help equip evangelists to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people of the 21st century.
The trio discussed the growing biblical illiteracy within the church.
Biblical texts need to be put in a setting that helps them come alive, Hess said.
Brueggemann views "the Bible as oral performances of utterance," based on Romans 4. "The God of the Bible inhabits the text and doesn't live anywhere else ... We have to recover our nerve. The Bible is presented in such insensitive ways, it's like memorizing license plates."
"We become so accustomed to the scripts, we don't even hear them anymore," Hess said. Shows like West Wing and The Simpsons offer "some of the most provocative biblical encounters on television."
The "reclaiming of Sabbath" is also important, especially for workaholics, she said.
"We are talking about church as a very different kind of community within our society," Guder said. "The American mission field is probably the most difficult place out there today."
In her plenary session, Mary Hess used mixed media to address "Rescripting Christian Education as Performative Practice."
She showed footage of an address by President George Bush and performances by prominent entertainers at two events held in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Both were televised events that enlisted powerful feelings and shaped people's senses.
"Both were vivid and compelling examples of religious education. We in communities of faith are facing an adaptive challenge," she said.
Hess described two models of teaching and learning. The more traditional one is linear where information tends to be transferred from an expert to the listeners. The other model is collaborative with the subject at the center, at the heart of the process.
Jesus taught with the community gathered around him, she said. The people were hungry for knowledge and it changed them. Biblical witness--the text and our ongoing relationship with it--are at the heart of this model.
"Teaching and learning communities can be reinvigorated by having at their heart 'the great thing' that is the biblical witness. There is a center around which we gather."
Hess called for a shift for more collaborative models of learning, for the need to improvise and for the need to know the script deeply within our very being.
"We live in a perpetual state of blur ... We need to learn to navigate in consistent white water. People are more familiar with mass-mediated culture than with the biblical context."
There is a need to learn our script, practice it and perform it in multiple contexts, she said.
"To inhabit a different script within a familiar sphere, there is an adaptive challenge: we need new models. We need to shift and transform our faith. Living in this way requires attention to the paradoxes without being overcome by them."
"Rescripting for a Fresh Performance Midst a Failed Script" was addressed by Walter Brueggemann in his plenary session.
As Christians we are called to an alternative way of life with "a normative narrative memory that must be learned, reiterated, inhaled and embraced."
In regard to baptismal education, "We ought to practice saturation education," Brueggemann said. "The crisis is that parents do not know the story well enough to communicate it at saturation level."
Historical criticism has tried to explain too much, Brueggemann said. Instead, "church education should be nurturing our capacity to be haunted by the holy hiddenness of God ..." He used Genesis 18, 24 and Exodus 32 as textual examples to support his point: "What a waste to explain those texts ... rather to invite ... to be awed and bewildered."
While there are problems in the relationship of narrative to commandment in the Pentateuch, "miracles summon people to a different way of life" where people follow the commandments out of glad obedience. Church education should "emancipate people in a way that is commensurate with miracles."
Brueggemann's overall purpose is to call attention to the script entrusted to us for rescripting which involves "the best procedures of liturgy, preaching, teaching and pastoral care."
"This script turns out to be an alternative way of life. We're being seduced by bad melodies [in contemporary culture] but our baptized hands revert to Sister Miriam ... Our baptized lips sing with Sister Sarah ... Our baptismal bodies dance with the kingdom of the saints....
"Dear brothers and sisters, nobody's got a script like this one!" Brueggemann ended his talk.
In "Rescripting the Missional Mandate of the Church," Darrell Guder drew together themes from the other sessions into his final plenary. He agreed that while Christendom is still the dominant script for western mainline churches, "it's clear that it's over--except in our minds and attitudes."
Guder called for participants to think "about the missional mandate of the church and the problems that challenge us when we begin to take that rescripting seriously--especially in the life and practice of the local congregation."
A range of "rescripting offers" include an emphasis on church growth as technology, North American indigenous churches and restoration of the church to its former protected position in society. Some projects opt for mission programs of social action and consciousness-raising, but have problems with evangelism.
Many now view the idea of mission as "inappropriate in a world of religious pluralism, in which truth claims and creedal conviction must give way to mutual respect and tolerance. The aftermath of Sept. 11 has certainly raised hard questions about our new multi-religious landscape--questions most people, whose thinking is still largely shaped by Christendom assumptions, are ill prepared to deal with."
"My hunch is that the linked themes of this convocation focus us on the crucial issues that must be engaged if this rescripting is to happen in ways faithful to our calling. The challenge has to do with what it means to follow Jesus, and how that should happen in the context of the congregation as teaching and learning community."
Mission is more a verb than a noun, "an ongoing event, something that is happening," Guder said. (The word "mission" is derived from the Germanic "sending.")
"The theology of the Missio Dei, the mission of God, has taught us that God is the one who sends, that his sending is rooted in his compassion and healing intentions for a broken creation, and that his purposes are made known through those whom God sends, the people of God's mission and supremely through the Son whom God sends."
The current christological nervousness in the face of religious pluralism is a challenge to be addressed to be faithful about our missional mandate, Guder said.
"But we cannot be or become a missional church if we are not persuaded that our call is about following Jesus ... Missional teaching and learning are community functions."
Space: the Convo conundrum
For the first time in its more than 70-year history, registration was limited this year.
The reason? A blessing of abundance.
"While we're thrilled so many people wished to attend Convocation, our first priority was the safety and comfort of the participants," said Peter Sethre, director of continuing education. "Since our facilities can only accommodate a set number of people, we realized we needed to limit registration. We apologize for any inconvenience."
Sethre's solution? "Register early!"
Didn't make it to Convo? Tapes are available
Audiotapes of the primary convocation lectures are available for $25 per set. Tapes of the lectures plus the worship services are $30 per set.
To order, contact Lynne Moratzka at 651-641-3419 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Save the Date!
The 2003 Mid-Winter Convocation will be held January 8-10.
"Following Jesus: Congregation as Preaching Community" with the Rev. Dr. Craig Barnes, senior pastor, National Presbyterian Church, Washington D.C., and the
Rev. Susan Briehl, pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Spokane, Wash.
Watch for your Convocation brochure in September.
View this issue as a PDF.