Story Magazine - First Quarter, 2007

Mid-Winter Convocation Provides Ideas and Insights

by Laura Kaslow, Communication Specialist, with contributing writers: Shelley Cunningham, '98; Andrew Behrendt, M.Div. Jr.; and Kelly Larson, M.A. Sr.

Jack Fortin, Executive Director of the Center for Lifelong Learning, discusses how people can connect what they learn on Sunday with their daily lives.

The 456 participants gained a deeper understanding of what it means to live out our calling in congregations. The conference gave background and ideas on how to develop, nurture and affirm the callings they and those in their congregations serve. Three plenary speakers, Jack Fortin, Walter Sundberg and Martha Stortz, presented at the convocation.

"A New Reformation" by Jack Fortin, Executive Director, Center for Lifelong Learning, Luther Seminary

Speaker Jack Fortin addressed the disconnect he sees between congregational members' daily lives and their involvement in the church on Sunday. In congregations nationwide, Fortin has noticed that Christians are searching for ways to integrate how they live their faith in their workplaces, communities, and homes--the very places where their deepest faith questions surface and are challenged. Yet, congregations often have not helped individuals make the connection between Sunday and the rest of the week. Fortin called participants to the Centered Lifeی--a model that helps congregations connect what is taught in the parish on Sunday to people's daily lives the rest of the week. According to Fortin, this model strengthens congregations as members become committed to and engaged in ministry within and outside the church walls. More information on Centered Lifeی is available at www.centeredlife.org.

"The Restless Being of the Church: Congregations in the Crossroads of Christian Identity" by Walter Sundberg, Professor of Church History, Luther Seminary

In his two-part presentation,Walter Sundberg used theological and historical references to show how the church has acted as an agent of freedom and how Martin Luther planted the seed for this.

According to Sundberg, congregations are restless and ambiguous and members can easily lose sight of theological and historical meaning in their day-to-day lives. Citing Luther's works and the revolutionary way he looked at congregations, Sundberg stressed the importance of remembering the Reformation's historical impact on congregations.

Luther held that the work of congregations includes nourishing the faithful, as well as reaching those who lack faith. Preaching is for conversion, he said, and ministry should be functional, not sacramental. Given this, Sundberg reports that it's clear why smaller groups--sects, non-mainline denominations, and individual churches--with their better understanding of their crucial mission role, have gained success that "traditional churches" have not achieved.

"Spiritual but not Religious? A Lutheran Counter Argument" and "Lutheran Spirituality: Blessed to Be a Blessing" by Martha Stortz, Professor of Historical Theology and Ethics, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary

Is the church the only place people encounter God? Of course not. But the church does play a unique role in explicitly sharing Jesus' blessings and in equipping its members to do the same. In her two presentations, Martha Stortz explored the power of the beatitudes in framing life with Christ and carrying us beyond church walls. Living out God's baptismal promises becomes a way to share those blessings and experience God's love and hope.

Precisely because of those promises, she argued, we are called to claim our connection with Jesus as changed people, now marked as his disciples in the world. As a place where the sacraments are shared, congregations can be a unique center of spiritual renewal and a source of the divine.