Story Magazine - First Quarter, 2003

Congregation as Proclaiming Community: Mid-Winter Convocation 2003

by Sheri Booms Holm

What does it mean to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to a world hungering for spiritual sustenance? Is it only the work of preachers, evangelists and missionaries? According to the presenters at Mid-Winter Convocation 2003, the answer is we are all about the business of proclaiming, and congregations as a whole have a particular responsibility and opportunity to witness. With frankness, vivid storytelling and humor, plenary speakers the Rev. Susan Briehl and the Rev. Dr. M. Craig Barnes, both ordained ministers and respected authors, laid out how we proclaim and to whom.

THE WHOLE CONGREGATION PROCLAIMS

Briehl described the very act of coming together in worship as proclamation. "The congregation becomes proclamation when it hears the Word.We need to hear before we can speak and live." Proclamation is also more than the sermon, she continued. It comes through "careful tending of the whole of liturgy--hearing, speaking, singing the word, the tasting and the sight." But a proclaiming community is shaped always by God's Word, "for we are people of the book," Briehl said. "We need to wrap people in stories of faith to bind us together and make us one body in Christ Jesus until the stories are knit into our bones." Through our Sunday assembly, we become a congregation in which Christ has been sunk into ourselves, and is known by heart."We bind one another in the name of the Holy Trinity through Holy Baptism," Briehl said. She reminded participants that "we are wounded people of a wounded Lord. Proclamation comes out of our wounds, our failure." A proclaiming community is always sent home, she continued, "sent into the world of the wounded, with our wounds now healing."

PREACHING TO NOMADS

As congregations, to whom are we proclaiming? In his plenary sessions Barnes told participants we are "preaching in the wilderness" to a new lost tribe he calls "nomads." They are the generations of the past 30 years, those whose travel has never been barred by an Iron Curtain, who move fluidly from job to job, place to place, never really putting down roots.

They also have no clear concept of what home is, neither physical nor eternal, Barnes said. In an attempt to find some centeredness in their lives, their "axis mundi," they are willing to try out a multitude of religious and spiritual practices.

"Now, people have comfort and security, but no axis mundi. They are always in crisis.When not in crisis, they're bored. People are wandering into church because 'maybe this spiritual thing will help'," Barnes said. Once in church, nomads prefer preaching that is about a felt, personal need, he continued. "Nomads love to be touched, deeply, because they have enormous yearnings they have yet to fulfill."

The preacher, then becomes a sort of wilderness guide, said Barnes. "Don't tell nomads that church is their new home. Church is not heaven. Church is where the longing of heaven is renewed. They need to be reminded that they are not wandering aimlessly as nomads. They are sacred pilgrims. The old life of slavery is behind us. It's easy to get lost in the desert. This is where people need pastors. We think it's our job to get people to the promised land. That's not the case.We need to help nomads, transformed into pilgrims, walk with God. The point is not to arrive. It's communion with God along the way.  If we see this, we are not wandering aimlessly.We are being transformed by the home in our midst."

Barnes cautioned that the object for congregations is not to get nomads to settle down. "The goal is to turn nomads into pilgrims. The pilgrim knows where home is. Home tells you where you are.When you lose home, you lose a sense of identity. Our identity is from God in whose image we are made. To turn from God is to turn to nothingness."

PILGRIMS ON THE ROAD TO EMMAUS

In the final plenary, Briehl reiterated Barnes' belief that "a proclaiming community is a pilgrim people." We proclaim in word, deed, vocation, at home, everywhere.

Communion, too, is a place of proclamation, she said. "It is a table of the Word."

She described the significance of the walk to Emmaus when Jesus "had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread" (Luke 24:35). "When he breaks the bread, he breaks open stories of all the tables Jesus has been at. To eat at Emmaus with Jesus is to take in all the broken stories of all of us," Briehl said.

Whenever we break bread together, we take in more than food, she continued. "Look more closely at the food you eat. Recognize in the broken bread the wounds of the world and our own life. Also take in Christ's resurrection. We are a people dying and rising daily.

"May we be what we receive at the table: a people blessed, a people broken, a people raised."

EMPOWERING ALL TO PROCLAIMS

Beverly Baseman is the Christian education director at Bethel Lutheran Church in Willmar, Minn. The Convocation lectures and workshops convinced her that she needed to exhort Bethel's teaching staff as proclaimers of the Word.

"I began to realize more and more that [the teachers] may be the only proclaimers of Jesus' love these kids ever hear. In this wilderness of their lives, who is going to take the time for these kids? Because someone took the time in our past, we learned to proclaim Jesus' love out of our wilderness."

Bethel's Christian education committee has decided to embrace the concept of proclamation. They plan to recruit "proclaimers" instead of teachers this fall.

CONVO CDs AND TAPES AVAILABLE

Missed Convocation? Want to hear a particular lecture or workshop? CDs and audio tapes of all of the plenary sessions, workshops and worship services are available for purchase.

Visit the Luther Seminary Web site to order: www.luthersem.edu/convo.

Mark your calendar now for Mid-Winter Convocation 2004 Jan. 7-9, 2004. The focus will be in Christian vocation in the home and family. Featured speakers include Dr. James Nestingen, professor of church history, Luther Seminary.