The 2004 Mid-Winter Convocation is the first in a series of convocations on living out our callings. We began this year with living out our callings at home. We explored what it means to live out our faith in our homes and how our congregations can support and nurture the wide variety of homes that make up our congregations.
As Lutherans, we believe that we are all called to Christian service in all arenas of our lives--in our homes, in our workplaces, in our communities and congregations. Martin Luther said that all the tasks of one's life--no matter how menial and mundane the tasks performed--provide an opportunity to express one's faith. In a sermon in 1534, he wrote:
"If you are father or mother, believe in Jesus Christ and so you will be a holy father and a holy mother. Pay attention to the early years of your children... oversee the running of the household and the preparation of meals. These things are none other than the holy works to which you have been called. That means that they are your holy life and are a part of God's Word and your vocation."
At Luther Seminary, it is our mission to educate leaders for Christian communities; leaders who are called and sent by the Holy Spirit to witness to salvation through Jesus Christ and to serve in God's world.
I want to tell you about a major new initiative of the seminary: Centered Life (SM). The seminary's mission is to serve congregations, and through Centered Life the seminary is becoming more visibly active to thousands of people in congregations throughout the U.S.
Centered Life exists to help congregations become places where people are encouraged and supported to live faithfully in God's world--to connect Sunday to Monday.
We believe that congregations are the best places for people to develop a sense of calling about the roles they play everyday: as parent, child, worker, student, neighbor, community leader or volunteer. And congregations can be places where people can learn that God has uniquely gifted them and chosen them for a purpose and a mission right where God has placed them.
We are thankful that this work has already begun in over 50 congregations across the country. I'd like to take a few minutes to share the excitement that pastors and lay leaders in these congregations have for Centered Life--in their own words.
From Pastor Laurie Natwick, '90, of Good Shepherd Lutheran in Bismarck, N.D.: "Centered Life is what we want to be about at Good Shepherd. [It] helps bridge the disconnect between Sunday and Monday, between the waters of baptism and walking wet into everyday life, between hearing the word and living the word. Centered Life further empowers us to share the Shepherd's love... at home, in the community,in the world beyond. It is a blessing."
From Bill Diehl, a lay person and the founder of the Coalition of Ministry in Daily Life, author of eight books on ministry in daily life, including The Monday Connection: On Being an Authentic Christian in a Weekday World. He is a member of Lutheran Church of the Holy Spirit, Emmaus, Penn., a Centered Life congregation, and has this to say about the Centered Life assessment tool for congregations: "Although our congregation has worked long and hard on ministry in daily life, we were never able to test how much it was really a part of the lives of our members. Was it possibly a mile wide and only an inch deep? The Centered Life initiative was just what we needed. Through the assessment process we learned where our strengths are and where we need to focus our attention on soft spots."
From First Lutheran in Minot, ND, this picture shows a Commissioning of Vocations Service where members of the congregation dipped their fingers into the baptismal font as a reminder of their call to serve and were blessed by a pastor in their expressed vocation. Pastor Todd Hylden, '94, says: "Your initiative is exciting. It is exciting because it is grounded in the truth that God deeply desires each believer to live out his/her vocation in this world in order to make a wonderful and life-giving experience. It is exciting because your staff is passionate about this truth, and passionate about the people of our congregations...This initiative has staying-power since it flows out of and into every aspect of life which reflects the message of the cross--Jesus with us in all things."
From Tom O'Brien, a lay leader of First English Lutheran Church in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.: "Centered Life encourages church members to let Christianity become a part of everything they do. Our Christian faith is not just another category of obligations; it is a way of life.We need to help everyone realize that they are an important part of God's plan, and then equip them with the skills to fulfill their mission on earth."
Centered Life is proving to be a vital tool for these congregations--an architecture for sustainable change as they approach their mission and ministry in the world. We are most fortunate to have the support of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, both financially and missionally, in this endeavor.
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