As we tumble into the Easter season, we remember stories about how the disciples first banded together to relish and share news of the Resurrection, and can examine room for collaboration in our own ministry contexts. Individualism and even social media can reinforce the idea that we're telling stories independently from each other, but sharing the Gospel and extending services remind us how to be together.
Together for Good
“In This Together: What the World Needs Takes All of Us;” the organizing theme of the 2019 Minneapolis Area Synod Assembly reaches toward recognizing togetherness as missional. Living in the United States of America, many of us are steeped in an ideology of rugged individualism that is used to justify a system where children go to bed hungry, seniors worry about supporting themselves, people choose between medicine and housing, and individuals feel isolated from community. In this reality, convincing participants that they - or even we as a church - can “do it alone” is heresy with material impact. Disrupting this ideology and extending the Gospel, clergy and lay leaders may feel called to suggest solutions to societal problems, but worry about offending their pewmates. Aid-distribution and policymaking are often shuttered to the confines of private opinions, considered politics that risk relationships.
But navigating discomfort and controversy are inherent to the risk we take when we choose to enter into relationships in the first place. We cannot do it alone, and to do it together we cannot retreat to our separate corners, sticking to what we think we know best. Isolated, we fail... so, we reach across denominational and cultural and ethnic boundaries in order to discover new possibilities for the future. We risk out of necessity and innovation. In a 1999 speech to the Sheet Metal Workers Union, Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone uplifted the power of recognizing “we all do better when we all do better” - an adage that probably rings more true today.
In Minnesota and beyond, people are making “better” happen together. When such missional togetherness draws people to action in the church, some folks are skeptical of such works and service, especially in the Lutheran tradition where “salvation is not by works.” So we remind each other that God calls us to engage in the world God loves in response to the grace we receive in Christ. We are breaking through social barriers to find wells of generous support - time, talents, and treasure - and we reconnect those wells, transforming them into sustainable, interconnected aquifers.
Congregations have long been places where people share from their wealth for a common purpose. But at some point, we stopped talking about it that way. We started talking about “making the budget” and “balancing the books” -- some kind of corporate-speak. This mentality causes problems when our gifts lose their connect to their purpose. So we reconnect with this purpose, reimagine service, and recommit to the idea that “we all do better when we all do better.”
The “we” part brings us back to the missional overtone of togetherness, pushing ministry organizations to pool resources beyond the church world. Lutheran Disaster Response has been at the frontlines, ensuring that people from Nebraska to Namibia will be supported as they recover from severe flooding. Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota is one of the premier institutions working on mental health issues, financial counseling, and helping teens experiencing homelessness. LDR and LSS work hand in glove with ecumenical and interfaith partners, collaboration that creates impressive responses to crises in our city, state, country, and world. Each social institution has a significant charism that contributes to the Body of Christ; when coordinated, everyone does better.
The gospel compels us to celebrate the countercultural message that we are not alone, and that charge can be challenging. But we are thankfully in community as we struggle to further create community. From the abundance of church, together we can be the Body of Christ in world. God’s work is in our collective hands. We can all do better, “together for good” with positive outcomes and a sense of forever. But what the world needs will take all of us.
About the Author
Bob Hulteen is the Director of Communications and Organizing for the Minneapolis Area Synod. He has previously been associate editor of Sojourners, associate director of the Minnesota Council of Churches, and organizing director for TakeAction Minnesota. He has also directed the synod’s stewardship program. Most notably, he had an undefeated season in the synod’s fantasy football league, … even though he doesn’t like football. (“It’s safer than playing,” he reminds us.)