Bishop Laurie Interviews Matta Ghaly

Bishop Laurie Larson Caesar interviews Rev. Matta Ghaly, new pastor at The Flame and Mt. Carmel in Portland, on their call to ministry in the Oregon Synod.

7-1-20 Reopening Update from Bishop Laurie

Hello Beloveds,

A few words on reopening as we see rates of confirmed cases and deaths rise again, and as Gov. Brown mandates masks in all public places statewide. While each county and context is different, I urge us to slow down. Cases in Oregon are again rising. Our Oregon health leaders are reminding us that those with pre-existing conditions, any sign of illness, or are over 60 or 65 should stay home. Masks will be required in all public spaces beginning July 1.

If you and your leadership choose to return to in-person worship, develop a team of detailed planners, use the synod guide and hold your attempts at reengaging lightly. If you resume, call the worship services “experiments” that you will revisit after a month or six weeks, taking a look at the overall experience and number of cases and deaths in the county and state. Are they declining or increasing? Are the sick and elderly listening to your cautioning them to stay home? The last thing we want is to host an outbreak.

You have demonstrated a wide variety of approaches to creating community in this time. Some of you have decided you won’t meet again in person at all through phase I-III, and are worshipping exclusively online, with Facebook Live, YouTube, Zoom or some creative mix of two or three of these. Some of you are planning an in-person gathering (without communion, singing or hugging of course), with masks and distance, in July or August, outdoors on a grassy lawn, some in cars in parking lots, and some of you have decided you will not meet again in person until ALL are able to come in person.

Thank you for letting us in the Bishop’s office know your plans as they unfold, for your safety teams and protocols, and for your care and attention to the health of those you serve. If you haven’t yet communicated with me your reopening plans or your congregational decision not to, please do.

Jesus replied to [the Pharisee]: “‘Love your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-39

6-19-20 Rev. Melissa’s Call to Housing Action!

In the ongoing wake of COVID, Oregon Synod leaders, along with Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, have convened a statewide conversation among 65 faith leaders — evangelicals, Catholics, and mainline — from across the state (particularly Coast, Southern Oregon, Central Oregon, Mid-Willamette Valley and Eastern Oregon). We have shared our stories, asking: What are the pressures your communities are experiencing in this lasting wake of COVID and what could be done to protect the most vulnerable? We heard a resounding response: HOUSING.  Those who are unemployed and rent are on the edge; those who are already houseless are even more vulnerable.

Working with partners like the Oregon Food Bank and others, we have organized phone calls, emails and in person meetings with our state legislatures to make TWO asks around the upcoming budget legislative session that begins next Wednesday, June 24th:

  1. Extend the moratorium on evictions until October 1, and provide a period of six months after the moratorium ends (a) for tenants and homeowners to pay back rent and (b) during which time tenants may not be evicted for failure to pay their back rent.
  2. Support expanded funding to basic homeless services, especially for unaccompanied houseless youth (UHY) by bringing back and passing HB 4039.

Join your faith-filled voices and call your legislators into God’s pandemic Love!  You can either look up and call your legislators, or submit an email through the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon site. It will literally take you less than 5 minutes to make sure people stay housed and have the services they need during this time. Perhaps it will make sure you stay housed.

Most important: be sure to tell your story. Here are three easy steps to help you do that:

  1. Start by introducing yourself, including your congregation, where it is located.
  2. Share 2-4 sentences about your own story—the housing pressures on your community, particularly in the midst of the pandemic. Create urgency—why the NOW of this moment.
  3. Share in 2 sentences the impact the moratorium on evictions and the expanded funding to basic homeless services would have. What difference will this make for your community?


Your stories have power.

You are GOOD NEWS!

6-10-20 Metanoia Moment

There is hope when we remember
that we are all beloveds of God,
made in the divine image,
and that we are all called to metanoia work.

6-2-20 Called to Justice

Dear Beloved of God,

Today is the Tuesday after Pentecost. And Spirit? She is swirling! Now, as then, we stand at a tense moment in history: hearts burn and protesters pray and unexpected preachers preach and a spirit of change blows with hope. Those who serve the status quo watch, smirk, and ask, “Aren’t you just drunk, foolhardy, angry, entitled, or all of the above?”

I am a bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American, the whitest denomination in the United States. I serve the Oregon Synod, perhaps the whitest synod in the ELCA. I have been long marinated in my privilege. So as I light a candle and pray for racial justice and the long-deferred dream of wholeness, I have more questions than answers:

  • How do you kneel on a human being’s neck for nine minutes?
  • How many precautions are needed before a brown or black bodied person can jog unarmed down a street?
  • How can the dignity of entire groups of people, in a nation, a church, a region I love so much, be so willfully overlooked for four-hundred years and counting?
  • How have I benefited from silence, and what does truly liberating action look like?
  • What would it look like for the ELCA to “take a knee”?

I don’t know. But I do know some things:

  • White Supremacy reigns, and it isn’t simply about individuals, it’s about systems and institutions which consistently privilege one race above all others.
  • Racism and white supremacy are sins. Though I am committed to an anti-racist life and learnings, having been marinated in the white supremacy of my culture and, by virtue of the color of my skin, I am racist.
  • All people are God’s beloveds and to be able to see that we need to help center the experiences of those who’ve been marginalized and silenced for eons.
  • The violence we see all around us is dangerous, and yet is a response to a culture which violates, and has violated, black and brown bodies for centuries.
  • It’s time I learned to listen. It’s time the institutions I love learn to be open to radical transformation.
  • None of this work toward justice, peace, and transformation, which is God’s work, will be easy.

Christ’s redeeming, liberating love will lead the way if we are truly open to its capacity to be a light, set on a hill, making visible what has not been visible – the dignity of black and brown bodies, the sins of past and present racism and the transformational work ahead. Please join me in responding out of that divine mandate to courageous love in difficult times.

I ask you consider giving one month’s worth of your congregation’s mission support which would otherwise go to the Oregon Synod and donate it to a trusted local organization working toward racial justice and the dismantling of white supremacy.

This will impact the synod office, yes, but it will also be sacramental; body and blood, given for the world. Pray for your neighbor. Educate yourself. Challenge racism wherever you see it. And believe in the power of Spirit to change this world.

In Christ, 

Bishop Laurie

5-28-20 Bishop Laurie on Delaying Reopening of Churches

Dear friends in Christ, 

As June approaches, it is time for us to check-in about in-person gatherings. The messages coming from our elected leaders can be contradictory and confusing.

  • Governor Brown has allowed 31 of the 33 Oregon counties (not the Portland-metro area) to begin phase 1, which allows for groups of up to 25 people to gather with social distancing.
  • President Trump has deemed churches and other houses of worship “essential” and has called on governors across the country to allow these places of worship to reopen.
  • Public health experts warn us that the nature of the virus has not changed; it is still highly contagious and our communities are still vulnerable.

More troubling news comes from those churches that have already attempted to reopen.

  • At least 107 people became infected after attending or coming into contact with someone who attended a service at a German baptist church, despite church officials insisting that social distancing and hygiene guidelines were upheld during the service.
  • A Baptist church in Georgia stopped in-person services two weeks after reopening as several families came down with coronavirus. Again, the church states that all modes of social distancing were practiced and followed by the families attending.
  • A Catholic church in Texas also closed after it was discovered multiple members had contracted the novel coronavirus and one leader had died. Again, the parish had followed cleaning, sanitation and social distancing guidelines prescribed by State health officials.

Here in Oregon, we are blessed with the opportunity to learn from these churches experience and protect our ministers, lay leaders, members and communities from risk. In-person, indoor gatherings of people from different households are high risk and they are a risk we do not have to take. We know we are essential, but it is not essential to gather in person at this time.

Our priority is protecting the well-being, health and safety of ALL members of the Oregon Synod: congregants and staff.  Therefore, we advise that church buildings remain closed to all but essential staff for as long as in-person, indoor gatherings remain high risk. 

Thank you all for taking care of each other during these troubling times. Let us continue to pray for those who are sick, those who have died, and for the good health and welfare of all members of our communities.

In Christ,

Bishop Laurie

3-17-20 Letter from Bishop Laurie

Lovers of Christ,

These are unprecedented times to be a spiritual leader. I have been holding you, your families, your congregations, and your communities in prayer, offering petitions and lighting candles around my house to remind me to rest, breathe and pray. These are challenging times.

A few things to note as we move forward together:

The COVID19 news is changing fast, and so will our recommendations to you. We are taking great care not to pass along anything but accurate and safety conscious suggestions. Consider anything from the Disaster Preparedness Team as something from me. We are working together closely, with one another and state agencies. Right now we strongly recommend that you cancel all in-person church activities for at least two weeks and possibly eight weeks or more. Prepare your people. Find ways to stay in touch with your people. While this is hard, public safety is our primary concern. It is evolving, and so will we.

I want to hear from you – see your faces and hear more about your challenges, collaborations, fears, creativity, and prayers. We are working with the deans to create a plan for me and my staff to connect with you this week, virtually over Zoom. If you don’t have a Zoom account, please create one. It’s free and will be an important way to stay in touch going forward. (You may consider getting a subscription for your church if you don’t yet have one. It runs $12.50 – $17 per month and even the least techie person can often figure it out. I have found it invaluable for sustaining momentum already.)

Your Oregon synod office is closed for the immediate future. We are checking phone and email daily Tuesday-Fridays. The Bishop and Bishop’s Associates are working from home (phone numbers at bottom of page) and Jemae McCanna will be in the office most days to keep things flowing. Email will be a crucial way to stay connected. The website will hold all of our mailings and soon will be a repository of ministry suggestions you can share with one another. Northwest Washington Synod, for example, has had great success with that, and you may want to check out their idea page for clever ways to do ministry in these times.

The Oregon Synod Facebook Page is another excellent way to stay connected. Encourage all your members to like that page, to like the ELCA and other synods’ pages. You will find prayers, ideas, bible studies and so much more! Here’s a prayer I posted on my personal page this morning.

For Patrick, Christ was love, light, truth, peace, laughter, hope. If it works better for you, insert one of those words into this section of his well-loved prayer. I’m making it my mantra today. And wearing green.

Blessed St. Patrick’s Day!

Bishop Laurie