Vision Series 1: The Big Picture

Three weeks ago I was in Phoenix, AZ with faculty and staff from PLTS and Luther Seminary. There were also a few ELCA Churchwide staff and other guests present. Our discussion was around the needs and opportunities for church leadership in this new age. Saturday evening I flew home and then Sunday I was privileged to be with Pr. Carl Hansen and the congregations of Colton Lutheran and St. Paul of Damascus for worship.

Last weekend I sat with the board of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA. We’re in a search for a new president and so the needs and future of the university were front and center. Saturday I took the train home and then Sunday I got to be with Creator Lutheran Church in Clackamas where Ray McKechnie is pastor.

Next Sunday I will preach at Nativity Bend in the morning and install Pr. Andrew Bansemer at Grace First in the afternoon. The weekend after that I’ll be with our Synod Council in Hillsboro and then the next Wednesday I leave for a week in Chicago with the Conference of Bishops.

A singular privilege and joy of serving as bishop is seeing the church – and world – in action from many different perspectives. As the weeks spread out I’ll be doing Advocacy in Washington D.C., sitting with the boards of two Oregon hospital systems, working with various agencies on Oregon disaster preparedness, visiting more congregations, meeting with Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Evangelical, Catholic and Queer leaders, and, and, and. The word “bishop” comes from the Greek “episkopos” meaning to “look over.” Part of my job is to participate, see, process and report on all that God is doing in the world.

I’ve been asked recently “What is your vision?” and “Where is the synod headed?” (i.e. “What do you see?”) One pastor said it felt like I was holding back a little. “How come?” That was helpful, and to the extent that this is true it may be because of the upcoming bishop’s election in May. I am wholly committed to the ecclesiastical processes of the synod and don’t want to be seen as politicking or using my office as a personal bully pulpit for re-election. The pastor I was speaking with appreciated my sensitivity to this. They said, ‘Yes. Thank you – but you’re still the bishop. You’re still our “eyes” and we need to know what you see, what you are thinking, and where we might be headed.’ So let me say this once. I have shared that I am standing for re-election. I have a passion for our work and would be honored to continue serving. At the same time, I pray other leaders will step forward for consideration as they feel led. I want what’s best for the synod, and in that spirit I think it is right that you know what I am seeing and what I believe it implies for the next five, ten or fifty years of ministry here in Oregon. Here’s my plan.

Over the next 5 months I’m going to share 5 letters like this one with you. Today I will reflect on “big picture” observations. Next month I’ll share some of the amazing, transformational work that you have been doing around the synod. There’s a lot going on! Easter is in April and I’ll write then about death and resurrection, along with what I see as challenges and opportunities each and every one of us is invited to wrestle with. May is our Synod Assembly. There will be elections for a new Synod Vice President, Council members, a Council secretary and bishop. If the election process allows I’ll share more about my personal passions and plans to carry strategic initiatives forward. If not, I’ll write later in the month. June and July we’ll talk about concrete next steps for the synod, either how I am preparing the office for a new bishop, or what I am doing to prepare for the next term of my work.

So, the “big picture.” What does the terrain look like from 50,000 feet?

The prophet Isaiah in chapter 42, the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5, and Revelation 21 all declare that the former things are no more, and the new has arrived. People all over the synod are seeing this for themselves and telling me about it. There is a discontinuity in our national politics. We have already missed the window we needed to hit around climate concerns. The country is using immigrants and asylum seekers as pawns in some kind of culture war – and they are the ones who suffer for this. As I meet with other faith leaders, sit on hospital and university boards, or talk with you in rural Oregon, the story is the same – change, change, change. Some of us feel our congregations and communities are at significant risk. Others witness to amazing transformation in mission and self-understanding. The question has been called. This is the big picture.

To say that another way I see a convergence of opportunity, need and change. For the first time in my 63 years of life there is precious little middle ground in almost any issue we consider. We respond or we don’t. We rise from death to life or we seal the tomb back up. Not to choose is to choose.

“The former things have come to pass, and new things (we) now declare.” insists the prophet Isaiah. This is easy to say, wonderful to hear and challenging to live in to. That’s the bigger big picture.

And the big picture is grace filled and hopeful. Believing this the Apostle Paul encourages us on in 2 Corinthians 6 saying:

“As we work together with Christ we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,

“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”

Change? Yes. Can it be confusing? Of course. It is also cause for excitement and joy? Absolutely! There is a promise that comes in the midst of such change. For those of us who walk in an uncertain world by faith and not by site, these are the days that carry the answer to all our prayers.

Next month I will share with you some of the truly amazing things I see being birthed around the synod. There is much that gives witness to the fact that, indeed, this is the “acceptable time,” and God is working in our lives in beautiful and mysterious ways.

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke