SALM: Empowering Lay Leadership Across Oregon

In a time of high transition for many congregations, what does it mean to get curious together about new models for expansive ministry across the Oregon Synod when the traditional models aren’t quite enough?

For years, congregations, lay leaders, and clergy across the state of Oregon have planted seeds for new ways of stewarding faithful emergent lay leadership. These seeds, cultivated, watered, and nurtured by many, bore the growing fruit that is the new Synod Authorized Lay Ministry (SALM) of the Oregon Synod.

The SALM portion of the program was originally born out of a need for leadership by some ELCA congregations in Oregon unable to access rostered clergy calls for their community due to geographic isolation and size. This tension created an opportunity for the Oregon Synod and these congregations to get curious and creative together, discerning to partner – in calling, preparing, and supporting gifted lay leaders from within their congregations for the ministries of preaching, visitation, sacramental & worship leadership, and more. Consistent with ELCA guidelines, these synod authorized lay ministers (or SALMs) serve at the approval of the synod bishop and SALM Board, and are mentored by an ordained pastor. There are currently three congregations in Oregon served by SALMs, including Grace Lutheran in Vale, Oregon. Grace Lutheran has a team of three SALMs who co-lead the small but vibrant congregation whose ministries in Vale would likely no longer exist without the SALM model.

As the SALM model developed in Oregon, a new question emerged: Wouldn’t many laypeople welcome an opportunity to dive deeper into their faith traditions and listen for how Spirit is guiding us now? After all, an empowered and educated laity is a foundational Lutheran value. The response to this question was the formation of the lay education branch of the program to offer online, low-cost classes for laypeople across the Oregon Synod. These courses are not meant to replicate seminary, but they do provide vital opportunities for deep engagement, spiritual practice, critical thinking, and holy listening for what it all means in today’s world. Relationships across the state are growing between curious, creative, and mature faith leaders. Recent class offerings include Leadership in Liminal Times, Hebrew Scriptures, Preaching, and Finding Liturgy in Life and Life in Liturgy. The spring 2022 course is Parables as Invitation.

Between 25-30 people from across the state participated in the winter 2022 class, Finding Liturgy in Life and Life in Liturgy. Together, they explored how liturgy and prayer can serve as embodied practices that assist us in reclaiming the parts of our tradition that help life flourish. Participants engaged in spiritual practices in the intentional and deep ways for which people in our communities are hungry. Vicky Hart, who has participated in several of the lay education courses including the one on liturgy, describes her experience as transformative:

This woke up something in me…it helped me find new meaning and richness in something that I’d previously done by rote without much thought. This was an opportunity to think more about the meaning-making, the context, the connection to cultures, and the ways we act them out in our lives. It brought new life to the things we do on a daily basis. These classes give us entry points into conversation with our ancestors in a way that might not happen otherwise. Each of these courses has allowed me to be an adult with a brain, heart, and body and to think critically about my beliefs rather than passively consuming them. This community has made me feel less alone. Being able to be in a community of other people who want to show up and dig deep into what we believe, why we believe it, and where it all came from has provided a deep sense of connection and called me out of isolation.

The leadership of the SALM and Lay Education Program believe that faith isn’t something to simply be consumed but to be explored, examined, and fully experienced within the context of our community and that every person deserves the kind of depth offered in these classes. SALM and Lay Education Program courses typically meet one evening a week for four or eight weeks. The courses are designed with a Lutheran lens and inclusive heart; all are invited to participate. One of the riches of these courses is the community and diversity around the table, including varied life experiences, church experiences, images and language for God, and more. We try to practice deep generosity with one another, knowing that we most often meet Christ through authentic encounters with others.

There is no limit to what we can learn from each other when we enter into genuine conversation and expansive spiritual community. We invite you to join us in the ongoing process of faithfully learning and unlearning together.