A Blog by Bishop Christopher deForest...
March 1, 2022
As we introduce a new synod website, I am taking this opportunity to start A NEW BLOG – a place online where I can regularly post reflections and highlights from our journey together as the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod. We’re calling it “On The Way” as a play on the word “synod,” which comes from two Biblical Greek words, syn and hodos. These can mean “on the road with” and also “walking with” – since most people in Bible times (and around the world still today) got from place to place on foot. My intention is to connect with you in this way every week or two. I will also occasionally include a video version to go with the text.
WAR IN EUROPE
Our minds and hearts are with the people of Ukraine, as they struggle to survive and push back the evil invasion orchestrated and perpetrated by Vladimir Putin. I write this on Transfiguration Sunday, a day of joy and light; but I cannot stop thinking of the Ukrainian children, with their parents, grandparents, friends and relatives, as they huddle in shelters or cross borders, praying for deliverance. All those brave Ukrainian people, standing strong, so ready to defend their homes and lives and way of life. All those Ukrainian houses of worship, still open, still gathering faithful people in prayerful defiance.
We must do more than pray for them. We pray with them, and stand ready to do what we can, what we must, to support and encourage them.
As the NE PA Synod, and as the ELCA, there will be ways in the coming days that we can actively provide support. We will inform you about these ways, in all our communication platforms. Please let me and my office know, what you are doing and planning, so we can join you and spread the word.
One way that has been suggested to show our solidarity, is to lift up the hymn “This Is My Song” from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #887. I invite all of us to consider offering this hymn in worship on Sunday, March 6. Each verse can also serve as a strong prayer, including the last:
“This is my prayer, O God of all the kingdoms / your kingdom come; on earth your will be done. / O God, be lifted up til all shall serve you, / and hearts united learn to live as one. / So hear my prayer, O God of all the nations; / myself I give you; let your will be done.”
Remember, we are stronger together, because we walk with Jesus Christ, as he walks and stands with those seeking peace and justice for all people: in Ukraine, in Russia, across Eastern Europe and around the world. Also remember, on another dark night, Jesus saying: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
FIGHT AGAINST RACISM AS A LENTEN JOURNEY
I also write in the final days of February, which is also Black History Month. I have been glad to hear the ways many of you in congregations, in small groups, and as individuals have been engaging in and recognizing Black contributions to our history, and the ways that that history has been hard to face. I have been particularly heartened to hear from those of us who are White, who have taken this month to start or continue the hard but holy work to learn about, face, and change our racist views and behaviors, and the racist realities built into our systems, processes, and institutions – including the church.
My own journey with Christ to become more anti-racist has taken me to new places this month. On February 24, I joined all the ELCA Bishops for a day of learning and personal reflection around race and the role it plays in our lives and work as bishops, as synods, and as the ELCA. It’s a good step forward to help us be the change, and lead the change. We bishops will be going further in our learning and conversations, when we meet for the Spring Conference of Bishops in Chicago, March 2-5.
On a personal note, I have started a 28-day process of learning, reflection and repentance, using an online booklet called “Me and White Supremacy Workbook” by Layla F. Saad. This journaling workbook is giving me new eyes to see things I never realized, that I take for granted. My 28-day journey will overlap into Lent, as I travel over the 40 days to find Jesus on his way to Jerusalem, the table, the trial, the cross, and the tomb. I can only reach resurrection, when I am willing to walk with Jesus through the “valley of the shadow of death,” and face the death of all my sinful ways. For this Lenten Season 2022, for me, this way leads through naming and claiming my racism, and my role and responsibility to help put an end to it.
If you wish to do the same – that is, make racial justice one of your Lenten practices for this year – here in our NEPA Synod, we have a special opportunity. Our Synod’s Racial Justice Team is offering a five-session online book study, every Monday in Lent starting March 7 at 7:00pm. The book they will be reading together is titled: Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving. That sounds like a good place for me to start, so I intend to sign up and be there on Zoom. You can register by clicking here, or by going to the latest edition of E-News, which can be found on our Synod website as well. E-News also has more info on the book.
PANDEMIC END IN SIGHT?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new information on Friday, February 25, showing that the situation is improving significantly across our synod territory. Even so, I am recommending that we stay the course in our congregations and offices for a few more weeks. Let’s maintain our current precaution levels, including masking and social distancing, until March 15 – and assess where we are by then. I also support congregations who feel the need to continue longer, due to local conditions or the susceptibility of those who may be at higher risk in their community.
When it comes to loving our neighbor, let’s be ready to follow Jesus and “go also the second mile” (Matthew 5:41). And as we start Lent, may you find comfort, blessing, and love in action – ON THE WAY of Christ!
Bishop Christopher deForest