Dear Partners in Ministry,
You may remember Malala Yousafzai, but probably not, so let me jog your memory. In an editorial picture in the October 21, 2012 Pittsburgh Tribune Review, a young, wide eyed child in eastern attire was depicted carrying a book with the word “Knowledge” inscribed on it. The caption reads:
“WHAT TERRIFIES RELIGIOUS EXTREMISTS LIKE the TALIBAN ARE NOT AMERICAN TANKS or BOMBS or BULLETS…
IT’S A GIRL WITH A BOOK.
The teenage girl pictured was Malala Yousafzai.
You probably have heard some of her story. She has threatened the power structure, “the religious extremists,” of her world just by her desire to learn and be educated, “enlightened moderation,” in a country that still supports the belief that a proper education is something only men should receive. In her journey for equal education for all, she has been, and is continuously challenged and threatened at every turn. On October 9, 2012, gunmen came on her school bus, asked her to identify herself and then shot Malala (age 15) twice in the head. Miraculously she survived and today, July 12, 2017, as I re-write this article that I originally posted in the November 2012 PLUM Newsletter, she is celebrating her 20th birthday. Malala continues to fight to challenge the academic and social structures that hold people down.
So, we might continue to ask ourselves, “What can we do?”
I see direct connections between Malala’s plight and the ministry we are doing in our midst. What happens when we ,the Church, become so comfortable with the status quo and keeping things the same, we lose sight of the fact that our job is to educate those around us, not just the “A B C’s” of life, but also, and more importantly, the realities of faith? I praise the Lord for all those who are involved in the education of our young and our old. Not just the students, which is a category into which we all fall, but, in fact, the teachers which, believe it or not, we all are. Christ has touched each of us with gifts that are not self-serving, but are given to us to help us serve others. They are given to force us outside of our comfort zone and to help us be gifts for others in our churches and our communities.
Pastors Beth, Melba, Paul, Liz, Dona, Vicar Karyn, seminarian Sue, and I are becoming ever more aware of the fact that it is time for each of us within PLUM to continue our development. The Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries is/was never intended to be the answer to our individual parishes’ slide out of existence. We have stated from the beginning that we do not see PLUM as being a hospice ministry that allows us to die or pass from existence with less pain and a greater dignity. Rather it is an opportunity for each of our congregations to get a breather while experiencing consistent, supportive, and full time pastoral ministry. We are all acutely aware of some of the changes that are happening in the communities around each of our congregations. The challenge is how we build ministries that help us address these changes in positive ways that affirm who we are as faithful servants of our risen Lord.
At our church council meetings we have and will continue to discuss the importance of setting goals and visions for each of our congregations – something that challenges us beyond the wishful thinking and/or hand wringing of wanting our congregations to be more active and healthy to the actual experience of healthy, faithful lifestyles. But how does that really come into being a reality? Albert Einstein is quoted as saying:
Insanity is: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
So often, we within the life of the church, forget this very basic principle of knowledge and experience. We think that somehow or other the Lord is going to intervene and send us another savior if we just hold on, stay where we are, and allow time to pass. Allow me to dispel any myths. It is not me! (You may want to check with Pastor Beth or Pastor Melba or Pastor Paul, but I will hazard a guess they will echo my confession.)
Many have probably heard this anecdote before, but here is a refresher.
There was a religious man on top of a roof during a great flood. A man comes by in a boat and says "Get in, get in!" The religious man replies, “No, I have faith in God, he will grant me a miracle."
Later the water is up to his waist and another boat comes by and the guy tells him to get in again. He responds that he has faith in God and God will give him a miracle. With the water at about chest high, another boat comes to rescue him, but he turns down the offer again because "God will grant him a miracle."
With the water at chin high, a helicopter throws down a ladder and they tell him to get in. Mumbling with the water in his mouth, he again turns down the request for help for the faith of God. He arrives at the gates of heaven with broken faith and says to Peter, "I thought God would grant me a miracle and I have been let down." St. Peter chuckles and responds, "I don't know what you're complaining about, we sent you three boats and a helicopter."
So how does that connect to where we are?
As PLUM continues to evolve, we must continue taking serious, hard looks at our futures. Now, that in some ways we have begun to stabilize our 12 congregations, imagine what might happen if PLUM becomes a clearing house for different congregational life changing experiences. We will be proposing at the next round of church council meetings that each congregation try one “new” venture (something focused on Evangelism and the telling God’s story) over the fall start-up and the upcoming holiday experience. For some congregations, this may mean foregoing one of the current ministries that is not fruitful or needs to evolve into something more community/witness focused. So put on your thinking caps of how to get others off their roof. Can you think of a better time to retell the story of the coming of our Lord to the new ears that are all around us? We can sit and look around our congregations on Sunday morning and say we are all too old, too busy, too burnt out to tackle ... or … therefore, we remain in our insanity wishing for a different outcome of our sameness. We do not have to look too far to see the outcome of waiting on our Lord’s direct intervention to do something with total confidence and assurance, instead of using the many gifts with which God has provided us to move in the direction of possibilities (and possibly mistakes and setbacks) in an attempt to further His purpose within our churches.
The first step is to develop a vision of what we would like to do or to become. Then we need to take a serious look at what assets we have right within our congregation to help us accomplish our vision. The PLUM Vision Committee is working on learning opportunities, starting this fall, to help us on our way. Following this snapshot glimpse of our past, and review of our individual and congregational gifts (assets), we need to set some tangible goals that will assist our journey to become the missional churches we know we are called to be. To help us along our way, we are encouraging all of our members to watch for and book the PLUM workshop dates that will be announced in the near future to start us on our way.
Believe it or not, the first step in all of our churches’ growth is “YOU.” What a witness we will be to the church at large when we, with God’s help, figure out how to be the church He claims us to be, right here within our individual communities. The shooting of a young child who wants to learn is a travesty beyond our ability to change. Not doing all we can, even to the point of our learning new tricks and risks to welcome others, regardless of their age, to come and experience the Christ in our midst, is a travesty that is on our watch and that we must address. May we continue to grow in faith and carry out the work of Jesus Christ in our world.
See you in church. We anxiously await your thoughts, perspectives and ideas.
Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sheraden, 3102 Sherwood Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15204 412-331-0600