Pastor’s Annual Report 2018

From this morning’s Annual General Meeting at Faith Lutheran Church in Ottawa, here is my report about the past year:

The council had a significant turnover of membership in 2018. On the one hand, the pastoral care ministry was strengthened. An intentional and regular congregational visitation schedule was initiated by council member Rochelle Piske. Resources were expended for lay training and producing visitation cards.

To this end, the council with Bishop Michael Pryse’s appointment acclaimed Pastor Diane Raddatz as Faith’s Honorary Assistant Pastor. This action was taken to broaden and acknowledge the quality of pastoral ministry provided by ordained persons associated with Faith church, as well as honoring Pastor Raddatz’s presence and history with our congregation.

At the same time, the leadership of the congregation was challenged to strengthen a vision for ministry that was focused outwards, to the communities which the church serves. A more public understanding of Christian ministry’s destination was articulated, repeated and reinforced. Even social events, such as the youth ‘Eating Around the World’ and ’Brass & Bratwurst’, benefitted from the Ottawa Ministry Area of ELCIC congregations as the basis of support and participation.

Moreover, Faith Lutheran Church convened leadership events for the Ottawa Ministry Area, such as the ‘Apple Tree’ workshop. The council spent time in training and visioning conversations. A ‘future directions’ initiative in council builds on the need, moving forward, not merely to ‘do church better’ but to ‘do church differently.’

The result of these conversations is leaving more and more church members with a broader understanding of the church today. For example, while deficit management can be a helpful short-term ‘fix’ to budgetary stresses, this micro-management perspective will not solve the long-term sustainability challenge that the church faces in our day and age.

As long as I have been ordained (over two decades), there have been very few years where deficit anxiety hasn’t been broiling under the surface of annual general meeting conversations. I believe deep down we know that merely narrowing annual deficits by reducing expenses is not a sustainable strategy that is going to resolve the church’s institutional problems.

Another approach is necessary. The solution lies, I believe, in reinvigorating the ‘why’ of church. Envisioning and acting on the mission of Christ, and seeking to participate in God’s activity in the world around us are steps in the right direction. But this means, too, that the church’s institutional structure must change in order to align with that purpose.

And that is precisely where conversations must focus, on ideas such as: repurposing church property, building bridges, cooperating and collaborating with other congregations, taking on some risk for the sake of local mission projects with other effective partners and community groups. I have explored such strategies in previous annual general meeting pastor’s reports.

At the beginning of the Advent season, Bishop Pryse was our guest in worship who preached and brought greetings on behalf of the Eastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) of which we are a member congregation. At an ‘open mic with Bishop Mike’ session the evening before, he challenged the church to view collaboration with other congregations not as a threat but a gift. I hope to have Bishop Pryse make an annual ‘visit’ to our congregation.

Bishop Pryse was re-elected bishop for a six-year term at the Eastern Synod Assembly last June in Toronto. Council member Julia Wirth and I were Faith representatives who were both elected at that Synod Assembly to attend the National Convention of the ELCIC in Regina SK in July 2019 as Eastern Synod delegates.

Towards the end of the year, the council worked on moving forward with updating the congregational constitution and Call documents to align with recent Eastern Synod proposals. The chief benefit for congregations in adopting this updated version lies in making it much easier for congregations to make changes to their constitution by moving relevant items into the bylaws. Such adjustments are advisable since the local congregation will then be able to make changes with relative ease, thus making its constitution more of a living document reflecting more accurately the current truth of the congregation.

Thank you for your partnership in ministry. Specifically I want to thank council chair Jann Thulien for her prayer-filled support of the pastor’s office, and for each member of council and staff for their willingness to envision and act on new things.

Advent 2018 marked the beginning of the Gospel of Luke’s prominence in the Sunday readings for the coming year, according to the Revised Common Lectionary. Luke is also the author of the book of Acts. In Luke’s writings from both books, there is the emphasis of the community of faith taking care of the needs of the community, while at the same time reaching out and building bridges with others who are different from us and who present diverse needs.

May God, whose mission we serve in our day and age, give us all courage to act boldly, trusting always in the grace and mercy of God.

Pastor Martin Malina

Annual Pastor’s Report 2017

Anniversary Year

2017 marked a significant year in the life of the Lutheran church, from the global expression of the church all the way to the local.

Some 74 million Lutherans associated with the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) commemorated the 500th anniversary of Reformation with the theme, and theological claim: “Liberated by God’s Grace: salvation, human beings, creation – not for sale!”

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) presented several Reformation goals based on the number 500. Congregations in the ELCIC were challenged to commit to 500 refugee sponsorships, fund 500 scholarships for students in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Jordan and the Holy Land, plant 500,000 trees, and raise $500,000 for the LWF endowment fund.

In the Ottawa Ministry Area, a five-week study in the Fall included lay and ordained members from both Lutheran and Roman Catholic congregations to reflect together on the theme and resource, “From Conflict to Communion”. The documents were developed by the ELCIC and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) for local groups across the country to acknowledge the significant strides to greater visible unity between Lutherans and Catholics over the last fifty years.

Thus, the Reformation was not merely ‘celebrated’ as a competitive – even combative – victory over the other but rather ‘commemorated’ as a movement whose trajectory invites greater understanding of a complex history. In this mutual sharing and conversation, deeper ties and unity is realized.

In this spirit of growing ecumenism as an appropriate expression of Reformation, two significant worship experiences happened in the Fall of 2017. The first was held at St Peter’s Lutheran Church and Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Ottawa.

This service, on Reformation Sunday, October 29, welcomed over 600 Lutherans and visitors from Ottawa congregations who by closing their individual congregation’s doors that Sunday morning opened doors of greater unity and relationship-building. It was a festive worship led by Eastern Synod Bishop Michael Pryse and National ELCIC Bishop Susan Johnson. The service was organized by lay and ordained leaders of the Ottawa Lutherans organization, and by many of our members from Faith.

The second service occurred on the last liturgical weekend of the church calendar in 2017 – at Notre Dame Cathedral. Ottawa Roman Catholic Archbishop Terrence Prendergast and Lutheran Bishop Michael Pryse led a Service of the Word to an assembly of Lutherans, Catholics and visitors – again to enact a Reformation 500 principle of first focusing on all that unites us rather than emphasizing our differences.

At Faith, this Lutheran Anniversary year also capped an extensive modernization of our worship space and narthex. At the beginning of 2017 we were still worshipping at Julian of Norwich Anglican Church while renovations were being completed at 43 Meadowlands Drive.

During our absence from Faith building, we were able to continue worshipping at the same time on Sunday morning with our neighbouring Anglican sisters and brothers, seamlessly, because of the Full Communion relationship the ELCIC shares with the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC).

Finally, on a personal note, 2017 marked the 20th anniversary of my ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament (June 6, 1997). And therefore, it was significant that in my 20th year of ordination, I took a three-month sabbatical leave for renewal and rest. My wife, Jessica, and I celebrated in 2017 our 20th wedding anniversary as well.

In conclusion, anniversaries are opportunities to not only look back, but look to the future with hope. In all the planning and events surrounding the 500th anniversary of Reformation, I heard often the sentiment that we do this for the sake of the next 500 years. I’ve quoted before the Eastern Synod motto for its 150th celebration in 2011: “Remembering for the future.” Indeed, life must be lived forward even as we look to the past.

“Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Saint Paul, Romans 5:5)

The Fox and the Hen: Who’s running scared?

Richard Rohr claims that “If you or the group to which you belong cannot laugh at yourself, then you are in trouble” (p.197, “On the Threshold of Transformation”). No better time to laugh a little than during Lent and especially on Annual General Meeting Day in the church, don’t you think?

So here’s one that will hopefully introduce us suitably to the animal imagery in the Gospel text today. It’s a chicken joke, but it’s not crossing the road!

Q: Why is it that chickens can’t talk? A: Because God doesn’t like fowl language!

The power of the imagery is indeed not in what is said, but what the mother hen in the Gospel text today (Luke 13:31-35) will do – even in the face of fear and adversity. Actions, in the life of faith, always speak louder than words.

The image of Jesus as a mother hen gathering her chicks reminds me of a common experience I see on the water described very well in the words of Canadian writer, humorist and preacher, Ralph Milton; he writes (in ‘Rumors: Sermon Helps for Preachers with a Sense of Humor’):

“I remember the image in Luke 13:34 every spring as I walk with my wife Bev along our creek, and delight in the clutches of fuzzy ducklings feeding along the edge of the water under the steady eye of the mama duck.

Sometimes at dusk we’d see mama duck tucking her babies under her wings where they will be as warm and safe as it is possible for wild ducks to be.

It is heartbreaking sometimes when a single duckling becomes separated from the clutch and goes whistling frantically for mama who is nowhere in sight. And when it spies Bev and me on the pathway, it goes skimming along the water in a desperate attempt to escape.

We always want to re-unite it with its mother. But mostly that’s impossible because we don’t know where mother duck is either. When we’ve been successful, it is by scaring the little bird to run away from us in the direction of the mother.”

Indeed, sometimes fear will motivate us – like the duckling – to run straight into the arms of a loving God.

But not Jesus. Jesus does not run in fear from Herod – the fox. Personified as a predatory fox, Herod is after Jesus. The Pharisees warn Jesus, tell him to “get away”. When you think about it, of all the artwork and creative depictions of Jesus over the centuries, have you ever seen Jesus “running away”? I certainly haven’t.

In the words of blogger Nancy Rockwell: “In Scripture and in art there are images of Jesus doing so many things – praying, walking, knocking on doors, gathering crowds, climbing hills, calling disciples, writing in the sand with his finger, sharing bread, preaching, weeping – but never running.” (in ‘Bite in the Apple’ 2013)

Because that is not what a mother hen does. Even under duress. Even when threatened by a fox. Rockwell continues: “The homely hen, who has lived in the backyards of humans for thousands of years, is selfless in her devotion to her little ones, even more defenseless than she. She has no defenses against the arts and wiles of foxes except her courage and commitment. She will rush to their sharp teeth and long claws, their looming shadow, their fierce bloodlust, throwing herself upon the bodies of her chicks, extending her wings over them, letting herself be devoured in the hope that they may be spared. She does not run from her fears.”

This is the God we worship today, on the day we review the ‘business’ of the church. We worship a God who is fearless, on account of a great, sacrificial love. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). God’s love in Jesus, Christ’s protective grace and fierce loyalty, these are unmatched in all of creation. Incredible, especially when Jesus rebukes Jerusalem for its misguided ways – and then still (and again!) offers his unconditional love.

Above all, let us remember who is the God of this church. Not a fox, out to get us, out to scare us. But a God who wraps loving arms to hold us up, and be our strength, no matter what.