Writing from the front lines of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) Churchwide Assembly, I hadn’t expected to find new evidence of the ones we love. But guess what? “The Ones We Love” are here, couched between endless parliamentary procedure and reports, applause and argument. I’ve only been here three and a half days and I’ve already learned a lot that’s new about loving someone and being their friend and their sister in Christ.
First, it’s been a wonderful surprise to run into old friends from nearly every stage of my life. For example, yesterday I worshiped alongside my previous bishop, who happened to also be our chaperone for high school marching band trips, and his wife, who served faithfully as the band nurse. At the water station, I ran into friends from seminary I’d lost contact with as they scattered to serve as pastors across the country. One evening I sat at a randomly chosen dinner table, only to find parishioners from my internship church in Alaska who now live in Colorado—people I truly thought I’d never see again. One morning I headed to the coffee shop and ran into my roommate from that communication conference last summer. And in the middle of a rushed choir rehearsal, I stumbled upon someone who attended a class I taught at a statewide Lutheran conference last month. There have been so many unexpected rendezvous that I’m now starting to mistake complete strangers for long-lost friends. Everyone seems to either be or look like someone I’ve met before.
Secondly, I’m making new friends. The people in my delegation, many of whom I’d never met before, are becoming real people to me, not just names and faces. They are becoming to me real people with real passion for certain issues, even when their convictions are the opposite of mine. You learn a lot about the person sitting next to you when you endure long, stressful plenary sessions and they need to blow off a bit of steam!
We are considering some very divisive things at this Churchwide Assembly. Like many mainline churches, many hours of our time are being spent debating matters of human sexuality and homosexuality. Last night we had a very intense vote, before which we prayed silently and then were led in prayer out loud. During that silent prayer, I prayed for the outcome I passionately desired, and then I prayed for the ones I love: the people I serve who do not agree with me and with others in the congregation; the church I serve as transition pastor, where anxiety about this vote is running high; the church I grew up in, where lines are slowly and carefully being drawn between these two sides and polarization is gradually developing.
These people are also part of the ones I love. It was a bit of a shock to be reminded of that by God in the midst of prayer. It was a shock to have that realization pierce the endless motions, seconds, recommendations, and points of order that comprise a business meeting. But it was a blessing as well. Regardless of what happens at the close of this assembly, I hope I will not forget the blessing of a deep and shocking reminder that “the ones I love” are far more numerous and more diverse than I can consciously grasp.