From the Desk of Pastor Olsen
"Christ's church is not dying. It is changing." So says Rev. Ruben Duran, director of new church starts for the ELCA in the article reprinted in this issue of the Voice. Yet to many of us who grew up in the church, change can seem a lot like death. The church in Brooklyn where I did my internship still had a small contingent of elderly Norwegians that worshiped in a basement chapel. They often recounted with great sadness the day the decision was made to move the Norwegian service out of the main sanctuary to make way for the growing body of English speaking worshipers. That must have taken place at least thirty years before I arrived on the scene, but for many of these folks it was a fresh wound. One woman said to me in her heavy accent, the tears welling up in her eyes, "what they do now upstairs-that's not church. Not for me."
I can understand better today how this woman must have felt back then. One of the benefits of having a daughter go through seminary is being forced to confront the many ways in which the church is changing. When Emily began her journey, I fancied myself a mentor holding a treasure trove of wisdom and experience. In fact, most of my wisdom and experience pertains to a church that is fast vanishing. I find myself struggling to learn rather than teach. Instead of leading the way, I find myself racing to catch up. To be honest, I am not altogether comfortable with all the changes I am seeing. I love the old hymns sung to the music of a solid organ. I am used to the rhythms of the church year as they have been observed throughout my lifetime. I find it hard to let go of the old piety that has shaped my faith. I worry that a wealth of rich tradition and accumulated wisdom is getting discarded too quickly and with too little thought. I feel as though I am losing my church.
But of course, it is not my church to lose and it never was. It is Christ's church. Jesus knows exactly the sort of church he needs. His life giving Spirit will form it and shape it for mission in the Twenty-First Century. That formation appears to be well under way. As you will see, fifty-six percent of all 500 new church starts since 1988 are in ethnic-multicultural communities much like our own here in Bogota. Twenty-seven percent are located in low-income communities. Sixty-five of these new communities are prison ministries. The new crop of upcoming seminarians is a new breed of pastor. These young folks think nothing of taking their work into bars, coffee shops and public parks. They share their faith in bold new ways through story-telling, music and dance.
This is not the church in which I grew up. Nor should it be. This is the church of Jesus Christ for the world today. It is a growing church, a versatile church, a church rooted in the old, old story of Jesus and his love yet branching out in ever new directions. As I have often said before and will say again: this is an exciting time to be the church!