Freed and Renewed

In 1517 a catholic priest named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg Germany. Historians believe that Luther had no intentions of starting a new church and many say Luther would be unhappy to know that a large denomination exists today bearing his name.

Nevertheless, Luther saw things that were wrong, things that in the church that in order to be faithful to Scripture needed to change. Luther tried desperately to enact change in the church. Change was difficult for the church in Luther’s time and change can still be challenging for the church today.

2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, this has me thinking a lot about change, especially in light of financial crisis, conversations around strategies and the looming question of Holy Closure.

Below I’ve listed a few areas of change in the church, both on the local and national level, both changes “in the works” and changes yet to come. The list is by no means complete; I offer it for reflection and perhaps a place to begin conversation as we begin a new fiscal year and try to “fix” what is wrong.

Change in Worship

Before considering change in worship I think it’s important to recall who we are. We are Lutheran. We are a liturgical church, meaning we worship using liturgy that is scriptural based and thousands of years old. We are a church that is gathered together in worship by Gods Holy Spirit. Gathered we confess our sins, and hear the promise of forgives. We hear and see the Word of God, preached, sung and shared in the arts. We share in a very Holy Meal and then are sent for the sake of the world.

Some find other forms, styles and places of worship to be more meaningful and that is OK. We are not everything for everybody.

That said, I hope you have come to know me well enough that I do not believe that worship always needs to be stoic. I believe worship is a place where we are reverend and also a place we can laugh. We lift our prayers and voices in worship, we do our best but worship is not a place where God demands perfection.
We should embrace worship using music of different genres and cultures, first considering our resources. In the months ahead the Worship and music committee will be considering different worship styles, times and services.

Change in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

Our church is changing. However, before considering change in the church I’d like to point out some of the really good things we continue to do as, church together, as church for the sake of the world and as members of the ELCA.

Together, we have over 240 missionaries serving in more than 40 countries and 70 young adults (ages 21-29) are serving for a year as Young Adults in Global Mission in 10 foreign countries.

Together, we have 26 colleges and universities located in 17 different states offering a wide variety of undergraduate degrees.

Together, every three years, the Youth Gathering is held in different parts of the country for 30,000+ youth and adults1.

Together as members of the ELCA we make a difference. “Gods Work Our Hands” is more than a clever slogan, it’s true we are a church that is busy doing God’s Work. We work together with Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, ELCA World Hunger and Lutheran World Relief.
We are a busy church, busy sharing the good news of Christ Jesus in word and deed, throughout the world. I am grateful and proud to be called to serve in the ELCA and I believe that God is calling this church to new things.

That said, I wonder does it continue to make sense in a time of clergy shortage and shrinking worship numbers to have two or more ELCA churches that support staffs, buildings and serve the same communities just miles from each other? I am encouraged by new starts like Tree of Life in Buffalo area, a congregation formed by the merger of three ELCA congregations.  I am encouraged with having conversations with our local clergy with how we can begin that process even here at 111.  

A recent Pew research survey showed among mainline churches the ELCA is second to the bottom in diversity. How do we change that? How will our church more accurately reflect the makeup of our neighborhood? I am at a place of curiosity on how we can become more diverse here at RLC and have that make up represent our leadership.  However, I am grateful for the many people that participated in our adult forum sessions on The New Jim Crow and addressing racism in our communities, I believe it has opened up many peoples eyes. 

Next, candidacy in our church is defined as the process of rising up, walking with, and preparing “rostered” leaders in the ELCA. As a member of our synod candidacy committee I am encouraged by bright, caring and faithful woman and men seeking to serve this church as rostered leaders. I am encouraged by seminaries that provide online learning opportunities making it easier for second career and non-traditional students to complete the requirements of the master’s degree.

Knowing many of our seminarians graduate with large student loans I am encouraged that Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg are offering students full-tuition scholarships deciding the time is right to make seminary education far more affordable for students. At the same time I wonder are current candidacy processes the way to go, are they best we can do as we look to the future?

Let me be clear, there is no higher privilege than to pastor here at Reformation. The past 4 years together have been a joy. Your faith in God, willingness to work hard, and heart for people continues to encourage me. Sometimes I can hardly believe that I get to be a part of what God is doing here. Take time in the days ahead to read this report and celebrate.

But as we celebrate those ministries, we also need to acknowledge the real struggles that we have with our financial shortfall, as well as an aging congregation, with disciples that have faithfully supported an operational budget for years.  With that knowledge we have to take risks to be the church and maybe at times “sin boldly” as we look for what God has planned for us.  

After council in December I began to read and re-read this text: 

"And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you'll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3: 17-19)

We don’t need a ton of proof to know that more and more churches are struggling to survive.  It seems churches that are in this predicament have one of two options:  

Revive or Die.  

We are the church.  Not this building.  We don’t need a program or a book or even selling off our pews for coffee tables and chairs but we do have to answer some critical questions alongside with moving strategically the next 365 days.  

We must address the question WHO ARE WE? and remember that EVERYTHING IS OUTREACH.  

So this year, 2017… starting in January, that’s what we will find out and that’s what we will explore as we LIVE FULL LIVES, FULL IN THE FULLNESS OF GOD - COME WHAT MAY!  


Rev. Imani N. Dodley 


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