“We are a church that shares a living, daring confidence in God’s grace. Liberated by our faith, we embrace you as a whole person — questions, complexities and all. Join us as we do God’s work in Christ’s name for the life of the world.”

When I visited the ELCA’s website recently, this quote was featured prominently under the heading “This is Christ’s church. There is a place for you here.” It was one of the many moments recently when I thought to myself “I’m so proud to be a part of this church.”

I realize that may sound like shameless propaganda or even naiveté to make such a statement. There have been negative things said about the ELCA since the human sexuality statement in 2009 and more than a few people and congregations have left our church.

It’s no secret that our membership was declining even before that moment and diminished financial resources have necessitated a restructuring of the churchwide organization. These losses are painful realities and to pretend otherwise would be foolish.

Amid these challenges it is easy to feel as if the church is crumbling around us. But it would be a mistake to see only these difficulties without acknowledging the new and surprising things God is doing in the ELCA.

As an ELCA campus pastor, I happen to have a great vantage point for this. On a daily basis I see how this church’s boldness, rooted in a “living, daring confidence in God’s grace,” has opened up new avenues for mission.

For example:

This church’s boldness has made it possible for LGBT students and their allies to hear something from the church besides the typical “love the sinner but hate the sin” sentiment. Now we can boldly say without qualifications, “There is a place for you here.”

This church’s “daring confidence in God’s grace” allows doubting and questioning students to be honest about their struggles. To know that “There is a place for you here” even if you aren’t exactly sure what you believe.

This church’s trust in the liberating power of the gospel has allowed disaffected students to know that compassion and respect are indeed still Christian values. That despite narrow definitions of what it means to be a Christian, “There is a place for you here.”

Our church is not perfect. We don’t always live up to this bold vision that we proclaim. But we are living into this emerging reality.

So when you feel discouraged about the future of the church, come and visit us.

Come and see the future unfolding in new and surprising ways. Come and see that God is up to some pretty wonderful things. Come and see that “This is Christ’s church” and there is a place for all of us here.

 

Brian A.F. Beckstrom
Brian A.F. Beckstrom is campus pastor at Wartburg College, an ELCA college in Waverly, Iowa.

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