William Chris Boerger, a member of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Snohomish, Wash., was installed as secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Aug. 17 during the closing worship of the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.
The 952 voting members and others of the 4-million-member ELCA met Aug. 12-17 in assembly at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center here under the theme, “Always being made new.” The churchwide assembly is the highest legislative authority of the ELCA. The denomination is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
Boerger was elected Aug. 16 and will take office Nov. 1. Previously he served two six-year terms as bishop of the ELCA Northwest Washington Synod based in Seattle.
In her sermon, the Rev. Jessica Crist, bishop of the ELCA Montana Synod and chair of the Conference of Bishops, used the image of a Virginia creeper vine and its branches to describe the work of this church.
“With Jesus as our stem, our root, our source of being, we branch out. We climb, we twine, we go forward. We find different places to hold on to, different connections to make. Sometimes we go out on a limb, literally. We are the church, the body of Christ, the ones called on to bear fruit because we are connected to the source, the vine, Jesus.”
Crist spoke of the relationship of the vine to the branches and the branches to each other, comparing it to the interdependence of this church and the impact the 4-million members have on one another.
“The branches are wholly dependent on the vine. But the branches are also dependent on one another. We talk about that as interdependence. No member of the body can declare itself independent of the others. No member is self-sufficient. And no member is superfluous. This tent is big enough for everyone. Everyone is welcome in this church,” she said.
Crist said the “branch would not be what it is without this deep presence of the vine. And the vine would not be what it is without this deep presence of the branches. And that’s what it takes to bear fruit” in emphasizing how the church can grow and sustain members.
“While we bear fruit at different rates and in different settings, what we do matters. If one member of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer. If one congregation or synod is going through strife or grief, we all suffer. We are in this together. A congregation splits, and the pain is felt across the body. A new congregation comes together, and we rejoice across the body,” she said.
Crist said that because the members of this church serve in many different locations and situations, not all ministries would grow in the same manner.
“These different circumstances are going to produce fruit differently. We don’t always remember that when we are talking about congregations, ministries. Some bear fruit and some do not.”
She said “it is God who does the pruning, not us. It is God who decides what bears no fruit and has to be eliminated, and what bears good fruit and has to be pruned.”
In her sermon, Crist spoke of finding surprising fruit -or renewal- in unexpected places.
“My husband and I decided to celebrate an anniversary by planting a tree in our front yard. It was an ornamental crab apple, the kind with kind of purplish leaves. One year when we weren’t paying attention a green-leafed shoot came up. And while we debated what to do with it, it just kept growing. Pretty soon we had a two-toned tree in our front yard. But a funny thing happened. We started to get apples on the green-leafed part of the tree. Real apples, not the inedible ornamental ones.”
Crist said the churchwide assembly provided members an opportunity to “encourage one another, to share our stories, to watch the fruit growing.”
“We are here, my friends, to talk about growing apples. We are here to talk about growing fruit on the vine. We are here to encourage one another, to share our stories, to watch the fruit growing. And we are here to share the joy of being part of this great web of being that is this ecosystem of vine and branches. We are here to be reminded again and again of our deep rootedness in and dependence on Jesus, the Vine, the source and origin of meaning and purpose for us. Jesus, the Vine, whose life gives us life, whose strength gives us strength, whose energy gives us energy, whose centrality focuses our lives.”
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