From the perspective of Erica du Toit, Cape TownThank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
My first thought when hearing that I would be representing St Thomas Congregation at the Synodical Convention, to be held in Lüneburg from 25 – 27 May 2023, was one of great responsibility and apprehension. In all my years at St Thomas, I have only ever been to Kirchdorf; never any of the other congregations, much less a convention where all the pastors and representatives would be present! It seemed so daunting and I wondered whether I would be up to the task.
The 7-hour journey from Cape Town to Lüneburg via aeroplane and motor vehicle didn’t even seem as long as I expected. Ps Dieter Schnackenberg and I travelled from Johannesburg with Ps Martin Paul (Fairlands) and his representative Edgardo Lengert, arriving in Lüneburg late afternoon. Our hosts Fritz and Friedhild Meyer welcomed us and after a quick cup of tea, we left for the opening church service.
While gathering outside the church, so many people came up and introduced themselves to me, even those who sent greetings to other members of St Thomas who were family or old friends. It was wonderful to finally meet the people and pastors whose names I knew!
The following morning started early with refreshments, including lots of delicious German treats (I’m a fan of Butterkuchen now!) served by the ladies of the congregation who were friendly and helpful. I was the only lady present in the meeting which was a little intimidating at first as I imagined a very stiff and formal meeting with plenty of disagreements.
I needn’t have worried! While the topics were serious, the meeting itself wasn’t. It was eye-opening to discover how the church is run – the day-to-day decisions, administrative tasks, finances – and how it fits into the international Lutheran community with whom FELSISA has church fellowship.
The keynote speaker was especially interesting. Rev. Dr Jeffrey Skopak (LCMS) spoke on the theme for the convention: “New curves for the ministry in challenging times!” He spoke about the ups and downs in the life of a congregation; times when things are going really well and then times when things are more difficult. This is true of all congregations and I have experienced it myself in my work with non-profits. Wherever a congregation is on this curve, they “must be doing something”. And doing means planning ahead, thinking strategically about the future – where the congregation wants to be and what it wants to achieve – and planning how to achieve that.
Key to this planning is recognising that change comes to us without invitation or permission, and sometimes change is necessary in order to accommodate the environment.
We must understand the community in which the church finds itself, figure out what the community needs and find ways in which to fill that need. Matthew 25:35 says “For I was hungry and you gave me meat: I was thirsty, and you gave me drink: I was a stranger and you took me in”. This is mission work.
Rev. Skopak gave an illustration of a small food distribution project started in a congregation in Asheville, North Carolina which grew over 3 years to become the Grab & Go Pantry, distributing food to 1 355 people in 900 families! And that congregation is growing!
We should not be afraid to have big dreams, and to pray deliberately for those dreams. We must look at all the possibilities and opportunities instead of focussing only on our limitations. This requires us to also look outside of our congregations to those who are not yet part of the flock of Jesus Christ. We are called to meet them where they are, and, if he wills, God will move them to come to us.
The last item for the day was the election of the Synodical Council who would be installed in the closing service the following day. Dinner that evening was a braai with the most delicious meats (no doubt “grown” on a local farm!) and more German hospitality and friendliness. It was a long day and I must confess I was in bed before 9pm that night!
The meeting continued the following day and concluded with a church service and installation of the newly-elected Synodical Council. It was a deeply moving service, and I felt honoured to witness the installation.
Overall, my experience of the Synodical Convention was one of friendliness & hospitality. My initial apprehension was completely unfounded and I would recommend that every person, who has the opportunity to do so, attend Synod at least once in their life.