The Gift of Presence
For nearly two weeks, those of us in the Saint Paul Area Synod have been blessed by the presence of ou[...]
This fall I spent a week in Guatemala. An hour before the plane landed we were handed forms to fill out for screening at customs as we entered the country. To the question “reason for visit”, I replied “tourist”. I paused at the question about my occupation. Bishop? Clergy? Adventurer? Pilgrim? I settled on Teacher.
During the three days I spent at the Lutheran Center in Guatemala City with our partners from Iglesia Luterana Agustina de Guatemala (ILAG), I was indeed a teacher. I had been invited to give two presentations to the faith leaders from the small communities that make up our companion synod. And teach I did, leading the same Bible study many of you participated in last summer as part of our synod-wide visioning process, and then offering an overview of Lutheran identity in an ecumenical world.
But for seven days in Guatemala I was more a learner than a teacher. To enter into a world rich in customs and practices that are not native to me, to depend on a translator to speak for me, and to see with my own eyes how Christian faith takes on daily form in another culture placed me in the wonderful and sometimes disorienting role of being the learner.
On a rain-soaked evening, our group from America joined one of the small congregations in the city to see their church and to make home visits to members. Throughout that evening we were welcomed into the humble rooms that serve as home for extended families. As we made our way from place to place, we prayed with a woman struggling with chronic illness. We prayed and laid hands on a baby who is not well. We gathered around a father who had lost his job and so desperately needed to find work to support his family.
We shared scripture and prayed but at every stop God was widening my own heart to see how lovely it is that we dwell together as sisters and brothers in Christ. In every home where we found refuge from the rain and the darkness, the Spirit revealed how dependent we all are on the grace of God and the friendship of others in this living body called the church.
What makes us strong as a synod are the very same gifts that make the church vital in Guatemala and Tanzania, in faith communities small and large around the world. We are so blessed with the amazing gift of God’s grace, which comes to us through the sharing of God’s Word, in Baptism and Holy Communion, in prayer and confession, and in the joy of standing together in difficult times. We are not strong because the life of faith is easy; we are strong because faith allows us to face all times, all circumstances with courage and trust in a Living God.
No one needs a passport to learn such lessons but many in this synod have been privileged to learn from the Lutherans in our two companion synods. And for those rich lessons, I give thanks.
Yours in God’s service –
Patricia J. Lull, Bishop