Bishop Rimmereid said, "No, they'll complain that they're shining off my head."
I think the session right now is one that all of you have been looking forward to as I have. I don't know if it's ever happened in Via de Cristo/Cursillo that we've had two bishops here to speak to us. We've always wanted to have them represented to experience this fine movement and have looked forward and invited and this year we're blessed to have two very special people with us.
The topic of our workshop, "Unleashing the power of the laity for the work of the Church." I think it was Richard M. Nixon who once referred to the "silent majority." I think within the church, there's a "silent laity" much of the time that are there -- rich, gifted, and untapped for what they might do for the kingdom of God. Thus our concern in this workshop, knowing that both of these men have a passion for the involvement of laity in the church, is to have them share with us their best sense of how we might accomplish that.
Workshops generally are how-to experiences and in the first presentation you'll hear something related to "How to unleash that gift that's there -- the laity in the church." And secondly, the way in which as that is unleashed, Via de Cristo/Cursillo may be an instrument of the Lord in doing that.
As I introduce our first presenter, I want to, in the words of his boss, (not that one -- but his boss in Chicago), I want to remind him that I caught the sense that it's kind of racist to tell ethnic stories. Bishop Chilstrom observed that one time, and so I want to apologize for those ethnic stories and say that from now on, any stories we tell, we'll tell about a couple of Hittites. Then I would like to tell you about these two Hittites, Lars and Oly. Here ends Bishop Chilstrom.
Your first presenter today is someone who is bishop, as you have heard, is bishop of the Indiana-Kentucky synod, one of our 65 synods of the ELCA. A synod that is comprised of 252 congregations and 90,000 baptized souls. He's been bishop of that church since 1988 -- he must have been doing something right since that time, as he was re-elected in 1991 to continue as bishop of the Indiana-Kentucky synod. From 1979 to 1987 was bishop in the former LCA of that same synod. He has had parish experience, starting in a church just south of me in Minneapolis, and then in a couple of other parishes in the Indiana area before becoming bishop. He's been involved in numerous seminary and other board assignments, and a word that would characterize his involvement in the church would be "ecumenical." A great deal of time and effort on the part of our speaker in the area of ecumenism. A graduate of Augsburg College, and seminary and someone who's been honored with a doctor's degree presented in 1980. He is married to the former Mary Jane Roth and they have three children -- Richard, Joan, and John -- and are blessed by seven grandchildren. Now he's seven times as bless as I am, and I can see where that would be a highlight in his life. I want to introduce to you at this time to deal with that subject of how to unleash the power of the laity in the church. Let's give a warm welcome to Bishop Ralph Kempski.
Thank you. It is a privilege to be with you. The reason I'm laughing is, as I came up, it was not the introduction but the little comment that my fellow Augsburgian said to me: "You know why they spell your last name 'ski?' Because they couldn't spell toboggan."
I was elected bishop in 1979. Now, Ill test your ecumenical memories. 1979 -- something else happened when a Pole was elected, and he was elected Pope. The Indiana-Kentucky synod didn't want to be outdone by Rome, so they elected a Pole for their bishop.
I am truly ecumenical because I was baptized in the Roman Catholic church. I attended twelve years of parochial school -- Roman Catholic. I had felt the call to the priesthood for many of those years. Roman Catholics, in those days -- and they are now doing it again as are we Lutherans -- tried to interest people at young ages in church vocations. The nuns and the priests really did a good job on me except, of course, I didn't end up in the Roman church as a priest.
I met a Lutheran girl in Milwaukee, and as I told my mother, "Ah, only a first date." Well, here I am -- thirty-seven years of marriage and a Lutheran -- and a Lutheran bishop at that. One of the things that I would never have foretold was that in 1986, I had the privilege of meeting with the Pope in a trip that some LCA bishops took; and when I went back to my solid Roman Catholic, Polish family in Milwaukee, I suddenly took on a new air and a new respect. My mother didn't believe it until I showed her the picture and I said, "You know who that guy is? It's the Pope."
Anyway, I feel that when I became involved in Lutheranism, it was before I really officially became a Lutheran. I became involved in Ascension Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, former ELC-Norwegian Lutheran, so I know all those Sven and Oly jokes. Then that became ALC and Hoover T. Grimsby was pastor. He later served as pastor at Central Lutheran Church, Minneapolis. Hoover is a good friend and I appreciate all that I learned from him. I was working for the telephone company, and went on to feel the call to work in the church and became the youth director at Ascencion church for about a year and a half. I considered even going full-time youth work in the church; however, I felt the call to ministry, quit my phone company job, and with two young children moved to Minneapolis to attend Augsburg College. Then, on to Northwestern Seminary. So, I have roots in Roman Catholicism, roots in the old Norwegian church, roots in the ALC, roots in the ULCA and LCA, and now in the ELCA.
One of the things that concerned me when I became a Lutheran was the many false impressions that Lutherans had about Roman Catholics and vice versa. I felt that God was calling me to a special ministry to bridge the gap. That's been something that has motivated my whole ministry - a ministry of reconciliation.
I must share with you up front I am very committed to the ministry of the laity - the whole people of God. I don't ever want us as laity and ordained to be placed in any adversarial positions. Sometimes when I hear people in the church speaking today, it's the ministry of the laity at the expense of the clergy, or vice versa. We're both called for special ministries, and we are all important as people of God in mutual ministry. I want to say that first and foremost. It's critical for all of us to appreciate each other's ministry as we appreciate each other's gifts in Christ.
I have the great joy of being the parish pastor of 252 congregations in a two-state area. I have the great joy of celebrating with those congregations significant anniversaries. About a year or so ago, I was invited to one of our congregations in Richmond, Indiana for their 100th anniversary. It was one of those unique times when the bishop was not asked to preach, but they had two sons of the congregation -- twin brothers -- who did a dialogue sermon, and I, as bishop, presided at the Eucharist.
During that time of presiding, they practiced what I had practiced almost all of my ministry, i.e. the blessing of the children. A little girl came forward, knelt very devoutly with her mother at her side, and to my right was the choir. I always have the practice of either kneeling or leaning down and looking the children right in the eye when I bless them (just think what the world must be like -- looking at knee caps and belt buckles all day). God became one of us and one with us. How long I can do that, that is kneeling down, I'm not certain, but I will continue as long as possible barring any arthritic condition.
I stood up and suddenly, just as I stood after giving her the blessing, she popped up a little teddy bear. Well, what do you do? I blessed it, and I went on communing the adults. Only her mother, the little girl, and about two people in the choir could have seen what happened. By the time I was greeting the four hundred people who were in church that Sunday, everybody knew that the bishop had blessed this teddy bear.
Now, to some that may sound sacrilegious. We have a couple of congregations in our synod, for instance, where they practice the blessing of animals -- the St. Francis of Assisi practice. And so it is not strange, I think, that one would bless a teddy bear, because what is a blessing? A blessing is an affirmation of the purpose for which that article or that person has been created. As long as it fulfills the purpose, it continues to be not only blessed, but it is a blessing to others.
Now you and I, and I have read just some of the notes of the presentations made to you in your Via de Cristo -- your emphasis on death and resurrection -- have life in Christ. That's a blessing. In the New Testament, we have come to realize that God has blessed us as a people, a people of God, a new creation, a new Israel. It was lifted up again in the Reformation. It is reflected in the Scriptures, particularly in I Peter: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were no people. Now you are God's people. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."
We are blessed. When I refer to youngsters, I refer to them as princes and princesses, because they are royalty, and that's who we are. We're special people -- all of us, because God has blessed us. But, let us never forget that when God blesses us, it is so that we will be a blessing to others. That's the story of the Old Testament as it is in the New. And so, it is a ministry which we all share -- a ministry of the baptized, a ministry of the people of God. We're all responsible.
As I thought back in my ministry, I began to wonder when it was that we talked about ministry in the broad sense that we use that term today. It seemed to me that in the 1950's, ministry was referred to only as the ordained. The pastor. Now we use it the very broad way. I think it was in the 1960's, or at least at the time the Baptism, Eucharist, Ministry document of the World Council of Churches was published. There the emphasis was on baptism within the church. We know that the Spirit moves in strange ways, and theological circles in the life of His people, and so it may have been then that we came to appreciate what it is to be truly the people of God. God has a task for all of us. The task is well-stated, I think, in Peter's Epistle: Declare the wonderful deeds of Him who made us. That's what we do. And so we look at our ministry in that way. In congregational bulletins, in congregation after congregation which I attend and participate in worship, it reminds the visitors the ministry is done by the members of the congregation. It would say, "Paul Borg, Pastor; X number of members, Ministers". It's a mutual ministry we have together; and, we need each other and the church needs us, and God needs us.
I look at the rag-tag bunch He chose in the Old Testament and the New Testament, and I look at us and I say, "Wow! What a risk-taker He is." I know what the grace of God is. Those of you who are married, you experience grace every day -- I do. You know, it is said that we really don't want to face reality. I have a magic mirror. I'm sure you do, too. Sometimes it gets a little cracked, but I have a magic mirror, nevertheless. I look pretty good in that mirror. Even when I'm shaving, I look pretty good. But, my wife knows me. She knows me better than I'm willing to confess to myself as a person. Yet, she loves me. For thirty-seven years, she put up with me. You want to meet a saint? I'm sure that you could maybe say the same thing yourself. But that's grace -- she loves and shares life with me. And then I think to myself: "Wow, she knows that much. There's a lot she doesn't know." But God knows. That's grace! And yet He continues to love me, and that's true of everyone of us. Everyone of us who are the baptized experience this grace. To be accepted as one is - that's grace. Then to go out and share that with the world.
Another text that drives me is Acts 1 Verse 8: "You will be my witness." Where? "In Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the outermost parts of the world."
In Matthew 10, the text that we just had a week or so ago on Sunday morning: "and whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward." Then again in Matthew 25 we hear, "Whatever you do to the least of these, my brethren, you do to me." Luther's emphasis of seeing the Christ in the other person is also reflective of these two Scripture passages. And so I put these together with Acts 1:8.Then I say to myself, "Okay, where do I live this faith out? God has blessed me. Where do I live it?" I live it, we could say, within the church and outside. And, that's true. But where do you experience love and grace first? It was at home, wasn't it? And that's why when we talk about family values today, and that has been part of the election campaign months ago, family values are very critical because that's where you and I learned to love. That's where I impart to my three children, and I see them imparting it to my seven grandchildren, and I have the joy, then, of blessing them with those kind of gifts through grace and accepting them and hugging them; and that's what God said fwe should do. That's Jerusalem...for you and for me. Too many of us want to go to the outermost parts of the world and convert that place and back home is nothing.
Jesus was a pragmatist -- the ministry is for all of us. I'm not just saying ministry of laity; we're all laity in some way or another. But the ministry of all of us must begin where we are in the simple things. We experience grace and sharing that grace with our spouse, with our children. I believe that unless I see Christ in my wife, I cannot see Him in you. She's my Jerusalem. I challenge you to that. You can change worlds that way.
At that same church in Richmond where I blessed that teddy bear, a young lady
came to me and said, "Bishop, I want you to meet my three sons. You once called
on me when you were a pastor at Purdue University. I had broken my arm and was
in the infirmary and you called on me." I remember calling on a young lady who
hurt herself in a gymnastic accident. I was filling in for the campus pastor at
the time. The young lady and I talked for awhile, and it was a pleasure to have
her come and introduce me to her three boys. Then later on, I introduced her to
my wife, Mary, and she said, "Oh, by the way, Bishop, there was a sign you had
in your office when you were in the parish, and I've never forgotten it."
I thought, "Wow, I had lots of signs in my office." You know, all those posters and things. "What was it?" I asked.
"The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother." I was astounded. It's been fourteen years -- it must have been seventeen years ago that this woman saw that. She was a college student. I never thought that college students were impressed by signs like that. She was single at that time. I don't mean to degrade college students, but they've got a lot of other things going on in their lives. The words of that sign have driven me in my own personal ministry, and, I think, could serve as a solution to a lot of the problems we have within our nation as it deals with family values. But that's Jerusalem. That's the Jerusalem in our life.
Then where is Judea? Well, one could say the neighborhood. One could say your extended family. But, I say the church, because that is my extended family. You and I are brothers and sisters in Christ. You can choose your friends, but not your relatives. And, whether you like it or not, I am your brother.
Living out what I live out in Jerusalem must be lived out in Judea -- that extended family. Not the family of blood, but the family of water and blood. And so I live that out. And how do I live that out? How do you live that out? By following the words of Jesus, "Love one another as I have loved you." That's not like the world loves. That's a love that's beyond anything one can even describe, but must be lived.
One of my favorite passages is in John 21 -- the "Do you love me?" text where Jesus asks Peter that question three times -- "Do you love me?" And his response to Peter is, "If you do, then do this."
This reminds Peter that love is what you do and not what you feel. And that is our ministry: to share love.
One of my favorite musicals is "Fiddler on the Roof," which I have seen at least seven times. There is a touching scene in that musical which reflects John 21. It is where the father, who has lost two of his daughters to marriage -- not by tradition, but because they love the young men -- finally goes to his wife of 25 years and asks her that same question: "Do you love me?"
And what's her response? "Do I love you? Well, I wash your clothes and I cook your meals."
"But do you love me?" he asks.
And, she goes on with a whole list of things she does. They are always what
she does, because love is what you do. And they embrace each other when she
says, "Yes, I love you."
The cross is certainly a symbol of that. You can't tell me that Jesus wanted
to go there. He did it because He was obedient, because love is what you do. And
so we live that out in our relationships. I told you earlier that my call, as a
pastor and as a Christian, is to build bridges between people. To me, this is a
very powerful way of living out that love and that faith and is probably the
unique thing about Christianity. You can experience anything else you want in
the world but this -- reconciliation which includes forgiveness.
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation. The old has
passed away; the new has come. While this is from God, but through Christ
reconciled us to himself, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation." That's
what we're all about: bringing people together. That's the cross. "Pick up your
cross and follow me." That isn't accepting your infirmity -- physical infirmity,
that is -- to me the cross is saying, "To you, my brother, I love you and I
forgive you no matter what you do to me." That's the cross. That, to me, is
ministry. Showing love.
I have a good friend, who is a monk in a Benedictine monastery in the
southern part of the state -- Father Eric. He is such a delightful man. He is in
his middle seventies and a calligrapher. The Synod presented me with the gift of
one of his works just recently. He was with our staff for a good part of one day
as a reflective spiritual leader as we met together. I truly appreciate the fact
that he prays for me daily. I don't think he's praying for my conversion, a
reconversion to Roman Catholicism, but as a brother in Christ, he's concerned
about me and my ministry and my family.
As I walked him to his car, he said, "Ah, Bishop, I have this monk in mind.
He's been a monk for fifty-seven years. He's a fellow monk. I just can't stand
him." Did you ever think that monks felt that way? I guess I never stopped to
think about that. He said, "I just don't know what to do about that. I pray
about it all the time."
My response to him was, "Don't forget you can't choose your relatives; you
can only choose your friends. You're not called to like them. You're called to
love them, and that's very different." I think that's true in your Judea and
mine; that is, even in the church.
To me, there are many times in the church where we are called to be ministers
of reconciliation. Sometimes the old, simple self rears its head, and we have to
be more forgiving and more tolerant and more merciful and more grace-filled and
graceful in our ministry to one another than anywhere else. I think that in our
ministry together -- ministry as the people of God -- we are to reflect what the
first century Christians did when people said of them, "Look how they love one
another." They were a very diverse group, but they tried very hard to reflect
the love which God had in Jesus for them. That's ministry. You may not think of
it that way, but it is.
You always think about the cold cup of water and the food and the clothing
that we're going to give to the flood victims. But, ministry is in relationship,
because that's what it's all about. The ministry of the laity, the family in
Jerusalem, in Judea, and Samaria.
Where's your Samaria? It may be where you work; it may be your neighborhood;
it's important then that you minister there, too. You be the best possible
carpenter, housewife, insurance agent or whatever out in those places.
But I want to go back to Judea for a minute. Hospitality -- the gift which we
share here and those who worked on the committee shared with you -- that's a
gift from God. But, we are to share hospitality with people who are strangers in
our midst. I was with one of my pastors this past week. She serves a
congregation where it is all extended family, i.e. everyone related to one
another. It's a very small town of about 150 people, and it's a good-sized
congregation. There's always the feuds between the McCoys and someone else.
She's not going to church because he's going to church now, and vice versa; and
he likes the pastor now, but he didn't like the other one. When they get a new
pastor, he probably won't like him. It's just those kind of situations that
cause me to say to myself, "If I weren't a Christian, would I join that
And then she said to me something that really hit. The pastor said, "You
know, these folks have not experienced what it is to be a stranger, and to
receive hospitality. You can't give it if you've never experienced it." But for
her to preach to them to "be sensitive" to the stranger is almost like speaking
to someone who has never experienced sensitivity. I think the ministry of the
people of God is to be hospitable not only within the confines of the church,
but outside as well. To be known as one who is gracious and kind and considerate
and giving -- that is to be a Christian.
Our sister synod is in Indonesia and my wife and I have been privileged to
travel there twice. In visiting there we met a lot of people who were pastors
and laity. In that church the ministry of the laity is very crucial because
there's a shortage of pastors. There's something like 2.2 million members and
they have as many clergy as I have in my synod, i.e. 350. Therefore, laity are
very critical in that church. Whenever a new congregations is established, it is
the person who moves to that community -- a lay person -- who has the
responsibility to gather a congregation. Not until they are able to build a
congregation and building will they even get a pastor. It's the laity's
There was a barber who was introduced to us by his brother who, at least from
the clothes he was wearing and the car he was driving, seemed to have some
wealth. The brother said, "Bishop, I want to share with you how proud I am of my
brother. He's a barber. Everybody who sits in that barber chair hears about
Jesus. Everybody. I'm so proud of him."
Now I've heard Jesus' name mentioned at a barber shop, but never quite like
that. The ministry of the laity is to share in life and word what is and who it
is that is really important in your life - Jesus.
Just before I came this noon, I talked to one of our pastors. She's very
unique in the fact that she's a woman clergyperson, a chaplain in a male prison.
It is a very hard-core type criminal prison in northern Indiana. She had been
raped by one of the inmates about a year ago. Still, she went back. She's a
feisty little person moved by God to be doing what she's doing, and she called
me and she said, "Bishop, I need someone to talk to. First you; and then is
there someone else I can talk to? I've been appointed to a committee of stress
management and our committee has the responsibility to interview executors.
There's an execution scheduled for August and an execution scheduled for Fall.
Bishop, I am most uncomfortable theologically and spiritually."
So we talked about it. I shared with her that if these people are Christian, even though I wouldn't agree with what they're doing, they feel a sense of vocation. That's important.
As laity, wherever you are, or whoever you are, the lives you touch with what
you say and what you do are critical. We have workshops within the ELCA to
discuss science and theology and for various vocations. Theological issues hit
you every day in whatever you do, and it's the love and the care that you give
and the forgiveness and the acceptance and the way in which you witness in those
contexts that are critical. That to me is the ministry of the laity. It may
never be anything spectacular.
I must confess to you, my wife gets very upset with me once in awhile. We've
got a television set in our bedroom. Once in a while I'll go to bed, but I just
can't sleep. Rather than read, I'll put the television on, which doesn't help
her any. Sometimes, I listen to religious broadcasting, which, when the bed
starts moving very much, then she knows I'm really upset, because of some things
that are said. I have to admit that I could never make it on one of those
broadcasts. I haven't sinned enough. I may have committed adultery in my heart
or mind, but I never have physically. I have never killed anyone. I've never
stolen anything knowingly of any great value, anyway, if I did. So I'd never
make one of those religious broadcasts. Because it communicates, to me,
sometimes -- now again, you may have a different point of view -- but, it
communicates to me that I'm not very successful if I haven't sinned much and God
can't forgive me much. Therefore, I can make this fantastic testimony to the
world: "Look at what a crumb-bum I was!" I know what a crumb-bum I am. I don't
have to tell the world. So it's in the everyday touching of lives that I
experience God's love and grace.
The word that you say to your grandson or your granddaughter or to your wife
or to your colleague... that's the critical thing. I know people who are tithers
and I go back into the church and say, "That's how you express your trust in God
-- by a tithe." I believe in that. I go beyond a tithe in my own life, and I
know many others who do the same. But, also people have taken that out into the
world to their Samaria, -- to their occupations and they tithe the income of the
company. Maybe not all to church work, but to some other charitable work, but
all on behalf of Jesus Christ. It's never broadcast all over the world. It'll
never make channel 40 here -- the religious broadcasting. But, lives are changed
because of that. Because just the simple word - a simple word of encouragement.
The simple word to the unemployed who is feeling down in the dust. "You know God
loves you, and you really have value. It doesn't make any difference if you
don't work, you can't find a job. You're still loved." That's ministry to me.
I'm a private pilot and I love to fly but I don't get much time to fly. I'm
asking people around for about $50,000, so that I can buy a plane for the synod
so the bishop would have a plane to fly. I'm not bashful about asking for money,
either. I love to fly on a clear night, flying at low altitudes -- it's
beautiful because you fly along the countryside and, to me, it's a picture of
the world. The world is a very dark place -- it's true. And, so you fly along
the countryside and it's black -- black velvet, almost. Here and there are the
lights as you go along. To me, that's always a powerful witness. You are to be
the light of the world. But, even in the midst of darkness, God places the
light. His message of grace, His message of love, care, concern -- people like
you and me.
That's what we're called to be -- to minister in the simple way. If you were looking for a how-to, I didn't come to give it to you. I hope that you have at least felt from me, that the Word must become flesh as it did in Jesus -- living in you and me. Then the world will be different. Thank you.
We're glad they took a Pole, and we're glad that you were with us today to share a word about unleashing the laity in the church.
I should have given you a bit more instruction early on, and that is that I
hope you're listening carefully and perhaps taking a few notes because we hope
to have time after the next presentation for you to ask questions. There's a
mike to my right, #1 -- #2 to my left. As soon as the next presentation is
completed, we're going to invite to direct questions to these people. Hopefully
we'll have fifteen or twenty minutes that we might use for that.
Our second presenter today is bishop of the Northwest Minnesota Synod -- the synod on whose turf I was born many years ago. Since September 9, 1991, he has resided in Moorhead, Minnesota offices out of the campus of a well-known college, Concordia, and has been leading the Northwest Minnesota Synod of the ELCA. Prior to that, he was assistant to the former bishop of that synod who started in 1988. I believe that was Harold Lorr, who had this man serve with him from '88 to '91. Prior to that, under the pre-merger churches, he was assistant to the bishop of the North Minnesota district of ALC from 1983 until '87.
He has had parish experience -- the most recent parish experience happened to
be in Brainerd, Minnesota, and I see, Art, you were there for about fifteen
years, and I think you and I overlapped about five years in that community. I
realized as I prepared for this that my wife went to Cursillo four to six months
after I did because the evening she should have been at Cursillo, our daughter
was a queen candidate in the high school, and my daughter failed. I want you to
know, if I remember rightly, that Art's daughter Ann was a homecoming queen for
Brainerd High School and is now, I see, a student in the seminary.
He and Char, who is with us, -- Char is an excellent organist and has served
as organist, I know, in the Brainerd community while they were there. They have
three children: Paul, who is a financial analyst, and Bruce, who is a pastor.
Now some of you may have picked up your "Lutheran" a few weeks or months back
and I believe it was in the same copy wasn't it that there was an editorial
written by your son Bruce, and also a picture of Art and Char delivering meals.
Now some of us do that. That's nothing unusual, but when a bishop takes time to
do that, I think that's very significant and worth mention.
Art is a good friend, and a colleague in ministry and I'm happy that he could be here today. I heard sometime ago, when he went through his response to the Cursillo experience, and so we're looking forward to hear from Bishop Arthur Rimmereid of the Northwest Minnesota Synod. Welcome to the podium. Let's give him a warm, Cursillo welcome.
It's good to be with my colleague and friend, Bishop Kempski. Also, it's good
to follow him and come and know that there are people who are expected to be in
the service and listen to the speaker. Sometimes when you come, you don't know
who's going to turn up. I understand once Bishop Kempski was coming to one of
the larger churches in his synod, and the host pastor went with him into the
worship service, sat down and looked out into a large almost cathedral-sized
room. There were about nine people there. Kempski leaned over to the pastor and
says. "Didn't you tell them I was coming?"
The pastor responded, "No, but word must have leaked out!"
Good to have a captive audience. Thanks, Nate, for the chance to be a part of
this gathering. I know that I'm not as well acquainted with the via de Cristo or
Cursillo movement as you are, and so I share as one who certainly has much to
learn about what you're doing. But I have been a part of it. Char, my wife, has
been at several weekends. So please hear my words as one who deeply appreciates
the whole movement and your work. I'd like to identify three areas and then
enlarge on those.
(1) One is that that Cursillo is a key for unleashing the laity because it
renews faith in Jesus Christ. (2) Secondly, it equips Christians for
discipleship in the world in mission. Renewing....equipping....and then what I
would call (3) sustaining for the long haul, or support system that maintains.
It isn't just that one weekend, but it's committed to an ongoing growth in
mission and in faith. I will identify a Bible verse with each.
The first one is Romans 6:4. "Therefore, we have been buried with Him by
baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory
of the Father, so we, too, might walk in newness of life."
I believe that the Cursillo movement or the Via de Cristo movement is
committed to renewal of faith. We all need that renewal. People come to the
weekend at various stations in life. Some need to be resurrected, awakened,
converted. Others need to be revitalized. I am grateful for this movement
because I've seen lives refreshed in Jesus Christ. You've been committed to
being Christ-centered, and grace-centered. People hear the story of Jesus, the
life of Jesus through you, and are renewed. That's essential to unleashing laity
in the world. I see people renewed through it and go back into the congregation
and make a difference. I'm grateful for that.
I have a car that is starting to run poorly. I should get it checked. I was
just thinking I should bring it to Nate. Do you know Nate is a car-restorer? I'm
not kidding. He finds old clunkers. Last one I heard, you got an old Cadillac
that you revitalized. Nate is very gifted at that. Well, I was thinking about my
car needing a valve job. It just doesn't accelerate well. If I tromp on the
accelerator, it doesn't make much difference. It just doesn't have power.
In the church, we want all of us to go out and do the mission of the Lord. We
tromp on the accelerator. Do this work! Give! Share! Live! But there's no power
in the motor, so to speak. We do need these special times to come aside and be
refreshed. I know that's to take place on Sunday morning -- and it does! Through
the word and sacrament and gathering of congregation after congregation. It's
not competitive with that. It's just that the church needs these special times
to come aside and be refreshed.
There's tremendous need for renewal, to be educated, and to have a clarity about the gospel -- clarity about what God has done in Christ. Much as we wish it were different, we know there are many people who are confused and unclear about the life and work of Jesus Christ and what God has done. Cursillo unleashes laity because it empowers laity to go out.
I see that part of that renewing refreshing is done by the witness that you give in those gatherings. There is something very powerful in a peer witness. I'm sure you've had the experience that as you gather around the table people have found people in similar walks of life going through the same kind of pain -- going through the same kind of circumstance and hearing your faith in that setting has a power that unleashes people. So it renews by hearing that. In the midst of a place where it's safe to share. A place where there's lots of love. A place where there is singing and a good healthy dose of humor, there people are strengthened.
If we lose our song, we're going to lose our witness. The renewal takes place
because there's an experience of community. You take the body of Christ
seriously -- insuring love, and you find creative ways to love. Yesterday when
Char and I came to the motel, it was great to see on the table fruit -- fresh
fruit. Char said, "That's just like Via de Cristo."
Finding little creative ways -- beautiful ways of communicating love, and you
do it in a hundred different ways. It does take creativity to show love. Not
quite like Oly the Hittite, who wasn't so great at expressing love to his wife.
He was sharing with some friends how deeply he appreciated his wife, and he
said, "I love her so much I almost told her."
You find creative ways to show love. I commend you for that. It's in that
loving community that things happen. That takes time. I'm afraid that good as
our worship services are, so many people have just a fleeting experience with
the body. In for an hour and out again. Powerful as that is, there's something
about 72 hours or even more where there's an engagement with people that love
and surround you in the Word. I commend you for that creativeness, in connecting
with people. The creativity was demonstrated in many ways.
It was Sunday and Char and I were driving out of town to be at a church
service where there was a celebration for a hundredth anniversary. You heard
that we got seven inches of rain the other night. We were going to go out on
21st Street, but here the road under the railroad was full of water -- ten,
fifteen feet deep. I was intrigued by the person who had gone over the barricade
and put up a sign that said, "SCUBA lessons -- half price." There was a SCUBA
place about a block away. I thought, "that's the kind of guy who is creative."
Christians need that kind of creativity as communicating the love of God. You do
Renewal comes to people where there is a focus on prayer. Now we've
experienced it anew as we come, and you pray for Emily. It didn't surprise us
that you would immediately pray, because that's what we noticed about the whole
movement. Deep commitment to prayer much as I affirm the ingenuity of how
Cursillo is put together and how the various components that are a key part of
group dynamics -- very essential -- but the confidence doesn't lie in the
structure, the confidence lies in the Holy Spirit working and that prayer is a
part of it. I commend you for that.
Let me move on to the second one on equipping for discipleship. Listen
to this in Ephesians 4:12 -- "to equip the saints for the work of ministry for
building up the body" -- to equip the saints. Now that is a directive to
pastors, but it's really for all of us. We are to be equipping each other for
discipleship. How does that happen in Cursillo? The weekend event or the whole
program helps people declare their faith.
I do think people are equipped when they learn how to say what Jesus has done
for them. Tell it once, and it's easier to tell a second time, third time, and
so forth. You provide a setting as well as mentors for doing it. People who have
never spoken the word of Jesus in a confession of faith hear you doing it --
doing it in a relaxed and normal way and not an artificial way at all. That is
tremendous. I believe in equipping people for discipleship.
We're not going to turn this world upside down until people are able and willing to identify themselves with Jesus and share what Jesus has done. People are equipped for discipleship by experiencing community. Via de Cristo gives the setting in which people are able to disclose themselves -- the pain, the journeys, the dreams, and the aspirations. That builds community.
There are people who have never told anyone else some of the pain within. But
in that setting, people learn to disclose themselves and they are equipped for
discipleship. Our world is very lonely. I remember some time ago reading a
report from the Menninger Clinic -- in Topeka, Kansas -- one of the finest
mental health agencies around, and the report was that the number one root or
cause of the mental circumstances they dealt with, was the lack of experience in
community. It's not only among the non-believers that that's happening, but
there are people in the faith who haven't really been embraced like they should
by the body. You do that well, and that equips people.
The people that experience that kind of love go out and truly are the body of Christ. The body of Christ is the best metaphor for the church. There are many metaphors or descriptions for the church, but I like the New Testament metaphor 160 times the phrase "body of Christ in the world" or "body of Christ" is in the New Testament. It clearly shows that we are connected to Jesus, but it also shows clearly we are connected to each other. To experience that connection, is one of the powerful ways of being equipped for mission. Also the disciplines of discipleship are lifted up in Cursillo. Prayer and learning how to pray, how to read the Bible, learning more about the Sacraments and being a part of the Lord's Supper. Singing, worshipping, -- all of those disciplines are crucial and many people learn some of the nurturing disciplines essential for discipleship through Cursillo.
There is a discipline of servanthood -- or an equipping for servanthood.
Servanthood is largely learned like many other aspects of the Christian faith by
apprenticeship. It isn't something that's taught like you teach mathematics.
Very few things about the faith are taught that way. They're basically taught by
mentoring or by fellowship or by apprenticeship. Many people have watched others
serve Jesus and have learned by apprenticeship walking alongside, and then you
can turn them loose. That's what you have done.
Lastly, there's that sustaining relationship that you have encouraged.
Listen in Philemon where it says, "I have indeed received much joy and
encouragement from your love because the hearts of the saints have been
refreshed through you, my brother, (and I would add sister). Encouragement,
sustaining, refreshing. Cursillo stresses that. Your whole focus on Fourth Day
is appreciated. You encourage the gathering of the renewal group. Your
affirmation of the congregation is much appreciated.
Wherever I have been in touch with people from the Via de Cristo movement, there has been a lifting up of the local congregation and affirming that. No disparagement, even though there might be a mountain top experience and you go back and it doesn't seem so exciting in that little congregation where there may be lack of commitment and not as much excitement. I am so grateful that I have not heard that disparagement. The renewing needs sustaining and help people follow through. You bring people back and help them serve on weekends and thereby are also sustained.
I know that the focus here is on lifting up the laity, but again, like Bishop
Kempski says, we're all in this together, and when we're unleashing the laity,
this unleashes the clergy. I'm sure Ralph would also say -- almost every day, we
talk to clergy as a part of our work and some of that is with pastors that are
You could identify what is the single greatest cause of discouragement or the greatest source of excitement. The discouragement comes where a pastor feels that, there aren't a number of people joining her or him in the mission of the church. But where the pastor is experiencing that people are excited about the mission of the church, you can hardly hold them back. So if you want to unleash the clergy, unleash the laity in mission. So it's an unleashing of everybody as an experience of being a co-worker. An experience of that love that you show each other.
My office is on the Concordia College campus in Moorhead. There's a big
construction going on -- building of a fitness center, a big athletic complex.
They've been excavating during all this rain. The construction is thirty days
behind because of all the rain. A couple of days ago, I looked out the window
and the big cranes were digging up dirt and putting it in the trucks and going
up; but with all the rain, the trucks were having a tough time coming out of the
hole. I thought it was interesting just to see the big scoop go down, load it
up, and then it had to push the truck out. The crane would load it up, push the
truck up the hill. Well, I thought, "boy, I know I'm sure there are some pastors
who feel, 'Load 'em up -- push 'em out. Load 'em up -- push 'em out'".
Where the people are like you, it's different. It's more like refresh and unleash. Refresh and unleash, and there's traction to go right up the hill and right out into the world.
Let me close with this report. A few months ago, I heard Dr. Carl Mau, who
was secretary of the Lutheran World Federation. He told about a trip to China
recently. He shared with us the tremendous renewal of the church there.
Estimates are that before the oppression by the Communists, there were some
700,000 Protestant Christians and maybe a couple million Roman Catholics.
After this oppression, we were wondering what happened to the Christian church. There were indications that something good was happening. He says, by most conservative report, they believe seven to ten million Christians who gathered primarily in lay movements gathering around the Word, showing of course, the Spirit is at work. They're starting one new congregation of about 1000 members -- two every three days. An average of three hundred in adult Bible classes for Baptism. Dr. Mau talked to recent converts and asked, "How do you account for all this?" "Why did you turn to the faith and to Jesus -- to the church?"
Time and again they said two things: "The clear proclamation of Jesus Christ
and that Christians live differently."
It's never really been any different. It is the message -- that matchless
message of Jesus that can be shared in the world. And then to live differently
-- modeled after Jesus Christ, the servant. Amen.
REV. NATE LUNDGREN: A special thank you to both of you for sharing with us. We're sure delighted you're here, and it's just amazing that with as little direction as we could give you, you covered new turf -- both of you, and you weren't repeating one another. That's a dangerous habit for clergy, you know. You give us an assignment, we might all come out saying the same thing. We really appreciate that.
We told you that you should be thinking of questions you might have of them and we don't want to be bashful. This is the Ralph and Art show before you. They're bishops, but they still have first names, and I want you to be that comfortable in asking your questions. At this time, I invite you over the next fifteen minutes to ask your questions and I see our leader is up to begin for us. Most of you know our fearless leader as he comes to the mike, but for the rest of you if you come to the mike, you might want to state your name and what unit you're from.
D. WAYNE FORD: I'll state it anyway just to say it. Wayne Ford from the National Secretariat. This question for both of you. Disregarding Via de Cristo, what resources do you feel are available within the ELCA for a congregation to help unleash the power of the laity and let me state that in another way. If you had a new mission pastor come to you and say, "Now, I'm trying to get this congregation going" or say it's a congregation that's kind of "stale," if I may use that term, and needs the revitalizing -- what are some things that you would suggest to them to help motivate the congregation (aside from Via de Cristo) to unleash that power that we talked about?BISHOP RIMMEREID: I'll just say a few things and then I'm sure Ralph would like to add something. There's all kinds of resources, of course, in the sense that gathering people in Bible studies would be right up on top. Small Bible study groups -- all kinds of adult opportunities possible. Our Bible camps, I think, are a great resource for retreats -- and there's materials for retreats. Those are things that come to mind. There are other movements that could be identified within the church and others that have come as free movements that provide at times for refreshment and renewal. I think there's all kinds of educational materials and various things that lift up the importance of bearing witness. There are studies on witnessing for Christ. I had in mind to mention something about this study by ........... "Witnesses for Christ," but part of it is that whole business of apprenticeship -- learning to confess the faith by practicing it. Writing for three minutes and then sharing it with a colleague. I remember an incident that was just exciting; now once the person learned how to do that with some comfort was able to share with a friend in the hospital so there are resources, but those are a couple that just come to mind.
BISHOP KEMPSKI: I would say amen to all of those I believe that we have not
truly spent a sufficient time in small group Bible studies within the church.
And not -- I've been through some really boring Bible studies where you read a
passage -- "now what did he say?" and "what color gown did he have on?" or
something. I'm a pragmatist -- where the rubber hits the road. I wonder what
that Scripture says to me. I'm willing to struggle with that and I think people
are, too, if they're challenged with it. I think whatever we do and (programs
are not answers), the Scripture, the power is in the Word. I believe people get
turned on when they can do that, and if a group of laity or even one layperson
and a pastor can begin to invite people in. I've seen that in my own
congregations that I served. It began very small within a Bible study that just
continued to grow, and as was said earlier, there's a lot of programs in the
church that could be resources to you.
FRED SCHNEIDER: I'd like to change the subject just a little bit. It's very
refreshing to have two bishops here who are supporters of Via de Cristo. I would
ask how might we approach a bishop who is opposed to or very resistant to Via de
Cristo to the point of discouraging pastors, for instance, from supporting it or
BISHOP KEMPSKI: I think, and I'll speak only for myself, I think that I
understand the bishop's concern. Because with every small group movement,
there's always the possibility of division. We're all aware of that. As somebody
has said to me: "Jesus builds a church, and the devil builds a cathedral next
door." The devil is still very active within the church and within our circle as
committed Christians. I would say that if you continue to have problems. I think
it would be good to have one of us at least assist. Now he's had first-hand
experience, and I've had a lot of second-hand experience, so to speak, and I can
attest to what Cursillo or Via de Cristo has done within our synod and within
the lives of our laity and our clergy. I have not seen it as a divisive force.
So I would be willing to step forward and, as a brother bishop, talk to them.
BISHOP RIMMEREID: The same thought that. I understand that apprehension, but
I don't agree with it. I think the only way to deal with it is to somehow
encourage that person to understand it better. Now even something as good as
Cursillo or Via de Cristo could have somebody come back from it, and communicate
something that isn't really helpful. I so appreciate the emphasis on not
becoming an elitist group or "because you haven't gone, you're kind of a second
class Christian." There have been so many of those things happen over the
centuries over the years that people are gun-shy and then if they hear somebody
say something, it's too bad that negative things just seem to grow like fire. I
guess, like Ralph says, we are available to speak to that. I've already had
somebody ask me, "Will you talk to my bishop?"
I said, "You bet I'll talk to him." Also some of our pastors now I'm sure -- I know in my synod, that I know that there are pastors that have some apprehension. Some of it is unfounded -- very unfounded, but they maybe are they heard one comment from somebody, and then they build on it. We're here and there are pastors in the synod that perhaps the bishop has ... you know the bishop would have confidence in that pastor. That would be one direction. Have you talked to so and so? He or she was there, found it to be very committed to the teaching of the church and to the life of the congregation.
REV. NATE LUNDGREN: In that regard, I suspect you would say that that list of
pastors that you received today could be a valuable resource and in the
quietness of an office a bishop can pore through his section of the country or
hers and decide who it is.
While somebody else comes to the microphone, I just want to piggy-back on that and say, "Do you as bishops feel that there is a great reluctance because the movement isn't sanctioned by the church?" Do you think it would be more helpful to the ultimate cause of Christ if Via de Cristo were sanctioned by either the ELCA or LCMS or the church in some way? I've had bishops who will refuse to do things at their synod convention because it isn't. Just be interested in a quick response and then we'll hear from Gene.
BISHOP RIMMEREID: My first response would be I don't. I think that the church
needs free movements that aren't physically grafted in or even necessarily have
the "endorsement." As simply, I think as some of us who believe in these free
movements, to say this one is credible and gain the confidence of the people
even though you get discouraged at times and say "Why in the world is so and so
negative?" I think just help each other win the confidence of people. That would
be my response. I worry -- in fact, I'm grateful that there are these things
that are not controlled by official settings.
BISHOP KEMPSKI: That could well be the death of Via de Cristo as we know it. They'd be receiving the benediction of the structure and again you mentioned just the fact of the ELCA and Missouri -- we know that we're talking with each other, but it would be very difficult as we approach theologically some things -- the Eucharist, for instance, respect one another in that and so I think you would lose in that I too -- I should share with you that I personally I feel that we're all as Christians given charismatic gifts. But I have dealt with the Charismatic movement, for instance, early on in my ministry; and for awhile I was frightened of it because of again the small groups have been divisive within the church. What I really appreciate those free movements such as the Charismatic movement that's able to cross all denominational lines, and that's what you're able to do as well. Not only Lutheran, but you do cross other denominational lines which we can't do so easily because of structure. So I want to encourage your freedom and respecting the kind of loyalty that you do have to the institutional church of which you're a part. Continue to do that.REV. NATE LUNDGREN: I'm happy to hear that. You're in good company with the leading bishop of the church who feels much the same.
REV. GENE HERMEIER: I'm Gene Hermeier, now from Naperville, Illinois, and
I've had the privilege of working in the Lutheran Cursillo movement for
twenty-two years. I guess one of the concerns I've had in talking to pastors is
that I know we all come out of seminary with this you know the verse you
mentioned -- equipping the saints for the work of ministry -- Ephesians 4. But
in recruiting actually whether it's the Cursillo tool or Christ Renews His
Parish tool or any other tool. It seems I guess, my discouragement sometimes has
been I wonder how much that verse is really on that the top cooker item that we
have in our job description should be something that helps renew parish life or
renew the faith of people and help them become these trucks that move out of the
hold by themselves. I wondered if either of you cared to comment on that where
is the breakdown, or is there a breakdown? Do you understand what I'm saying? Do
pastors come out of seminary or somewhere along the line really get the picture
that equipping and helping by the grace of God to that there be self-starting
Christians. Is that coming off? I guess I've had some discouragement along those
lines. Am I communicating?
BISHOP RIMMEREID: I think we have a long ways to go in the clarity about
that. One of the things I notice, and I've been having discussion with groups of
pastors on this very issue on clarity, and it comes partly because of the study
of ministry we have right now. It's a great opportunity. I think there's been
confusion about the office of pastor, and that has lead to confusion about then
the equipping of the saints for ministry, too. I think there's been -- when
there's confusion in the minds of the clergy about their task, I think they then
get preoccupied with whether its control or whether its protection or fear or
what it is, but when there's confidence that my task is focused on word and
sacrament. There are a hundred other tasks that may be there -- but that's
central. There seems to be a freedom to turn people loose and be the mission in
the world. I think, now, laity, if I could say have a real privilege and
opportunity to affirm and love the clergy so they can let go. And now you say
they should know that already. Well, I think that it's so fragile and so
vulnerable and it's tough to be a pastor these days, too. I think in all of that
bombardment you get frozen up so you can't turn people loose. I don't know.
BISHOP KEMPSKI: I'd agree with that, too. I think that the church hasn't always been clear as to what the role of clergy and laity are as well. I hear pastors say to me, "I'm tired of being treated like a hired hand." I as Bishop find myself saying to all committees, church councils, when they saw we're going to go out and hire a pastor, you call them. It's a very different relationship and I think we have....My hope for the study of ministry and your movement and the growth of the church and the ministry of laity is that we will truly understand what mutual ministry is -- that when we look at a pastor in his or her relationship to a congregation we ought to look at the congregation in their relationship to the pastor. There always is an evaluation of pastors, but there are very few evaluations of church councils.
I thank you. Sometimes I feel like a voice crying in the wilderness with that
and I thank you, but that's true. And I'm very blunt about saying it. I guess
I've been in office long enough that some of my fellow bishops say, "How in the
world do you get away with what you do?"
And I say, "I don't know, I just do it." I love them, and I do it. But that's
true. There is an insecurity then if you're trained to be pastor, minister of
word and sacrament, and then suddenly you're treated as a hired hand. I know
we're close to time, but see I use the analogy of a marriage. I know metaphors
break down, but the relationship between a pastor and a congregation is like a
marriage to me. My wife is not my hired hand. It's a relationship of love and we
both are called to fulfill the mission for which that relationship was
constituted and it happens to be as far as I'm concerned to show the world what
God intended true community to be. Now in a congregation on what I said earlier,
that's the same kind of thing. If the pastor fails to do their work, his or hers
then the community and the mission fails. If the laity fails to do their work,
then the mission fails. It's a mutual ministry and that's ... so when we look at
the church in its structure in its congregational life. I hope that we look at
it as a totality rather than just one little segment. It's mutual ministry.
REV. DICK BURGIE: Very briefly, from your perspective as bishops, you look at
things going on in the church and you see things, and you say, "Boy, I'd like to
improve one thing." What would you say the one thing that you see about Via de
Cristo to be a stumbling block and keep it from being a real renewal tool
further in the church. One thing that holds us back.
BISHOP RIMMEREID: Guard against any kind of communicating that it is the only
way to renew the church. "If you communicate this is the only way to renew the
church," you've had it.
BISHOP KEMPSKI: The same thought -- exclusivity.
GEORGE STEADMAN: In South Florida, we have a unique problem of the Lutheran
church being very small. From a bishop's standpoint because we hear this thing
about trying to make this an arm of the Lutheran Church. I attend St. Andrew's
Lutheran Church in Homestead, Florida. In the last year, we've lost 50% of our
congregation. We know that in order for the Lutheran Church to survive in South
Florida, we have to go out into the unchurched community. We feel that this is
part of the -- we used to say that we were ecumenical, but I think that's the
wrong terminology. We're non-denominational in South Florida.
From a bishop's standpoint, do you feel that this non-denominational label we
have in South Florida is a deterrent for you to tell somebody that that would be
a place for renewal.
BISHOP KEMPSKI: He serves in an area where Lutherans are greatly populated.
You don't have to... In Kentucky and some parts of Indiana, they wonder whether
#1 Existing congregations have a problem -- identity, for one. I hope we don't lose our Lutheran identity. I'm very concerned about non-denominationalism, because I think what we've done is bought into a way of thought that we're going to give people what they want -- not what they need. I think that that's part of our society's problem right now. We emphasize the rights rather than responsibilities and things like that. So I'm concerned about, we could say, watering down a great contribution which we as Lutherans have -- word and sacrament ministry and proclamation of that word.
I think that we have not totally taken seriously our responsibility to the
unchurched. I find that when a congregation is a mission congregation, once it
moves into its building, it becomes more building oriented and structure
oriented than mission oriented. I would almost like to (and this is really
revolutionary), I'd like to have a self-destruct button on every one of those
every twenty years and then go out again because then they would become aware of
those unchurched people. Right now, I think Florida and some of our own
congregations are only looking for the imports from the north -- from the
Lutheran -- country and we're not sensitive to the unchurched. I know some of
our congregations -- 80-90% of our mission congregations -- are unchurched
people. Don't love your Lutheran identity, but maybe be willing to die in a
sense for the sake of new life. That's good resurrection theology, I think.
BISHOP RIMMEREID: I know that you talk about our area being so Lutheran. Of
course, Lutherans are very dense in our area, but that has a real hazard though,
because of the taking things for granted, and the kind of vitality and
confession of faith that is typical of your group can be very missing and people
put a still that confidence in sort of the state church mentality that gone
through the forms and lack the vital confession of faith. It's kind of that
inoculation with something -- got some of it, but didn't quite catch fire.
There's a real hazard that we have in being mission-minded or evangelizing
spirit as Chilstrom has said, "Every congregation to be a mission outpost."
We've got all kinds of evangelizing to do in Minnesota. All kinds of it, but
we've got to get over the barrier that something because there great-grandfather
was a Lutheran, that there's nothing more that needs to happen.
REV. NATE LUNDGREN: Thank you, Bishops. I want to thank you for your great
We're delighted to know how supportive you are. We hope that in your council
of bishops, when people have questions, that you'll be ready to speak both for
good and for ill what you've seen, and will give them a sense of who and what we
are. I'm glad to hear your response to that identity question. I had a call
about two weeks ago from a black Assembly of God pastor out in Portland, Oregon,
who's coming to Minneapolis to take over a congregation and he is so excited
about this movement that he wanted to know if his people could join Lutheran Via
de Cristo. He had thirty of them lined up before he even got there to go through
Cursillo. I said, "Well, don't you want United Cursillo?"
He said, "No, I have learned by associating with my friends from the Episcopal and the Lutheran community that the denominations do it right, and we're grateful that you're supportive of us."