By Rev. Michele Fischer, Pastor of Good Shepherd, Swansea and Chaplain at Rice Estate
In August, we saw something that had never been seen before. It was illuminating and educating. And hundreds gathered together to be a part of this incredible event, and it began two weeks before the eclipse.
From August 6th through August 10th, approximately 1000 rostered leaders from across the ELCA gathered in Atlanta for the first ever ELCA Rostered Leader’s Gathering. It was part pep-rally, part educational, and part discernment for the future of the church. This event, chaired by SC native Kevin Strickland, was a priority for Bishop Eaton and her staff.
On Sunday, August 6th, several sub-groups within the ELCA gathered, such as the “Young Rostered Ministers” for clergy in their 20s and 30s; and our federal and military chaplains. However, the main event started Monday evening with a service of Holy Communion.
It should be noted that South Carolina Synod was well represented during worship over the four days. Pastor Thulie Beresford preached the first evening. But Assistant to the Bishop Ginny and Pastor Paul Aebischer both had leadership roles during the week. Pastors Jackie Utley and Alejandra Mejia also assisted in worship.
Tuesday and Wednesday began with Morning Prayer and Bible study. The keynote speaker for the day followed Bible study,chair and before lunch, we would have a discussion around some of the guiding principles for the ELCA over the next few years.
After lunch, there were opportunities for field trips, service projects, and workshops. Or, if you wanted something less structured, there were chair massages and spiritual direction opportunities. There were art projects and prayer stations as well as a labyrinth. The Director of Communication for the South Carolina Synod, Neal Fischer, was also invited as a guest resource for leaders wanting help with social media.
Thursday, we had Morning Prayer, Bible study, and our last keynote speaker, author Rachel Held Evans. We then concluded our time together with a service of Holy Communion.
Bishop Eaton mentioned several times that they were afraid no one would want to come, so they chose a smaller venue for this first ever gathering. But the truth is, we filled the space easily and could have filled a larger venue. Many people delayed in registering were not able to because they had to close registration.
This was not just pastors. We had deacons and deaconesses. We even had a few future leaders of the church, including Ethan Miller. It was playful, as many joined in conga lines around the dining room at night. The seminaries hosted appetizers by the pool. There were vendors, Lutheran agencies and ministries within the ELCA.
It was a time for fellowship, seeing people you had no seen in ten twenty or thirty years. And it was a time to reflect on how we as the ELCA can confront the issues we are all facing, including racism and diversity. We also learned this week how desperately the leaders of our church need this kind of opportunity to connect and be refreshed by our Presiding Bishop.