Bishop's Blast February 2023
Last month I wrote briefly of the blessings of our Lutheran traditions and piety as we experience them in Epiphany. We encounter more of the same this month as we prepare to enter the season of Lent. However, this month I would like to draw our attention to a rather peculiar point; there are times when we don’t embrace our traditions.
For example, allow me to propose Ash Wednesday. The very title of the day tells us something about what we should expect to experience in the service. Yet there are some Ash Wednesday Services in which there is not even a speck of ash; there are some people who are opposed to receiving the ashes.
Growing up my church never offered ashes. I didn’t think much of it until I experienced it later in life. Now, for me, it is odd to have an Ash Wednesday Service without ashes. As a pastor I always made it clear that receiving ashes was optional. I did not think less of those who chose not to receive nor did I think more of those who did. But the title of the day gives us a pretty good hint as to the purpose of the day and the season thus begun. Receiving ashes helped communicate and experience that message in a unique way.
I was also careful to remind worshippers that receiving ashes was not a sacrament. There is no promise of forgiveness in the act nor a command of Christ to do it. Yet as a tradition of the church it is a powerful teaching tool and reminder of what the Scriptures teaches us. We are sinful people, conceived and born in sin who cannot save ourselves and are in need of Christ and his saving work. For we are dust and to dust we shall return.
This point, meant to drive us to Christ, also reminds us to take advantage of the added opportunities to worship, hear God’s Word, pray, and gather with God’s people. There is where we meet the one who supplies our every need and gives us grace, our Lord Jesus.
There are other Lenten traditions as well. I encourage you to embrace them all with new eyes this year that they may aid you in living your faith and receiving all that God has for you.
Jeff Campbell was ordained and installed as Assistant Pastor at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Old Bridge on Sunday January 29th 4:00 pm. Jeff is a son of the congregation and enrolled in the SMP Program (Specific Ministry Pastor).
This gives me the opportunity to write about the SMP pathway to ordination. In this program students take a combination of online and in person classes in preparation for a call. They are considered a “Vicar” for the first two years of their study and work in their church. After two years they are ordained with the understanding that they will complete two more years of classes. Once ordained these pastors assume full responsibilities of the office. SMPs do have some limits placed upon them since they do not have a full seminary training (ex. The cannot supervise other church workers, hold an elected District or Synodical position, or serve as a Circuit Visitor). They also have the option of taking more classes to complete the training to become a General Pastor.
The NJ District currently has four pastors who have completed the SMP Program and three more who are currently taking classes. Two are no longer SMPs having completed the full course work and become General Pastors.
We welcome Pastor Jeff onto the Roster of the Ordained. He is available for vacancy and substitute work in our congregations.
District Short Clips
Fund Raiser for Missions
Breaking News! The 18th Annual Mission Golf Classic will be held at Heron Glen Golf Course, Ringoes NJ on Thursday May 4th. Registration will go live next week on the District website and will be included in the next edition of the Grapevine. We encourage each congregation to send at least one foursome and if you cannot to sponsor a hole or other activity. Opportunities for sponsorship will be included in the brochure to be distributed. We are also looking for members of our congregations who own businesses that can donate toward our trick trays and raffles. Please support this fundraiser as we seek to further our missions here in NJ.
Devotions for Inmates
Synod has supplied us with a small number of Lenten devotionals for inmates. If you have a prison ministry or an individual in prison who could benefit from this resource please let me know. We can also secure more copies if needed.
Spring Pastors Conference
The Spring NJ District Pastors Conference is scheduled for May 22-24th at Shawnee Inn, Shawnee, PA. This is a Respite Retreat run by Doxology. Surveys and studies have shown that covid was/is an arduous burden on our churches and pastors. Many pastors have experienced burn out and discouragement in their calls. Doxology’s Respite Retreat is specifically addresses this situation and encourages our pastors toward better health. Please encourage your pastor to take advantage of this opportunity. He will serve the church and you better. The costs are very reasonable due to a generous grant from the Synod.
New Director of Education
The NJ District has filled the position of Director of Education. We are pleased to welcome Kathleen Hodges to this position. She will be serving the District, congregations, and schools of the District. She has an undergraduate degree in Elementary and Special Education and advanced studies at University of Albany and Columbia. She brings a wide range of experience from classroom teaching, to consulting, to administrative oversight, to being a Site and Executive Director with the public schools, Lutheran Special Education Ministries, and a Family Resource Center. Kathleen is a member of Christ the King, Ringwood and married to Pastor Jon Hodges. I expect that Kathleen will be a great blessing to you as you seek to develop your educational ministries. Please welcome her as she reaches out to you.
Kathleen will be starting a visitation program to all of our schools and School Directors. Please welcome her as she seeks to serve you and hear of your needs.
Congregational Lay Deacon Program
Our Congregational Lay Deacon Training got off to a slow start but seems to be gaining more traction lately. There are more and more individuals who are expressing interest in enrolling in the classes. The classes last either 4 or 8 weeks and meet once a week in the evenings online. Classes are $150 for a four-week class or $300 for an eight-week class. If you are interested please contact the District Office and we will put you in touch with Dr. Josh Hollmann who will assist you with the registration process.
Initiative for Ministry Development (IMD) Update
This month will witness the concluding session of our second round of Small Church Clarity. These congregations will then move into the implementation phase where they finish their plans and put them into action! They will also be offered the resource of a coach to walk with them through their implementation.
Next month will witness the initial session of NJDU (March 25th). We are very excited to begin work with these congregation in developing their ministry plans. Our goal is healthy congregations and healthy pastors working together in vibrant ministry. This is especially timely post-covid since the world and ministry are different now. Ministry plans must be rethought and reworked.
Lent is not just a season of the Church Year, it is an opportunity.
My prayer is that you will take the steps necessary to make this a meaningful Lent and that God will strengthen and increase your faith.