This past Saturday (June 1) was our Northeastern Ohio Synod (ELCA) Synod Assembly with a theme emphasis on “Waiting & Watching: The Spirit Speaks.” Recognizing people’s even busier schedules, while also being aware that not all voting members who regularly attend are overly thrilled with the synod business portions that feel like go on forever and a day, this year’s rendition was just one day with a fair share of worshiping and prayer station-ing. However, one aspect of any church operation that cannot be avoided spending some time on is the lovely and wonderful budget.

Except, any budget has a way of revealing that one verse from Matthew, which we often hear for a Day of Thanksgiving worship: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (6:21 NRSV). Granted, we don’t wish to pour our hearts out into utilities and printer toners at the synod office in Cuyahoga Falls, for example, but it has to be done. We know that the benevolence we give from our Divinity family to the wider church will not stop with administrative costs, but carry over to other ministries: Lutheran Disaster Response, Lutheran World Relief, our ELCA colleges and seminaries, to name a few.

And yet, we must recognize that with busier schedules for voting members also come more obligations, including financial ones. Children of God need to take care of their own utilities and other adulting costs before getting to supporting church operations and other worthy non-profit causes for the general welfare of other just-as-precious children of God. That difficult reality hits the home-front onto local congregation budgets trickling up to synod and churchwide offices in Chicago. We need to recognize and be aware and even honor such realities for far too many children of God among us.

With all that being said, as much as I appreciated the more time spent worshiping and prayer station-ing, I still struggled with the lovely and wonderful budget, and not out of boredom. Instead, one line item that needed addressed was how much to financially support our HopeWood Outdoors (formerly known as Lutheran Outdoor Ministries of Ohio) ministry. The previous Synod Assembly voted to increase the support to $40,000, with the mindset that such a faith-shaping opportunity was our most pivotal local and sustained outreach to youth, while also recognizing that a significant percentage of pastors felt called into parish leadershiplife because of their camp experience.

However, being fully aware of the numerous financial obligations of individuals and families and congregations and wider church bodies, that was voted down to $20,000, instead. It was heart-wrenching to watch, as one who not only participated in Confirmation camp but served as a camp counselor at Lutheran Memorial Camp (now HopeWood Pines), wondering if the future of that cherished place hangs in the not-so-lovely and not-so-wonderful and not-so-balanced budget realities. I worry about the repercussions of the faith-shaping opportunities we as a church can provide for our youth, and where the leaders of the church will come from next.

Nevertheless, I will be the first to admit that I do not believe God only resides amidst the pine trees of Marengo, Ohio. I fully believe that God emerges in the busier schedules of the younger children of God. That, yes, part of our local and wider church realities is that young people are going to more soccer practices and band camps and travel leagues than ever before, and that (instead of non-stop complaining about it) we need to do our part in cultivating with whatever precious time we have with them to raise their own spiritual recognition and awareness of the God who loves them far too much to ever wait for them at a specific place or time in their life. We need to help them believe in the possibility of worshiping and some prayer station-ing amidst car rides and waiting and watching along sidelines. It won’t be the same kind of worshiping and prayer station-ing as it was at our Synod Assembly, but it can still be holy, nonetheless; as if the treasure of God’s hope and joy and wonder can be found in far more places than we will ever realize. Amen (so let it be)!

In Christ,
Pastor Brad