Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ –
Throughout 2016 I invite you to reflect with me on the theme of “Practicing Our Faith” as you gather for church council, adult study, youth group, coffee group, choir rehearsal and are engaged in learning, discernment and reflection together. Dorothy Bass has edited an excellent resource published several years ago by Jossey-Bass, Practicing Our Faith, which I will be using as a primary resource. Together with Don Richter, Dorothy Bass has also edited a second book, Way to Live: Christian Practices for Teens, published by Upper Room Books, which is also an excellent resource. Each article will include a Scripture reference, thematic reflection, questions for consideration, and a prayer. Portions of this article were also used in the February 2013 Monthly Message for Congregations and Lay and Rostered Leaders and the March 2014 edition of the Canada Lutheran.
people speak truthfully about what they have experienced and seen,
offering it to the community for the edification of all.
Thomas Hoyt Jr., “Testimony,” Practicing Our Faith
Throughout 2008 the Church Council (where I was serving) and I worked through Diana Butler Bass’, Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith (©2006 HarperCollins), at our council meetings. Butler Bass, in her extensive three-year study of churches across the United States, discovered that many mainline Protestant churches were flourishing in contradiction to decades of accepted wisdom. As she delved into the rich life of various Episcopal, United Methodist, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, and Lutheran congregations, certain consistent practices – such as hospitality, contemplation, diversity, justice, discernment, worship – and testimony – emerged as core expressions of congregations seeking to rediscover authentic Christian faith and witness today.
I admit I was intrigued by her chapter on testimony which she defines as ‘talking the walk’ – a sharing of one’s journey in faith with others during a time of worship – a practice which began in the early church (see the book of Acts) when the new believers prayed for boldness in speaking about God. In fact, the entire New Testament is a testimony, a record of experiences that early Christians had with the transformative power of God.
Unlike the stories of Puritans and revivalists, testimony is not a spirituality of arrival – of the certainty of securing eternal life. Testimony “is the act of getting there. Pilgrimage stories…. And, in telling the stories of our lives, we find we are not alone on the journey. Other pilgrims are on this road, too. Pilgrims have always told stories along the way. And, in those stories, we may well hear God ringing in our ears” (page 142).
What would it be like, we wondered, if individuals from our community of faith were invited to share a story of faith with us during worship? Sharing a brief testimony – much like many confirmands do when they affirm their baptism on confirmation Sunday. Sharing individual stories of being surprised by God’s love and grace and transformed in unanticipated ways. And we wondered if we did so if our congregation would discover – testify – “to the power of stories to change us” (page 139), and see anew the continuing work of the Holy Spirit among us and through us?
Well, we wondered and we sought individuals to share a brief testimony as we began worship each month throughout the year.
And together, we heard “God ringing in our ears.”
Read and Reflect: I Corinthians 1:4-6; Jeremiah 1:6-9
Discuss and Reflect:
What in this reading leads you to say, “I wonder about…”, or, “I noticed…”
Consider sharing a story from your faith journey – emphasizing God’s work, God’s initiative, God’s activity – and how you were surprised, changed, transformed.
How might testimony be practiced in your ministry context?
Comment on the following: Testimony “is the act of getting there. Pilgrimage stories…. And, in telling the stories of our lives, we find we are not alone on the journey. Other pilgrims are on this road, too. Pilgrims have always told stories along the way. And, in those stories, we may well hear God ringing in our ears”.
Pray together: Come, Holy Spirit, open our eyes, enter our hearts, release our tongues to “talk the walk” so that we might hear You ringing in our ears. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).
In Christ Jesus –
The Rev. Dr. Larry Kochendorfer, Bishop
Synod of Alberta and the Territories
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
Spirit -Led Leadership – Hope-Filled Discipleship – Innovative Tradition – Collaborative Partnerships