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Evalgelical Lutheran Church in America Northeastern Ohio Synod
Letters from Pastor Alan Smearsoll

October 2020

At its annual assembly (this year virtual) the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the ELCA called Pastor Laura Barbins (currently serving Celebration Lutheran Church, Chardon) as its new Bishop. Bishop Abraham Allende has served the last 6 years and decided not to be considered for a second term, instead choosing to retire.

Pastor Barbins has served on Synod Council since 2014. She has served Celebration Lutheran for 19 years. She has a Ph.D. in New Testament and Homiletics and teaches Introduction to Preaching at Trinity Lutheran Seminary.

In her biographical information, she states her vision for the Synod as “Centered on Christ - Empowered by the Spirit - We move outward in love.” She describes centering on Christ as discipleship and speaks of finding ways of becoming “more aware of the invigorating work of the Spirit that is already at work among us.” “Our Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered ministries become sources of light, love, and hope in the world and to ourselves.”

Recently I took some time to tidy up my office files and shelves. It is amazing how things tend to “clutter” after so many years. In going through my files, I came across some papers I wrote back in seminary. I was amazed to see just how much the theology I had developed during seminary and the visions I had for myself and the church have influenced my teaching, preaching and overall ministry through the years and how I have stayed true to them.

As you know, I have a strong trust in the Holy Spirit’s work among us. I am pleased to see that Bishop-elect Barbins placed an emphasis on the Spirit’s work. This showed in her candor at the podium in addressing the assembly and answering questions. She was confident and secure in the whole process, trusting that the Spirit has called her to such a position at this time and place. She reminds me of a certain Elizabeth Eaton, who you may recall served as NEOS bishop before being called to serve as bishop of the ELCA.

Keep Bishop-elect Barbins and the Northeastern Ohio Synod in your prayers as we make the transition to her pastoral leadership.

This year has been chaotic, to say the least. With many of our “normal” activities disrupted we all want so badly to return to the way things were before the pandemic. We are getting tired of staying at home. We miss the usual day-to-day interaction with friends and neighbors. We want to go to movies, concerts, restaurants and sporting events. In this desire to do what we used to do, we can become complacent and let down our guard.

I am hearing that nearly 50% of those who have contracted the virus report having gone to a restaurant before being diagnosed. I heard that one wedding resulted in seven Covid-19 related deaths. I can’t begin to imagine the pain the bride and groom must be experiencing losing family members and friends simply because they chose to gather and celebrate and perhaps let their guard down.

I don’t think anyone wants Emmanuel to make the headlines because we let our guard down. If some of the things we are doing to keep everyone safe seem a bit overboard, it is out of the utmost care and concern for everyone who is willing to gather for worship. Worship in this time is about feeling safe in a public space for many. Hang in there. Worship will return to pre-Covid practices.

In the meantime, we find that worship is so much bigger than what we do when we gather. Like the Whos of Whoville, who came out and sang around the spot of their missing Christmas tree on Christmas morning, the intentions of the heart are what really matters when we gather to worship our Savior.

Pastor Alan                             

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