Whether you’ve had too much winter or not enough, it’s time to think ahead to spring and summer plans. You’ll find the Easter calendar and announcements about spring activities in the newsletter, but I also wanted to call your attention to one event that’s already on my calendar for the summer. Synod School is a continuing-education event sponsored by the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, with classes appropriate for people at all levels of the church’s life. I hope you’ll plan to join me in Storm Lake, IA this July 25-30.

Here’s a taste of my experience at Synod School last year. My first class every day was “Creative Worship for Traditional Churches.” Our instructor emphasized that creative, experiential worship isn’t new: our Sacraments and many other rituals involve more than just sitting and listening to someone speak. We focused on working with our gifts and strengths, respecting the range of tastes and spiritual types in the church, and finding the authentic worship of our particular congregation. I hope you’ve been able to see me use some of the lessons from this class in our worship over the past several months.

My second class, “Learning to Worship With Children,” began with three assumptions: that children are spiritual beings from the beginning of their lives; that they belong in the worship life of the whole congregation; and that they already know how to worship, even if they don’t know how to worship in the way that adults expect. We found that children naturally identify rituals in daily life (food, prayers, stories, etc), and they resonate with the rhythms of church life as well. I’m still learning some of the best ways to incorporate children into the full life of the congregation, but this has been a good start.

In “Developing Healthy Congregations,” we discussed congregations as systems of emotional interconnection (in the same way that families work). Congregational health is determined by how the system responds to change and conflict, and the goal of leadership is to respond calmly and reflectively to the other people in the system. While all my classes had a mix of pastors and “lay people,” this was the most explicitly pastor-focused.

My final class of the day was “Improvisation,” which was a return to my favorite college activity – something I hadn’t done for a handful of years. Improv is an exercise in the freedom to imagine possibilities. The central rule is to say “yes, and…” to others’ contributions. When I registered, I thought I would have a hard time selling a comedy game as a pastoral skill, but this class reminded me that improv is really about paying attention and listening to others. This is a skill to develop and even a form of prayer for me.

Every morning at Synod School begins with a convocation lecture, and every evening includes energetic worship and the opportunity to take “mini-courses” or just spend time in conversation. This year’s theme of “Grace Notes” will guide both the morning convocation with Christian Education professor Rodger Nishioka and the evening worship led by Rev. Mark Davis, who is thoughtful, creative, and one of my favorite pastors.

One of the most valuable parts of Synod School is the chance to make and renew connections with other people throughout the synod. It’s a small world, as I learned last year: When I tried to introduce Caryl Tamte to my stepmother and another woman I know from Des Moines Presbytery, Caryl said, “I already know them! We served on the board for the national Presbyterian Women gathering three years ago.” You too can meet my family, including my brother, who will be passing through Storm Lake on Sunday night as he participates in RAGBRAI (10,000 people riding bicycles across Iowa).

Registration opens on March 1, so you can be some of the first people to register. See the Synod School website for the course catalog and more information. If you register early, you can qualify for a partial scholarship available to first-time attendees. At any rate, this is an affordable and energizing way to spend a week. I’d love to fill Hope’s van and take you all there!



P.S. You should also make plans to keep up with – or attend! – the 219th General Assembly in Minneapolis from July 3-10. Volunteer opportunities are available at the Committee on Local Arrangements website.