Pastor’s Article for Oct. Messenger: The ELCA Caribbean Synod

October 31 marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. My husband, Tim, will be speaking at seminaries, church bodies and congregations in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore in October and November, and I’ll join him for the trip of a lifetime. I plan to learn about the Lutheran church in Asia and make a slideshow presentation at adult forum.

Marking this anniversary doesn’t mean celebrating Martin Luther, Lutheranism, liturgy, church reform or even beer! Rather, the anniversary provides an opportunity to celebrate the gospel by which God re-forms us. We celebrate the gospel on this anniversary, as we do every Reformation Sunday; that is, we rejoice and give thanks for the good news of God’s steadfast love for us in Christ. We can cherish our Lutheran heritage – all of it that points to the gospel – but we do so in humility, and always with the crucified and risen Christ at center, which has even given us the chance to worship with Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church this past Lent to mark the anniversary.

At the heart of the Reformation was the confession that we are “justified by God’s grace through faith.” In short, Christ has done all of the work of reconciling us to God. We receive this gift of faith through the Word and Sacraments – the means of grace through which the Holy Spirit comes to us as we gather as a community of believers. So… now that we don’t have to do anything, what can we do? Our faith drives us outward into the world to serve and care for our neighbor in our daily callings.

One Lutheran tradition I cherish is a history of caring for the neighbor. When coming to this country, Lutherans couldn’t help but build colleges, hospitals, orphanages, and “old folk homes” as they were once called. To my knowledge Lutheran social service agencies continue to be the largest private social service organization in the country. In this tradition, I’d like to share information about our neighbors in the Caribbean Synod.

Many don’t realize that the ELCA Caribbean Synod is made up of 36 ELCA congregations across Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico’s 29 congregations are mostly located within 20 miles of San Juan. The other 7 congregations are located on the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. Many Lutheran pastors and parishioners across New Jersey still cannot locate their family members in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria. Let us pray for the Caribbean synod, its congregations, pastors, and Bishop Felipe Lozada. Let us also pray for the 188 congregations across the Florida-Bahamas Synod, and the 109 congregations across the Texas-Louisiana Gulf coast Synod. Let us pray for all people whose homes, lives and lands have been so devastated by recent natural disasters – including people in other lands such as Mexico, Guatemala, and South Sudan. If you’re looking to help, please know that donating money is the most effective way, especially in the early days of recovery. Lutheran Disaster Response is a trustworthy charity, and promises, “If you decide to give to a specific disaster, your gift will be used 100 percent for that disaster.”

—Pastor Ingrid Wengert