NEW ORLEANS, LA (SZS) — On January 20-25, the Slovak Zion Synod gathered in Assembly aboard the Carnival Triumph, originating in New Orleans with scheduled ports of call in Cozumel and Progreso before returning home.
The theme of this year’s assembly was: “Built on Christ, the One Foundation of the Church.” This year’s theme was built on the crossroads of several important events and observances. One, is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, whose observances reached their peak less than three months earlier. Another, is the Epiphany season of the church year, in which we ponder how God is revealed to us. And, most significantly, is the fact that the assembly occurred during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which traditionally falls between January 18, the Confession of St. Peter, and January 25, the Conversion of St. Paul.
Bishop Wilma S. Kucharek inaugurated this theme as she addressed the assembly in her sermon during the opening service of Holy Communion. In St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he describes the church as a building. Christ is the Foundation and those who believe in Christ are the stones of the building. He writes that he served like a “wise master builder,” building not on human wisdom or inclinations, but on Jesus Christ, the only foundation that lasts. “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has already been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). It is our common foundation of Jesus Christ which unites us as sisters and brothers.
Enrichment at this synod assembly included reflection on various kinds of epiphanies, including those of St. Peter and St. Paul, and continued in conversations around where God can be seen in our day to day lives as we live out our baptismal calling and respond in Christ’s name to the neighbors in our local contexts as well as to a world in need. In addition to the main theme of this assembly, the assembly continued to integrate and build on the sub-themes of previous years, including the importance of the various kinds of wellness for the healthy witness and mission of the church. These themes were considered in view of Christian unity both ecumenically as well as in our local congregational relationships and community contexts. Spiritual enrichment in the form of song, devotional reflections, and opportunities to join in prayer, joined Evening Prayer, a Service of Healing and Anointing, and a celebration of the Eucharist.
Assembly themes and enrichment were also interwoven within the updates of our ministry and mission through the Bishop’s Report, the ELCA Report, and the Ecumenical and International Relations Committee Report. Videos included greetings and thanks from students and staff of the seminary in Bratislava (attached below), a video address from Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton, and a message from the ELCA seminaries encouraging vocations in the church.
The Synod Assembly recognized with gratitude all those who have built on Christ, the one foundation of the church: those celebrating milestone ordination anniversaries; those celebrating congregational anniversaries; and to the congregations for their mission support giving (benevolence) to the synod and wider church.
Our plenary sessions provided us with several sea days in which to attend to our assembly enrichment themes and reflect on how we are building the ministry and mission of our church, as well as giving an opportunity to conduct the essential business of the synod. In addition, when not in session, this year’s assembly continued to provide ample opportunities for fellowship with other assembly participants and others, whether on the ship or off during port days.
Voting members and guests shared how, while in port, they were further inspired on how they could respond to the needs of a wider world; fellowship with those from other congregations provided opportunities to share with each other the joys and challenges of church unity, best ministry practices, and life in their various congregations. This year, assembly participants were particularly faced with our response to come to the aid of, and join in prayer for, those affected by a tragedy which occurred during our sailing; among our many responses was to reflect on the vocation of seafarers, mariners, and emergency responders at sea, recognize ourselves as a Christian witness to others in the world and on our ship, and lead a service of prayer addressing the situation.
In addition, being the church together on a ship (itself a symbol of the church!) presents its own witness to others, both churched and unchurched, passengers as well as staff: we are church together, sisters and brothers built on Christ our common foundation; and, we are a church on the move that goes to where the people are in order to engage others in their own context. This year was certainly no different! We are joined together as unique individuals, yet one in Christ, gifted by God and called to mission. We are called to be a witness to, and engage the diverse world of, those of many nations and backgrounds whom we have joined on the ship, be they passengers, staff, or those whom others may deem as invisible. As those “Built on Christ, the One Foundation of the Church,” may our words and deeds always be reflections of our unity in Christ, made possible through the love of Christ shown to us.