This bulletin means the world to me. #AshWednesday #HongKong
For a wide range of reasons, I don't tweet a lot about the actual work Ruth and I spend a lot of our day doing here in Hong Kong. But I want to make an exception to talk for a second about Ash Wednesday, Lutheranism, and mission.
SO, tagging in @MZHemingway @revcjackson @HansFiene @esgetology @Heminator @hipsterlutheran @lutheranpastors @LCRLFreedom @Lex_Lutheran @tapanisimojoki @thelcms and I'm SURE I'm forgetting a bunch of my other #Lutheran followers/friends, but alas such is life.
That bulletin is, as far as anybody we've spoken with knows, physical proof that a Cantonese-language, Lutheran-believing, Ash Wednesday service has been conducted in an actual church with actual local believers.... perhaps for the first time.... ever.
The denomination we work with has no documentation or living memory of ever having conducted a Cantonese-language Ash Wednesday service, or any Ash Wednesday service. There are some other LWF-affiliated denominations, but nobody has heard of them doing it either.
Since LCHKS' founding in the 1940s, the church year, and notably Ash Wednesday, just hasn't been practiced in any meaningful way.
This is not a condemnation of LCHKS or of past missionaries: the mission field creates lots of oddities. Maybe past missionaries didn't value the church year. Or maybe they did, but locals didn't. Or maybe everybody liked it, but implementation didn't work out. Who knows?
But things are changing now. There was intentional observance of Advent in December. And now we have a church-wide observance of Ash Wednesday.

The Lutherans in Hong Kong are waking up to the wonderful connection they have to the global church through the church year.
Our Ash Wednesday service was wonderful: and a wonderful learning experience for everyone involved. The three pastors working it (we did regional joint services) had never run such a service before: in fact, had never *attended* such a service.
Again, this is not a criticism! If anything, it's the opposite: the pastors running the show were re-igniting a fire from dead ash, based on having read how to light a fire in a book, and doing it in front of an audience. And, by the grace of God, they crushed it.
They're excited to continue the practice in the future, of taking a day, really just an hour, to encourage their believers to consider, even to feel and to see, how the mark of death is on them.... and how it has marked them for life!
Getting to help and support the local church hear re-discover its ties to the global church, and to the ancient church, through a cross of ash on their forehead.... guys this is like crack for missionaries. I know that's not very spiritual to say but this is what we dream of.
To see the *local church* take ownership and implement a faithful, confessional, culturally-appropriate version of a vital piece of global and ancient Christian culture as a means of expressing their own living faith.... that's the endgame!
Okay. So there's my reflections.

Now, because it is LCMS election season, there's an important question to ask.

"What does this mean?"

Or, put another way in this situation, "How did this happen?"
The basic operating tone of internal LCMS church politics I would describe as Juche-esque. Like you read the articles circulated in any of the places where LCMS political commentary circulates and it's like "HAIL OUR DEAR AND RISING LEADER" or "BEHOLD THE APOCALYPSE."
Ruth and I have been blessed to have our mission field be in a place where we are front-row to what has shaped up to be one of the essential political battles within LCMS: the Lutheran presence in Hong Kong.
So let's approach this question circuitously. Let's talk about Ash Wednesday.

How did Ash Wednesday in Hong Kong happen?
The occurrence of the Ash Wednesday service required several things to come together: a connection to a *living tradition* of Ash Wednesday practice, a person enthusiastic to make it happen, and an institution with the resources to implement it.
We got a confluence of all three. How?

Well, basically, a pastor in LCHKS went to study at St. Louis for an advanced degree. In the process, he was exposed to a rich liturgical tradition, and acquired a desire to see his home take ownership of it.

Pause right here for a second.
I just said something that blows up some assumptions about LCMS political divides.

A foreign pastor acquired an abiding love for the ancient liturgical traditions of Lutheranism....

At the St. Louis Seminary.
I have no bias against or for either Ft. Wayne or St. Louis. But the stereotype of them is that St. Louis is not the place cultivating that particular sensibility. And yet, here we are.
See it turns out, the divisions within the LCMS are considerably less deep than our stereotypes make them out to be. Both of our seminaries are basically doing excellent work producing many faithfully confessing and practicing ministers of Word and Sacrament.
And because we have two very good seminaries doing very good work of which we can all be very proud, when foreign pastors come to study at either one, they acquire a profound appreciation for the Lutheran tradition within Christianity, and bring it home with them.
So the connection to St. Louis Sem exposed somebody in Hong Kong to a living and faithful version of Ash Wednesday.

Then, he returned to Hong Kong motivated to make a difference. And since he was associated with our seminary here in HK as well, he was in a place to do it.
But here the story stops being about one man. Concordia Theological Seminary in Hong Kong is staffed internationally, with local and foreign professors. Yours truly is an adjunct instructor of English writing and composition, for example.

(Pity my poor students!)
Many of the denominational leaders in LCHKS are enthusiastic to see their church deepen its understanding of and identification with the historic Lutheran confessions: but they often lack resources or know-how or institutional capacity to do so, for a variety of reasons.
But with a local pastor associated with the Seminary now "on board" for Ash Wednesday and with the chops to make it fit into the LCHKS church context, the "support crew" flew into action. There were training sessions for pastors, powerpoints circulated, ashes ordered, etc.
We are blessed in Hong Kong to have a local partner denomination that has a lot of institutional capacity: well-organized churches, a disciplined corps of ministers, and a central organization with resources to support new initiatives.
These things all combined to "make it happen."

But that all makes it sound kind of easy. Let's look under the hood a bit.
I don't know what led to the one pastor going to St. Louis. I don't know if LCMS supported that, or if LCHKS did it, or if he did it personally. But what I do know is that it's a useful model of capacity-building. Many Lutheran congregations globally could use more of it.
Because what made it possible to make Ash Wednesday HAPPEN. NOW. Was that decades of investments have built LCHKS up into a robust organization.
Meanwhile, on the ground, a lot of lay-missionaries were involved supporting implementation, prep, and logistics, basically assisting some churches in sorting out details.
Now. Let's pivot back to the elephant in the room here for LCMS folks.

This is all happening in a context where LCMS central support for missions in Hong Kong has fallen off a cliff.
But while a lot of political energy is going into litigating that choice, there's actually something productive happening here. Synodical institutions still provided vital support in areas they are well-prepared to provide it: advanced pastoral education, for example.
And then on the ground we still had lay missionaries working to support the operational needs of LCHKS in making some of this stuff happen.

But what if LCMS reduced its footprint where are these lay missionaries coming from?
Well the answer is basically that, as LCMS institutionally has focused its global outreach efforts on institution-level engagement lead by ordained pastors, there has been a parallel effort to look for a new model of lay mission and engagement.
That word parallel is important. We could also say complementary. The election propaganda could make you think that there are mission wars going on: one side wants THIS the other side wants THAT, n'er the twain shall meet.
Let me offer a different take, heavily informed by my experiences in Hong Kong.

It makes sense for the LCMS to engage on the institutional/pastoral/sacramental level, and to have a separate channel for laypeople.

Needs for training, equipping, and management are different!
The person who is really good at building ties between two church bodies and finding organizational synergies between them is probably not the best person to interview missionary english teachers or determine need for medical missions.
The profile of training, funding, qualifications, destination countries, host denomination relationships, etc for an ordained missionary and a layperson are radically different.
The last several years have seen LCMS mission work accidentally walk backwards into a very good and useful model of missions, if we would all wake up and realize its good and useful and worth celebrating and enhancing.
Basically, LCMS does church-to-church, institutional capacity building, and sends pastors for Word and Sacrament ministry.

A separate body (the biggest one is MCN, who sent Ruth and me, but there are a few other small ones) manages the different demand for lay missionaries.
The two bodies keep an eye on each other, can coordinate, maybe should even have get-togethers occasionally. But there's fundamentally no reason to think they should be fused under one administrative apparatus.
I wish somebody in LCMS politics would step up and recognize that we are doing angrily what we should be doing happily.
Now, it's election season, so you're considering who your church will vote for.

I'm not going to tell you a name. If you want to know who I'd love to see working in international missions if I had my druthers, you should know.... I'm not really sure!
TBH I only know anything about a small fraction of the folks nominated for the international mission board offices.

But I hope whoever is elected will enthusiastically embrace the complementary-but-separate roles of ordained and lay mission workers.
Between synod's run-up in overseas mission personal thanks to pastors and their families, and the run-up in lay missionaries through groups like MCN, we are actually seeing an efflorescence of good, faithful Lutheran mission work. I want to see it continue, with gusto.
Finally, I've mentioned MCN a few times. The website is here. Ruth and I are fully funded, but if you've been wondering how you can support us, I direct you instead to support the institution that is doing good work in dozens of countries. missionofchrist.org
Missing some Tweet in this thread?
You can try to force a refresh.

Like this thread? Get email updates or save it to PDF!

Subscribe to Lyman Expand the House Stone, AKA 石來民
Profile picture

Get real-time email alerts when new unrolls are available from this author!

This content may be removed anytime!

Twitter may remove this content at anytime, convert it as a PDF, save and print for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video

1) Follow Thread Reader App on Twitter so you can easily mention us!

2) Go to a Twitter thread (series of Tweets by the same owner) and mention us with a keyword "unroll" @threadreaderapp unroll

You can practice here first or read more on our help page!

Follow Us on Twitter!

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!


This site is made by just three indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3.00/month or $30.00/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!