I couldn’t help but grin as I drove my Nissan Maxima on 99 south to Fresno and the Sierra Pacific Synod Assembly that awaited me there. The sights that passed me by were friendly reminders of a different time in my life, a time not so long ago when I was a student at Fresno State and driving on 99 south to Fresno was something I did every six to eight weeks. However, it had been almost exactly two years since I last made the drive and three years since I had been a student myself. My car, Max, seemed to remember every twist and turn in the road as though he had just traveled it yesterday. And yet, not everything was as I remembered. There were signs of change, signs that made me realize that it had, in fact, been two years since I had last traveled to Fresno. Roads that had been under construction two years ago were clear of workers and orange warning signs. New structures suddenly appeared in places that had once been bare. I sighed. It seemed that no place, not even 99 south, was immune from the passing of time and the changes that come with it.
As I navigated the roads of Fresno to get to our destination, I was proud to find that I needed little assistance to find the hotel where we would be staying. The moment I opened my car door and stepped outside into the heat I knew I was no longer in Sacramento. It was as though Fresno decided to get extra hot that day to remind me what real heat feels like as a way to welcome me back. Thanks Fresno!
It didn’t take long before I started recognizing people. In just the first few minutes of waiting around the hotel lobby, I recognized at least two people. In fact, throughout that first day in Fresno, it seemed as if a familiar face awaited me around every corner. Some people I knew as coming from Davis, particularly Lutheran Church of the Incarnation. Many I recognized as being members of Trinity Lutheran of Fresno, where I had worshipped for four years when I was a student. A few of the pastors from the Greater Sacramento Area also stood out to me. Then, there was the delegation from Holy Cross Lutheran in Livermore, the church where I grew up. Not to mention numerous others I recognized from last year’s synod assembly or who I knew through various other means. I was home.
Over the course of the next two days, I soaked in every moment. Even though the speakers occasionally drag on a bit too long and the schedule tends to be oversaturated with little room for so much as a bathroom break, I loved it. Because at the end of the day, synod assembly isn’t just about business and passing resolutions. Synod assembly is about building connections with people who believe the same thing and remembering that we are church together. Because when we remember that we are church together, then we realize that we can achieve remarkable things that will make lasting impacts since together we are stronger than we are apart.
I attended two workshops at synod assembly. The first was called Faith and the Arts. During the workshop, we were asked to draw a timeline of our life and identify moments in which we had a spiritual experience that resulted from an encounter with some form of art. Now, I have dabbled in many forms of art over the course of my life from sketching anime figures with a pencil to playing clarinet in a marching to band to singing in a church choir, just to new a few. However, at the time, I had difficulty pinpointing a singular moment when my spirituality and art coincided.
Thinking about it now, I realize that every time I sing in church is a spiritual experience. Sure, some days I am more aware of it than others but I believe there is always a spiritual aspect to it. However, the moments when I am most aware of it are when a song is played in church that everyone knows and loves and the sound of all the voices together fills up the space creating a sense of unity. This has happened before for me during songs such as “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” or a few years back when on Easter Sunday, Holy Cross used the version of “This is the Feast” that I remember from my childhood (LBW, Setting II), which I hadn’t heard sung in a church in years.
I experienced that connection between spirituality and the music at synod assembly during both opening and closing worship as I sang songs both new and familiar with a couple hundred other Lutherans. However, I experienced it the most when singing “This is My Commandment” just before closing worship. Now, “This is My Commandment” is a simple song for kids with silly hand motions, but as I sang it and performed the hand motions, I felt more alive than I had felt in a while. It was freeing and invigorating to be able to be silly. What’s more, I could be silly around the people I cared most about. For my mother, my former pastor, Berni, and Berni’s wife Linda were all singing right there beside me and it was these very same people who had originally taught me as a child that it was okay to be silly in church. It is moments like these where I feel that we are, in fact, church together, and it is not just something we say.
That is why synod assembly is so important. Because it allows for moments like these in which the past meets the present and spiritual moments take us by surprise. Yes, it can be boring. Yes, it may seem as if we are getting nowhere. But, it is also a holy place, a place where God’s radical love shines through the monotony of our every day lives and the Holy Spirit sets hearts on fire.
St. Francis Episcopal Church