By John Page
On Saturday morning (November 14, 2009), I and about 300 other people gathered for a special assembly of the New Jersey Synod.  According to the “rules”, the sole item on our agenda was the Synod’s 2010 spending plan – what most people know as a budget. But, whatever the “rules” stated, the real item on the agenda was “discipleship”.
Jim Wallis and the good people at Sojourners stress that budgets are moral documents. In effect, our budgets are statements of our moral convictions – of our moral choices and values. What we do with our resources speaks to our concerns, including our ultimate concern. Our budgets reveal something of ourselves – our fears, our desires, and our priorities. Our budgets also reveal something of our perceptions of others – what they will think of us and how they will react. And our budgets reveal which “others” are most important to us – those whom we desire to please and serve.
In my experience, budget discussions – or perhaps “debates” is more descriptive – tend to focus on the allocation of limited resources. A shadow of scarcity typically lurks nearby, and occasionally darkens the room entirely. Most people dread the annual “stewardship campaign” – or whatever it may be called – because it stirs up underlying fears of scarcity and of having to commit to sharing limited resources. People “don’t like to talk about money”, not because there is anything inherently distasteful about discussing our commitments to share our resources with others, but because we have to deal with fear-in-your-face.
Of course, fear can be useful to some people – it can serve their interests and their agenda. It’s standard fare in secular politics – and in ecclesiastical politics as well. Some will exploit the fear of limited resources to advance a particular interest, in effect trying to hold the needs of others hostage to their agenda. Fear suits some people.
Since the ELCA Assembly acted this summer to approve the social statement Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust and to change ministry policies to allow people in committed same-gender relationships to serve the church as the Holy Spirit calls them, some have sought to exploit the fear of scarce resources to either punish the church or to thwart the Assembly’s actions. Fear suits them – but it also consumes them. (In response to a question I asked, Bishop Riley informed the special assembly that based on his conversations with members and congregations of the New Jersey Synod, discontent with the ELCA Assembly’s actions had no significant impact on current or anticipated mission support here; declines in support are attributed to general economic conditions in this state and throughout the nation.)
Fear isn’t just a handy tool in the toolbox of our ambitions. Fear is a “power” with a life – or death – of its own. Whatever our own ambitions, Fear has an agenda of its own. Fear is no person’s slave; it disingenuously serves whom it desires to consume.
The antithesis of scarcity is abundance, and the antithesis of fear is faith and hope. To an objective observer, many of us fretting over the scarcity of our resources appear to be out of touch with reality; we have more than all our fretting implies. The shadow of scarcity conceals the abundance of what we have, and who isn’t afraid of dark places? And while fear discourages us from exploring dark places, faith and hope encourage us to light a lamp and push the shadows back. Jesus tells whoever would follow him, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Jesus’ own light illumines our dark places, and invites us to fearlessly and faithfully venture forward. Without diminishing the brightness of Jesus’ own light, he shares that light with us, so that others may see – and benefit from – the good works we do for one another and for our neighbors for the sake of glorifying our Father. Because we have faith in God’s promises of abundant blessings, and hope in the perfection of God’s reign, the interloper Fear has no proper place among Jesus’ disciples.
And so I was pleased to observe Jesus’ disciples in
act with faith and hope, trusting in God’s abundant blessings. Setting aside fears of economic uncertainties, the Synod Assembly overwhelmingly endorsed a spending plan that affirms our continued mission and service to the people of New Jersey , to our nation, and to the whole world. The spending plan commits us to growing our financial support for the work of the church, reducing administrative costs, and increasing our efforts in outreach (specifically Latino outreach and urban mission development), in peace and justice advocacy, in ecumenical and interfaith cooperation, in public communication, in leadership support and development, and in mission support to the ELCA. While some line items saw reductions in financial support – or even elimination – presenters of the spending plan pointed to some innovative and promising ideas for still continuing the ministries and services funded by those lines. New Jersey
Our 2010 Spending Plan aspires to be both a faithful moral document and a hope-filled mission statement for Jesus’ disciples in
. God grant us the Spirit to rise to the call of discipleship and to bear its costs faithfully. New Jersey
 The special assembly fell short of a quorum by only 6 people. Consequently, the assembly acted as a “quasi-committee of the whole”, which gave non-binding advice to the Synod Council concerning the 2010 Spending Plan.
 For those not that familiar with the
in America (ELCA), “synods” are roughly analogous to dioceses. They are typically geographical groupings of congregations which support the mission of the church in their territories, including evangelism, advocacy, preparation and endorsement of candidates for public ministries of the church, mutual support of congregations, oversight and discipline, and coordination of resources. Evangelical Lutheran Church
 Matthew 5:16