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Word from the Deacon
June, 2006

Who says “There is no free lunch!”?  It was an easy invitation to accept just last week, and Ellen Beck, Agnes Smith and Lola Yeend were only to glad to accompany me.  Even better than lunch, it was dinner.  I didn’t have to ask them twice.  Through rush hour traffic, we made our way from the church to Lake Union and the Skansonia, a former Puget Sound ferry now become a catering facility. 

After a few rainy days, it was splendid to see the sunshine, to be at lake level and enjoy the boats and city skyline.  Inside, on what was once an interior car deck, were reception facilities.  We registered and got our pre-printed name tags.  I had to ostentatiously make the usual “-son” to “-sen” correction to correct their cultural insensitivity. 

“They” are Columbia Lutheran Home.  The annual meeting precincts had been changed from the cramped, avocado-colored, shag carpeted basement auditorium of yore to rented facilities.  It was a happy exchange for us, even if the piano obviously hated being there, and made for an upbeat meeting.  We socialized, drank punch and renewed friendships among parish representatives.  It recalled a former time, when constituent congregations knew one another well and visibly and materially participated in the ministry of CLH as a part of what it meant to be a church community.
I recognized some of those present who could remember back to the days of the Columbia Conference, the Augustana Synod and the cluster of Swedish-American congregations who banded together to organize and perpetuate this ministry in late 1920.  Bethany was one of those conference congregations.  Those founding days are now at the far edge of human memory.  The Swedes also founded the [Lutheran] Compass Center in Pioneer Square, which survives today, minus its denominational indicator, even if it continues a very Lutheran ethic of service and mission.

The stories those folks could tell are moving ones of sacrifice, of watchfulness and of dedicated protection of those who would be most vulnerable in an increasingly depersonalized society.  The good old days, formerly known as “these terrible times” were not all that good for some.  The Lutheran community especially sought to reach out and create institutions and means of support for the old, the sick, the orphaned and the destitute.  Columbia Lutheran Home was one of those outreach missions and continues to be that to this day, even if it is no longer directly supported by the Synod, and may be largely forgotten by congregational budget planners.

The shifting nature of support has affected all of our outreach institutions, including colleges.  Most were late getting into the aggressive development campaigns that mark Ivy League colleges and private foundations.  Their appeal letters are numbered among the ones that fill your mail box and mine, usually shelved for end-of-the-year consideration and generous impulses.

This “free lunch” will cost me.  It will cost me as I reflect on not only the tradition of the Lutheran community to create institutionalized mission and outreach services.  But it will cost me as I consider how we as a congregation can still be active participants in this and other outreach ministries, and not just concerned for our own fiscal survival and enhancement.

May God continue to bless those who have been blessed by the ministries of Columbia, the Compass Center, and other places, as God blesses those who hear the call to do ministry there.  May we here at Bethany also feel a part of that and even exercise new creativity to seek out need and want and use the best of what we have and who we are to fill it.