First Third Conversations

A Letter to the Church

By Dr. Terri Martinson Elton, Director of the Center for First Third Ministry at Luther Seminary

Dear Church,

It’s here. The first day of school, a day that marks the beginning of a new season in my house – the school year. For the next 9 months our life will consist of navigating schedules, deadlines, and demands from outside our family. We will be thoughtful and intentional each day, each week, each month. And we will discover life in places not expected, and live with the consequences of poor choices. While this work is not new, I know each school year brings its own challenges and opportunities. Some I don’t want to miss, others I’d rather do without. Don’t get me wrong - I’m grateful for the accompaniment of others on the journey of life, yet at times it’s hard to know if outside realities are dictating life or contributing to its abundance.

As I did the ritual weaving of the individual schedules into a family calendar, I wonder about our relationship this year. Church, will our interaction matter? To you or to us? Will our time together be meaningful? You see, I want church to be different than our other activities. I want it to help navigate life, but also want it to remind us of God’s promises, shape our identity and impact our relationships. I want life and faith to intersect, and you can help with that intersection. Yes I’ll “come” to church, but my deep desire is to participate with a community of people seeking to discover a Christian way of life together – in real time, around real issues. Can you help with that?

This year I have work to do. I have navigational skills to hone, patience to exercise, people to connect with, moments of joy to recognize and capture, hurts to mend, discernment to happen, and health to strive for – physically, emotionally, relationally and spiritually. I will be diligent in my work. What about you? Can you give routine and ritual, not just keep me busy? Can you create space for meaningful conversation, not just surface chatter? Can you proclaim God’s good news in a world of cluttered messages in a way I can hear it? Can you tell me, again and again, I am a child of God loved as I am, even when I don’t feel loved?

Today is bittersweet. It’s a new day which offers the opportunity to recreate patterns. It’s a time to linger in memories while dreaming of days ahead. It’s a moment filled with gratitude, promise and hope, as well as remorse, grief and melancholy. And this is a day the Lord has made. I will be rejoice and be glad in it. So here’s to another new school year. May our hope be in the Lord, and may life be abundant!

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Terri Elton is passionate about young people and their families, and loves the church. No really! She's our Associate Professor and teaches with an eye toward developing leaders and leading change.

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