First Third Conversations

The Reality of Scattering

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

Several weeks ago I wrote about the power of gathering. Gathering is a vibrant part of abundant life, of living a Christian way of life. But there is other side of that coin, the reality of scattering. No matter how rich the gathering, taking leave of one another is a necessary reality.

Yesterday after a great weekend, I lived the scattering side of the coin. I came into the weekend tired and stressed. Yet being by the beach, the warm weather, eating great food, having fellowship with colleagues and getting a chance to study, I became renewed. With the dawn of the last day, however, each of us felt a tug, a tug drawing us away. And suddenly, we boarded separate flights and the weekend ended. I woke up with sounds of waves at the beach and went to bed in a winter wonderland with fresh falling snow. Listening to the national weather report this morning, I thought of my colleagues…yesterday all sitting around a table, today all in places I know little about. For several days we enjoyed life together but our time was more about helping us live more fully into our lives scattered, as teachers and ministers of the church.

I think about patterns at my house. We gather and we scatter. We gather for a quick breakfast to start the day or dinner on the other side on the day’s activities, but blink an eye and these moments are gone. One’s off to a basketball game or a friend’s house, another has a meeting or an errand to run…and off we go. Slowly I’m learning to capitalize on the gathered moments, yet we need to scatter. That’s as it should be.

I, like many of you, hope to launch my children someday…to have them move out of our house and live independently. But launching does not happen overnight. It comes only after years of scattering…a play dates, school, trumpet lessons, camp…off we go. After scattering, we gather back - usually to a long list of questions. How was it? Meet any new people? What did you learn? As we gather, we have our rituals, rituals which create space for sharing about our scattered time. We listen and laugh, cry and grow. But what if gathering was more than ritual and receiving information? What if times together might also be for encouraging, equipping, and empowering each other to scatter?

People of God, we are called to live in this world, to embody the Christian faith in all we say and do. Not as a set of rules, but as a life style. I love gathering with my family, but my desire for each of us, myself included, is that we be part of God’s work in the world. My goal is not family dinners; it’s discovering how to navigate daily life so our faith can be a witness to the world.

So what if our homes, our congregations, our times with friends were vital gatherings which encouraged, equipped and empowered us to face the ups and downs of life, to embrace the joys and challenges of our world, and to participate in sharing God’s love in our community? Living scattered, away from my people, is an adventure. Sometimes it’s hard, other times it’s energizing. But I am able to live with the reality of scattering each day because I also know the power of gathering. 

- Terri

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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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