“Service” is the theme of this year’s Synod Assembly and our role model is Elizabeth of Hungary.  As Wartburg College President Darrel Colson said when he welcomed us to the campus, “Martin Luther and Elizabeth of Hungary are two residents of Wartburg Castle that we remember with affection”

(To learn more about Elizabeth of Hungary see Elizabeth of Hungary: A life of privilege creates a legacy of service)

We began our assembly with worship.  As he reflected on the two disciples’ demand to be at the right and left of Jesus in his Kingdom (Mk 10:35-45), Bishop Ullestad reminded us that “we who live on the other side of the crucifixion know who was on the right and left of Jesus when he entered his Kingdom”

“To his very death, that is where you find Jesus, in the midst of sinners”


Then the bishop warned us he was going to do something a little different. Thanks to Mitchel, a youth from St. John, Nashua, the Bishop demonstrated how negative or positive thoughts can affect the community.



After the bishop asked Mitchel his name, he asked Mitchel to put his arm out.  When Bishop Ullestad tried to push Mitchel’s arm down, he was unable to move his arm.  Then he asked Mitchell to give him a fake name and put his arm out again.  This time, the bishop easily pushed his arm down.

“Lying makes you weak.”  The truth makes you strong.

Then the bishop asked him to think about what he could accomplish.  His arm was strong against the bishop’s push.  But when he was asked to say “I can’t do it”, his arm was weak and easily pushed down.

“Focusing on your failures makes you weak”



“Not believing in your God-given abilities makes you weak”

Then he asked a group to come up.  All but one was to think good things about Mitchell.  But one person thought negatively about him.  Again Mitchell’s arm was weakened.  But when the bishop asked everyone to think well of Mitchell, he was strong again.

That is the power of our thoughts and prayers on behalf of one another.



And finally, Mitchell was asked to think of what he could do for himself.  His arm was weak.  Then he was asked to think of what he could do in service on behalf of others.  His arm was strong.

We are strong when we are in service to one another.  That is not just our theme for this assembly or this year, this is the story of Christian life.


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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.


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