The rostered ministers of Northeastern Iowa Synod gathered by zoom for the 2020 Fall Theological Conference.

As everything else in these times of pandemic, it was an adjustment.   For many participants, the main draw of this gathering is the opportunity to get together with friends and colleagues for fellowship away from home.  Another zoom meeting at home was not anyone’s first choice.

Nevertheless, it was still an opportunity to hear from and see the faces of colleagues from around the synod. 

The presentations by Dr. Andrew Root, Carrie Olson Baalson professor of youth and family ministry at Luther Seminary explored Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work with young people and how it might inspire and give new perspectives in ministering to young people today.

His first presentation, “Bonhoeffer as Pastor to Youth” offered insights into how Bonhoeffer’s early family life and work as a youth pastor shaped his theology.  Bonhoeffer’s theology is rooted in community and he believed infants and children best illustrate what it means to live in theology.  He saw the church as the place where personhood is upheld. 

The way to tell if a church is acting as a community or more like a consumer-based society is how they treat children or young people. 

In a church where personhood is upheld young people are treated as valuable in an of themselves, not to an end.

Even those with a lot of knowledge on Bonhoeffer learned something in this presentation.

If you want to learn more on this subject, Dr. Root has written a book, “Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker: A Theological Vision for Discipleship and Life Together”, Baker Academic (October 21, 2014).

The second day’s presentation was on “The Pastor in the Secular Age”.  He spoke of the challenge of proclaiming a living God in a world where belief is fragile.  In a secular world most people question what they believe at some time.  At the same time almost everyone who claims not to believe questions that as well.  Although it is difficult to believe in a transcendent God in a secular world, almost everyone is seek meaning in life.  And although few people believe in heaven or hell, they still feel guilt.  

The challenge is how to proclaim forgiveness in a world where guilt is rooted in the natural, not the supernatural?

In the end, even though this was not the Fall Theological Conference everyone wanted, it was an important time for learning and sharing.

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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.