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Slowing down for Lent

The Rev. Margaret Payne, bishop of the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, recently addressed the joint ministerium of the Minneapolis and St. Paul Area synods. In an address titled “The Slow Lent Movement,” she challenged clergy, as caregivers, to take the Lenten season to slow down and be more intentional. Metro Lutheran photos: Bob Hulteen

Garrison Keillor famously has offered that, for Lutherans, it’s always Lent. Other noted thinkers have opined that Lutherans can be a little “slow on the uptake.” So, it’s not surprising that the theme of the recent joint ministerium of the Minneapolis and St. Paul Area synods was “Slow Lent.”

The Rev. Margaret Payne, bishop of the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, was keynote speaker at the event held in early March at Central Lutheran Church in downtown Minneapolis. She challenged the clergy present to recognize that good leaders need to pace themselves so that they can “allow the membrane between us and God [to] become a little thinner, so that God penetrates our lives.”

Payne borrowed her notion of Slow Lent from the “slow food movement,” an effort founded in 1989 by Carlo Pertini “to counter the rise of fast food and fast life and the disappearance of local food traditions,” according to the group’s official Web site: www.slowfood.com. The slow food movement has a goal of making people more thoughtful and intentional about what they eat.

Intentionality is also a Lenten discipline. Lent is a time for reflection about what Christians do and why.

A society in (fast-paced) transformation

Payne believes this to be a critical time to ask such questions as well. “Social networking is changing the way the brain works,” she explained. Health care professionals now talk about “continuous partial attention” afflicting young people. By trying to stay “plugged in” to a number of electronic communications — texting, Facebook, iTunes — they are truly connected to none. “Young people’s focus and depth is being compromised,” Payne explained.

Pastoral leaders within the St. Paul and Minneapolis Area synods gathered early in March. The joint ministerium is primarily a training and meeting time for clergy in the two synods.

Prayer is an antidote to this affliction, the New England bishop would argue. She wants clergy (and presumably lay people as well) to “waste time with God.” By this she means spending time in prayer that includes silence, not endless petitioning to meet ever-present needs. “In order to provide spiritual growth that is healthy, [we must have] wellness for our souls.”

Silence is a “fertile void,” she maintained. She likened this aspect of prayer to Amish quilts that always leave one white space, regardless of the colors of the other fabric. This is to leave a space in which the Holy Spirit can enter, she explained.

With this in mind, she returns to the themes of the slow food movement. She offered, “Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly.” Add prayer to the dictum.

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