By Howard Stringfellow
9 April 2011
This note is unusual in that it looks back rather than forward; rather than advertise a future event, I plan to reflect on one that is past and is memorable for its quality and implications for our life together.
Under the auspices of continuing education at Moravian Theological Seminary, Luther Snow presented in Allentown and Bethlehem on the last Friday and Saturday in March. We advertised the events as much as we could. Fr. Charles Cesaretti, Chair of the Diocesan Renewal Committee, included the presentations in his schedule of events for Renewal in the Diocese. Many clergy and lay people from the Diocese attended one or both sessions—along with many people from other denominations—more clergy on Friday and more lay people on Saturday.
The most striking, memorable, and compelling feature of Luther Snow’s presentations is his solid grounding in theology. He really believes and trusts in God. He truly stands where he believes. Moreover, his belief and trust in God trump and overshadow the technique of what he calls asset mapping. The technique is valuable, don’t misunderstand, but it is all the more valuable because of his commitment in faith. His commitment and trust in God pervade everything he says whether he is presenting his material or responding to a comment. Every remark opens the door to God’s possibility and future, to God’s goodness and mercy.
I found it very moving for him to conclude a segment by saying, “Let us have a word of prayer.” And what he did then was to read a passage of Scripture, in most cases a portion of a reading assigned to the Sunday before us. He read not dramatically nor in any way that called attention to itself, but he read with conviction and with clarity and understanding. When he finished his passage, he stopped and said nothing but held the moment, held it as a spiritual reality. He broke the moment by physical movement. Having watched people conduct public services for over fifty years and having conducted them myself as an ordained minister for over twenty-five, I do not believe that his presence and obvious connection with the Almighty can be taught or faked. It only comes from being connected. And, we need more of it, more connection with each other and more connection with God. In other words, we need Renewal. As an aside, I observe that ordination is not necessary to read the Scriptures in public, nor is Baptism necessary, for that matter.
Asset mapping is his term (though he acknowledges mentors and forerunners) for taking an inventory of assets and then combining the assets in creative ways to further mission. The process and exercises for groups to undertake the inventory and combination may be found in his book, The Power of Asset Mapping, published by the Alban Institute and available from the Brazilian River (my cheeky name for Amazon).
The image he uses often in his presentations is the water glass. Is it half-full or half-empty? And his point is that even if the water glass holds only 5% of the water it can hold when filled, a lot is there for God and God’s people to work with.
Asset mapping, then, is called for when the vestry gets to the point of saying, “We don’t have the money we need to open an overnight shelter.” But what resources do you, in fact, have? What can you do with what you have? How can you use what you have to open a door to the kingdom of God for people bumping into walls looking for that door?
Though he would, I suppose, abominate the term, he is a “supply-side” theologian, a Christian who sees enough in her or his daily bread or weekly offering or annual budget to do something to make God known. The water glass, holding something, holds enough to do something. Always. We may not be able to multiply loaves and fish, and convert water into wine, but the loaves, fish, and water can be used in such a way to declare that God gave them to us to use.
Late on Saturday one of the participants said that Luther Snow was to preach the next day at the early service at East Hills Moravian Church in Bethlehem. Lord, I wanted to be in that number.