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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Mission, speakers highlight synod gatherings

Editor’s note: This year The Lutheran asked synod communicators to provide a highlight of their assembly. What made a difference to participants? What was the most important part of the assembly? Responses received by presstime are included on these pages. When provided, there is a Web address for more information.

Pacifica, April 30-May 3, Honolulu. The theme was “Ekalesia Ho’oulu” (The Essential Church). Voting members experienced the cultural aspects of ministry in Hawaii. They presented the new Evangelical Lutheran Worship Prayer Book for the Armed Services to members of the Wounded Warriors project. ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton was joined by Bishop Thomas Tsen from the Basel Christian Church of Malaysia, as well as other full partner ecumenical guests, to address continuing challenges we face as the body of Christ. — Heidi Hester

South-Central of Wisconsin, May 3-4, Middleton, Wis. The synod combined an ELCA Glocal Event with its assembly to show how we are boldly participating in God’s work in the world. Workshops celebrated the work we do together and equipped attendees for similar ministries in their settings. Participants connected with deployed synod pastors — Kirsten Fryer in Cairo, Egypt, and Todd Iverson, a military chaplain in Afghanistan — through interactive video. — Vicki Hanrahan

South Carolina, May 29-31, Columbia, S.C. The synod welcomed three new congregations: Breath of Life, Blythewood; Faith Lutheran Chapel, Pickens; and Crossroads, Indian Land. Voting members passed a resolution in support of immigration reform. Participants celebrated diverse ministry partnerships through in-state Latino mission congregations, water missions in Tanzania, Young Adults in Global Mission  and more. South Carolina’s Lutheran Church Youth announced they had raised more than $18,000 to build a safe water system in Tanzania.
— Celie Addy 

Metropolitan New York, May 29-31, Melville, N.Y. The synod’s strategic plan rolled out grants and new initiatives that are designed to equip congregations to do God’s work in this time. Congregations were urged to apply for capital improvement, leadership development or new ministry seed grants. Churches can opt in to savings plans that free up budgets for ministry, not overhead. Leaders were given information to build their congregation’s Web presence. Resources were offered to deepen participants’ faith and sense of Lutheran identity. All were encouraged to connect with others making an impact in social ministry.  — Sarah Gioe 

Delaware-Maryland, May 30-31, Ocean City, Md. The assembly adopted the “Vision 2018: Discerning God’s Plan” strategic vision that calls for new and strengthened efforts in communications, connectedness, leadership development and congregational mission planning. The document, which is expected to direct the synod’s work over the next four years, was developed using a spiritual process of prayer, Bible study and mutual conversation that included “listening to 1,000 voices across the synod.”

Northeastern Pennsylvania, May 30-31, Lake Harmony, Pa. Participants cheered as Tony Pagotto entered the meeting hall, completing a 30-mile run from the church he serves, Dinkey Memorial Lutheran, Ashfield, Pa., to the assembly. His congregation made pledges for the miles he ran. With donations from other assembly participants, more than $2,900 was raised for the ELCA Malaria Campaign. Pagotto began his run at 4 a.m. and arrived just as the assembly affirmed participation in Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA. — Catherine Ziel

North Carolina, May 30-31, Hickory, N.C. Participants gathered under the synod’s current ministry initiative theme: “Forward Together. In Christ. In Community.” Bishop Leonard Bolick encouraged congregations to engage a “Forward Together” companion to help discern who God is calling them to be and to do in their communities. ELCA pastor Marcus Miller, initiative coordinator, reminded us that “Forward Together” asks all of us to pay attention to our communities and our neighbors invisible to us. In that regard the assembly adopted a resolution encouraging the North Carolina legislature to accept Medicaid expansion funds.  — Robert Shoffner

Nebraska, May 30-31, Fremont, Neb. The theme was “We are Children of God.” Bishop Brian Maas reminded participants that Jesus called us to “make disciples, not take disciples”; keynoter Paul Hoffman, a retired ELCA pastor, challenged congregations to “welcome the stranger.” In resolutions the assembly lifted up ministries for the disabled and encouraged congregational involvement in prison ministry. Participants made prayer shawls for seminarians. They were treated to a 5K Fun Run and a Night of the Arts featuring faith stories, music, painting and drama. — Mitch McCartney

West Virginia-Western Maryland, May 30-31, Bridgeport, W.Va. Meeting under the theme “With Hands Uplifted,” the assembly’s work covered nine Synod Council recommendations. The most important was No. 4, “The Way Forward,” where the council proposed that the synod elect a full-time bishop during the 2015 assembly. From the remaining recommendations, the 2014 budget was revised, and the 2015 budget and 2015 mission support formula were adopted. The worship offering was designated for our companion, the Betioky Atsimo Synod of the Malagasy Lutheran Church in Madagascar. — Barbara Higgins

Bike ride

“Pedal for a Purpose” cyclists leave Lake Springfield Marina to ride the last 10 miles to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Springfield, Ill. The ride began in Metropolis, Ill., and raised funds for Lutheran Campus Ministry.

Metropolitan Chicago, May 30-31, Tinley Park, Ill. Meeting under the theme “Into All the World,” the assembly focused on the work of ELCA World Hunger and the ELCA Malaria Campaign. Closer to home, the assembly learned about Affiliated Mission Communities, where congregations give birth to spiritual communities ministering to specific contexts.
— Jeff Drake 

Western North Dakota, May 30-31, Bismarck, N.D. In a celebration of local and global mission, an ELCA Glocal Event brought lively music, speakers and workshops. Our companion synod relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Central African Republic was celebrated. ELCA missionary Susan Smith shared stories of the ongoing ministry of the ELCA and the EELRCA despite civil unrest. “A Sweet Deal for CAR” offering in congregations and a “Mission Fest Gala Dinner and Auction” raised more than $38,000 to aid the EELRCA in relief efforts and recovery as it works to reestablish peace. — Beth Anderson

Southeastern, May 30-June 1, Chattanooga, Tenn. Under the theme of “Living Into the Future Together,” Rolf Jacobson, a professor at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., challenged us to think about where God is already at work in the world, inviting us to join in God’s mission. Workshops provided ideas to help congregations live into the future. The assembly approved resolutions on immigration detention reform, stewardship (presented by synod youth), and encouraging congregational and synodical conversation about ministering to same-gender couples and families. It also approved a memorial calling for a blessing rite for same-gender couples. — Michelle Angalet 

Sierra Pacific, May 30-June 1, Burlingame, Calif. Voting members passed five resolutions; updated compensation guidelines for full-time rostered leaders, provided financial support to Lutheran Episcopal Advocacy in Nevada, encouraged congregations to use certified Intentional Interim Ministers during pastoral transitions, set guidelines encouraging mission support through proportional share giving, and directed its bishop to request Thrivent Financial to amend its “neutrality policy” to live into our social statements. — Diana Suruki 

Southeastern Iowa, May 30-June 1, Coralville, Iowa. More than 450 voting members and guests gathered around the theme “Led by the Spirit.” Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton served as the churchwide representative, providing updates and stories of the work we do together as the ELCA and overseeing the bishop’s election. — Minda Davison

Virginia, May 30-June 1, Salem, Va. Speakers said some of the challenges of Christian faith formation in a changing world can be met by telling Bible stories. David Lose, a professor at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., said, “Most of us are drowning in information today. … Stuff only makes sense in stories (but) we don’t know our stories very well.” Andrew Root, also of Luther, said parents and children have fewer meaningful hours together so “we need to articulate our own experiences and share them at church.” — George Kegley

Montana, May 30-June 1 Billings, Mont. “Meet the Future Boldly: Reimagine a Life of Faith”—this statement was one of five benchmarks adopted by the synod council. It was both the assembly theme and highlight as each presentation discussed how we, as ELCA Lutherans, might move toward this benchmark. In this time of great upheaval, we were inspired to think broadly and boldly about what God might be doing in our church. As we reimagine who we are, we are considering the question: “How will we serve Christ in the midst of this change?” — Jenny Kunka

Upstate New York, June 1-3, Rochester, N.Y. Based on Philippians 2:6-7, “Going Public: Poured Out for the World” explored how through the waters of baptism our lives are like being poured out in love and service to the world. The assembly heard a positive financial report; voted to support the ELCA Malaria Campaign; and passed resolutions in support of couples of all sexual orientations and gender identities. The assembly raised almost $30,000 for ELCA World Hunger. Thanks to a grant from the Mission Investment Fund, we were able to provide the Guidebook app for voting members and visitors.  — Neal Fischer

Southern Ohio, June 5-6, Springfield, Ohio. It was a joyous event as members from our congregations celebrated our theme of “We are Church Together.” The assembly was filled with learning, worship, synod business and fellowship. We re-elected our synod council vice president, Barbara Klatt, and a new treasurer, Jeffrey Davis. We added three members to our synod council: Robert Swanson, Shawn Krumm and Melanie Powderly. — Susan Barton-Nonno

Indiana-Kentucky Synod

Carolyn Lesmeister, pastor of First Lutheran Church, West Lafayette, Ind., weaves a strip of fabric into a collaborative wall hanging representing shared community at the Indiana-Kentucky Synod Assembly.

Indiana-Kentucky, June 5-7, Indianapolis. Keynote presenter Melissa Reed evoked Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead to lift up a culture of shared stories, both good and ugly. Sharing tears and joys shamelessly leads to trust, breaking the narrative of despair and creates a sense of community, new life. Attendees shared money stories and discussed questions such as, “What if people connected their hearts and faith with their money? If they are not doing this now, why not?” Upon closing of the assembly, 19 people participated in a protest in Indianapolis against payday lending. People at stoplights expressed support, including folks who rolled down their windows and shouted: “We’re Lutherans too!” — Danielle Burrus

Central/Southern Illinois, June 5-7 Springfield, Ill. The assembly defeated a memorial asking the 2016 Churchwide Assembly to “hereafter issue no further social statements or social messages and instead focus on those things that unite us as a church body, in particular, the redeeming message of Jesus Christ.” A synod committee will “oversee development of an expansive vision and strategy to develop a deeper cooperative ministry with its ecumenical partners.” An offering of $6,279.03 was received for our two companion synods in the Malagasy Lutheran Church (Madagascar). “Pedal for a Purpose” raised $19,689.25 for Lutheran Campus Ministry, with bicyclists riding 300 miles from Metropolis, Ill., to Springfield. — Bob Dealey

Central States, June 6-7, Springfield, Mo. With the theme “Fear and Hope: Living at God’s Table,” the goal was to identify and name our fears that keep us from fully engaging in mission, and to lift up the hope that calls us to more boldly embrace the reality that we live at God’s table that extends beyond the church into the world God loves and blesses. Participants were asked to write down their fears. The “Top Ten” were (begining at No. 10): power, diversity, trust, identity, conflict, society, future, irrelevance, scarcity, and fear of losing youth. Table talk discussion followed focusing on “How might your future as a member of the body of Christ shape how you deal with the fear that you’ve identified?” ­— Dan Glaman

The New England Synod, June 6-7, Springfield, Mass., was energized by the words of Claudio Carvalhaes, the efforts of its participants to raise money for mission support, and the open air above them during an outdoor worship service during this year’s assembly. Bishop James Hazelwood in his report looked at the varying degrees of health and vitality to be found in the synod’s 183 congregations. And given a challenge to raise $25,000 toward mission support, the assembly raised $61,000, with all dollars beyond the initial challenge marked to go back to the ELCA. — Andrew Merritt

Lower Susquehanna, June 6-7, Grantham, Pa. Under the theme “Feeding the Hungry,” the assembly started with “Loaves & Fishes,” a record-breaking service project in which about 1,000 volunteers packed 300,324 meals to feed needy people in Central Pennsylvania. Voting members heard from Amy Reumann of Lutheran Advocacy Ministries in PA and Dan Rift of ELCA World Hunger about hunger’s root causes, advocacy efforts and what the ELCA is doing to help. Voting members approved a synodwide comprehensive campaign in conjunction with Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA. — Sharron Blezard

Northwest of Wisconsin, June 7-8, Eau Claire, Wis. Participants heard from a panel of “nones,” people who describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. The exchange was meaningful and spirit-filled as panel members offered their observations and thoughts on the Christian church. It modeled for assembly participants how they might start conversations with their friends and neighbors who might be “nones” and offered insight on how Christians are often perceived. — Elizabeth Bartsch

Southwestern Pennsylvania, June 12-14, Latrobe, Pa. Under the theme “Belonging to Each Other in Christ Jesus,” keynote speaker Cheryl Peterson, a professor at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio, addressed the topic of what God wants for the church as we reach out to the neighborhood. Synod committees, missionaries and ministry partners conducted forums to share information and resources.  Congregations broke into 14 geographically based groups to discuss the obstacles and opportunities of working together in ministry. — Janice Jeletic

La Crosse Area, June 13-14, La Crosse, Wis. Hunger, both at home and around the world, was the focus. Workshops looked at ways congregations and communities are working to help those in need. Six synod ministries received grants from ELCA World Hunger in 2014 to assist them in expanding existing hunger programs. Congregations gave $2.77 per baptized member to World Hunger in 2013. Voting members challenged congregations to increase that amount to $4 per member in 2014. — Gayda Hollnagel

Northern Illinois synod

Northern Illinois Synod congregations sent hundreds of towels and bedding supplies for one of the area children and youth homes run by Lutheran Social Services of Illinois.

Northern Illinois, June 13-14, Rock Island, Ill. Through a video shown during Bishop Gary Wollersheim’s report, congregations were introduced to a three-year discipleship and financial stewardship program titled “First We Give of Ourselves.” The synod hopes this program can help congregations repackage the discussion of stewardship, from one that understands stewardship simply as a fundraising activity to fulfill a budget, to one that is centered in and through God’s abundant grace in Christ.
— Karin Graddy

South Dakota, June 13-14, Sioux Falls, S.D. Synod congregations gathered under the theme “Unbound to Live” and discussed the ways we are freed, called and unbound to be church to the world. For the first time, assembly members spent time in open space to discuss the things they are most passionate about. This time led to new ideas for ministry and connected people from across the synod.  — Kevin Stillson

Northeastern Iowa, June 13-15, Waverly, Iowa. The assembly shared stories relating to its theme, “Strengthened in Witness and Service.” It celebrated the results of the synod malaria campaign, which raised $441,249.99 in three years, exceeding the goal of $250,000. Voting members supported the intention of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and encouraged ways to make congregations and communities safe places; advocated for communities to preserve designated days for church time and encouraged congregations to engage in cross-generational ministry and use faith formation resources; and encouraged congregations to support organ donations. — Marcia Hahn

Southwestern Minnesota, June 13-15, St. Peter, Minn. The theme “Journey with Jesus” was experienced through an emphasis on a Glocal Event, enhanced by the resources provided by ELCA churchwide leaders. Sunitha Mortha, director for mission formation, was the keynote speaker and churchwide representative. David Vasquez, campus pastor at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, was the Bible Study leader. Glocal musicians provided an international favor to the music. The assembly featured live streaming for the first time and an intentional effort to include Twitting, with hashtag #SWMN2014. Also, the daily posts on the synod’s Facebook page increased the general interest in the work of the assembly.  —Linda Pedersen

Upper Susquehanna, June 20-21, Selinsgrove, Pa. Participants collected $1,000 for the synod’s new Fund for Leaders after Bishop Robert L. Driesen challenged them to raise at least $200 and he would do a dance to be posted on the synod’s website. After a two-year study process, the assembly voted to call for all environmental and public health exemptions on shale gas and oil drilling and its related processes to be repealed and all processes related to the same be subject to the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act. — Chad Hershberger 

Metropolitan Washington, D.C., June 21, Fairfax, Va. “How many of you are here for the first time?” asked Bishop Richard H. Graham — more than a third in the church raised a hand. When the synod tried a one-day assembly in a biennial rotation with the more traditional multiday, conference-venue event, it was hoped the lower cost and reduced time commitment would pull voting members from a larger pool from congregations. It worked. Fresh questions, new volunteers, and idea affirmation and introduction seemed to mark the assembly. As Phil Hirsch, director for evangelical mission and assistant to the bishop, put it when discussing growing congregations: the forest requires saplings. — Karen Krueger


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