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December 9, 2009

Pacifica Synod faces budget cuts

Among the ELCA Pacifica Synod's more than 120 congregations, undesignated mission support was down 15 to 20 percent through November, said Richard Ajer, assistant to the bishop for administration, finance and mission support.

"Some congregations are withholding as a sign of protest, [six] are in various stages of voting to leave, and the economy has hit our area really hard. We have many struggling, small congregations, where even a full-time pastor is a huge stretch."

Pacifica's synod council is working on a revised 2010 spending plan that is roughly 80 percent of the original $2.18 million for the synod assembly to consider in May, Ajer said.

Stewardship isn't 'pay for services'   

"The sad part is that those congregations in protest of the ELCA are taking actions that hurt strong viable ministries throughout the church that had nothing to do with the vote," he said. "I can understand congregations disagreeing with churchwide decisions, however I think faithful stewardship calls us to be in partnership with our church regardless."

Part of the difficulty, Ajer said, is that "we live in a pay-for-services kind of culture." Giving, he added, should not be "contingent upon: ‘What are you doing for me?'"

The mission and ministry of the church also does not fit well with a term Ajer often hears: like-minded. "I hear the term ‘like-minded' so much now," Ajer said. "And I think, ‘What is that about?' We as the ELCA will be less of a healthy body if we lose those who have differing understanding on human sexuality."

'Wrestling together'

"I have less trouble with congregations that come to a point where they feel they can no longer be part of this denomination and leave, than those who remain in name only, but choose to be non-engaging," he said. "To me, it's a matter of integrity. If you're part of the church, you're a part of wrestling together. This issue, for Lutherans, I don't think ought to be a deal-breaker. My hope is that we can find a way to ‘walk together', which is the meaning of the word synod."

Synod staff see one way of walking together as learning from each other. "If your congregation has a good program, tell us," Ajer said. "Even with congregations that are withholding [financial support], my first questions are: ‘Will you tell me about the ministries you are supporting? What's bringing you life, so that we can be mutually supportive? ... Because maybe we as synod staff can get on board and we can do it together."

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