2019 Annual Report of the Synod

Date posted: Friday 03 January 2020

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations …” Matthew 28:19 and
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself …” Matthew 22:39

Dear Partners in Ministry,


The end of one calendar year and the beginning of a new one provides an opportunity to look back with gratitude at all that has been accomplished and to look forward in hope to all that God will do through the church in the coming year.


2019 was the year we proclaimed ourselves to be a “Both/And” synod. That is not an official designation but it is a way to remember our dual call to live out both the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) and the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:35-40). At the center of our common life in this synod are both evangelism and care of neighbors. Both are so essential to our identity as Christians that these are life-long goals for everyone and not just a one-year emphasis or commitment for the congregations of this synod. In fact, the common work we undertake as a synod can pretty much be highlighted in these mandates.


Leaders & Learning

This past year 20 pastors and deacons were installed in new calls within this synod. While most pastors and deacons serve in one of our 112 congregations and new mission starts, we are fortunate to also have many chaplains and persons in specialized ministry calls within the Saint Paul Area Synod. There were three ordinations of new pastors this past year. Pastor Jenny Sung was called to St. Andrew’s in Mahtomedi and the Depot Church in Hugo. Pastor Nouk Vagh now serves at Hmong Central in St. Paul. Pastor Liesl Spitz was called to St. Timothy in St. Paul.


2019 was also the inaugural year for a five-year grant the synod received from the Lilly Endowment to encourage rostered ministers thriving in ministry. While much of the year was a time for planning, led by Project Director Anna Marsh from the synod staff, nine pastors and eight mentors were selected to participate in the Second Act Cohort, which strengthens the ministry of rostered ministers in their fourth through tenth years of service. They will begin their two-year learning process in 2020. All that is learned through the Lilly grant will influence the support given to all rostered ministers in the coming years.


Using their rich and varied gifts, our rostered ministers teach and preach, lead our congregational singing, connect us to our neediest neighbors and witness through the example of their faithful service and holy living. Annual meetings are an excellent time to thank those who have been called to rostered ministry.


In 2019 there were 47 persons in this synod’s candidacy process, an increase of 6% from 2018. Some of these candidates will serve within this synod and others will travel far from the Twin Cities to serve Christ’s church in another synod. Helping these 27 women and 20 men prepare for their vocations is a great joy and a big responsibility. This is work we share with home congregations and internship sites, seminaries and contextual learning congregations. Does your congregation have an active practice of talking with children and youth about their vocations? Do you pray regularly for those who will serve the church in the years to come? If you need resources for those practices, the synod staff can help.


Global Mission

The Saint Paul Area Synod is well known for its connections to global mission. The vast majority of congregations have a formal relationship with our Bega Kwa Bega partnership with the Iringa Diocese in Tanzania, with the work of Iglesia Luterana Augustina de Guatemala, or with another vital mission site outside this country. In 2019, 167 persons in 16 delegations traveled to Tanzania and several dozen persons visited congregational partners in Guatemala. This includes six synod pastors, who joined 14 Tanzanian and two German colleagues for the Pamoja Leadership Summit in Iringa last February where evangelism was a main topic.


Young adults from the Saint Paul Area Synod continue to find life-changing experiences through a year of service in the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission program. In 2019 they included Amelia Schurke (Mexico) and Maddie Lindahl (Senegal), who completed their service mid-year. Seven more young adults began their year of service in 2019. They are Rebecca Martin (Uruguay), Emily Ronsberg (Rwanda), Nicole Schloesser-Becht (United Kingdom), Emily Shane (United Kingdom), Kristian Carlson (Madagascar) and Courtney and Chris Garza (Argentina). Please continue to pray for others to hear this call to leave a familiar home to engage with God’s global church.


Local Mission

As a “Both/And” synod, we also invest deeply in the local mission of the church through congregational renewal, stewardship training and outreach into the neighborhoods that surround our church buildings. Eight congregations participated in a structured program of revitalization called “Year of Renewal,” sponsored by the synod. They included Elim in Scandia; Faith in Rosemount; Immanuel in St. Paul; Immanuel in Almelund; Newport in Newport; Fish Lake in Harris; Shepherd of the Hills in Shoreview and Saint Mark in Circle Pines.


Acknowledging the changing landscape in which congregations wrestle with issues of weekly worship attendance and the secularization of many values about money, the synod has increased its intentional training efforts for biblical stewardship. A newly formed Stewardship Committee met regularly this past year and a variety of resources will soon be found on the synod website. In addition, 10 congregations enrolled in a program entitled “Stewardship for All Seasons,” which is leading to a deepened understanding of financial giving as a faith practice. They include Arlington Hills in St. Paul; Christ the King in New Brighton; Amazing Grace in Inver Grove Heights; Gethsemane in Maplewood; Pilgrim in St. Paul; Chisago Lake in Center City; Grace in St. Paul and Mount Calvary in Eagan. If your congregation seeks to expand its own stewardship practices, the synod staff can help.


Churchwide Assembly

In August 2019, 24 persons from the synod participated as voting members at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee. Like the synod and your congregation, the ELCA as a whole practices a form of participatory decision-making in which lay and clergy deliberate the future direction of the church. The Churchwide Assembly is also a time for study, worship and inspiration about being “church together.”


Together with nearly 1,000 others, these voting members adopted the ELCA’s new Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment and a social statement entitled “Faith, Sexism and Justice.” Bishop Elizabeth Eaton was reelected to a second term as Presiding Bishop and Deacon Sue Rothmeyer was elected Secretary of the ELCA. The successful completion of the ELCA’s $250 million campaign was celebrated. Click here for other matters taken up by the Assembly. 


Serving Together

At the close of one year and the beginning of another, it is always timely to thank those who serve on staff or in key volunteer roles in a congregation and in the synod office. We could not be as focused, deliberate, helpful and innovative in our response to God’s call without the labor of many colleagues.


I am especially grateful for those who serve with me on the synod staff. They include Michael Gold, office assistant and synod statistician; Alicia Rodriguez, office manager; Chloe Ahlf, communications coordinator (through mid-March 2019); Mary Smith, communications coordinator (from mid-March 2019); Greg Triplett, financial administrator; Joe Lees, assistant to the bishop for vital congregations, vital partnerships; Justin Grimm, director for evangelical mission and assistant to the bishop for next generation ministries; Krista Lind, assistant to the bishop for vocational formation; Anna Marsh, executive assistant to the bishop; Peter Harrits, director of Bega Kwa Bega and assistant to the bishop and April Trout, short-term volunteer with Bega Kwa Bega in Tanzania. I know you join me in thanking them for all they do.


God has asked much of us as the church. In each place where we gather, God blesses us with local opportunities to both invite others into the life we share in Jesus Christ and to work for healing, justice and peace with the neighbors near at hand. And God also invites us from those streets and avenues to embrace the global reality that is integral to being the people of God, locally and globally. Thank you for finding a way to do that in 112 different and lovely congregational styles within the Saint Paul Area Synod.


Yours in God’s service –


Bishop Patricia Lull