A Pastoral Message at the Start of Lent 2021
One of my spiritual practices is to do a slow read of the Bible each day. In January I started reading[...]
Dear Partners in Ministry,
2020 has certainly been the strangest and most challenging year for us as a synod; for congregations, specialized ministries, and institutions; and for each of you. Thanks be to God, who has strengthened, uplifted, and sustained us during this year of a global pandemic, and important learnings amid social unrest.
I am cheered by the immediate response made by congregations across this synod when we needed to stop gathering in person in early March. From the start you have shown respect for the wisdom of Governor Tim Walz and our public health experts. You pulled together informed lay leaders and community representatives to guide your rostered ministers in crafting a plan for safe reopening and use of your building. Within days, worship planners found new ways to bring the Gospel to a dispersed congregation through mailings, recorded services, live-streamed worship and Zoom. When the weather and new state guidelines allowed gatherings in small numbers, you moved worship outdoors to your parking lots and side yards or used registration, masks and hand washing to ensure that your congregation not become a hotspot for spreading COVID-19. Thank you.
With courage, you as people of faith faced the tough challenge of offering pastoral care to those who were ill and to the dying. We learned afresh how much a phone call can mean and how Zoom can draw family and friends together in times of grief. So many funeral services had to be postponed or turned into small-size gatherings. Let us commit to remembering the saints we have entrusted to God this past year and find new ways to mark anniversaries when we are able to gather in person again.
When the pandemic wanes we will have much learning to share from this past year about what it means to be a community of faith in the twenty-first century. There will be innovations to keep and cherished practices to reclaim. I look forward to learning with you, especially about how the good news of God’s grace and forgiveness is spoken to us through God’s word and the sacraments.
In 2020 the synod played a unique role in convening congregational leaders amid the pandemic. We hosted Zoom conversations on public health mandates, PPP loans for small businesses, remote congregational meetings, and stewardship of financial resources. I thank Carol Hood, synod vice president; David Laden, synod treasurer; and Sarah Crippen, synod attorney; for helping with many of those sessions.
During all that, the synod assembly was hosted as an online event on Sept. 25-26. We did it, friends! We mastered new technological platforms and demonstrated we could “be together” while “being apart” for the essential business of the synod. I am grateful for the confidence you showed in me and the synod staff team when you re-elected me to a second six-year term.
One of the commitments I bring is to continue the transformational work we need to do as individuals, congregations, and institutions to address racism and to hard-bake racial equity and a profound respect for diversity into all aspect of our church life. That is as essential to our well being as are all the safety precautions, we have taken to lessen the impact of COVID-19.
Our pastors and deacons deserve our gratitude for stepping up and creating new ways to live out their vocations. Put to the test, they responded with imagination and persistence. I know you join me in thanking them. Three new colleagues were ordained in 2020. They include Deacon Stephanie Anderson-Telschow, Pastor Jason Kramme, and Deacon Brad Mills. At the close of 2020 we have 47 persons in the candidacy process and are grateful for their openness to serving in a church so shaped by the events of 2020.
While the focus of ministry shifted in every congregation, eight congregations continued their work in the Year of Renewal, an intentional revitalization process that matches the spiritual gifts of members with God’s work in the surrounding community. The 2020 participants included Bethlehem, St. Paul; Chisago Lake, Center City; Our Saviour’s, Hastings; Redeemer, White Bear Lake; and Our Redeemer, St. Paul. Alongside this work 12 congregations participated in the synod-sponsored Stewardship for All Seasons program and 11 others in the Beginning a Culture of Generosity initiative.
While much attention was given to sustaining congregational life this past year, our mission start partners and global companions were not forgotten. Together as a synod we have supported ministry efforts at Christ the Servant, Vadnais Heights; Lutheran Church of Peace, Maplewood; Hope, St. Paul; Minnesota Faith Chinese, Roseville; Good Samaritan, St. Paul; Humble Walk, St. Paul; The Depot of St. Andrew’s, Hugo; Cristo Rey, New Brighton; Foundation of Life, St. Paul; and Shobi’s Table, St. Paul. Likewise, while the pandemic made it impossible for delegations to travel to Tanzania or Guatemala, prayers and project support abounded to help our siblings in other parts of the world continue their mission in Christ.
Let me end with a special work of thanks to the synod staff. Two staff members retired or completed their term of service in 2020 – Greg Triplett, and Deacon April Trout. We thank them for good and faithful service. The current staff include Michael Gold, office assistant; Alicia Rodriguez, office manager; Mary Smith, director of communications; David Roinas, finance administrator; Pastor Justin Grimm, director for evangelical mission and assistant to the bishop; Deacon Krista Lind, assistant to the bishop; Anna Marsh, executive assistant to the bishop; Pastor Peter Harrits, director of Bega Kwa Bega and assistant to the bishop, and Ryan and Astine Bose, newly named short-term volunteers in Iringa.
We have been stretched and tested, but all through this past year God has been at work in and through us. What a joy it is for all of us to serve with you in the Saint Paul Area Synod.
Yours in God’s service –
Bishop Patricia Lull