Bishop Lull’s Annual Report to Congregations

Date posted: Friday 04 January 2019

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“From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” John 1:16



Dear Partners in Ministry,


I was greeted by the eloquent words of John 1 in worship on Christmas Day, reminded at year’s end that our lives are swaddled in the grace of God, made fully known to us in Jesus Christ. How fortunate we are to be a part of the church in which God’s love, forgiveness, and grace are a daily part of our lives. Grace upon grace.


Young Adults at the Forefront

During 2018 we leaned in to hear the voices of young adults from across our synod. Thirty young adults served as inspirational speakers, discussion group leaders, and provocateurs at the Synod Assembly. They challenged us to live into the fullness of our vocations, reminding each of us that God has equipped us to make a difference in this world. These same young adults spoke at our fall mission support event and wrote blogs for our website about their experiences as part of the church and synod. The Young Adult Initiative, piloted the previous year, has included an exploratory trip to Tanzania, experiential learning in the city, and a civil rights immersion in Atlanta. It is a bright spot in our synod’s common work.


Welcoming New Leaders

We continue to be blessed with the pastors and deacons we need to serve the 112 congregations and mission starts of the synod. This past year 25 rostered ministers were installed within the synod. There were also 3 consecrations of new deacons and 3 ordinations of new pastors. These new colleagues include: Sister Stacie Lightner, deacon at St. Paul-Reformation in St. Paul; Allen Blegen, deacon with Ecumen Hospice in North Branch; Heather Roth Johnson, associate pastor at St. John’s in Lakeville; Lindsey Bina, associate pastor at Shepherd of the Valley in Apple Valley; Kari Olsen, deacon at Christ on Capitol Hill and Shobi’s Table, both in St. Paul; and Brice Bloxham, associate pastor at Shepherd of the Hills in Shoreview.


The vocation of each of these new leaders grew through years of nurture and formation – within families and local communities of faith and eventually in seminary. In 2018 the synod has walked with 41 candidates as they prepare to serve as rostered ministers. This includes 19 men and 22 women. Currently our candidates are enrolled in ten different seminaries with the greatest number at Luther, Wartburg, and Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. They come from thirty congregations, reminding us that a congregation like yours is the seedbed not only for raising up pastors and deacons, but also the next generation of church council members, stewardship leaders, and teachers of the faith within your congregation.


Renewal & Learning

In 2018 the synod applied for and was awarded a grant of $375,000 from the Lilly Endowment for a five-year project to strengthen the ministry skills of pastors within the synod. This generous award will also help the pastor-participants equip their lay leaders with biblical imagination and administrative insights. The first learning cohort will be convened in early 2020.


2018 was an active year for new mission explorations and renewal work across the synod. In Hugo, the Depot Church was launched in September as a partnership between St. Andrew’s in Mahtomedi, the synod, and ELCA Churchwide. After a time of restructuring, Shobi’s Table was relaunched in October. Lutheran Church of Peace in Maplewood and Christ the Servant in Vadnais Heights both moved into intentional redevelopment status with support from the synod and ELCA Churchwide. In addition, Hope Lutheran in St. Paul became a parallel new start, embracing a small established congregation and a mandate to form a new congregation alongside the old.


Some of the most significant work for congregational vitality occurs as congregations enroll in a year-long process of renewal. The 2018 participants in the Year of Renewal cohort included Living Waters in Lino Lakes, Trinity in Stillwater, House of Prayer in Oakdale, Cross of Glory in Mounds View, First in Harris, Lutheran Church of Peace in Maplewood, Amazing Grace in Inver Grove Heights, and Shepherd of the Hills in Shoreview. Each committed to a year-long process of discipleship formation, engagement with the surrounding community, and active stewardship training.


A second strategy for strengthening our congregations uses a model for shared ministry in which two or more congregations agree to share programming or staff while maintaining a unique congregational identity. In 2018 five congregations in mid-Chisago County (Zion in Chisago City, Trinity in Lindstrom, Chisago Lake in Center City, First in Taylor Falls and Immanuel in Almelund) coordinated a joint “God’s Work, Our Hands” service day, sharing in worship, a meal, and fellowship. In a more formal way, Atonement in New Brighton and Cross of Glory in Mounds View are preparing to call one pastor to serve both congregations. St. Mark’s and St. Luke’s, both in the city of St. Paul, are sharing an interim pastor and Spring Lake in North Branch is being served during their interim by the pastor of Calvary in Stanchfield. There are many other examples across the synod and I hope your congregation is one that has discovered ways to be stronger by working together with other congregations.


In September the synod hosted a Partnership Building Event to bring together those with interests in global and local mission for a common conversation. This group began exploring ways to address hidden biases and cultural and racial stereotypes so that the gifts of all neighbors might be received and respected.


Walking Together

It’s no longer a surprise to be reminded that the word synod means to walk together; it is what we do so that others will know the grace and mercy of God. We walk together with our companions in the Iringa Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania and in La Iglesia Luterana Augustina de Guatemala. Walking together is what we do at conference meetings and in consultation with congregations in conflict or transition. Walking together is also what members of the synod staff do when invited to preach in your congregation. In 2018 the bishop and the four assistants to the bishop preached 93 times. If you were not one of the congregations that invited a synod staff member to preach, please do so in 2019. We are eager to share God’s Word with you and to experience the life of your congregation.


At the end of one year and the start of the new, I am grateful for the work and witness of your congregation. Thank you for being bearers of God’s grace upon grace to one another and in your witness in the wider community. I am also grateful for the members of the synod staff and all that they do. They include Michael Gold, office assistant; Alicia Rodriguez, office manager; Chloe Ahlf, communications coordinator; 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; and Peter Harrits, director of Bega Kwa Bega and assistant to the bishop. 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