Loaves and Fishes in Abundance
I am always surprised where I will find something about hunger and how we are called to help bring it [...]
Date posted: Tuesday 03 January 2023
“Cold December flies away … when all seemed lost in night,
came the sun whose golden light brings unending joy,
brings the endless joy of our hope … Son beloved of heaven.”
During the Christmas season, we sing dozens of hymns, recounting the story of Jesus’ birth and the coming of Emmanuel to dwell with us. This hymn from the last century is one of my favorites, using the images of nature and the turning seasons to highlight the gifts of hope and joy, which come from God.
This past year was a time of return to many familiar in-person events. Though we started 2022 with the hope that the impact of COVID-19 was fading, we quickly learned that this pandemic would continue to shape our synod’s life all through the year. Despite setbacks and challenges, much common work was undertaken.
By year’s end it was clear that we were not simply returning to pre-pandemic realities of being God’s church but that we were called to turn toward new habits for worship, teaching, community service and outreach with a message of God’s good news for all. If there is a singular lesson to highlight it is that the church is the servant of God’s mission, which will take many forms in an ever-changing society and still be the community where joy and hope are received and shared.
At the Synod Assembly in May 2022 we finally had an in-person launch for the synod’s Planting Hope Campaign. This included the announcement of a formal partnership with Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota to replicate a Families Together therapeutic preschool on the East Side of St. Paul, which will be housed on the first level of Grace Lutheran Church. Our aspiration is to raise $1 million dollars for this by the 2023 Synod Assembly in May.
At year’s end, $636,703 was available for distribution to the four goals of the campaign, which in addition to the Families Together preschool include:
Our timeline is to secure the entire $2.75 million in dollars and intents from congregations, individuals and foundations by the end of 2024. If yours is one of the 49 congregation already invested in the campaign, I thank you. If you are engaging the campaign in 2023, I am grateful for your willingness to join in making hope real for many.
Alongside the Planting Hope Campaign, we anticipate that at the close of the synod’s fiscal year on Jan. 31, mission support will be at 97% of the budget for 2022 at $1,891,500. I am grateful for the ways that congregations connect to others through mission support, including sharing 41.5% of these financial resources with the global work of the ELCA.
As a synod, this year we were also able to reinvest $113,000 in Gleaning From the Harvest ministry grants back to congregations for work in evangelism, racial justice, worship training and technology, and for projects entitled “We never did that before.” Nineteen requests were funded from the 74 applications received.
A church, faithful to serving God’s mission, requires well prepared and supported rostered ministers and lay leaders. We currently have 29 persons in the candidacy process including eight who are awaiting their first call. This past year, 22 pastors and deacons were installed in new calls in this synod, six pastors received calls to specialized ministry beyond congregations, and the Synod Council issued synod calls to 11 pastors and deacons for interim ministry. This work with call committees and candidates, along with monthly meetings with all interims, reflects some of the most important work we do together as a synod.
Those ordained in 2022 include Pastor Marty Wyatt, Pastor John E. Swanson, Pastor Amy Johnson, Pastor Ana Becerra, Pastor Tori Remer, Pastor Terri Elton and Pastor Susie Modrow.
Synod work with congregations includes support for the vitality and stewardship of congregations. During 2022, nine congregations participated in the Stewardship for All Seasons program or the Building A Culture of Generosity cohort. Four congregations hosted spiritual gifts retreats, led by synod staff. A total of 21 congregations participated in three Tools for the Church vitality events.
In addition, this past year a new training program for congregational presidents and vice presidents was launched. This Deeper Dive program, hosted monthly on Zoom, has averaged 15 participants. Combined with the annual Tool Kit for Lay Leaders, this new program is designed to better equip lay leaders for the real-time challenges of leading a congregation.
Is your congregation among those noted above? If so, you are reaping the benefit of being part of a connected church. Are there other resources you need? Please know that new programs and formats for training grow out of feedback from you in the 107 congregations and mission developments within this synod.
2022 also brought greater freedom to travel again to our global companions in Tanzania and Guatemala with increased travel planned for the coming year. Even as Zoom has been a godsend for hosting meetings within congregations and the synod, our global companions also connected to synod committees and partner congregations using this technology. It is encouraging to see the mutuality of these partnerships continuing despite pandemic restrictions. I am also grateful for the work of the Bega Kwa Bega staff and volunteers in making visits to so many congregations in our synod and in the Iringa Diocese.
The synod continues to benefit from a multi-year grant from the Lilly Endowment for support of rostered ministers. In 2022, 10 pastors and deacons began work in a new Second Act Cohort for those in years 4 to 10 of ministry, and eight pastors completed the two-year long Kubernesis Seminar with its emphasis on preparing rostered ministers for senior level leadership position. After pursuing more individualized forms of renewal through spiritual direction, coaching or time away this year, those in the Leaders of Color cohort are preparing for a three-day retreat together with synod staff in February 2023.
We can do this and so much more because of the talented and dedicated staff of the synod. In 2022 we said farewell to Alicia Rodriguez, Michael Gold, Pastor Peter Harrits and Dr. Anna Marsh as they left the staff to take new positions. Replacing them were Kirsten Levorson, director of Bega Kwa Bega; Leslie Ortiz, executive assistant to the bishop and program director for the Lilly Grant; and Rachel Holsten in the new role of front office administrator and event planner. Other staff include Mary Smith, director of communications; David Roinas, synod finance administrator; Astine and Ryan Bose, Bega Kwa Bega coordinators in Iringa; Rolf Lowenberg-DeBoer, assistant to the bishop for lay leadership and equity initiatives; Pastor Justin Grimm, director for evangelical mission and assistant to the bishop for congregational vitality; and Deacon Krista Lind, assistant to the bishop for vocational formation.
As bishop of the synod, I know the difference each colleague makes in our overall efforts to serve you and your congregation. Look around. The signs of God’s fruitfulness can be seen in so many ways in this synod. Thank you for being a part of that work, too.
Yours in God’s service,
Bishop Patricia Lull