Stewarding a Network of Relationships

Date posted: Thursday 29 July 2021

While the activities of praying for, being present among, and working on projects with our companions in Iringa rightly receives most of our public attention, the efforts that go on behind the scenes to shape, strengthen and support our common work are just as important. Gathering in the synod conference room or by Zoom every other month, the Iringa Committee is tasked with providing oversight and coordination to the BKB partnership at large in collaboration and consultation with the Bishop and the Director of Bega Kwa Bega.


More than a reporting body, the committee is an action-oriented group of individuals who volunteer their time and energy toward the flourishing of this network of relationships. Take Bo Skillman (Christiania, Lakeville) for one example. He said “YES!” to serving on the Iringa Committee because of a love for this relationship and our brothers/sisters in Iringa. As he nears the end of his latest term of service, he says, “It has been an honor over the past 15+ years to represent such a passionate group of people who bring vitality, in a variety of ways, to growing faith through friendship.”


That sense of community and shared purpose with our partners in Iringa is also what drew Russ Hilliard and Jo Whiting (Holy Trinity, New Hampshire) to serve as well. Russ observes that it “is palpable, particularly during our discussion and planning at committee meetings,” and describes the roles that he and Jo play on the committee and as cluster leaders as “a privilege” and “holy work.” Fellow cluster leader, Pastor Karsten Nelson (Our Redeemer, St. Paul) echoes that by saying, “I sense and see God at work through this Iringa Committee, through the commitment people put in to this partnership, the collaborative effort from those involved to make and keep things stable for today with eyes on the future, and the creativity that is on display to wonder how to work through many needs and goals.”


For others, service on the Iringa Committee is an opportunity to better understand the partnership, the world, and their place in it. Now retired from her role at Incarnation in Shoreview, Pastor Lynda Thompson says she enjoys being on the Iringa Committee because she "loves hearing about how other congregations manage their partnerships and continue to pray and communicate with their partners in innovative ways even when it is impossible to be together in person." Lynda also appreciates “learning more about how we experience cultural differences and yet work together in such life-changing ways for folks in St. Paul and Iringa.”


Newer to BKB, Deacon Stephanie Anderson-Telschow (St. Andrew’s, Mahtomedi) joined the committee last fall after participating in the 2020 Pamoja Leadership Summit that February – an experience that gave her “a more in-depth look at one of the longest-standing, deeply-relational companion synod programs in the ELCA.” She says that serving on the committee allows her “to give back to a ministry that formed my own sense of identity and to continue learning alongside my fellow committee members, synod staff, and our companions in Iringa.”


“This group has a commitment to learning,” notes Committee Chair Kirsten Levorson (Shepherd of the Valley, Apple Valley), “…learning how to embody the values of accompaniment - which I value deeply.” Reflecting on her own service on the committee, she continues, “I'm deeply grateful to be able to rub shoulders with both the leaders of the Iringa diocese and others in our own synod, to be able to discuss, plan, and implement changes to the work we do together which has such a positive impact on so many.”


With 30 years of history and a string of both successes and hard-earned lessons to reflect on, a critical role the committee plays in our life together is keeping our shared mission, vision and accompaniment values front and center in all that we say and do. This includes being bold and vulnerable enough to name when our impact and actions fall short of the intentions and aspirations we set. The group’s work to re-envision how we partner together is what keeps Pastor Joy McDonald Coltvet (Christ on Capitol Hill, St. Paul) coming back to the table. “I have seen the Iringa Committee struggle with how racism impacts our partnership, how economic/power/privilege differences may get in the way of truly accompanying one another as siblings in Christ.”


For Pastor Joy, as is true for many, “It's the struggle to listen to God's voice together and learn from one another” that she experiences as most meaningful. In closing, she asks, “How do we live what we learn from one another both globally and locally? How do we share prayer, presence and projects as siblings here in SPAS and DIRA, especially given the challenges present today?”




Are you interested in joining the conversation? The Iringa Committee consists of 13 voting members, including six nominated from the geographic conferences of the Saint Paul Area Synod (one each) and four at-large members. This year, seats are open and nominations are being received for North and South Conference representatives. We are also recruiting a handful of individuals to serve in programmatic roles to support congregations. To learn more about these and other opportunities, contact