Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Beset by change, but Spirit-led

June 9, 2013 10:58 PM

By Sarah Gioe, with reporting by Douglas Hjelmstad

Photos by Bob Williams


View a gallery of photos from Synod Assembly.


A positive spirit was felt throughout Synod Assembly, May 31-June 1, as over 500 voting members and other congregational leaders gathered at the Westchester Marriott to eat, pray, study, and work together for the sake of our synod. Despite being battered by Hurricane Sandy in the past year and dealing with the nagging worries of declining membership, participants nevertheless seemed hopeful and engaged.


We began with worship, commemorating the visit of Mary and Elizabeth. Bishop Rimbo’s sermon at the Eucharist reminded us how much we need each other, how important it is to live in community. "You know, or you soon will know, what it means to be part of this amazing community of God’s people, the church, seen today in this assembly," he presa2013bishopached. "When one person’s hope slips, the others in the community hold on to the hope and they hold on to the person and we all share the power to help one another hang in there. We are a living, breathing benediction to one another and to the world." Read the complete sermon here. Giving witness to how much we need one another, the offering from this service raised $3,407 for tornado relief in Oklahoma, our domestic partner synod. The congregation prayed to be directed by the Holy Spirit, and the assembly opened with a flurry of introductions and reports.


Bishop Rimbo opened the afternoon plenary session with a Bible study on forgiveness. After an overview of the history and role Confession and Absolution, he focused on the parable of the Prodigal Son. "Forgiveness is not magic. It is work….So long as the family bears the weight of what happened together, the burden is bearable. It cannot become something which isolates individuals and fractures the family," he said. "Let me make this very clear because it has everything to do with my job and your job, it is at the burning center of our strategic plan, it is the point of the ministry of our synod: The church must always remember to keep all of the places set at the family’s table." Read the complete Bible study here.


sa2013mariaVice president Maria del Toro gave us an overview of how our synod’s strategic plan had started to be implemented. The development of this ten-year plan has been a thoughtful, unrushed process out of necessity. Pastor Emily Scott, chair of the Claimed Committee, explained that it had begun by asking "What does it mean to be Lutheran and what do Lutherans, and Lutheran theology, have to offer the world that the world is in desperate need of?" Dr. Maritza Ortiz Cruz shared a poignant story of how her path to the Lutheran church lifted her out a life of abuse. Terra Rowe shared her story of seeking a Christian message of requirements and demands before returning to a "new picture" of God and "hearing God speaking to her in a new way." Updating the assembly on the work of the Gathered Committee, chair Pastor Bill Baum carefully explained how we could best plan to handle the change expected as a number of congregations complete their ministries. Finally, Sent Committee chair Barbara Johnson asked the assembly to consider how their congregations could be catalysts for reaching the underserved. Read the complete strategic plan report here. Singer Roosevelt Credit then energetically led everyone in singing "Claimed Gathered Sent." See a video of the song here.


Memorials and resolutions were voted on swiftly, with little fanfare or discussion. The assembly adopted four memorials, asking the ELCA to support the Uniting American Families Act, to work on how to minister to same-gender couples and their families, to support government legislation to prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and to develop an Adult Catechism as a resource for the church. Two resolutions, urging wider congregational awareness of and support for the diakonia program and calling for a celebration of Ascension Day, also passed. View the summary of actions here.


sa2013rooMealtimes provided welcome opportunities for conversation with friends old and new. In between plenaries, partner organizations and committees offered candy, swag, and information about their work at display tables. Following dinner, participants could choose to attend forums about new models for ministry, evangelism via the Internet, the relationship between faith-based communities and the government, the financial responsibilities of congregations, and how to spark faith conversations.


Amidst reports on the budget and greetings from ecumenical guests, mission moments inspired participants. We celebrated the ministry of Lutheran HealthCare, the completion of the low-income senior housing at St. Michael’s, Amagansett, the recognition of leaders observing ordination anniversaries, the 25th anniversary of the ELCA, and the success of the Kilimanjaro charity climb. People were so moved by the video that they gave $3,192 during worship to the ELCA Malaria Campaign.

Assistant to the Bishop Jack Horner, completing his work on synod staff as he takes a call in Pennsylvania, preached at the final worship service. "There are things worse than dying, like not living," he said, echoing the themes of rebirth we heard throughout the assembly. The Metro New York Synod is truly always being made new.


The church of Christ, in ev’ry age

beset by change, but spirit led,

must claim and test its heritage

and keep on rising from the dead.

(ELW 729)




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