The Rev. Kevin O’Hara
Our conference is a diverse body that encompasses a substantial amount of land. From the urban areas of Smithtown and Commack down to Patchogue and everything east, we make up about 2/3 of Suffolk County. Because of this, traveling is complicated, especially when you consider the limited highways on both the north and south forks, best known for their farms, wineries, and abundant water scenes that congest travel so much. Even still, our colleagues of the Peconic Conference are faithful and good stewards of their time. We meet monthly throughout the program year, to worship together as called servants of ordination for Word and Sacrament, to express our mutual commonality when problems creep up, and for edification. This past year, we completed the book Growing an Engaged Church: How to Stop “Doing Church” and Start Being the Church Again by Albert L. Winseman. Our pastors really appreciated the facts on the grounds that this book has been used to revive congregations.
We even had one of the exemplar church’s pastors, Father Hanson, talk to us about how he used the steps presented in this book to make a church go from closing to being a beacon in the community. This year’s book was supposed to be Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church, by Kara Powell; however, with all the change going on in the synod and within our conference, it was hard setting aside time to delve deeply into the book. Some pastors have gone ahead and read the book with great pleasure; we thank the deans who recommended this book for our conference. A smaller group continues to meet each week for pericope and ongoing support.
We continue to be a very active conference in terms of programming. We began last year with the synod’s call to worship and discern together as we prepared for the call process for a new bishop. With resources provided by The Rev. Jonathan Linman, we read passages from the Bible and asked critical questions regarding the role of the bishop; we discovered there are many expectations we each place on whoever assumes that office.
Around that same time, the pastors of the Peconic Conference met with the pastors of the Western Suffolk Conference for our annual Lenten retreat, held at the Cenacle Retreat Center in Ronkonkoma. There, we continued to discern the direction of our synod and where God is calling each of us. Our thanks to The Rev. Joanne Bond, dean of Western Suffolk, who planned this special event for us.
Our Easter blessings gave way to our annual Peconic Conference meeting. We reflected on the strength of our conference with all that the churches do on behalf of our close association. As you also probably could guess, we continued to discern the future calling of the bishop with a report from Elizabeth Hoffmann, chair of the Synod Assembly Planning Committee.
Our early summer activities included an annual BBQ at The Rev. Richard Hill’s house. It was on this beautiful sunny day that we could give thanks to God for our newly called bishop, The Rev. Paul Egensteiner, and also for the completion of many of our programs at our churches, as a different call embraced us all during the summer.
The fall brought on three celebrations for our conference: the first was the official installation of The Rev. Peter Boehringer, called as Senior Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Rocky Point. We thank the Call Committee for their diligence in calling and helping to install him.
Secondly, we also had the first of a two-part stewardship event during which Scott McKenzie, author of books like Generosity Rising: Lead a Stewardship Revolution in Your Church and Bounty: Ten Ways to Increase Giving at Your Church, and who is a consultant for Horizons Stewardship consultancy, led us in rethinking stewardship to be a year-round understanding with practical connections for each month. Several churches in both the Peconic Conference and Western Suffolk supported this cause. Mr. McKenzie has been invited back this year to do a follow-up, discussing with us where congregations are struggling to implement this type of stewardship, after six months of trying. We deeply thank the MNYS Leadership Grant that provided financial assistance in this two-part event and we look forward to completing this event soon.
Lastly, with the efforts of Hope Lutheran Church, Selden, many of us traveled by bus to be physically present for the installation of Bishop Egensteiner. This wholly encompassing event was something not to be missed, and we are honored that we could be there for the day. Some Pinecresters from our area also were present, with the gift of song. We thank them for adding to this special occasion.
As Advent dawned, our conference officially welcomed Susan Shelhart onto the roster of ministry for Word and Sacrament. Many of us were there as the bishop spoke words of comfort for both Susan and peer Nancy Rakoczy for the long journey ahead of them that comes with hope from our Lord’s promise. The Rev. Shelhart was called to St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Smithtown, during the summer months and will be installed in the new year.
And, at the end of the year, several of us were gifted with a leadership grant to travel to Carefree, Arizona, for leadership training in our churches. The Rev. Shelhart, The Rev. George Dietrich, and I were called from our conference to this wonderful experience. We are looking forward to sharing our experiences from the trip.
Our conference continues to engage ministry on several levels. Some are leaders of the Women of the ELCA on the synodical board; others are serving as deacons in their churches and throughout their community. Still others are seeking further education, either through the leadership of Elizabeth Hoffmann with our Diakonia educational courses, or under the leadership of Deacon Margaret Mueller, for those who have graduated from the class and are looking to tackle the question, “What’s next?” There are several people from our conference looking forward to the WELCA gathering in the summer; there are a couple of pastors who are going to be heading to the ELCA clergy gathering this summer (both of these events will be in Arizona). Others are looking forward to a trip to the sights of Rome, Venice, Florence, Assisi (all in Italy) and Oberammergau, Germany, to experience the once-every-ten-years Passion Play. All of this happens this summer! We will be very active in carrying out these activities. And we still have to schedule the second follow-up for the above-mentioned stewardship workshop, within which we seek to find answers to some of the hardest stewardship concepts out there. We also look forward to the continued discernment of churches in the conference thinking of becoming Reconciling in Christ. And we especially are looking forward to a presentation by AMMPARO at our upcoming annual conference meeting, so we can learn more about this vital ministry.
Lastly, we have a great Steering Committee that has put in a great deal of time, energy, and planning to keep the conference running, especially the talented and hardworking Rev. Paul Downing, whom we can’t thank enough for all the time he puts into his call, his family, and this additional task. Thanks to them for their commitment to helping out a great conference!
Bishop Egensteiner performing his first baptism as bishop to Rev. George and Maria Dietrich’s third daughter, Carlena Suzette Mai Dietrich.
We Are Church Together
As noted above, stewardship, women’s ministry, clergy support, laity education, mission trips, and the many other ways our conference is represented within Peconic, and to the further reaches of our community, are just a few of the ways we are raising up those who are called to various ministries to bring light and faith to others. This ministry is working. The greater majority of churches in our conference speak of greater financial sustainability this past year, more engaged members within the pews, and a renewed call of the Spirit. We are thankful for the pastors who have calls outside the parish, including our ecumenical partners (The Rev. George Summers, who leads the discussion with the Lutheran, Episcopal, Roman Catholic dialogue), as chaplains (The Rev. Lorraine Peterson serving at Stony Brook Hospital), and those who serve as interim pastors in Lutheran and Episcopal churches (The Rev. Laurie Cline, The Rev. Harold Peeders, and The Rev. Robert Modr). As a result of their ministries, it is sometimes impossible for them to be with us in our weekly gatherings—but we are still one in mission. Lastly, we thank those who are part of the Stony Brook University Protestant Campus Ministry board, including The Rev. Paul Downing, Deacon Margaret Kurz, and Deacon Johnny Slade (along with myself), assisted by a generous grant provided by this synod, who do this work not for recognition but precisely because we are church together—especially to our students! We are all church together in the various ways we carry this out, united not by fear or isolation but rather by a call to follow Christ wherever we go and to whatever positions we are called to!
Scott McKenzie teaches the Western Suffolk and Peconic Conferences about enduring stewardship programming.
A number of the clergy (including three from our conference) attended the leadership training in Carefree, Arizona in January.