A complete report on the 2014 Synod Assembly
By Sarah Gioe
Photos by Bob Williams
View and share photos from Synod Assembly.
"Being Lutheran in New York will change the world," said keynote speaker Professor Lisa Dahill, as she opened up the 2014 Synod Assembly. Naming New York as "a place of conversion," Dahill, a Bonhoeffer scholar at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, spoke about what it means to participate in the life of the spirit today, and how to discern the voice of God amidst a world of evil spirits. "Spirituality is what we do with the urgent desire that is at the core of us," she said, and encouraged all present to "listen to the voice of the spirit that gives life." Find her complete presentation here.
"Come, Holy Spirit" was the theme of this year’s assembly, and it was evident throughout the event, from the red banners draped from the ceiling to the hymns we sang ("Gracious Spirit, Heed our Pleading," "O Living Breath of God") to the prayers blowing around inside the inflatable whale, an interactive art installation in the chapel allowing participants to "pray like Jonah." Nearly 600 voting members and visitors—26% of whom were non-European—filled the grand ballroom of the Hilton Long Island, May 29-31, and sang together, "Come, Holy Spirit, lead us…for such a time as this."
"For such a time as this" is the title of our strategic plan, and Synod Assembly was an ideal time to roll out groundbreaking ministry programs. Watch the "For such a time as this" video here. "We’re re-imagining a church for such a time as this," said the chairs of the Claimed, Gathered, and Sent Committees. "Imagine a church less burdened by the financial cost of maintaining a building. Imagine a church well-equipped to communicate online, vocal about justice issues through the press. Imagine a synod working together to reduce costs for everyone. Imagine a church that retains a presence in neighborhoods through brick and mortar, historical buildings, but also thrives in unexpected places. These are visions of our future and, as a synod, we’re beginning to get there." With the approval of the budget on Saturday, the assembly approved funding for bold new initiatives and grants for congregations. Friday night’s Strategic Plan Expo allowed participants the opportunity to learn more about 20/20 Vision for Outreach, Getting Started with Web Presence, The Sower’s Project, the Congregational Savings Plans, and Congregational Support Grants.
While the strategic plan was a central focus of Bishop Rimbo’s report to the assembly, he reiterated that the plan was all about relationships. He commended the cooperation and partnership that makes possible Lutheran Parish of Northern Dutchess; the pending merger of Grace, Astoria and Augustana, East Elmhurst; the restorative justice offered to Leif Ericson Day School in Brooklyn; and the successful reaching of Portico’s health assessment goal. The bishop highlighted how regular visits to congregations and conferences build relationships, and also introduced exciting work being done with our social ministry partners, such as potential repurposing of former church properties as dental clinics, affordable housing, interfaith chapels, and health care centers. Read the full bishop’s report here. The theme of relationships was carried through the ELCA churchwide report as well. Watch the video "We Are Church Together."
"If we really want to get through life, we have to go together," interfaith guest Rabbi Joseph Potasnik reminded us between jokes. "Sent" moments punctuating the plenary sessions highlighted ministry that we do with our partners. The assembly heard presentations from The Healing Center, Wartburg, Wagner College, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Mission Investment Fund, the World Hunger Committee, Lutheran Ministries in Higher Education, and the ELCA Malaria Campaign. Our synod was congratulated on raising $191,137.97 to fight malaria. Offerings from the Friday Eucharist, totaling $2,957, were also given to the ELCA Malaria Campaign, leaving us $10,000 away from meeting our goal in the next year.
The election of a bishop spanned all three days, led by Carlos Peña, vice president of the ELCA. Peña reminded us of the importance of the call the assembly was issuing in voting: "A bishop is all of these things: a pastor, an evangelist, a representative of the ELCA, a servant, a CEO, and a leader. A bishop challenges, encourages, and inspires." Our new process is a modified version of the ecclesiastical ballot, so while names were added from the floor on the first ballot, the original six nominees remained the frontrunners. Despite a few voting hiccups early on, everything was running smoothly by the third ballot. The three finalists were Pastor Elise Brown, Pastor Robert Wollenburg, and Bishop Rimbo. All three answered questions such as "How would the Metro New York Synod welcome and retain youth and young adults? What innovative methods would you recommend?" and "With New York being at the forefront of cultural diversity and globalization, how will your administration address the cross-cultural barriers set in place by years of tradition and fear?" The final ballot came down to Bishop Rimbo and Pastor Brown, with Bishop Rimbo being re-elected by nine votes. Read the bishop’s election statement here.
Besides the bishop’s election, it was a busy election year on the common ballot as well. Both synod vice president Maria del Toro and synod secretary Pastor Robert Schoepflin were re-elected to a second four-year term and 12 seats on the Synod Council were filled. During business time, the assembly also had a first reading of the constitution to create a single nominations and elections committee and approved resolutions to encourage transparent and accountable congregation management and to study diversity at the Synod Assembly. Download the complete summary of actions here.
Synod Assembly is also a time of recognition. St. Andrew’s, Smithtown received the Heart of Ministry Award of Distinction for their exemplary youth ministry. At Thursday night’s banquet, Dr. Philip Krey was recognized upon his impending retirement as president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary of Philadelphia. Pastor Peter Rustico was honored upon his retirement after 30 years as a Navy chaplain. Ordination anniversaries were celebrated and the assembly thanked Pastors Dale Lind and Frederick Schumacher for their fifty years of ordained ministry.
Worship experiences at assembly ranged from an energetic revival complete with rousing gospel choir and dancing in the aisles to a traditional festival eucharist to quiet prayer together at the end of the day. In the final eucharist on Saturday, Bishop Rimbo preached about how love governs all our relationships. Read the complete sermon here. "God helps us grow in this love by putting us in situations that force us to practice it," he said. "Let’s practice this love for such a time as this."