From a Pastor's Desk

A series of opinion articles from rostered ministers and lay leaders from our Synod.



Dec 14, 2020

By The Rev. Kevin Vandiver, Assistant to the Bishop

"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me." (Matthew 25: 35,36)
This Advent, as we wait for Jesus, let us not look for him in fancy gifts, opulent manger displays or extravagant holiday celebrations; let us instead look for him in the poor immigrant minor, the queer homeless youth, and the countless other individuals in need of life’s simplest comforts: food, shelter, warmth, and care. Jesus was born in a manger in humble swaddling clothes; let us assume the role of the shepherds this holy time of year and ask ourselves, what gifts would we bring Him? It is in these acts of generosity, love and grace that we find Jesus.
The Advocacy Taskforce commits itself year-round to caring for the stranger, advocating for our queer siblings, fighting racism, respecting our environment, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and aiding the poor.  Let us work TOGETHER to aid those most in need, as Jesus would.

Here are tips from your Advocacy Taskforce Chairs on how you can help this holiday season:

Christopher Vergara  
Advocacy Taskforce Chair  
Substance abuse and the opioid crisis has been on the rise during this pandemic. The holidays provide an excellent opportunity to talk to your young adults—about the devastating effects of opioid and prescription drug misuse. Believe it or not, your adult children will listen, if they feel you are approaching them from a place of love, support, and, most of all, an open line of communication. The statistics are staggering. In the United States, an average of 91 people die every day from an opioid overdose. Nearly 2 million people have a pain reliever use disorder, according to 2016 data. Let your children know a large percentage of heroin use follows misuse of prescription drugs. Tell them you are aware that heroin use is rising among people between the ages of 18 and 25 years. Our national data tell us that the sharing of prescription medications among friends and family accounts for 54 percent of non-medical opioid use, so having a conversation about this issue couldn’t be more appropriate or important. 
There is good news to share. Prevention works. Opioid deaths are preventable. And you have a powerful and important role in preserving your family’s health and well-being. This holiday season, let your young adults know you want them to have a long, happy, and successful life, and that using heroin or misusing prescription opioids could permanently derail their dreams and plans for the future. Family conversations about the consequences and dangers of misusing prescription opioids or using heroin will help our young adults make healthy choices for years to come.  
Gerard Falco  
Environmental Stewardship Committee 
There are endless ways to sustainably celebrate a traditional Christmas holiday. Think ethically purchased gifts, repurposed boxes, wrapping from recycled paper, and LED lighting, for example. These individual efforts feed the spirit. They reinforce the feeling that we are doing the right thing. However, this year is unarguably so very different. The COVID-19 crisis serves as a vivid reminder that we depend on each other for our collective well-being, and for that of all creation.  As Paul's message to the Romans proclaims (12:5): "So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and everyone members one of another.”  
This year, we challenge you to go beyond being a good citizen of the planet and to openly bear witness to the climate crisis. Beyond climate marches and such, consider urging your congregation to join fellow congregations and our synod's Environmental Stewardship Committee in developing activities to further the goals of the Earth Charter in the year 2021.   
The Rev. Eduardo F. Arias  
AMMPARO/Sanctuary Ministry 
Our ministry to the immigration service, AMMPARO Sanctuary of the Metropolitan New York Synod, is focused on the many unaccompanied minors who arrive in the United States. Immigration to a new country can be intimidating and frightening, especially for unaccompanied minors crossing the border, looking for a better future, with no family or support network to help them. As we manage the struggles of this pandemic, especially during the holiday season, let us remember how additionally difficult it must be for migrant minors. 
We work, with great love, to promote the well-being and safety of children through a series of comprehensive support services to accompany them. It is of the utmost importance that during this pandemic they feel accompanied and cared for by us, and that, without breaking safety protocols, they can feel our profound gestures of loving solidarityFirst, you can send a letter with a message of welcome and hope to the office of the bishop, which we will deliver on your behalf. You can send monetary donations to the Sanctuary/AMMPARO fund that aids us as we accompany migrant minors with a variety of basic needs that include school supplies, clothes, winter wear and books. We deposit funds into the migrant minor's accounts at the detention center so they can make phone calls home to their families. During the pandemic, we have also been working to provide the children with the technology they need to keep up with their schoolwork, as they continue their studies digitally. Lastly, we encourage everyone to write to Gov. Cuomo to sign into law the Separation of Children Accountability Reporting (SCAR) Act, which requires greater transparency from NY State foster care organizations that hold separated and unaccompanied children and receive federal funding from the Office of Refugee Resettlement/HHS for this work. 
Let us together care for vulnerable children among us as we continue to build the kin-dom of God here on earth.  A kingdom of love, peace, justice, and above all, dignity. 
The Rev. Kelsey Brown  
The holidays are frequently depicted as happy times, with tables full of families laughing and loving, but with the current state of the world full of isolation and lack of community, it’s especially hard to feel hope, joy, love and peace in this season.
Isolation and loneliness can be common for folks in the LGBTQIA community, many of who have experienced these feelings from their families long before the coronavirus came to town. In this season, as advocates and allies, I have a list of a few things you can do to support those in need of extra care this holiday season.
Friends, if nothing else, please show kindness in any way you can. Maybe that means squinted eyes from smiling behind your mask, holding open a door as you exit with an “after you,” or even offering a hand to those who might need your help (from a safe distance).
You can donate to organizations and funds that promote the broad welcome all people found in Christ Jesus. Organizations like Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries—their endowment fund and various other resources help publicly identified LGBTQUI rostered leaders in the Church with micro grants and support to sustain their livelihoods and ministries during these unprecedented times.
Looking for more on the ground participation? You can follow the amazing @qween_Jean on Instagram. Her advocacy and deep care for the Trans community have been unwavering, and she takes up space, calls for change, and does it all in love, every week on Thursday evenings. Find out more on Instagram. 
We can all get through this—but we’ve got to do it together. Let’s take that first step—together.
Dr. Robert Brent & S. Dcn. Karen Nurmi  
Hunger Committee 
The economic impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic has caused a significant increase, both domestically and internationally, in the number of people who are food insecure.  Food insecurity means that a person does not have access to adequate, affordable, nutritious food at least once a month without resorting to emergency food programs.  Hunger experts predict the number of people facing food insecurity could double before the pandemic is over. 
While support of food pantries and emergency meals is essential in providing immediate hunger relief, advocacy is needed to ensure that policies and practices are in place to help people facing food insecurity.  Both ELCA Advocacy and Bread for the World—an ecumenical hunger advocacy organization with strong Lutheran roots founded in NYC—are encouraging people to contact their leaders in Congress to urge them to pass a strong COVID-Relief bill.  Both ELCA Advocacy and Bread for the World support a 15% increase in SNAP (food stamps) benefits, and well as significant international assistance. You can easily email your Senators and Representative through Bread for the World’s website ( Click on the banner Hunger at Historic Levels.
Take Action Now. Raise your voice and help make a difference for those challenged by hunger! 
The Rev. Marcia Parkinson & The Rev. Becca Seely 
Anti-Racism Committee 
We are resolved to continue our commitment to address racism in our church and society, and provide anti-racism training to our leaders, clergy, and candidates. Pr. Michael Russell, an ELCA pastor and trainer with Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training commented, "As a confessional and reformational church, the Metropolitan New York Synod has engaged a substantial amount of time, financial and human resources in dismantling systematic racism and how it hinders our ability to be the church and live out the gospel of Jesus Christ." Here are several ways you can engage in the reforming work of anti-racism during this holiday season.  
Last year, we kicked off an anti-racism initiative: The Every Congregation Challenge. We are challenging every congregation in the Synod to engage in at least one intentional time of learning and conversation about racism. To help facilitate this, we have put together resources and discussion guides for you to use in your context. We have a variety of topics to choose from, and within each topic, there are different ways to engage—from reading an article or watching a short video, to a movie night, to a book study. These are great for use in an adult education hour or a special event. You can even pick your own resource to discuss. The goal is to get the conversation started—or to help it go deeper—and to use these occasions of learning and growing together as a starting point for taking action to challenge racist practices and systems in our churches and communities. Let us know how we can support you in your conversations. 
In our holiday season, we can work to create new traditions, taking special care of our indigenous siblings. We can say goodbye to harmful Thanksgiving myths that erase the devastation of colonization on Native peoples. Learn about the true history of indigenous people and their contributions. In our celebrating, we can acknowledge the traditional indigenous land our homes and our church buildings are on. We can learn to be good allies to Native peoples by learning about and supporting native issues and organizations like the American Indian and Alaska Native Lutheran Association.
May we continue to dismantle racism in our churches, homes, and hearts, this holiday season, as we celebrate the birth of the one who broke down every wall and claims us all as God’s children. 
Help us to continue these important Advocacy Efforts during this especially difficult time, with a donation for our Mission by clicking HERE or sending your gift to MNYS Mission Support, 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 1620 | New York, NY 10115