Karen Falco Report


Karen Falco, chief operating officer


Hello, MNYS Synod Assembly! 
I haven’t had the opportunity to meet each of you in person yet; I certainly hope to do so during our assembly. I am Karen Falco, Chief Operating Officer for our synod for the past three years. 
It is so nice to be back together in community again. We continue to adjust to this post pandemic world, living in a time of transition and wondering when everything will feel “normal” again. I’m beginning to realize what was in the past is past and we are headed for something new. I know God is with us and we will be ok!
I have really missed being together with my church community, passing the peace, shaking hands, giving a hug, visiting with one another, chatting in groups, laughing together. We have begun to do that again and finally get to be here in person… as church together, as Metro NY Synod together
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! 
— Psalm 133:1
During the past year, our synod administrative staff have worked on a number of projects, including a recent 2-day clean-up project in the office, going through our many storage shelves. Do you enjoy “spring cleaning” as much as I do?!  
We continue our work in Salesforce; this robust platform enables us to store the most accurate and up-to-date contact information for our ordained, lay leaders, congregations and their leadership, synod committees, committee membership, mission support from our congregations, and other important information that previously required much staff time, tracking down and searching through paper files and also to track complex processes such as candidacy and call. Salesforce provides quick and easy access to documents our congregations often need and may not be able to locate, such as: certificate of incorporation and insurance declaration pages. We have been reaching out to our congregations to gather these documents, to better serve you. If your congregation has not had the opportunity to share this information with us, we encourage you to do so. We will be able to better help you far into the future. 
The Bishop’s staff continues to diligently work on the budget process. Working closely with our Director of Finance and Administration, and Synod Council Treasurer, we understand and take seriously the expectation of our Synod Council to have a balanced budget and work on the glide path. I am pleased to report we have met or exceeded that expectation over the past three years and expect the same result in this fiscal year. Please refer to the report from Donna-Mari Fieldsa for more details.
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. - Romans 13: 8 
As a staff, we were sad to see Pastor Kevin Vandiver, Assistant to the Bishop, leave our team. We know God has called Pastor Kevin to share his many gifts with the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington D.C., which we were able to see firsthand, attending the inspiring installation service. We now look forward with great excitement to working with our new Assistant to the Bishop this spring. 
Another part of my work for our synod is handling insurance matters, working closely with our property manager, Mark Goodwin, on synod-owned properties, and with our attorneys who handle matters in litigation. I would like to share more about our synod-owned properties with you. We closed on the sale of one property last year and currently are responsible for 12 synod-owned properties, some with multiple structures. Two of the properties are currently listed for sale. Three have received Attorney General (AG) approval and are awaiting closing. Two are currently in contract awaiting AG approval. Completing the sale process can take many months. One property has a lease/purchase agreement signed while we await a court decision regarding a 300-year-old reverter clause. We are very hopeful this property will once again be the home of a Christian community. Three of our synod-owned properties are being held for future redevelopment, one in Brooklyn, one in the Bronx and one in Harlem. 
During the last FY, approximately $875,000 (down from $1 million the prior year) was spent related to these properties for
  • Legal fees
  • Property and liability insurance
  • Maintenance and repair 
  • Real estate taxes
  • Utilities
  • Staff salaries and time
  • Professional fees including appraisals/architect fees
  • Violations
Maintaining properties each year requires time and financial resources and includes such things as snow removal; lawn care; repairing broken windows, siding, cracked pipes and broken boilers (which in some cases have caused flooded basements); cutting back overgrown vegetation; boarding up windows; installing fencing to keep our neighbors safe; making property secure and regular visits by our property manager. Once a congregation is no longer meeting at the property, we are responsible for property taxes. 
As appropriate and with synod council approval, properties will be listed for sale in order that resources may be reinvested in mission and ministry, and also to replenish the legacy fund. The longer a property is held, the higher the expenses and lesser availability for mission and ministry. 
Since the 1990s, ELCA membership has declined. The overflowing pews on Sunday mornings, which we and our grandparents and parents grew up with, are no longer. Our congregations, pastors, council members and committee members work hard sharing the Gospel in person, and are now doing that digitally. In addition to this hard work, properties require care and upkeep. This is time-consuming, and sometimes labor-intensive and costly. Over the years, a church may experience a decline in membership, and as a result, finances become more limited. In turn, maintaining the church property becomes an even more difficult proposition. 
While we continue as your synod staff to do what is needed to care for the properties that come to the Synod, it is not our mission or calling to be landlords of vacant properties. Bishop Egensteiner’s vision for our Synod is focused on ministry and mission.  
For me, one of the highlights of the past year has been just that: a new ministry with a mission, in line with our Bishop’s vision to “Live Like Christ in Our Communities.” Over the past two years, a former diner located on Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven, NY, has been transformed into a warm and welcoming worship and community space. When construction came to completion, our new Synodically Authorized Worshiping Community (SAWC), Unidad y Fe, led by Pastor Leticia Alanis, officially opened on Reformation Sunday, re-forming the old diner into a new and vibrant ministry for the community.  
Recently, I had a conversation with Pastor Leticia, to hear about all of the work being done. I would like to share just a few examples with you:
  • Sunday worship includes people of all ages.
  • A civic participation project with New York City is opening up the possibility for new initiatives, using community ideas. A vote will take place in June providing the community with the opportunity to select one of three possible programs that will take place at Unidad y Fe.  1)immigration resources 2) youth success center or 3) health and wellness programs. These programs would be funded through NYC’s participatory budgeting process.
  • A youth group has been started, with six young people currently participating, meeting twice a month and leading a community event once a month.
  • Unidad y Fe leadership is receiving training from a NYC commission health initiative and sharing this important information about health and wellness with the community, twice a month. 
  • Two ESL programs are being offered to eighteen English learners with more people anxious to learn. 
When Pastor Leticia and I have the chance to talk about Unidad y Fe, I see God in our midst, working through this pastor and the people in Woodhaven. As she with me, it is very rewarding “developing people to go out and serve, to come together for a purpose.” Pastor also told me she is “grateful to God and thankful to the synod to serve in this neighborhood and for the lifegiving relationship with our Bishop and staff, working in cooperation and with respect for each other.”
I am grateful to God for Pastor Leticia and her witness, sharing Jesus’ love, given freely for all of us and so generously with the Woodhaven community. On a personal note, I have had the pleasure and privilege to continue to meet with one of the young leaders from Unidad y Fe who volunteered at the synod office last summer. She is a remarkable young woman. I am lifted by her faith in God, commitment to her church community, and her focus on making a difference in the world. Knowing “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19-26), I have no doubt she will accomplish her goal of becoming a cardiac nurse and continue to give back to the community and beyond. 
Thank you, Lord Jesus, I am blessed to be able to work for our synod and with Bishop Egensteiner and each and every member of Bishop’s staff, an incredible team of faithful, dedicated, hard-working servants. Thanks be to God and thank you for being here for our assembly.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
— Hebrews 10:24