We Are Church Together

Roberto Lara Report


Roberto Lara

Assistant to the Bishop for Communications & Development

In order to not repeat myself, please take a moment to look at the 2019 report I prepared, for these efforts were amplified in 2020.
2020 was an unexpected and challenging year for all of us. From the moment the COVID-19 crisis became our everyday and ever-changing reality, the MNYS Communications and Development team helped pastors transfer from in-person to online worship, helped our leaders, congregants, and communities stay informed with daily updated COVID-19 resources from New York State and the Center for Disease Control, developed creative solutions for a new digital world, offered pastoral care to our over-taxed church leaders, and helped usher in a new era of Church that was accessible to everyone. If we have learned something uplifting during this crisis, it is that Church is so much more than a building — Church transcends the brick-and-mortar sanctuaries that we are so accustomed to visiting. Our buildings may have been closed, but Church remained open, and with new tools and ingenuity, churches were able to diligently serve our communities.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” The Bible guides us in the importance of efficient and effective communication: when communicating the word of God, the methods we use and the ways we equip our members are essential. Therefore, these methods must be flexible and are subject to change and advancement in order to reach everyone. In this way, all God’s children may “be proficient [and] equipped for every good work.”


COVID-19 Resources Page & Digital Initiatives
We created and a comprehensive and user-friendly Coronavirus Resources Page on our website that is updated daily. In addition to a “Breaking News” hero module with information from the Center for Disease Control and New York State, this page also featured many resources we compiled and created for every member of our MNYS community.
Furthermore, in line with our mission to be inclusive, we also published this same COVID-19 Resources page in Spanish. In this way, vital information and helpful digital tools are available to our Spanish-speaking communities.
From Our Bishop and Leaders
We featured video messages and written articles from Bishop Egensteiner and other leaders from our synod. The production of video messages was central to our 2020 communications efforts. Having an interactive way for our leaders to comment on the difficult situation we were all living, relate to each of us, and guide us was integral to engaging with all MNYS leaders and members and allowing us to continue to be Church TOGETHER safely.
MNYS Digital Services of the Word
Bishop Paul Egensteiner, his deployed assistants, and the entire staff of the Office of the Bishop led the MNYS community in online worship. Though we were physically apart, spiritually we remained together. These services and stand-alone sermons were also created as a resource for pastors to use in their own digital services in order to help them in their own congregational leadership and workload.
MNYS Congregations' Digital Service of the Word
During a pandemic, the enveloping care and God’s boundless love that Church provides for its members and communities was maintained and even increased due to digital communication methods. Rapidly, we are realizing what a great evangelism strategy they represent. Digital Services of the Word reached new audiences like never before, and these new participants represent potential new members for our congregations. Additionally, many of our congregations have seen an increased number of people attending their digital services as well, and in some cases have even experienced an increase in their mission support numbers. Therefore, we cannot abandon these new digital ways of communicating with our members, our potential new members, and our communities moving forward. It would be beneficial to congregations and to our very mission of sharing the Word of God, to continue livestreaming services and providing digital fellowship opportunities even after the crisis. These digital communication strategies are particularly crucial at this point, especially since there is some evidence suggesting that not all churchgoers feel safe going back to in-person services. Further, if we continue to uphold our goals to share the Good News, and reach and connect with people, rather than merely filling pews, Church must remain relevant, inclusive, and embrace these new methods of communication and evangelism, even in a post-COVID world.
Digital Worship and Communications Resources
To go from a lifetime of being in-person to entirely digital overnight is challenging, to say the least. Therefore, it was our job as the MNYS Communications and Development team to equip our church leaders with easy to-follow instructions, digital best practices, digital service recommendations and Zoom accounts. In addition to offering external articles on this subject from the ELCA, the New York State Council of Churches, and the Lutheran World Federation, among others, our team also produced original articles and initiatives. Here are some examples:
  • Zoom. The Office of the Bishop offered Zoom Pro accounts to congregations in need of one. Additionally, resources for Zoom trainings were provided on the MNYS website to help those for whom Zoom was a new endeavor.
  • How To: Digital Services on Zoom. A Beginner’s Guide to sharing your digital services via Zoom.
  • How To: Coffee Hour on Zoom. Host a coffee hour via Zoom!
  • How To Livestream Your Worship Service. As we make it our priority to maintain the safety and well-being of our members during this troublesome time, live streaming worship services is a digital amenity that will allow the Holy Spirit to continue to be present in our lives and support our sense of faithful community. Live streaming tools have become more and more user-friendly in recent years, see here!
  • Video and Audio Recommendations for Live-streaming or Recording
  • Synodical Resources & Efforts
  • Faith Formation Online. Many folks are wondering how faith formation happens in a coordinated effort while remaining socially distanced from one another. Well, the tools to gather online have certainly existed for quite some time. Now, we get to make use of them.
ELCA Provided Resources
Through the sharing of ELCA coronavirus resources in one easy-to-access page, congregations, communities and persons in need could read about how the wider-church was being affected and responding to the crisis and also apply for and learn about various ELCA provided grants.
Government Resources
A myriad of articles and video resources from the CDC and NYS were provided so that every member of the MNYS community could properly protect themselves and their loved ones from the virus and stay informed with up-to-date information.
Synodical Resources and Efforts
Alongside collected resources from MNYS, the synod also offered a series of webinars and a digital ministerium. Private pastoral care zoom sessions were also offered and led by the bishop and deployed assistants.
Digital branding of our MNYS logo and video presence was instrumental in our 2020 digital efforts, allowing us to gain the attention of younger generations, engage with the community, and maintain the relevance of our synod.
Resources Regarding the Reopening of Church Buildings
A topic of great importance and discussion, we provided church leaders with recordings of two webinars MNYS held regarding the re-opening of our schools and the re-opening of our buildings, and further webinars and articles from the ELCA, CDC, NYS, and the NYSCC.
Resources for our Children
With the well-being of our youngest members in mind, this page was dedicated to helpful digital tools for kids. Such as,
  • MNYS Children’s App. As children virtually enter the open doors of the Lutheran church, kids of all backgrounds, who speak any language, can enjoy this entirely visual interactive experience. The MNYS Children’s App is a joyful experience designed to engage and educate kids in the beauty of the accepting and welcoming love of God. The app features six different games children can play.
  • LET US WASH OUR HANDS AND PRAY! A video we had made during the pandemic featuring an animated Bishop Egensteiner as you pray with your children, while teaching them the right way to wash their hands. This initiative was created to promote staying safe together in the Holy light of God.
Wellness Resources
Wellness, inside and out, is an important part of caring for ourselves, so that we may be better able to care for others. Therefore, MNYS created a series of wellness videos focusing on breath, refocusing energies, exercise, and prayerful meditation. These video resources were recorded in both English and Spanish.
The DIGITAL Lutheran New Yorker
We never stopped the production of our beloved The Lutheran New Yorker. In fact, we improved it! By digitalizing the synod’s quarterly magazine it reached a much broader audience and in its current form, links to enriching articles, videos, information, and resources is easier than ever – they are just a click away. Additionally, TLNY issues were current and informative, reflecting the times we are living in and the events and milestones that took place and were dear to our communities.
This Summer 2020 edition will feature a Message from Our Bishop, an article about The (Digital) Church of Christ, Digital Communication How-To's, and so much more!
This Fall 2020 edition is dedicated to the MNYSvotes initiative, and will feature messages from our Bishop, Vice-President Renée Wicklund, and Assistants to the Bishop The Rev. Kevin Vandiver and The Rev. Gladys Díaz.
This Gratitude 2020 edition will feature a message from our Bishop and leaders, an article with suggestions about how we can care for those most in need during this time of year, and recommendations and ideas for celebrating a Digital Christmas.
This Spring 2021 edition is dedicated to The Celebration of the Ordination of Women 50 | 40 |10. In devoting this issue to these important celebrations, woman-identifying ministers of our synod share with us highlights of their ministry as ordained leaders in this church, in powerful video testimonials.
This Summer 2021 edition is focused on the MNYS Digital Annual Assembly, the theme of which is We Are Church TOGETHER. This issue will feature messages from Our Bishop; the Assembly Planning Committee Chair, Liz Hoffmann; and Vice-President Renée Wicklund.
Heroes On The Front Lines Of Our Synod
Faith-filled individuals risked their lives by generously helping others, and the Office of the Bishop decided to feature them, share their stories, and in this way thank them for their steadfast love and care of others. We interviewed and created both editorial and video stories of members of our own synod who appropriately earned the title “Hero” or, in our language, “saints and servants.” Our hope was that our members read their stories, kept them and others like them in prayer, and that they would inspire others to respond with solidarity and grace in troubled times.
Anti-Racism Resources
In the same effort to respond to our current climate and surroundings, the Office of the Bishop created a robust Anti-Racism Resources page. MNYS is blessed with a rich diversity of people and cultures and Anti-racism strategies are a high priority for our Bishop. The Bishop's Advocacy Taskforce is actively implementing anti-racism efforts, as this is an essential element of the Bishop's 2025 Vision. Strategies such as this are geared both inward, for the sake of the Church, and outward, for the sake of the World, so that we may all be treated and viewed as God sees us, as EQUALS. Resources covered the following categories: Racial Justice Resources, Reports and Social Statements From The ELCA, White Savior: Racism In The American Church, Starting Conversations Around Racial Justice, MNYS The Every-Congregations Challenge, ELCA Racial Justice Ministry, Resources for White People, Resources for White Parents to Raise Anti-Racist Children, and the MNYS Anti-Racism Blog.
“Never let a good crisis go to waste.” —Winston Churchill
We increased our public relations efforts in 2020 due to the impact of our Digital Church presence and advocacy efforts. We saw a considerable increase in potential new members and wanted to access them and fully immerse them in our mission and engage with them. Therefore, we amplified PR presence and gained a great deal of press for our congregations, synod, leaders, and programs.
Every quarter we put together metrics review analysis so that we don’t waste funds allocated for our program.
Our 2020 metrics show a considerable increase in audience engagement through our website, social media platforms, email campaigns, digital programs, and PR opportunities. In fact, these initiatives were so successful that the ELCA requested a video from our synod featuring Bishop Egensteiner talking about how these metrics confirm how our advocacy efforts are our best evangelism strategy.
MNYS Micro-sites Strategy
Websites are becoming the front door of our congregations. Having already optimized our “Find a Church” page, we established a strategy that will offer an up-to-date digital presence to ALL our congregations in need of one: MNYS Congregational Micro-sites. In order to optimize the online presence of the Lutheran Church and further its mission to reach and care for all members of our communities, the MNYS Office of the Bishop is offering congregational microsites to those congregations interested. These micro-sites will also help us advance evangelism projects, from a synodical level to a congregational level. The pilot phase of this exciting project is already underway, so stay tuned!