The Twin Valleys Conference of the Southwest California Synod of the ELCA includes 15 congregations spread through the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys, 14 of which lead and collaborate in shared ministries. Our congregations are varied in size, cultures, ministries, worship languages (ASL, English, Spanish), forms of worship, and contexts: more suburban congregations feature nurturing preschools and youth ministries; urban and other congregations lead poverty ministries and outreach to immigrant communities. We are home to dual Latinx and Anglo congregations such as Faith, Canoga Park (Pr. Cesar Arroyo) and Centra, Van Nuys (Pr. Marsha Harris). And our conference models the only example of a two-point parish in our synod: St. Andrew’s, Van Nuys and Prince of Peace, Northridge (Pr. Chuck Bunnell).
Living Lutheran, the magazine of the ELCA, featured the work of some of the Twin Valleys Conference congregations and pastoral leaders this year. The April 2020 issue celebrated Pr. Marsha Harris’ impactful outreach at Central Lutheran/Iglesia Luterana Central, Van Nuys to its Latinx community and people in poverty. In the January 2020 issue in the article “Being Jesus,” St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church—NoHo shared its inclusive vision of the Gospel and work addressing homelessness through its non-profit NoHo Home Alliance. Pr. Brian Hiortdahl of Shepherd of the Valley regularly offers his profound pastoral insight and beautiful writing in essays in The Living Lutheran.
The single-most significant development within the Twin Valleys Conference in the 2019 – 2020 reporting year is the approval, on June 8, 2019, of the formation of the Twin Valleys Lutheran Parish (TVLP). The TVLP was established as a separate non-profit religious corporation of the State of California that has as its primary purpose to foster and oversee collaborative ministries by its member congregations. In the formation process, the TVLP identified four primary areas for collaborative ministries: exploring creative, Gospel-filled ways to address congregational sustainability; building out our shared youth and young adult ministries; expanding Latinx ministries in our territory; and developing collaborative ministries addressing poverty and homelessness.
In the Fall of 2020, a board of the TVLP was established and tasked with developing the necessary founding documents for the parish, agreements with its member congregations, developing the necessary administrative infrastructure for the transparent and efficient functioning of the parish, and filing for federal tax exempt status as a 501 (c)(3).
Then in March, the Covid-19 pandemic hit. And like many other synod conferences and communities, the Twin Valleys Conference needed to adapt. From March 2020 until August 2020, our focus has been on providing prayerful support for colleagues and congregations as we all navigated the move to on-line worship utilizing a range of technologies. No longer able to meet monthly in person as a collegium, rostered leaders of the TVLP were invited to gather every other Thursday on Zoom to share ideas for best practices and prayers on the journey to being church and being church together in new, socially distanced ways.
As the TV conference navigated the new pandemic-defined reality, we discovered many strengths in our midst. For example, we learned just how resilient our congregations and our faithful people are. Some congregations became aware that they actually had a greater capacity for change and adaptation than we might have given them credit for before the pandemic. And we discovered new ways to collaborate—even if our ambitious plans for the Twin Valleys Lutheran Parish were temporarily put on hold. We learned how to do collaborative confirmation class on Zoom, finishing out the year with meaningful sessions focusing fostering our confirmands relationships with God and our confirmation community.
And, because of the rising need for food among people in poverty in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys, we began monthly collaborative “contactless” food drives at different congregations to support the three food pantries in our territory: Lutheran Social Services in North Hollywood, Central Lutheran in Van Nuys, and The Church of Hope in Canyon Country.
During this year the Twin Valleys Conference did experience several pastoral transitions. We bid farewell to Pr. Steve Jerbi from Bethel, Encino in Fall 2019 and Pr. Ioan Ittu from Bethlehem, Granada Hills in July 2020. We rejoiced with Pr. Ralph Midtlying on his retirement from All Saints, Sun Valley in December 2019. We mourned the death in April 2020 of our beloved colleague, Pr. George McLeary, who served as the innovative pastor of The Church of Hope, Canyon Country. And we of course bid farewell to Bishop Guy Erwin and his husband Rob Flynn, members of St. Luke, Woodland Hills, as Bishop Guy answered the call to lead United Lutheran Seminary.
Pr. Marc Mohr, well known to our conference for his service here as vicar, accepted the call as pastor to Church of the Foothills, Sylmar. We welcomed interim pastoral leaders Pr. Kenneth Davis at Bethel, Encino, and Pr. Kenny Bowen at All Saints, Sun Valley. We have also celebrated the arrival of our new colleague, Pr. Jeff Kallevig, who has accepted the call as senior pastor at Emmanuel, North Hollywood.
Six months into the Covid-19 pandemic, the Twin Valleys Conference has lived into this new way of being church together and we are resuming work on our broader collaborative vision. St. Luke, Woodland Hills and Shepherd of the Valley, West Hills organized a joint Zoom Vacation Bible School. Our shared confirmation program will start up again in October. And a dedicated band of lay leaders from Shepherd of the Valley together with the board of the Twin Valleys Lutheran Parish will be advancing the formation of the parish.
We look forward to continuing to witness together to the grace, love and justice of God revealed in Jesus Christ in the year to come.
In Christ’s service,
Rev. Stephanie Jaeger, Dean, Twin Valleys Conference
Pastor, St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, NoHo