God’s grace and peace to you. I entered into this call on December 1, 2019, in the last weeks of Pastor Reg Schultz-Akerson’s tenure as your previous assistant to the bishop. Pastor Reg was able to spend many quality hours with me, sharing with me his current workload, briefing me on our congregations in transition, all the candidates we had in seminaries, and which pastors were seeking new calls. He had a wealth of knowledge and was able to share much of that with me before his retirement.
It goes without saying that this position had already become quite different from what any of us could have imagined at the end of 2019. Bishop Erwin’s departure and Interim Bishop Finck’s arrival would be news enough, but of course shutting down in-person worship experiences and day-to-day congregational life due to COVID-19 has been a historic endeavor.
I have supported many congregations as they became experts at livestreaming, Zoom council meetings and digital congregational meetings. Call votes needed to be held in creative ways. Trinity Lutheran in Manhattan Beach called Pastor Douglas Barclay in a parking lot congregational vote, with all votes cast on post-it notes placed outside car doors and tallied on the church office door. I continue to monitor congregational and council meetings via zoom. In fact, I have deeper relationships with some congregations in the northern part of our synod than I might have, due to digital means rather than having to wait until we could drive to be together. God continues to work in our midst.
I believe a key piece of my role is to care for our rostered leaders. During the shutdown, this included starting “The Haven,” an online forum for deacons, pastors and lay leaders to meet for support, information sharing and special topics of interest. We have discussed racism, re-opening strategies, VBS and Holy Week options on this call. Interim Bishop Finck was introduced to several congregations via The Haven. As the shutdown began, we hosted “The Haven” twice a week. Now we meet a few times a month as needs arise.
Bishop Erwin and I wanted to offer a digital weekly worship service for congregations who did not have the capability of creating their own service after the shutdown. We started the third Sunday of Lent and imagined we would need to continue through Pentecost. At the time of this writing, we continue to produce a synod worship service for every Sunday. At the height of these productions, we utilized leaders and musicians from 8-10 congregations a week. Now, in the interest of sustainability, we feature a preacher who reads most of the prayers and lessons themselves, with music offered from local congregations. These services have brought much joy and comfort and have highlighted the diversity of our congregations.
Candidacy met in person in November, 2019 and January, 2020. Rev. Dr. Pamela Challis continues to serve as our chair. Pastors Tracy Williams, Hongsum Kim and Deacon Shannon Savage-Howie. Pastor Reg Schultz-Akerson and I both serve from this position. We entranced Jade Ortez (TEEM) from Our Redeemer, Oxnard, Pedro Zaragoza (TEEM from another Christian tradition) from Angelica and Carlos Cortez from First, Inglewood. We endorsed Libby Denton from Salem Glendale and Amanda Berg from Ascension, Thousand Oaks. We approved Dr. Cecilia Travick-Jackson for Word and Service, Rev. Esteban Salazar (Iglesia Santa Cruz in Santa Maria) and Maria Paiva (St. John’s Gardena) for Word and Sacrament.
We continue to pray for five of our candidates who continue in seminary and those about to go on internship this fall, Libby Denton to First, Torrance, Amanda Berg to Mt. Cross, Camarillo and Cole McGlynn to Shared Lutheran Ministry, a four-point parish in Fayette County, Texas. Kyle Johnson continues to serve his internship congregation in Wilmington, Illinois as an interim after the completion of his internship.
We rejoice in the ordinations of Marc Mohr (Church of the Foothills, Sylmar) and Thomas Voelp (Trinity, Santa Barbara). Erik Rude (Prince of Peace, Covina) is awaiting an ordination date.
First Call Theological Education continues to provide challenging topics and collegiality to our first call pastors. We held our August 2019 event at First in San Diego and learned a great deal about urban and homeless ministries. The February 2020 event was held at the Mercy Center in Burlingame, CA and leadership styles in conflict were discussed. We have eight first call pastors attending these events. All first call pastors and deacons attend six events in three years and are in attendance with pastors and deacons from throughout ELCA Region 2, the western United States.
Transitions We continue to have approximately thirty congregations in various states of transition, meaning they are in call process, are being served by interims or are using longterm pulpit supply to fulfill their worship services. As COVID shutdown lingers, we have an opportunity for preachers to serve multiple sites on a Sunday. Some congregations enjoy guest preaching from other parts of the country. While we pray for God’s guidance for our fragile congregations in this time, we are seeing new ways God is moving in our world.
Conflict – Of course congregations are filled with people, and people are occasionally in conflict. I am often the first person called as a congregation needs assistance to deal with internal conflict. My role is to provide constitutional support, that is, helping a congregation find their constitutional power and responsibility in times of strength and challenge. As Pastor Reg requested in previous years, I encourage congregational presidents and pastors to face conflicts as soon as possible, using the resolution principles laid out in their constitutions and in Matthew 18.
I thank God for the diverse and vibrant ministries of the Southwest California Synod. God is moving in unique ways in each setting. I pray daily for your strength and witness. And I am honored to serve you in this way