Our Assets: People, Theology, & Property
Our Synod’s congregations are made up of engaged and committed people. Although many of our congregations are small, we have strong lay leaders and highly trained, gifted rostered leaders. Our core strength resides in the theological integrity, depth and modern relevance of our Lutheran theology that centers on grace, God’s solidarity with human experience expressed in the cross, and the good news of God’s healing and restoration for the world. We are blessed in the Southwest California Synod with a wealth of material assets manifest especially in the many valuable properties our congregations and synod own, and which can serve as impactful ministry centers.
The desire to promote diversity is shared among congregations. Congregations approach this in different degrees and in different ways. The collective diversity of our synod is visible in the variety of cultures and languages we worship and minister in such as African Descent/English and some Belizean Kriol, Chinese/Mandarin, Deaf/ASL, European/English, Filipino/Tagalog, Latinx/Spanish, and Thai/Thai, as well as in the large number of our congregations that are committed to LGBTQIA+-inclusion. Through our mission congregations and other churches engaged in ministry with persons in poverty, some of our congregations demonstrate economic diversity with the economic status of members and participants ranging from indigent to affluent.
Congregations and conferences are experiencing renewal and amplified impact through collaboration and cooperation in a range of ministries such as homelessness and poverty, Latinx outreach, and youth and young adult programs. The Twin Valleys conference, for example, has established a non-profit Twin Valleys Lutheran Parish to foster collaboration, building on the more than 25-year-old model of multicultural collaboration in our synod, New City Parish.
Resilience and Creativity
The Coronavirus pandemic has once again revealed the fundamental resilience and creativity of our congregations as they nimbly and resourcefully embrace new broadcast and communication technology including social media to carry out our evangelical mission and engage seekers and long-time Christians beyond their walls. While many of our congregations are small, their size can make them especially nimble and adaptive to change.
Our actions are ongoing and not finite. Some have undertaken steps of study, reflection, dialogue and action.
Congregations equip and support members in pursuing social justice issues such as immigration reform, LGBTQIA+ rights, housing justice, and racial equity among others.
Congregations and members pursue social justice through relationships and participation with various interfaith social justice organizations.
Outdated Church Structures and Norms
Many of our established institutional church norms and constitutional requirements assume realities, which are no longer true, are clumsy and inhibit adaptive leadership and implementing necessary change. These norms and structures draw churches to focus inward rather than outward, and can be stumbling blocks to newcomers seeking entryways into the life of the congregation.
Underdeveloped Communication Skills
We need to learn new ways of communicating our message of God’s hope and grace, and telling our congregations’ stories of restoration effectively. This includes learning how to speak more effectively one-on-one with un-churched persons, as well as learning to use new technologies and infrastructure to amplify our message of good news and opportunities for sharing healing and grace. We need to build our capacity to communicate in relevant ways with younger people and a more diverse population.
COVID-19: New Technologies and a New Longing for Connection
The pandemic has accelerated how our congregations adapt and utilize new ways to carry out our mission. Ongoing social distancing creates the opportunity for churches to continue to modernize their communications tools including expanding the use of social media and apps, especially useful for connecting with youth and young adults. Technology also allows churches to expand their mission field beyond their immediate geographical area, and reach anyone with an Internet connection. The churches of the Southwest California Synod have the opportunity to now share their unique combination of theological relevance and diversity with more people who are feeling an especial longing for connection and community due to the isolation of the pandemic and a restructuring of daily life.
Public Skepticism about Christianity and Churches
Southern California has long been a highly secular area of the country. Over the last decades, and accelerated over the last 4 years, this secularism has developed a more aggressive, anti-Christian attitude. The Lutheran message of God’s grace and freedom in Christ to serve and do justice is often drowned out by louder, more legalistic Christian voices. We are challenged—but well-positioned—to find ways to amplify our message of grace, and distinguish our Lutheran commitment to putting our faith into service and action from louder, less welcoming expressions of Christianity.
Economic Challenges for Mission Congregations and Others
When starting new Missions, the ELCA provides funding, more so to our Spanish speaking Missions. After a period of years, depending on the situation, they begin to cut down on the funding, with the expectation that they will eventually become completely self-sufficient. All of our Spanish-speaking Missions are in impoverished communities, and cannot expect to become financially self-sufficient. This is a huge threat and a constant burden on our Spanish speaking pastors and the congregations they serve. These congregations are providing important outreach and community service to the people who live in poverty, often far more than our English-speaking congregations in more affluent communities.
The high cost of living in Southern California, especially housing, also poses challenges to older, smaller Anglo congregations, including those that engage heavily in community ministries. Even vibrant small congregations struggle to remain financially sustainable given the challenge of paying pastors adequate salary to cover housing costs as well as benefits. In the coming years, models of congregational collaboration such as the Anchor Church Model may be ways for congregations to overcome the threat of economic burdens.
Rev. Stephanie Jaeger
Dean, Twin Valleys Conference