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export 6-2024

Bishop’s Report to Synod – Third Quarter 2023

Grace and peace to you! This summer was quieter than last summer for me. Last year I was traveling to our sister synod in El Salvador and to Columbus, Ohio for the triennial Churchwide Assembly. There was a week in Holden Village in Washington and various other bishop commitments. It’s nice to just be in our synod this summer.

We rejoice in the ordinations of Pastor Jade Ortiz to Redimidos and Deacon Natalie Larkin as a spiritual director. We are also excited to announce the SAM Academy, starting mid-September. SAMs are Synodically Authorized Ministers. Many synods utilize these lay leaders, who have been lifted up in their congregations to preach and teach and care for congregants when a congregation cannot afford an ordained leader or their leader is not available for an extended period of time. Pastor Abel Arroyo Traverso has created this first course on preaching, which will bring people through ten weeks of learning on preaching in context, preaching for festivals, preaching for seniors and youth, etc. We are inviting a wide variety of pastors from our synod to teach us. It’s not too late to sign up! If you are interested, please click here.

Pastor Toni Rose Casteneda Carrera has been working with many congregations in transition. She has designed “Pathways of Mobility” for congregations. This process helps congregations determine what their overall health is, including their number of capable volunteers and viability of their building. As congregations understand their capacity more clearly, they can make clearer decisions about what ministries they are able to take on. Even the smallest congregations can find ways to serve God and God’s people. Others may determine their ministry has run its course. We are ready to help a congregation move into holy closure, and help them see the amazing legacy gifts they can use to support other ministries. Lisa Higginbotham is a wonderful resource for these legacy conversations.

I feel strongly this honest assessment is part of God’s work among us. We have seen the decline in membership over the past decade or two, and must acknowledge this is a very real trend. Instead of wringing our hands and wondering what we’ve done wrong, I believe we need to praise God for the pruning. Yes, pruning is painful (there’s a farm implement involved!) but it produces sweeter fruit and healthier plants. We have to admit God is pruning us. This is not destroying trees; it’s improving the harvest. My pledge in the remaining four years of this term is to help congregations deepen their faith expressions, being more committed to the Risen Savior. The world needs Jesus. It’s possible (maybe likely) that God is asking us to bring Jesus to the world in different ways. The “Sunday morning only” model has failed the world, and we need to recognize that.

There is a dying here. We can grieve. We should grieve. And then we need to get ourselves to the garden and meet the Risen Savior. Remember in the Easter morning story, Mary didn’t recognize Jesus at first. I’ve always been fascinated by that. Did He look really different? Or was it simply that she couldn’t imagine He would be there? Had her grief kept her from recognizing Him? What’s happening in our own encounters with Jesus? Does He look different? Maybe. Or is He appearing in new places? Definitely. And how might our grief be affecting our ability to encounter Jesus? Much to consider and pray about.

Pastor Tracy Williams has visited with many of your congregations, providing intentional care. Pastor Chryll Crews is about to start year-end reviews on our Strategic Ministries and Synodically Authorized Worshipping Communities. We have put out a call for volunteers who are interested in learning more about these cutting edge ministries and participating in their support and assessment. If you want more information, contact Pastor Crews at  TaSh Elzie is revamping the synod website. Deacon Cecelia Travick Jackson launches a new senior ministry task force in September. Tyra Dennis and the Synod Youth leaders are launching an exciting $125k fundraising campaign to ensure all young people in the synod can attend the ELCA National Youth Gathering in New Orleans in 2024. If you are interested in donating to this important ministry, please click here.  There’s a lot going on.

Your generous gifts have kept us sustainable and able to dream of financial freedom in our future. Please continue to participate in these ministries with your offerings. Ask your church leadership how much your donation to the synod is. Maybe this is the year to support these ministries more intentionally with your congregational gift, or with a personal gift to the synod. We give 45% of your synod offerings to the ELCA and 5% to California Lutheran University and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. The other 50% of your offerings is used right here in Southern California, advancing the gospel in Lutheran contexts.

We are continuing our search for a Director of Finance and Administration for the synod staff. This position will be a key leader in streamlining our synod office function and guiding us forward into our financial future. We have a lot of resources, and I feel God calling us to new and bold ways to utilize those resources. Of course we will report more details as they emerge.

And finally, we welcomed seven new council members at our synod council retreat in August. They have agreed to meet quarterly, in person, for six hour meetings. This is a return to our old format, pre-COVID. We are excited to see what God will do with more intentional time together.

I’m considering rewriting my first paragraph, where I said it was a “quieter summer.” I suppose it’s all relative. As I enter my third year as your bishop, I thank you for your trust in me, and praise God for the opportunity to lead this church forward into God’s glorious future. Clearly, God is not done with us yet.

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