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Bishop’s Report

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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Bishop’s Quarterly Report – 4th Quarter

May God bless and keep you in 2023.

I write to give you a report on the Southwest California Synod from the fourth quarter of 2022. Our fiscal year runs February-January, but since most of us think in calendar years, I report as of December, 2022.

At our synod council meeting on December 19, 2022, we received news that our property in Pasadena, the former Messiah Lutheran Church has sold, and the property in Chatsworth, the former Holy Shepherd Lutheran Church is in escrow. We rejoice in the possibilities these building sales afford us for future ministry. We are still reaping the benefits of the sales of a property in Van Nuys and North Hollywood, and fund many ministries with our endowment which came from the sale of First Lutheran in Los Angeles over a decade ago. While the closure of a congregation is sad, the sale of property offers a lasting legacy for hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

Our 2022 Synod Assembly approved a budget which would cover our income shortfalls with the sale of these buildings. Indeed, we can finance a shortfall of $100,000s for several years with these funds. Our current continuing resolution in our constitution calls for us to pay off any existing debt on buildings which are sold, tithe 10% to the ELCA, retain 8% of the sale for handling costs from the synod (staff who worked on maintenance, property management, etc) and then 1/3 to go to synod operating costs and 2/3 to be spend on new or renewed ministry.

As you can imagine, with millions of dollars in proceeds, we can dream big dreams for new and renewed ministries. We are already working toward these ministries with increased spending in senior ministry and youth ministry as well as added support for congregations in transition and in need of pastoral care from the synod. I will be proposing additional ministry support to the synod council at our March meeting, and the budget presented at Synod Assembly in June will also give delegates a chance to make decisions about spending, saving and investment options.

It’s remarkable, in this time of diminishing resources, to receive this new financial influx. I want us to be thoughtful about this money, saving some for future needs, but also strengthening ministry now. I want to encourage you, dear reader, to consider ways you too can be generous in this season. How might you consider your resources differently, using them for the needs which are currently facing your family, your church, your neighborhood? We serve a God who served 5000 with five loaves and two fish. What might God do with what we consider meager resources?

To that end, our synod income, that is, donations from congregations, is coming in below budget, which is common for this time of year. We expect giving will come up to budget, or near budget, as year-end giving and January donations come in. Deficit spending was expected, and will be covered by the 1/3 of building sale proceeds mentioned earlier. Our 2023-2024 budget also has this coverage built in. Of course, we cannot rely on building sales forever. We will need to find additional sources of income, including grants. Since so many of our new ministries work with hunger, youth and seniors and mental health, I anticipate we could become eligible for grants in the near future and will be pursuing this. This is a perfect example of creating partnerships outside the church to serve the needs of our communities.

We will be inviting you into house meetings with members of our synod council and other interested leaders to hear what your congregation cares about and how we might all work together to be church in the future. Facilitators will be contacting your congregational leaders to set up this informal but guided conversations about your learnings from COVID, how you are faring in this economy, etc. As we plan our future, it’s important to be able to hear from people in the pews!

Our staff is working with several congregations to collaborate on ministry together. We are currently working with groups in the Antelope Valley and Long Beach to consider shared worship and service. Both the Central Coast and Greater Long Beach conferences work together to support the ministries of Iglesia Santa Cruz and Fe Y Esperanza. The Twin Valleys Parish has goals to work together on youth, Latinx ministries, homelessness and general sustainability. We expect other partnerships will emerge out of our house meeting conversations.  What might God be calling us to do?

Here are some upcoming events I’d like to share with you: Synod Assembly will be June 2 and 3 at CLU, under the theme of “Caring for the Body of Christ.” This assembly will include information, speakers and a celebration of how to make your ministry site accessible to seniors, the disabled, and those who have not felt like they are members of the Body of Christ.

Bishop’s Colloquy will be March 27 and 28 and will feature multiple workshops on worship arts. Sandra Dager will join us to teach about embodied worship leadership, Paul Heatley will teach us how to compose psalms and songs, Leah Chang will lead a banner workshop and many other artists will be added.

Our synod treasurer, Mike Metzger, will offer an on-line training for congregational treasurers on Saturday, January 28 at 10 am. He will offer an on-line training for congregational secretaries on Saturday, February 18 at 10am. I will be offering an on-line training and encouragement to congregational presidents on Saturday, February 11 at 10am. All of these zoom meetings will be recorded. This is a wonderful time for newly elected and seasoned officers to learn the ropes and find your peers.

As you can see, we have a lot to look forward to in the coming months. I continue to be honored, humbled and excited to serve as your bishop.

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