Highlights from the 2016 Synod Assembly

Synod Assembly 2016 Highlights

One of our lowest scores on the Congregational Vitality Assessment we took last year was how informed people felt about what is going on in the Synod and the wider Church. In an effort to remedy this, here are some of the interesting things that happened at Synod Assembly this week.

As always, we heard from many of the ministries of the larger Church, including:

  • David Lose, president of Philadelphia Seminary, talked about the efforts being made to bring together Gettysburg and Philadelphia Seminaries, and how these efforts will result in balanced budgets and full tuition scholarships for ELCA students – a huge step in addressing the massive clergy shortage the ELCA is currently experiencing (600 fulltime vacancies) and which will get much worse in the coming years due to retirements (1000 vacancies by 2020).
  • Molly Beck Dean, main planner of the National Youth Gathering, was the representative from Churchwide, and she told us about the exciting ministries going on around the country and the world, including highlighting some new mission starts and feeding locations, and thanking the Upstate NY Synod for its financial contributions to these ministries.
  • We raised over $30,000 for World Hunger over the three days!

Each assembly we discuss several business decisions, called resolutions and memorials. Some of the more interesting one this year were:

  • Resolution/Memorial on the possibility of lay presidency: to satisfy the needs of rural churches without a regular pastor, it was proposed that churches could lift up lay leaders within their congregations who could take turns presiding at communion. A frequent dissenting opinion was that the system we currently have in place, in which permission must be granted by the bishop for a lay person to preside, works well, and having that check/balance system in place is important for maintaining the integrity and proper use of the sacrament. Frequent supporting opinion was giving lay people the opportunity to serve one another and receive the means of grace however often they want. The resolution was defeated, as the synod council had recommended it be.
  • Resolution on denying the Doctrine of Discovery: This resolution repented the use of Christian theology to take control of the “new world” by means of Native American genocide, in hopes of mending relationships and improving ministry with our Native American brothers and sisters. It passed.
  • Memorial regarding Islamic extremism: This memorial acknowledged the evil of Islamic (later changed to “religious”) extremism and the damage it is doing for Christians and others around the world. Much debate arose, especially around whether there should be a call from the Lutheran Church for the government to take stronger action (and what sort of action this should be), and whether the resolution as it stood was insufficient because it did not recognize the breadth of the issue, nor take responsibility for the ways we have all fallen short in ministering to those affected by religious extremism. The assembly voted to push the resolution to synod council for further study.

Much of the Assembly was focused on the theme of “In Christ, One New Humanity” (Eph. 2:15) and in particular, racial justice. This included a keynote speaker on the topic (the Rev. Dr. Cheryl Pero, director of the Albert “Pete” Pero Jr. Multicultural Center at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago), a common read (The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness), breakout sessions to discuss the topic in small groups, several workshops offered on the topic, and worship and devotions planned with this theme in mind.

One phrase that came up a lot and often caused tension among us was “white privilege.” Swallowing that racism still exists in this country is difficult for many of us – we have a black president, after all! – but understanding it from the perspective of white privilege puts a different spin on it. It suggests that racism today isn’t so much overt exclusion as it is an unspoken assumption about who has what opportunities, and who doesn’t. Often they are opportunities that people who are white never noticed because it is all they have ever known. Here is a white privilege checklist to bring some of those to light:

  • If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure about renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I want to live, and that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
  • I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
  • I can turn on the television or open the front page of the newspaper and see people of my race widely represented.
  • When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
  • I can be sure that my children will be given curriculum materials that testify to the existence of their race (e.g. novels written by people of their race).
  • I can easily find a hairdresser who can cut my hair, and products in my local grocery store to care for my hair.
  • Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can be sure my skin color will not work against the appearance of financial responsibility.
  • I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
  • I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
  • If a traffic cop pulls me over, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.
  • When I cut myself, I can easily find a Band-Aid that roughly matches my skin color.
  • I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, children’s books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.
  • I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having coworkers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
  • If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.

Could you answer yes to most or all of those? Our brothers and sisters of color, even those who are well-educated, well-spoken, positive contributors to society, cannot answer yes to very many of these. The fact that most middle class white people can answer yes to most of them does not make those white people bad people, nor does it minimize their accomplishments, but it does point to a certain privilege they were born into. At the assembly, we spent a lot of energy trying to come to terms with this difficult and challenging reality. No one likes to be told that their success is due to some privilege they didn’t earn themselves; no one likes their accomplishments to be undermined. But this is not the purpose of talking about white privilege. The purpose is simply to point out some of the assumptions we make, and the distance we have yet to go in terms of racial justice in this country.

Once we can recognize that racial justice has not yet been achieved (and this conversation has touched only the tip of the iceberg on that!), we can start to consider steps forward to address it. The assembly attendees were given several resources for bringing the conversation back to congregations; the hope is that conversation will help us at least start to understand the situation which is so often hidden from us, and that it may ultimately help us to follow the call of the prophet Micah: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”

I hope you will take advantage of opportunities in the next months to learn more about this issue. I know it is an uncomfortable conversation, but sometimes God’s call makes us uncomfortable; growing pains usually are. But learning (even if you don’t agree) is an important step in living into Jesus’ way of compassion for even the outsider, those who are different, those on the margins, and those we might otherwise dismiss – and to treat all people as the children of God that they are.

Holy Week 2016


Already Holy Week is nearly upon us! Holy Week is the time of year when we walk with Jesus during his last week of life, remembering together the sacrifices he made, what they mean for our lives, and then at the end, celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord and the new life that this victory brings to us. Hope you can join us for some part of this special and sacred week.

Palm Sunday (March 20, 9am) – Jesus makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem in preparation for the Passover celebration. But shouts of “Hosanna!” quickly turn to cries of “Crucify!” On this Sunday, we will begin with a joyous procession with palms, followed by a theatrical reading of the Passion According to Luke.

Maundy Thursday (March 24, 7pm @ Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 1767 Plank Rd) – Jesus shares a meaningful supper with his disciples during which he gives them a new commandment, “to love one another as I have loved you.” On this night, we will reflect on that covenant, experience the humbly loving act of foot-washing, and celebrate communion together, remembering how Christ gave himself for us. The service will conclude with the solemn practice of Stripping the Altar, while we reflect on how Jesus gave up everything for us.

Good Friday (March 25, 7pm @ St. Martin, 813 Bay Rd) – On this darkest of days, we remember how Jesus “breathed his last” on the cross. This will be a Tenebrae service (meaning, “shadows”), mostly candlelit, as we read the Passion According to John, allowing beautiful and haunting a cappella music (sung by the Johnson family) provide the commentary on this sad but salvific event.

Easter: The Resurrection of our Lord (March 27, 8:30am, breakfast following) – “On the third day, he rose again,” and today we celebrate! Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Come and raise a joyful noise to give thanks for Christ’s victory over the grave, and the victory that we all have, too, because Christ’s resurrection has conquered the fear of sin and death. Stay after for a delicious homemade breakfast spread.

Lenten Pilgrimage: Day 1 Reflections

This year for Lent, our congregations have committed to “walk” to Jerusalem. Along with the Israelites wandering through the wilderness in search of the Promised Land, and Jesus descending the mountain of his Transfiguration toward his trial, death, and resurrection in Jerusalem, we will name our own trials we seek to overcome, as we move toward the promises God has made for us and to us. We will compile all our miles walked, and hopefully make it all the way to Jerusalem by Easter!

So today, Ash Wednesday, is our first day of walking. Of course, it is snowing. (We are counting on El Niño to deliver a mild winter, but we are bound to get some cruddy days, right?) Still, I bundled up Grace and myself, and we headed off. First stop was to drop Grace off at daycare. As I did this, I made a concerted effort to notice things. What follows are my reflections on some of those things.

The first thing I noticed was the quarter inch or so of snow on the ground. It crunched a little unevenly under my feet. Lesson one: be careful, and don’t slip. Not a bad lesson for the first day of this journey!

The next thing I noticed when I took inventory of how my body was feeling. I became aware of a slight pain in my right hip. I often have pain in my hips that comes and goes, and I usually don’t even notice it anymore, but today, I did. As I did, I couldn’t help but think of Jacob wrestling with God (Genesis 32:22-31). After wrestling with God all night, Jacob demands a blessing from God. God changes Jacob’s name to Israel, and Israel leaves this match having prevailed, but with a limp in his step because God had touched him on his hip. This encounter happened in the middle of a journey. I have long been fascinated by it, and the lessons of this story were not lost on me today: on any given journey, there may very well be injury, either physical or spiritual, and they may very well be a result of a close encounter with God. But that’s not a bad thing. I knew going in that this Lenten pilgrimage was meant to “create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me,” and this often can’t happen without some pain. Lesson two.

After I dropped off Grace and continued on my way, I became very aware of the footsteps in the snow. I smiled, as they became a physical reminder that I wasn’t walking alone. I walked alongside one pair of footsteps for a stretch on Cooper Road, and thought of that famous Footprints poem everyone loves, but I sort of hate, due to that whole “familiarity breeds contempt” thing. Still, I imagined Jesus walking with me.

As I meandered through the streets of my neighborhood, I encountered different sets of footprints as one would veer off in a different direction and other would join my route. Each was different from the last, reflecting how differently each of us walks (physically and metaphorically). Some were turned slightly outward, some parallel. Some were accompanied by pet prints. Some were quite large, some small. Some walked side by side, some alone. Some had a swish behind each step – those people must shuffled their feet a bit while they walk. Some were partially snowed over (early walkers!), some were fresh. Some shoes had flat soles, some clearly had superior traction. Some were solid, some were broken into two parts. Some looked like fish, swimming down the sidewalk (those will be helpful once our journey to Jerusalem takes us into the Atlantic! Har har…).

Fishes! One of the earliest symbols for Christianity.

The more footsteps I saw, the more interested I was, and the more compelled to pray for their owners I became. I imagined the people who made those footprints – who they are, and what they might be going through on this day. Do they walk every day? Were they walking for exercise? Were they walking to lose weight and be healthy? Or just to enjoy some fresh air? What burdens do they carry? What joys do they experience? What is their relationship with the rest of their family? What is their job, or are they retired? Noticing people’s footprints in the snow, while I was myself trying to walk with some sort of intention, made me consider the people in my neighborhood in a way I hadn’t before. It almost made me want to follow one of the sets to their end, and knock on that door and ask if they’d like to share a cup of tea! (My creepiness radar told me that wasn’t such a good idea at this juncture.)

When all was said and done, I walked about 2 miles. The next couple of days are supposed to be bitterly cold, so I expect I will be finding somewhere else to walk than on the streets of West Irondequoit, but I do look forward to my next walk alongside my neighbors!

Pilgrimage resources

Interested to learn more about pilgrimage during Lent?

Here are some resources you can check out:

The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred by Phil Cousineau

Make every travel experience a pilgrimage. This book is for the traveler who longs for something more than diversion and escape.

The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within by Christine Valters Paintner

Paintner shows how to cultivate attentiveness to the divine through deep listening, patience, and opening oneself to the gifts that arise in the midst of discomfort. Each of the eight chapters offers reflections on the themes, a scripture story, an invitation to the practice of lectio divina, and a creative exploration through photography and writing.

Walk in a Relaxed Manner: Life Lessons from the Camino by Joyce Rupp

This book describes the humor, heartbreak and adventure of Rupp’s 47-day, 450-mile trek along the famous Spanish pilgrimage route Camino de Santiago.

Sacred Spaces: Stations on a Celtic Way by Margaret Silf

What makes a space sacred? Beginning with traditionally “sacred” spots, Silf reflects on what sacred spaces mean in our lives and where we can find them.

The Accidental Pilgrim: Modern Journeys on Ancient Pathways by Maggi Dawn

In this brief memoir, author and theologian Maggi Dawn shares her own gradual discovery of what it means to be a pilgrim, and suggests ways in which we can rediscover this ancient spiritual discipline in our global, twenty-first century world.


Tons of other resources, including images, books, quotes, and more, can be found here:


Lenten Pilgrimage: Moving Toward the Promised Land


“Stand at the crossroads and look,
and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies;
and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16)

 As we near the beginning of Lent, we have been following the Israelites, in our Daily Bible readings, as they leave Egypt and make their way toward the Promised Land. Because this land has served such a central role in the Judeo-Christian history, the Holy Land (and Jerusalem in particular) has long been a pilgrimage site for Christians. When it got to be too dangerous to walk to Jerusalem, people still practiced pilgrimage by walking labyrinths, or found other ways to take an internal journey even as their bodies moved toward an external destination as well.

While the idea and practice of pilgrimage has changed over the years, today we can understand pilgrimage basically as a sort of “prayer with your feet,” an opportunity to seek personal and sometimes communal transformation. In short, pilgrimage is an opportunity to take a journey toward a place and in a way that brings you closer to God.

To that end, during this Lenten season, we will be following the footsteps of the Israelites as well as generations of Christians, and taking a pilgrimage toward the proverbial Promised Land. And so, I’d like to reflect with you on why pilgrimage matters, especially during Lent.

Traditionally, Lent is a time when the Church prepares to receive and celebrate the new life that comes with the resurrection on Easter. Over the centuries, people have done this in various ways – generally through prayer, penance, almsgiving, and self-denial – but whatever the method, the goal remains the same: to let go of the things that keep us from right relationship with God, and move instead toward the life God envisions for us.

Pilgrimage is a powerful tool for this effort. Just as the Israelites wandered through the wilderness in search of the Promised Land, we, too, will consider, as we prepare to embark together this Lent, what wilderness plagues us this season, and what Promised Land we hope to find at the other end of our journey. Is it reconciliation with a loved one? Is it acceptance of a situation? Is it a healthier way of living and caring for the body God gave you? Is it living each day with a deeper sense of gratitude? Is it simply growing closer to God? Whatever it is, let this Lenten pilgrimage be a time when you will focus on that destination, even as you take intentional notice of the journey to get there. Consider prayerfully what you need to leave behind in order to reach that Promised Land, what you need to bring, and whom you’d like by your side as you “travel.” Even as we are each on our own journeys, we will also work together to get to Jerusalem, the original Promised Land, by keeping track and compiling our miles, as a reminder that we are never alone as we journey!

Guardian of my soul, guide me on my way this day. Keep me safe from harm. Deepen my relationship with you, your Earth, and all your family. Strengthen your love within me that I may be a presence of your peace in our world. Amen. (“Pilgrim Prayer” by Tom Pfeffer and Joyce Rupp)

Moving Toward the Promised Land: How it Works

If we worked together, could we make it to Jerusalem? This Lent, we’re going to try! If we could walk on water, the distance from Webster, NY to Jerusalem would be 5,730 miles. So throughout Lent, we will be encouraging everyone to get out and walk a mile or two each day. Not just your usual steps (though you can include those, too, in your total), but rather, some intentional time each day where you get out and move, and at the same time, focus on your relationship with God, and the “Promised Land” to which God is leading you. Each week, send in your miles, and we will compile them, and hopefully make it to the Promised Land by Easter!

If you can’t walk – don’t worry, you can still participate. Count 15 minutes of dedicated Bible study as one mile “walked” on your pilgrimage.

Midweek Gatherings

Join with other travelers on Wednesday evenings for soup, fellowship, and Holden Evening Prayer. Soup is at 6pm, and Holden Evening Prayer begins at 7:15.

Feb 17 and Feb 24 @ St. Martin (813 Bay Rd)

March 2, 9, and 16 @ Bethlehem Lutheran Church (1767 Plank Rd)

Kick-off to Bible-in-a-Year Study: EXCITING!

I entered the fellowship hall, and was welcomed by what can only be described as an excited buzz. About 25 of us gathered for our first discussion session on what we have read so far in our Bible-in-a-Year study, and already, before any formal discussion began, people were talking. I heard snippets of conversation, “It’s exciting!” “I’ve read the Bible so many times, but I’m still discovering things I’d never noticed before.” “This is really fun!” Music to this pastor’s ears!

The buzz didn’t wear off once we finished (a delicious!) breakfast and started our official discussion. I invited people to share one word that describes their experience with this so far. “Exciting.” “Intriguing.” “Enlightening.” “Challenging.” “Thought-provoking.” What a wonderful place to start our exploration together of God’s Word!

These first stories in the Bible are some of the most well-known of the Old Testament. So far we have made it through primeval history (creation, flood, Tower of Babel) and the beginning of the stories of the patriarchs (Abraham/Sarah, Isaac). But everyone agreed they discovered details they had not remembered in previous readings. We talked about what to do with some of the factual discrepancies (did Noah bring seven of each pair on the ark, or just one pair? Did God create the animals and then Adam and Eve, or Adam, then animals, then Eve?). We talked about some logically troubling points, like where Cain’s wife came from if not Adam and Eve? We reflected on particular stories that we had heard differently this time around. We considered some reflection points, like when Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian servant girl (who bore Abraham his first son, Ishmael), gets sent out into the wilderness, she encounters God, and she names God, “God sees me,” and then names her son, “God hears.” How do you experience a God who is a God who sees us and hears us, for all of our darkest and brightest characteristics and actions?

A bulk of our time was spent considering whether understanding these well-known stories as anything but factual starts us down a slippery slope, on which anything in the Bible can be taken with a grain of salt – where do we draw the line on fact or fiction? Many people agreed that, even if these stories aren’t factually true, they still portray a truth about God and about God’s relationship with us, and the beauty of telling this truth in story form instead of factual form is that for our lifetime and for generations to follow, they can continue to speak to God’s people, enlightening them and working in them and moving them to grow in faith. (Similar to how Jesus’ parables do!) But we also agreed that what one person hears in Scripture might differ from what someone else hears in Scripture, and that’s okay, too. God speaks to all of us differently, and to say one is right and another is wrong is unhelpful; indeed, we grow in faith by sharing our differing understandings with one another.

We started our discussion with one-word reactions to the beginning of this adventure through the Bible. If I had to choose one word to describe our first gathering, I would say: “Eager!” What a fruitful conversation we had this morning, and from what I heard, I wouldn’t be surprised if the conversation continued as people left, and I hope it will continue to do so throughout the week and throughout the year.

If you were unable to join us for this first gathering, fear not! Join us whenever you can, and we will grow in faith and knowledge together. We are better together!

Our next gathering will be January 17 after worship at each respective church. Our next joint gathering will be February 13 at St. Martin. Fellowship and light breakfast will be at 9:30, followed by Bible study at 10-11am. Hope to see you there!

Below are some resources to help you navigate these first few books of the Bible:

Introduction to the Torah (2016)

Abraham’s Family Tree

Join us: Read through the whole Bible in a year

Bible-in-a-Year Bible Study Kick-off: January 9944311

To recognize Bethlehem’s 140th birthday and our covenant’s 5thanniversary, we will spend 2016 reading through the entire Bible together. The Bibles we’re using (Daily Bible NIV: In Chronological Order) have been given out as gifts. Everyone is invited to read along however much you can, whether or not you attend the Bible study itself. Reflection/discussion questions will also be provided in each newsletter, printed on handouts, and sent over email for each week. Let’s discover how God has worked through time – together!

Why Read Through the Whole Bible?

The Bible can be difficult to read at times. Some of it seems so archaic, or the language is hard to understand, or the historical context is unfamiliar to us. While biblical literacy among Christians used to be a given, today few people have a working knowledge of scripture, nor do they understand the arch of the biblical story. And yet, this is the story of our faith – not just the New Testament, but also the Old. When we are not familiar with the Old Testament (or “Hebrew Bible”), it is like walking in on the end of the conversation: you get a sense of what the conversation was about and can feel the energy, but don’t know why everyone is feeling that way or why what was just said matters.

Our Bible-in-a-year Bible study will be an opportunity to get a sense of the arch of the story of salvation history. While a conventional Bible is organized by type of literature (Torah/Law, History, Poetry, Prophets, Gospels, Letters…), the Bible we are using has put the readings in chronological order, so we get a sense of how things fit together through time. So for example, if a prophet was speaking/writing during the time period covered in one of the history books, those readings will occur near each other.

            Our hope is that by the end of this year, you will have had a memorable and meaningful encounter with the Word of God, that you will have a deeper sense of how the story of salvation history hangs together, and that you will find biblical witness becomes something that can be applied and incorporated into your daily life, and not just something of which you hear bits of pieces on Sunday mornings. In short, we hope that scripture will become as the Psalmist writes:

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105)


Each congregation meets on Sundays after worship at their respective churches. On the 2nd weekend of each month, we meet on Saturday morning instead (so, no Sunday). These gatherings will be all together, both congregations, led by Pastor Johanna, and will include a light breakfast. If you miss one, return here to see the materials that were handed out posted under the month of the gathering. The dates for Saturdays are as follows:

January 9 @ BLC
Introduction to the Torah (2016)

February 13 @ SMLC
OT_Timeline February Bible Study (Law)

March 12 @ BLC
March Bible Study (Deut History)

April  9 @ SMLC
April Bible Study (Chron. and Psalms)
Selected Psalm Prayers

May 7 @ BLC (Note: this is the 1st Saturday instead of the 2nd as other months!)
May Daily Bible study (Solomon, temple, wisdom)

June 11 @ SMLC
June Bible Study (Divided kingdom)

July 9 @ BLC

August 13 @ SMLC

September 10 @ BLC
September Bible Study (restoration)

October 8 @ SMLC
Guide to the Gospels

November 12 @ BLC

December 10 @ SMLC


New Photo Directory – we need YOU!

After many years without, we are now planning to create a new photo directory! This is very exciting because this directory will be done jointly with St. Martin, allowing us to get 02-Family Album Signup Buttonto know members of our covenant congregation. It will also help us get to know the several new members who have joined us in the past few years.

But to make this work, WE NEED YOU. Please sign up for a photo session when your whole family can come. In return, you will receive a free photo directory, and one free 8×10 print of your choice. You will also have an opportunity to buy these professional prints (you will select directly following photo session) – and bonus, they will be ready in time for Christmas if you would like to give them as gifts! You will choose prints you would like to purchase directly following the photo session.

You can also sign up on the sheets posted at church, or by calling Laurie Howard (317-225-3010). The date when Lifetouch will be at Bethlehem is November 12, 2pm-9pm. They will also be at St. Martin on November 4 and 5, 2pm-9pm. Either location will work.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • This is not just for church members. If you have friends or neighbors who might like to take advantage of this opportunity for professional family portraits, share this information with them, as well.
  • Though you can do the traditional family shot, you are also allowed to bring pets, musical instruments, sports equipment, or whatever else you would like to be included in your family portrait and in our directory.
  • There may also be some available at other nearby churches. Any of these are fine.

Please be sure to sign up – our directory won’t be complete without you!