By The Rev. John Flack, member of the Environmental Stewardship Committee

Do you remember the story of God placing human beings in Paradise? The creatures, the plants, the goodness of it all. If you’ve ever been to Northern California, it may not surprise you that there was a town there called Paradise. What else could you call it? Tall pine forests, wine, sunny days. There are mountains to the East, beaches to the West, and never snow. It was straight out of Genesis. Of course, they called their town Paradise.

But Paradise, California, a town of 26,000 people, is no more. It burned to the ground this past week. It burned down in a matter of hours. And it’s only one of the towns destroyed in California from raging fires, uncontrollable and uncontainable.

In that Genesis story, we read that God gives dominion to human beings over the Earth. What could that mean? What is there to be done when a fire rages and blows into your town at 50 miles an hour? What dominion could we have over that? Maybe it would be better to call it an act of God. Maybe it would be better to say nothing could have been done, nothing could have changed it. Bind up the wounds of weary; rebuild. Go on and continue.

But this would be wrong. As David Swain, a climate scientist and lifelong Californian points out, human activity, through the polluting of the atmosphere, has made the summers hotter and longer, drying out the vegetation. Compound the summers over time, and the forests become a tinder box. Climate models have been predicting that precipitation will decrease, and that is coming to pass. Swain also points out that human expansion into high-risk areas of the forests also contributes to disasters like the one we’ve seen.

So our dominion is clear. We’ve mastered the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, the building of mansions, the conquest of wilderness. Yet this cannot be the dominion God had in mind, and if these fires are any indication, we are just beginning to suffer the consequences. Summers will get hotter and drier and the fires will just get stronger. As the old Spiritual says, “God sent Noah a rainbow sign/No more water, but the fire next time.”

That time is now.

What should we do for such a time as this, if there is no more time? There is no more time. Already our Earth is becoming a hothouse. Already we humans, in our dominion, have begun a sixth great extinction. Our only choice, it seems to me, is to accept that we have taken the dominion God gave us and turned it into domination.

There’s another passage in Scripture that comes to mind, less contemplated than in the Genesis story. After Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, Mark says, in the wilderness, the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Satan offered Jesus all the tropes of domination: wealth, honor, worship; the signs of imperial Rome, which the regular people knew meant famine and destruction for them. But Jesus rejects domination. And, in his particularly terse way, Mark says he was with the wild beasts. He was with them as Adam or Eve, walking with them and talking with them, as they accompanied him. Some commentators, both ancient and modern, see Jesus' presence with them as a sign of God’s reign, in which human beings live in harmony with creation, rather than against it.

We have come to crisis, and it demands that we change. It might be scary to contemplate a world in which we have given up our dependency on fossil fuels and worked hard to live within the created order, rather than over it. And yet, Scripture says we can. If we are grafted, as Scripture says, into the body of the man who was with the wild beasts, then perhaps we can be confident that we will.

Our Synod Assembly will focus us next year on Care for Creation . But this world God made asks more from us than a synod assembly theme. Caring for creation is part of our discipleship, and so it asks everything from us, in order that we can receive the life of God. Now is the time for change.
Our 2019 Synod Assembly is scheduled for  May 16-18 at the Westchester Marriott in Tarrytown, NY

Hotel registration and Synod Assembly registration will open in January 2019!
The Rev. Abby Mohaupt is a Presbyterian minister and a PhD student at Drew University in climate change and ecofeminist theology. She regularly blogs at, and her writing on earth care has appeared in Sojourners, the Presbyterian Church USA's Unbound, and Ecclesio

By Deacon Margy Schmitt Ajer, Assistant to the Bishop for Congregations

There’s been lots of talk throughout the synod about the selection of our new bishop. We’ve completed our eight Town Hall meetings, at which people throughout the synod had the opportunity to share hopes for our synod, talk about the strengths we bring, and think together about the gifts that will be important in our new bishop. There are also lots of conversations taking place in less formal ways, as people gather throughout our synod.

Part of my ongoing guidance to congregations seeking new pastoral leadership and to pastors thinking about a new call, is to frame our thinking as not a hiring process, or a job interview, but as a “conversation of mutual discernment.” It is important in any call process that we discern together what God has in mind for us, and how the Holy Spirit is at work bringing people and pastors together. Mutual discernment means we spend less time looking at which pastor is better than another (this shouldn’t be a competition), we spend less time focusing on finding the perfect match (they don’t exist), and we don’t try to make ourselves look good (that only leads to disappointment). Instead, we practice discerning together what God is calling us to do, and who God is leading to serve with us as bishop.

I believe this is all true for our synod as well, as we seek a new bishop. Although we call it an election (and there are indeed elements of that), this is first a discernment process. As people of the Metro New York Synod, we are discerning what God is calling us to be, and how God is setting our mission before us, including the kind of leadership that will best help us serve that mission. In a similar way, there are pastors among us who are discerning if God may be calling them to use their gifts in leading this synod to answer the call before us. 

The important thing to focus on is that this is about discernment together . It is not a competition, it is not about seeking a “promotion,” it is not about campaigning. It is an ongoing, mutual, conversation together, to discern together who God is calling to serve as our bishop.

The process moving forward is designed to support this idea of mutual discernment. The Town Hall meetings gave opportunity for us to talk together. There will be a report coming out soon that will provide a summary of those conversations so that everyone can be a part of the conversation. We are also preparing a Synod Ministry Profile, which is a way of telling our story to those who may be sensing a call to consider serving as bishop.

There will be a period of pre-identification of those who are open to serve.  These are NOT candidates. They will be pastors who have been identified by others and will have an opportunity to communicate their vision and gifts for this call and for this synod. There is no limit to how many pastors may be pre-identified. These are NOT nominees! This is simply a process of sharing ideas and information that may be helpful in our discernment together. This will be added material for prayer and reflection, as we continue to discern who God may be calling. The information regarding these pre-identified pastors will be posted on the synod website this spring, and will remain there until shortly before the beginning of the synod assembly. We will remove this information at that time, to emphasize the fact that at this point there are NO nominees.

At the assembly, any pastor of the ELCA (not just MNYS) is eligible for consideration. There will be a nominating ballot early in the assembly, at which time each voting member of the assembly will be asked to prayerfully submit the name of one whom they believe could serve well as our bishop. All names submitted on the first ballot are considered nominees. But the discernment continues during the process of election. As we hear from nominees together, as we ask questions together, as we engage in reflection and conversation together, as together we pray for God’s wisdom and guidance, we will trust that God is leading us to a final discernment of who we (along with the Holy Spirit!) will call to be our bishop.

And because we have been in discernment together, we will thank God for the leading of the Spirit, and we will move forward together, along with the one who has been called as bishop, as the community of faith God has called us to be.
Learn more about the process of election of the bishop, here.
Our 2019 Synod Assembly promises to be an exciting time for us to be together as church!
If you would like to volunteer during our time together, please let us know, here.
  • January 2019: Early Registration Opens
  • January 2019: Hotel Registration Opens
  • January 2019: Publishing of Deadlines (Plenary Time, Display Tables, Reference & Counsel, Advertisement Opportunities, Reports to the Assembly, Nominations, among others)
  • February 1: Bishop's Pre-Identification Process Begins
  • March 1: Bishop's Pre-Identification Process Ends
  • March 2019: Early Registration Closes
  • April 24, 2019: Synod Assembly Registration and Hotel Registration End
  • May 16, 2019: Opening of Our Synod Assembly
Almighty and everliving God, in all ages you have raised up faithful servants to shepherd and guide your holy people and to make known your will among us; increase in us the gifts of discernment and understanding that we might know and do your will as we prepare to elect a bishop for your Church.
Send your Holy Spirit among us, O God!