A Christmas Message from Bishop Burkat

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’

-Luke 2:8-14

Poor, illiterate, dirty, unkempt, mostly loners…to shepherds guarding their flocks for the night, the angels announced the greatest news ever! This dark outpost, far from the powerful communities and major synagogues, became the center of the world.

Naturally, when an angel appeared with the breaking news of the birth of the Messiah, they were afraid. Why would this Good News be shared first with those tending sheep, rather than with high priests?

Why? Because the news of this night is too big for a temple, or a city, or even a nation to contain. The promise fulfilled that night upends the status quo and makes room for those not welcome elsewhere. After their initial shock, the shepherds live into new identities as they become alert, courageous, and obedient to the direction of the Great Shepherd. Luke tells us they leave their fields and go to worship the newborn child not in the holy temple but in a rough stable, a place for the outsiders whom God led there as well.

The Good News of Jesus’ birth invites everyone, even those who aren’t usually accepted, to be embraced by an accepting community of faith. It reaches each one of us in our dark and broken places, and makes us whole.

May Christ’s light and peace and welcoming grace fill you this Christmas—and overflow so that all the people you come in contact with will know through your witness that the birth of Jesus is Good News for them.

Gracious God, fill our hearts with joy at the news of your presence and light in the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Inspire us to share this Good News with our service and love. Amen.

In Christ,

The Rev. Claire S. Burkat

Interim Bishop, Sierra Pacific Synod

Stories from the Synod

St. John's Lutheran Church in Sacramento, CA held their annual Santa Lucia Worship Service and Festival last weekend! This service was led by the youth of St. John's, and featured Teaghan and Piper Brostrom as the Santa Lucias.

You can watch the service here.

Pictures courtesy of St. John's.

Over the weekend, Unity Lutheran Church in South San Francisco, CA hosted their monthly Community Lunch - Christmas edition! The congregation fed over 50 community members in need.

Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Reno, NV held their annual Live Nativity this past weekend! Community members from throughout Reno drove by the outdoor Nativity scene remembering the birth of our Savior.

Hope Lutheran Church in Fresno, CA held their annual Christmas Pageant this past weekend, as children and youth from the congregation led the service!

The children of Bethel Lutheran Church in Roseville, CA led Sunday Worship yesterday morning! These worship leaders read, sang, lit candles, and helped serve communion. What a joyful service!

Bishop Claire Burkat welcomed the Bishops of Region 7 to Northern California last week! These beloved colleagues spent the day touring the Napa Valley with Bishop Burkat. Pictured here is Bishop Jim Hazelwood from the New England Synod, Bishop Patricia Davenport from the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, and Bishop Lee Miller from the Upstate New York Synod.

Last Monday, members of Synod Staff and some of Synod Council gathered for a Christmas Dinner! What a gift to be together in community, enjoy a wonderful meal, and share in the holiday joy.

Messiah Lutheran Church in Redwood City, CA hosted a Christmas Concert this past Saturday! You can listen to the entire service on YouTube here.

Send your ministry pictures to catherine@spselca.org or (650) 302-0364 be featured in the Synod Newsletter!

Office of the Bishop Christmas Schedule

The Office of the Bishop will be closed for Christmas from December 24, 2022 - January 2, 2023. We look forward to the new year ahead!

Rev. Christian Chavarría January '23

Synod Visit

The beloved Rev. Christian Chavarría, Assistant to the Bishop of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church, will be visiting the Sierra Pacific Synod this coming January! Rev. Christian is currently scheduled to visit 8 different congregations throughout the synod - to preach, gather, and eat with you all. You are invited to join any of the gatherings!

Quarterly Children, Youth, and Family Ministry Leaders Meeting

Tuesday, January 10th at 7:00pm via zoom

Please save-the-date for our synod’s first Children, Youth, and Family Ministry Leaders zoom meeting! Join us on Tuesday, January 10th at 7:00pm via zoom. This meeting will provide an opportunity for folks to introduce themselves, share ideas about children and youth ministry throughout the synod, ask questions about the upcoming ELCA Youth Gathering, WSYG, and SPSYC Retreats, connect with leaders in your area, and so much more.


This meeting is open to any staff member, volunteer or individual who supports Children, Youth, and Family Ministry in their congregation! Zoom link coming soon.

SPSYC High School Retreat

February 24-26, 2023

at Mt. Cross Ministries, Ben Lomond, CA

Save-the-date for the Sierra Pacific Synod Youth Committee (SPSYC) High School Retreat! Youth in grades 9-12 are invited to attend this weekend-long retreat at Mt. Cross Ministries. More details coming soon!

Updates and Resources from ELCA Churchwide & Beyond

Mt. Cross Ministries Hiring an

Executive Director

Mt. Cross Ministries continues their search for a new Executive Director! The Executive Director provides management, and oversight for all programs, operations, facilities, fundraising, marketing, staffing, and financial resources of Mt. Cross Ministries. Do you know someone who may be interested in applying?

The application deadline is December 31, 2022 - more information and a job description can be found here.

Western States Youth Gathering: Registration Prices Increasing Jan. 4!

Registration price for the Western States Youth Gathering 2023 will increase after the New Year! To secure your youth group's spot at WSYG and receive the lowest registration price possible, registering today here.

The registration price increases by $100 on January 4, 2023 - so be sure to register today!

Spirit-Centered Moment

Written by Rev. Jeff Barrow

Interim Executive Director of Mt. Cross Ministries

I love to sing Away in a Manger. I love the thought of sojourners finding even an out of the way safe place to stay at night. I love the intimacy of cattle lowing.. But to be restricted to that cozy little postcard probably does not grasp the heart of Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus.

Jesus comes to earth to stand toe to toe with the empires of this world, comes to alter the fabric of human history, comes to teach us a new way of living. If we expect anything less, we may have missed the point.

Christmas for me has always been laden with imperfections. The avalanche of commercialism is always easy to name, so hard to overcome. Even our most noble acts of generosity make us acutely aware of the growing gap between the haves and have nots of this world. As a pastor making calls in that season to the home bound…aging, illness, sheer loneliness can never be excluded from the narrative.

As a pastor I loved the 11:00pm candlelight service in my congregation. I had the most marvelous colleague in ministry with whom I shared almost everything. Still I would always try to con him into preaching at the 4:00 service while I preached at the 11:00, saying “Walter, you love children and I love people who drink bourbon.”

I suspect only because he was in his own battle with MS and did wear out by the end of the day did he accommodate my selfish requests.

In truth, what always struck me about that service was the amount of brokenness which entered the sanctuary on that night. Along with the joyful family reunions, the young hearts returning from college, the families who had traveled across the country to be together, there were also so many people, believers and skeptics alike, who seemed to have no where else to go. 

There were people who had experienced the death of a loved one, people lamenting the absence of someone who didn’t make it home for the holidays, people on their first step of recovery, others seriously in need of recovery who managed to show up. The hopes and fears of all the years seemed to come together that night it a curious, marvelous array of flawed humanity.

In the middle of it all….there was God….tearing open the heavens…daring to challenge the pretense of power…proclaiming peace is a world that loves war.

John Denver in one of his lesser known, certainly not a top of the charts songs, offered these simple words wrapped in a haunting melody.

All this joy

All this sorrow

All this promise 

All this pain

Such is life 

Such is being

Such is spirit 

Such is love

Gregory Berg….the marvelous choir director who helped make the 11:00pm Candlelight service so very powerful dared to have the choir sing that song on Christmas Eve…..composing….inserting at the end of the day the incredible claim that with the birth of Jesus:

God is life

God is being

God is spirit

God is love

It is the voice of radical peace finding its way into a weary world.

Mary it says, “Pondered these things in her heart”. Unique like no other…yet like so many other incredible women in this world….she knew what was up.

The image above is provided artist Vonda Drees - we invite you to learn more about her inspiring art here.

Connect with Synod Staff & Your Conference Dean

Bishop Claire S. Burkat

Interim Bishop, Sierra Pacific Synod


Deacon JJ Godwin

Executive Assistant to the Bishop


Dale Loepp

Director of Finance Contractor


Debbie Cook

Finance Assistant Contractor


Rev. Manda Truchinski

Assistant to the Bishop for Leadership & Strategic Organization


Catherine Slabaugh

Communications & Connections Coordinator


Rev. Dr. Dawn Roginski

Interim Assistant Director of Evangelical Mission


Rev. Ben Colahan 

Dean, Redwood Mountain Conference 1


Rev. Dave Miller

Dean, Bridges Conference 2


Rev. Dr. Gabriele Schroeder

Dean, Capitol Valley Conference 3


Rev. Charlane Lines

Dean, Sierra Nevada Foothills Conference 4


Rev. John Kuehner

Dean, San Francisco Peninsula Conference 5


Rev. Cristina Beauchemin

Dean, El Camino Real Conference 6


Rev. Dr. John Valentine

Dean, Mt. Diablo Conference 7


Rev. Mark Price

Dean, Sierra Central Valley Conference 8


Rev. Jodi Golden-Lund

Dean, Central San Joaquin Conference 9


Rev. Cindy Beck

Dean, Interim Ministry


The Sierra Pacific Synod Office resides on the unceded land of the Ramaytush Ohlone People.
To learn more about their tribal history, we encourage you to click here.
The Sierra Pacific Synod is a Sanctuary Synod and a Reconciling in Christ Synod.
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