Dear Partners in Ministry,
One of the jarring adjustments when I moved from the parish to a synod office was the pace during Holy Week. Even in the small city parish I served in Milwaukee, Holy Week meant four or five distinct service preparations and sermons, checking in with those planning the Easter breakfast and preparing for the services and events, communing the shut-ins--and the list has a myriad of sub-points.
In the synod office, however, Holy Week just might be the quietest week of the year. With only a few appointments and meetings scheduled, it's a good time to get caught up, providing a nice respite between the frantic pace of the early spring and preparation for the rush of late-spring events--like the synod assembly. I miss the intensity of Holy Week in the parish, but I've come to also value and rest back into the quiet, and worship as participant in these rich moments.
So while you're writing sermons, I'm writing an e-letter, looking back and ahead and more conversational and newsy than profound.
The Financial Picture
I've never liked church council meetings that start with the treasurer's report, as though we need to know about our money before we can talk about our ministry. But because I want to say something about our year-end mission support levels before going on to address current and upcoming items, I'll do this one first.
I can use the good-news/bad-news framework. The bad news is that after sailing through the first ten months of fiscal 2011 (Feb. 1 to Jan. 31) a healthy four percent ahead of the previous year, we encountered a poor December and January and ended the year 4.1 percent behind last year, the lowest mission support level in what has been a consistent range for 24 years. The synod council in January made some adjustments to the 2012 budget passed last May, and we will present for the 2013 budget a conservative plan that calls for drawing on reserves, and we will plan to conduct a review through the end of this year and hold out the possibility of another adjustment.
The good news is that we received a substantial amount of mission support in February that had been meant for 2011 mission support, suggesting the downturn may be more a matter of timing than trend.
Many of you do a good job of finding ways to remind others in your congregation that this mission support not only provides for the many ways your own ministry is under-girded through our life together in this synod, but has a significant world-wide impact in our life as God's people, proclaiming and living the gospel in countries around the globe and in communities at home. Thank you. Keep telling the story!
Ministerium: Your Congregation's Call
Thursday, April 12, Gustavus Adolphus, St. Paul
The ELCA's recent LIFT process again landed on what Lutherans have always known: that the center of the church's life and mission is in the local Word and Sacrament community. Your congregation, while not complete as the body of Christ in itself, is one of the thousands of centers of the church's mission. So this ministerium discussion will focus on just that: how might we hone our skill in shaping the mission of our local congregation?
Ironically perhaps, we get at this best together. We've invited Mary Sue Dreier, associate professor of congregational mission and leadership at Luther Seminary and herself a pastor and former mission developer, to lead us in this discussion. And we undertake the time fully aware of two things: 1) that there are many good things being done already by the congregations of this synod that can assist other congregations; and 2) that we can find ways to craft further sessions in the fall to address needs that arise in this conversation. So both now and later we'll be listening for the answers to three questions:
- Do you have a congregation missional plan?
- What are some resources you found helpful in developing this plan?
- What help or support do you need to move your missional planning forward?
Ministerium gatherings are always renewing because of the collegiality; I expect this one will be particularly renewing in the focus as well.
Healthy Ministries, Healthy Ministers
This is an alert for all of you covered by Portico--formerly the Board of Pensions--health coverage (or for you in congregations where someone else is), and this alert is worth $44,000! By the end of this month, our synod needs to have 65 percent of all adults covered by Portico take the Mayo Health Assessment. If we surpass that percentage, the two percent reduction in health premiums billed to congregations will result in $44,000 less to be paid by your treasurers!
And here's the bonus: when that two percent threshold is reached, the synod gets another one percent to use in support of the wellness of its ministry leaders. We have chosen to offer this back to congregations in two ways:
- We offer grants of $1,000 for support of sabbaticals taken by staff who have earned them, providing $500 to the congregation to help fill needs during the absence, and $500 to the the minister taking a sabbatical to help with costs for registrations, travel, etc.
- We also offer congregations grants of $500 for staff enhancement activities, such as retreats, team building, consultants, and other staff development initiatives.
So far this year we have provided support for five sabbaticals and ten congregation grants for staff development. Spread the word and take the assessment!! We need 82 more people to do it before April 30.
Synod Assembly, May 18-19: From Political Convention to Proclamation and Equipping for Mission
Having been at this assembly business for now over two decades, I've noticed a trend I like. Synods were once swamped with resolutions that would exhaust and divide and budgets over which to squabble. Most folks found enjoyment around the coffee in the display area rather than in the plenary room. We'll still deal with resolutions over which people have differing convictions (we have five resolutions this year), and we'll pass a budget and elect some people.
But assemblies in recent years have less the feel of a political convention and have become more clearly the church gathered for worship, teaching, and equipping. This year I anticipate the energy of this assembly will be found in the teaching and equipping that takes place. Our presenters are superb: Rolf Jacobson and Winston Persaud are among the ELCA's most popular presenters and theologians and will lead us into an examination of the heart of our theology as Lutheran Christians.
Some Things I'm Pleased About
There are always more things going on than any single person can participate in. But many things are taking place these next weeks that provide expression to the church's ministry and equip and empower people for the church's work. Most have been communicated in synod news, but are worth my lifting up as well. A few:
- Jump Start Your Stewardship, April 21. A growing and important equipping session for those in your congregation who take up responsibility for your congregation's stewardship efforts.
- Prophetic Voices, April 26. A number of our congregations and leaders participate in this church-based organizing effort to act as a faith community in the public arena.
- Safe and Healthy Congregation Training, May 9-11. A training to prepare clergy and lay leaders to intervene in and prevent family violence and to create safe congregations.
Prayers and a Welcome
On Sunday, May 6, the Rev. Ann Svennungsen will be installed as bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod at Central, Minneapolis, at 2:00 p.m. Our two synods serve what is functionally a single metropolitan area, and we share a great deal. On that day, please pray for this new leader and chapter in the life of our neighboring synod!