2016 Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod Assembly
June 17-18 at the PPL Center, Allentown, PA
On Friday and Saturday, June 17-18, approximately 500 delegates and visitors from congregations of the synod gathered for this year’s assembly. After reports from Bishop Zeiser and the officers of the synod, the Rev. Andrea L Walker, ELCA Global Mission Area Director for Madagascar, West and Central Africa, brought greetings on behalf of Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and the entire churchwide organization. She reminded the assembly that we are part of a larger story that makes up the ELCA. We are one church in 9,300 places, nearly 4 million people strong, “members of one another” (Romans 12:4-5) moving forward together.
Rev. Walker reported on a variety of mission efforts both here and around the world. In 2015 the ELCA started 92 new congregations in the USA, including Common Ground in Wyomissing. We have also made tremendous progress in fighting hunger and malaria. Reporting on “Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA” she reported that after two years we have raised $80 million toward the five-year goal of $198 million. Our synod has raised nearly $550,000 so far. She presented a video from Presiding Bishop Eaton highlighting four strategic statements: We are church, We are Lutheran, We are church together, and We are church for the sake of the world.
The assembly then heard how earlier this year two members of the synod offered a challenge: “If the special offering for ELCA Word Hunger received at the 2016 Synod Assembly totals $15,000, we’ll match the $15,000!” In response to this challenge the congregations of our synod collected approximately $80,000, including a gift of $50,000 from Christ, Conyngham. With the match and additional contributions received after the Assembly, the synod was able to contribute over $96,000 to World Hunger.
The Rev. Dr. Cheryl M. Peterson, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Lutheran Theological Seminary in Ohio offered two keynote presentations. In the first she talked about how the church needs to be freed from its captivity to “cultural Christianity” and unleashed for God’s ministry. Immigration and procreation will no longer support our efforts. We must learn how to reach out to a new demographic: the so-called “nones” who claim no religious affiliation but often describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” View the outline of her first presentation.
In her second presentation, Dr. Peterson talked about “Twelve Suggested Shifts for a church unleashed by the Spirit.” Some of these were “From survival to revival,” “From fear to bold proclamation,” “From planning to preparation,” and “From attractional to incarnational evangelism.” She emphasized the need for building relationships into an expansive, inclusive fellowship. View the outline of her second presentation.
Friday evening the assembly heard about Luthergarten: 500 years of reformation – 500 trees for Wittenberg. “Even if I knew that the world were to collapse tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree today” (ascribed to Martin Luther). In 2017, Lutheran churches will commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation that had its beginnings in Lutherstadt Wittenberg. As a means of giving expression to commemoration, the Luthergarten has been established in Wittenberg on the grounds of the former town fortifications. In connection with this project, 500 trees will be planted in the Luthergarten and elsewhere in the town, giving a concrete sign of the optimism so clearly expressed in Luther’s apple tree quote. On June 13 a team from our synod visited Wittenberg and planted the tree, Tilia tomentosa ‘Brabant’ (Silver Linden Tree), identified as number 323.
The assembly adopted a Spending Proposal for 2017. Because income for the past year was about $100,000 under budget, the finance committee proposed to reduce spending in the 2017 plan by that amount. The proposal retains a split of 47% of income to the ELCA and 53% for synod operations. However, support for “Other Institution & Agency Support” was reduced from 10% of income to 8%.
The assembly closed with a Festival Communion Service. The music and hymns were led by the Mark Mummert, who in 2015 served as Distinguished Visiting Seminary Cantor at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg; and by Aimée and Joel Pakan, a folk rock duo who perform together as Tangled Blue. Bishop Zeiser challenged the congregations of the synod to look at what they are hoarding, that is, what traditions and ideas they hang on to even though they may clutter a healthy relationship to Jesus Christ. Click here to read the entire text of the sermon.
The Lutheran Youth Fellowship met in assembly January 17-19 at Muhlenberg College. Prior to their assembly, some LYF participants attended part of the synod assembly to participate in God’s Playground. Participants learned about the ways the church is doing ministry in congregations, in the synod and in the churchwide offices of the ELCA. They discussed their visions for the church. Several workshops were offered including yoga, white privilege, campus ministry, military chaplaincy, music leadership, and making paracords for soldiers. In addition to all the work they accomplished participants enjoyed playing games to get to know one another better, singing along with a ukulele and drum, participating in worship they created, and enjoying the traditional Saturday night dance.
For the second year the assembly enjoyed God’s Playground, an area set aside for celebrating ministries and other ways to be UNLEASHED. Those attending the assembly had several opportunities to wander through the Playground and interact with a variety of other folks.
Assembly 2017 will be held on June 2-3, 2017
The site of next year’s Assembly will be the Kalahari Resort in the Poconos. For more information, visit their website at http://www.kalahariresorts.com/pennsylvania. Click here to watch a video promotion. Mark your calendar now and plan to attend the grand finale of “UNLEASHED for Reformation 2017.”