News and Resources from the Upstate New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Living Our Mission

Spruce up our spiritual house

Disciplines help us glorify God while serving in ways that are abundant, clear

Bishop05p.jpgBy Elizabeth A. Eaton

“I’m spiritual, not religious.” How many times have we heard that, usually from people who consider their unchurched status a mark of honor. When I heard this as a parish pastor, I became frustrated, especially when folks waxed lyrical about a spiritual experience engendered from contemplating the beauty of a mountaintop. This was perplexing because I served in Ohio. There are no mountains. I was tempted to
dismiss it as laziness. But now I think they are on to something.

This coincides with what I am thinking after a year in office. The four “emphases” or “strategic intents” or  “things” I’ve identified—we are church, we are Lutheran, we are church together, we are church for the sake of the world—have resonance across the ELCA. It’s how I’m organizing my work.

A clear sense that worship is at the heart of what we do together and at the heart of our worship is the crucified and risen Christ—this is the essential foundation for our life and work together. Being clear about our confessional Lutheran identity facilitates our witness to the gospel and makes possible authentic ecumenical, interreligious and secular engagement. Being church together is a manifestation of the unity we have through baptism into the body of Christ. It is a source of strength. It is scriptural. Being church for the sake of the world is the natural extension of being church, Lutheran and church together. We get to participate in God’s renewing and reconciling work in the world God so loves.

I’m still developing these emphases, but the “we are church” is claiming my immediate attention.

We are church. We do many wonderful things as the church. We feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked and visit the sick. Why do we do these things and how are we able to do them? As I have written before, we are not the American Cancer Society or a nongovernmental organization. Peter instructed us that “like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5). We are ekklesia—an assembly called out from the world and to God.

There is nothing wrong with employing the best practices of the business world, but before the strategic planning, goal-setting and program implementation we need to be about tending our individual and corporate spiritual life. As a church we need to engage in basic spiritual practices: prayer, silence, corporate worship, Scripture study, giving, service. These are ways God comes to us. These disciplines create a space in us, an openness, for God’s Spirit. They chip away at our willfulness. They make us aware of God’s
presence in our lives.

These spiritual practices aren’t magic or a kumbaya fad. They have been part of the Christian tradition for millennia. They are part of the Lutheran tradition. Martin Luther’s morning and evening prayers are precious models of spiritual practice (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 1166). Unfortunately, we’ve lost this part of our tradition. We’ve become religious, not spiritual. There is strong evidence that tending the
spiritual life is what millennials are longing for. I think the rest of us are too.

However, the intention must be there also. We are such active, useful people. We are “distracted by (our) many tasks” (Luke 10:40). We might mean to practice spiritual disciplines, but there is real work to do. Attending to God is our real work. Set aside the time. Mark it on the calendar. Then show up. Show up with our whole selves. Give God our complete attention. Practicing these disciplines is not about
productivity—it’s about being fully and expectantly present to God. Spiritual life is not multitasking.

We might shy away from this whole business because it seems so inward focused and self-absorbed. It’s not. It’s the spiritual equivalent of putting our oxygen mask on first before assisting others. Practicing these disciplines is so that we can glorify God and serve in ways that are abundant and clear.

We have a rich tradition as Lutherans: theological rigor, liturgical worship, musical excellence. Engaging in spiritual practices doesn’t supplant any of this. It’s part of our life as church. We can be spiritual and religious.

A monthly message from the presiding bishop of the ELCA. Her email address This column originally appeared in the November issue of The Lutheran. Reprinted with permission.

Ebola and the ELCA

From Marcia Brown, Mission Interpreter

The Situation:
In the last several months, the Ebola outbreak has claimed thousands of lives. The virus has spread rapidly, and with no approved vaccine and a high fatality rate, the World Health Organization is now calling it “one of the world’s most lethal diseases.” Ebola has spread to multiple countries, the hardest hit being Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, and now has been diagnosed in the US, Spain and Germany.

ELCA Response:
Lutheran Disaster Response is committed to walking with our brothers and sisters affected by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Operating through our partners and companion churches, together we are:

  • Supplying and shipping essential protective gear and supplies to protect medical workers at Phebe Hospital and Curran Lutheran Hospital in Liberia.
  • Providing food assistance to the Lutheran Church in Liberia and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone.
  • Raising awareness and providing sensitization messages on the symptoms and prevention methods of Ebola.
  • Completing construction of an isolation center at Phebe Hospital and School of Nursing that meets World Health Organization standards.

What Can You Do?
Pray for those affected or threatened by the virus that they may be granted healing and hope:

We pray for African nations that are struggling with Ebola outbreaks of unprecedented severity. Through ELCA World Hunger, Lutheran Disaster response and the ELCA Malaria Campaign, we walk together with our Lutheran companions all over the world as they respond to hunger, disaster and disease with compassion and action. Amen

Your gifts designated for Ebola Outbreak Response will be used in full (100 percent) to assist those directly impacted by this crisis. Gifts from people like you allow us to respond to those who are most vulnerable. Your gifts to your congregation already help through the mission support sent to the Synod. THANK YOU!!

To learn more about the situation and the ELCA’s response:

  • Check the Lutheran Disaster Response blog for updates and the latest information.
  • Follow the ELCA News blog to keep up on the news about our church’s response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

We are church together for the sake of the world. God’s work. Our hands.


By Marcia Brown, Mission Interpreter

Everybody loves a good story. How about stories about good things? That’s what mission interpreters do-tell the stories of how an individual’s or congregation’s mission support is used to do God’s work. They are easy and fun to tell, because they are such good news. And they are abundant. They range from your own congregation to anywhere across the world. Would you like to learn where to find them? How to tell them? There will be two training workshops in the Upstate New York Synod this fall where you can get the answers to those questions. It would be ideal for every congregation to have (at least) one person telling the stories. Pastors-can you identify that one person who seems to always be interested in what the ELCA is doing around the world? Someone who is passionate about malaria eradication, or world hunger, or who orders Christmas gifts from the Good Gifts catalogue? Please, encourage them to come:

In the West, the date is October 25th, at Crossroads Lutheran Church, Amherst, NY; from 9:30AM to 2:30PM. Contact Marcia Brown at

In the East, the date is November 8th, in Albany, location to be announced; from9:30AM to 2:30PM. Contact Denise Ballou at

We are church together for the sake of the world.

God’s Work. Our Hands (and Voices!).

Fearless Generosity: of Stewardship and Stuff

By Rev. Judith VanOsdol, Director for Evangelical Mission

“…So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” Luke 12:21

Our relationship with money and “stuff” is deeply spiritual. The root of the word miserable is “miser”- one who is unable to give.

The rich man in Jesus’ parable of the “rich fool” (Luke 12: 13-21) speaks only to himself. He has no one with whom to share his own thoughts, not even God, showing a real poverty of relationships. His solution to having “too much stuff” was to tear down his barns to build bigger ones, forgetting that all things, including his own life, belong to God. The parable could’ve ended differently had he prayed: “Hey God, I have a bumper crop this year; do you have any hungry folks around who need some food?”

It is often difficult for us to talk about our anxious and often addictive relationship with money and “stuff.” All that we have is God’s and as stewards of God’s possessions we are called to live out, “embody” fearless generosity. Stewardship is NOT fundraising, but calls us to examine the deeply spiritual aspect of our living and giving, our relationship with God, with one another, with God’s mission in the world and, yes, with God’s stuff!

We give thanks for generous givers who embody fearless generosity with faith grounded in Christ, pure gift of our extravagantly generous God. (Read the full article in this month’s Lutheran Magazine Synod Insert – page “B”.)

Our stewardship team would like to know whether any of the many materials that have been sent to congregations were useful and/or helpful. Can you please take a minute to answer a few questions regarding your congregation’s use of some of these stewardship materials? Thank you!

Take the survey here.

See Each Other As Brother, Sister

This is most certainly true: Remember Eighth Commandment explanation

Bishop05p.jpgBy Elizabeth A. Eaton

I remember a particularly contentious meeting with a church council when I was a synod bishop. It didn’t start out that way, but bit by bit the mood changed. Council members began to question my motives, then my veracity, then my character. Finally I said, “Hey, I have a mother you know.” That broke the tension. My point was that I was a human being just like them, not a bloodless functionary. I had become “The Man,” which made me sad and was hugely confusing for my husband.

I would like to say this was an isolated incident in my experience of life in the church, but it was not. Nor is it confined to the church. Suspicion and blame aren’t new. Bearing false witness was around way before Moses received the commandments. But it seems that the climate of distrust and accusation in society has become more heated. It’s just more disappointing when it happens in the church.

Many theories can be put forward about why we behave this way: people feel threatened or discounted, people feel deeply about an issue, the topic at hand is critically important, truth is at stake. When the discussion or letter or email reaches this level of intensity, it’s no longer possible to hear one another. And as the tension and the volume increase, our vision becomes impaired. We are no longer able to see the other as a brother or sister, someone for whom Christ died.

This constricted conversation is becoming a habit. It is the default setting for us when our position is challenged or when we challenge someone else. It is a bad habit. And like all bad habits it is, in the short run, a lot easier and more fun to practice than its corresponding good habit. I’ll admit it, there is something satisfying about being so certain. It’s easier to ascribe motive than to engage in an open dialogue with the sincere intent of seeking understanding. Righteous indignation feels good.

In the church this is called “prophetic,” as if being prophetic only takes the form of scolding. I have received letters and emails suggesting I do things that are anatomically impossible and certainly not appropriate to reprint in a church publication. These epistles sometimes end with “In Christian love ….” I know a conversation is going to head south in a hurry when it starts with these words: “With all due respect ….”

There is another way.

In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther gives us this explanation of the Eighth Commandment: “We are to fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.”

What a beautiful and generous way of being. The self is no longer at the center. The focus is no longer on justifying or defending one’s own position. All attention and care can be given to the other. As the volume is turned down our sight improves—we now see a precious child of God. Paradoxically this gentle approach makes it more possible to have difficult conversations.

We believe baptism makes a difference and makes us different, that our lives are now hidden in Christ, that we are inseparably joined to the love of God in Christ Jesus. We believe that in baptism God has set us free from sin, death and the devil. God has also set us free from ourselves. Because of this it is possible to engage in a new way of being together.

The church can model respectful dialogue. Instead of contributing to the static of suspicion that fills the airwaves, we can be a community that creates an open space where questions really are questions, not accusations, and disagreement doesn’t devolve into discounting. If we were to do this, congregational meetings might actually be fun.

Let’s try this: the next time we find ourselves on the giving or receiving end of less-than-graceful communication let’s recite Luther’s explanation of the Eighth Commandment.

This column originally appeared in The Lutheran’s October 2014 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Proclaiming Hope

This mission magazine tells the stories of just a few of the many ways lives are being made new by the power of the Holy Spirit through the ministries of the Upstate New York Synod. We hope you will be inspired by te work we do together in Jesus' name.

Questions Regarding Mission
New Mission
Lutheran Disaster Response
Social Ministry
Outreach with Young Adults
Congregational Renewal
Congregational Redevelopment
Growing Disciples
Companion Synods
Missionary Support
Theological Education
Outdoor Ministry
Campus Ministry

Download a PDF file of the entire magazine.