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

Living Our Mission

Mission with our Companions

Zambia: ‘Sometimes a church just needs bricks and mortar!’
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zambia is growing fast – so fast it needs more church buildings! Inspire your congregation with this story. For a colorful Word document to display on your congregation’s bulletin board, or use in your bulletin or PowerPoint presentation, visit

Take a virtual journey to Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania this fall!
Come along with six ELCA travelers Sept. 25-Oct. 10 to learn about exciting new Global Ministries that are priorities of Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA. Sign up to receive blog stories and photos through “Stories of the Global Church” at

Divine Foolishness

Christ crucified is God’s clearest and most complete act of love

Bishop05p.jpgBy Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, Presiding Bishop

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart (1 Corinthians 1:18-19).

Uh oh.

Paul wrote this to the Corinthians who were going astray. They were quite smitten with the elegant formulas of the Greek philosophers. The wisdom of the wise was a good thing. Foolishness, on the other hand, was considered a moral defect. They had become boastful, and Paul had to remind them that not many of them were wise or powerful or noble according to the standards of the world.

The Corinthians had begun to believe that their own effort and understanding was the basis of their life and faith. It’s clear they had not read Martin Luther’s explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed.
Their cultural context is not so different from our own. We value knowledge and power and privilege. And while it might have been true that not many in the Corinthian church were “wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth” (verse 26) we are now. We can’t claim to be the 99 percent. We are the 1 percent. So what does that mean for the church today?

I remember the moment in a lecture hall in divinity school when I came to the abrupt and shocking realization that theology was not rocket science. This was quite disappointing because I was in a university full of actual rocket scientists. How could I hope to be taken seriously by other disciplines in the university—by the law school, the medical school, the business school—when what I was studying was the life and times of a Galilean preacher? I longed for a lab coat, a briefcase, even a calculator—anything that would demonstrate that my discipline was just as sophisticated, and therefore valuable, as any other.

I wonder, sometimes, if the church is a little embarrassed by the foolishness of the cross. The foolishness is not just that the brutal and humiliating crucifixion of Jesus is actually the way God’s love was manifested, but that God’s love is so complete. This is the overwhelming simplicity of God. God loves us completely. There is no way or any need to dress that up. It just is.

A contemporary Christian mystic said, “The relationship with God is so simple and deep and true and the church just wants to glitz it up.” Because this simple, deep, true relationship does not rise to the level of a complicated, technical, theoretical system.

We often obscure God with our “realistic,” “wise” and “clever” schemes. So we set about launching programs. We develop five-year plans. We make sure that all of our congregations are fitted with correct signage. We look for synergies and metrics. Then we think out of the box, push the envelope, put language to it and circle back so that, at the end of the day, we’ve achieved a critical mass.
This is not to discount secular best practices or expertise. Heaven knows the church can learn a lot from the business world. But it is to say that our starting point is our helplessness. Our starting point is to get human agency out of the way.

In a sense, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is a “come to Jesus moment.” Do we want wisdom? Well, here it is—Christ crucified, God’s clearest and most complete act of love. Come to Jesus. Do we believe it? Can we live it? This is what people are looking for—to be completely loved by the One who knows us completely.
Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that discipleship is “not hero worship but intimacy with Christ.” Strangely, that intimacy actually propels us out into the world. In God’s love we have been given our life so that, in love, we can give our life away. That is a divine foolishness.

This column originally appeared in The Lutheran’s September issue. Reprinted by permission.

Rethinking Faith Formation

by Rev. Norma Malfatti

Each year, Luther Seminary hosts “rethinking” events to help faith leaders reimagine and rethink various aspects of the Christian life. This year one of those events focused on faith formation – it was three days of praying and thinking deeply about who we are, whose we are and how to pass that knowledge on to others. The event began with Dr. David Lose, the new president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, framing our time together as being about identity. We have much work to do in telling our story and having it heard in a culture where abundant choice is a way of life. In fact, Lose stated that it’s not that culture does not want Christians to share their story but there are so many other things it is interested in.

The rest of the three days were filled with a variety of theologians and church leaders facilitating conversation about how we might go about rethinking faith formation or put another way, Christian identity formation. People, younger and older, are looking for God in an individualistic and pluralistic world and it’s our call to help. Are we connected to the web? Babysitting costs are skyrocketing – are we offering devotions or learning opportunities on our websites or Facebook pages for parents? Are we engaged in intergenerational faith sharing? Are we integrating worship and learning throughout the week? As one speaker noted, “Faith formation should be the primary work of the church – learning how to pray, to read Scripture, and to share the faith.” In the end, faith formation is about knowing that one can turn and know that God is there. If we, as the church, could instill that confidence, that faith, that welcome, the tools of faith formation do not really matter because it is about the connection and relationship with God we are helping to nurture.

Passionate Jesus Communities

passionatejesuscommunitiesby Rev. Judith VanOsdol, Director for Evangelical Mission

One definition of mission is: “The grassroots mobilization of passionate Jesus communities that are witnesses to Christ’s resurrection for the sake of the world.” God’s Holy Spirit empowers congregations to rediscover their purpose as discipling communities-energizing and equipping disciples to live out their faith in Christ for the sake of their communities and the wider world. Congregational vitality is a way to understand and describe the congregations’ ability to make disciples who connect with God, with one another and within their context.

Upstate New York Synod is one of five test synods of the ELCA using an instrument called the “Congregation Vitality Assessment” (CVA). Our four Regional Renewal Teams have now been using the CVA for a year, beginning with a “test version” in August, 2013. Around 75 congregations of our synod are somewhere in the process of using Version 2.0 of the CVA. The CVA gives a “snapshot” of congregational health and vitality. The teams chose this instrument as a way to “walk with” congregations to promote processes of renewal across the synod. Leaders who have used the CVA have found it useful to:

  • Recognize strengths and areas for growth to facilitate the conversation around congregational vitality and mission.
  • Identify and implement work for mission planning.
  • Name and begin to address difficult issues such as tension and conflict (if these exist).

Regional Renewal Team members lead the “feedback sessions” to walk with congregations to understand the results of the CVA they have taken. One goal has become that the folks present do as much talking as the team members, because the results belong to them, as does the planning, follow-up, and understanding and identification of the next steps. The CVA has been very helpful for congregations to “listen in” to the many voices of the congregation, in order to evaluate and seek renewal that deepens our walk with our living, loving Lord and our relationship with God, each other and the world. For more information on the CVA, click here or speak to your Dean, DEM or member of your Regional Renewal Team.

Global Friendships

By Rev. Marie Jerge, bishop

In August 2003, I was privileged along with several others from the Upstate New York Synod to represent the ELCA at the 100th Anniversary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe (ELCZ.) It was my first visit to our companion synod and changed my life. To kick-off the celebration, the ELCZ dedicated a brand new church building in Shurugwi. It was there that I met Gracious Moyo. He was a Deacon who had been sent to Shurugwi to build up the congregation and complete the building project. It was understood that as soon as this was accomplished, he would head off to seminary for his official training to become a pastor of the church.

In July 2014 – eleven years later – I was delighted to again spend time with Pastor Gracious Moyo, this time in Rochester, NY. Our joy at re-connecting was palpable. It is such a gift to be part of a church that nurtures such connections across cultures and continents. In the intervening years, he completed his seminary training, served a congregation in Harare and for the next two years he will pursue graduate studies at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. En route, he spent a month hosted by Rick and Beth Walker of Bethlehem, Fairport. Beth is the chair of our Global Mission Team. He attended Confirmation Camp at Lake Chautauqua Lutheran Camp, Bible Study groups, and acclimated a bit to life in the US before heading west. Please hold him in your prayers, especially as he lives for 2 years apart from his wife and family. The Global Mission Team is hoping to bring him back to Upstate NY during the course of his sojourn in the US. For more information about Gracious and opportunities to learn more about our companion synods in Zimbabwe and Zambia – contact Beth Walker at

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.