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

Living Our Mission

August Mission Message

By Marcia Brown, Mission Interpreter

photo courtesy of

Filling the news lately is the crisis of tens of thousands of children crossing into the United States alone. There are very mixed feelings about them and what to do with and about them. Here is where the Church stands:

As a church that pursues justice, peace and human dignity for all people, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is committed to helping the thousands of unaccompanied children coming to the United States to escape violence and difficult situations in their home countries. To address this crisis, ELCA members are working through Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service to help find foster care for these children. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service estimates that 80,000 children will seek safety in the United States this year.

“As people of faith, we are reminded that among the children who had to flee across borders because of threat of life was our very own Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. When children flee across two international borders alone, the community of Jesus – the church – must accompany them,” said the Rev. Stephen Bouman, executive director, ELCA congregational and synodical mission. Rev. Bouman personally toured the border region in mid-July.

“The ELCA, through its partnership with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, is already involved through its congregations, social ministry organizations, advocacy, and Lutheran Immigration Refugee Service affiliates on the ground,” said Bouman. “We are pursuing both the short-term efforts at achieving safety and relevant social services for these children of God, as well as long-term systemic solutions to stem the flow of children cast adrift.”

“The children making this arduous trek north are fleeing violence, abuse and deep poverty and hunger, and are in desperate need of help and protection,” said Bouman. “Many are trying to reunite with family members here in the United States. By the time they cross the United States border, many have been robbed, raped or abused. The need is so large and current resources cannot keep pace.”

We confess with the wider church that all Christians are responsible to attend the needs of the lost, forgotten and lonely. Christians in the United States must help children in other countries find places free of violence and abuse where they can experience loving support and new opportunities.

We are Church for the sake of the world. God’s Work. Our Hands.

Great Expectation Not Novel

Signs of life to be found across this church if we take the time to notice

By Elizabeth A. Eaton

Now the wife of a member of the company of prophets cried to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead; and you know that your servant feared the Lord, but a creditor has come to take my two children as slaves.” Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” She answered, “Your servant has nothing in the house, except a jar of oil.” He said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not just a few. Then go in, and shut the door behind you and your children, and start pouring into all these vessels; when each is full, set it aside.” So she left him and shut the door behind her and her children; they kept bringing vessels to her, and she kept pouring. When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” But he said to her, “There are no more.” Then the oil stopped flowing. She came and told the man of God, and he said, “Go sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your children can live on the rest” (2 Kings 4:1-7).

Stephen P. Bouman, executive director of the ELCA Congregational and Synodical Mission unit, often uses this Bible story when talking to groups about the possibilities for mission and ministry in their neighborhood. He asks them what catches their attention in this story—some say the desperate poverty, others say the anguish of children being forced into slavery. Everyone says the miracle of the oil.

What people rarely notice and what Bouman always points out is Elisha’s question to the woman. His point is that no matter how bleak a congregation’s circumstances seem to be, there already exists some capacity in that congregation for mission and ministry. We are not helpless people without agency. God has already given us what we need to participate with God in the work of God’s kingdom.

Too often we lapse into a paralysis of grief or anxiety or nostalgia that renders us incapable of seeing anything but scarcity. We don’t have enough money or members or young people. The creditors are at our door and we don’t even have any children to give them. The end isn’t near, it’s here.

One of the most frequently asked questions after I was elected was “What is your plan to reverse the decline in membership?” There are some major assumptions packed into that question—that I have the power to change the church, that there exists some miraculous plan or program that, if applied correctly, will save the church, to name just two. The question also assumes that all of our ministries and all of us live in absolutely empty houses, that we are helpless and completely lacking to be able to participate in God’s mission. That is not true.

Recently I have been hearing stories about sightings of life across this church. Bishop H. Julian Gordy of the Southeastern Synod reports that some congregations that reduced or completely cut mission support in 2009 are now increasing or reinstating it. At its assembly this spring the South Carolina Synod welcomed three new congregations that grew from mission starts. Bishop James E. Hazelwood of the New England Synod challenged folks at that assembly to make up a $25,000 budget deficit. By the end of the assembly they had pledges for more than $63,000. It seems when asked, “What have you in the house?” they were all able to find something that God could work with.

All of these sightings remind me of the first green shoots that poked up through this winter’s snow. There weren’t many at first and they didn’t immediately overcome one of the bitterest winters on record, but they were there.

When I read the story of the widow and the oil I noticed something else—Elisha told the woman to gather vessels “and not just a few.” God was going to provide abundantly and she had better be prepared for that abundance. How often do we expect too little if we dare to expect God will act at all? The ELCA is God’s house and in it is everything we need—word and water, bread and wine—to participate in God’s mission. I challenge all of us to notice signs of life and send them in. Join the conversation at or and post your #signsoflife.

This article originally appeared in The Lutheran’s August issue. Reprinted by permission.

ELCA Advocates for Unaccompanied Children Entering the United States

An estimated 80,000 unaccompanied children will seek safety in the United States this year. The ELCA and its partners “are pursuing both the short-term efforts at achieving safety and relevant social services for these children of God, as well as long-term systemic solutions to stem the flow of children cast adrift,” said the Rev. Stephen Bouman, executive director, ELCA Congregational and Synodical Mission.

Read the full ELCA News Story

The Rev. Michael Reinhart, bishop of the Gulf Coast Synod, wrote a blog post about the situation.

“It was either this or be murdered.” Javier was one of nearly 100 kids in the cafeteria of the transitional facility I visited this week. I moved from table to table asking questions. What’s your name? How old are you? Where are you from? What brought you here? How have you been treated? Where are your parents?

He also shared some suggestions for individuals, and/or your congregations, who would like to respond.

Cherish All Children: Start A Children’s Ministry

By Dianne Klafehn

Q. How can we start a Cherish All Children ministry?

A. Give us a call: National Director Amy Hartman, 612-280-1259, or Upstate New York Synod Leader Dianne Klafehn, 315-216-4416. We can help you explore ways in which your congregation can begin and/or sustain this ministry. Our Congregational Manual has tips, practical examples and a suggested structure for developing a Cherish All Children team. Our website has resources for safe church policies, prayer booklets, books and Internet resources. Join our email lists to receive the weekly Wednesday Prayer and the E-Quipped for Prevention newsletter which provides ideas and resources for congregations.

Also: attend our bi-annual National Gathering where congregations from around the country receive training and share best practices. The National Gathering is a time for pastors and lay leaders from around the country to meet one another, share ministry stories, work through challenges, grow in leadership, and live in God’s abundant grace together. The Fourth National Gathering of Cherish All Children, to be held in Whitehouse, OH at the Lial Renewal Center in the Northwestern Ohio Synod, September 18-21, 2014. We have chosen the theme “One generation shall laud God’s works to another…” (from Psalm 145:4) for this year’s National Gathering. The registration fee $150 person (registration ends August 15, 2014) includes all the Gathering sessions, Fri/Sat/Sun breakfast and lunch, Fri/Sat dinner, snacks, and drinks. The Saturday evening banquet, with Bishop Marcus Lohrmann speaking. Bishop Lohrmann was instrumental in starting Cherish All Children in the Northwestern Ohio Synod, and he remains a consistent supporter of this ministry. Go to and click on National Gathering for more information. There is some housing available at Lial Renewal Center. Reservations for this housing are first-come, first-served. To reserve a room at Lial Renewal Center, contact Sister Mary Dean Pfahler at or 419-877-0432.

Big Look at Small Catechism

Bishop05p.jpgWhat does this mean? Old as well as young need its enduring, concise instruction

By Elizabeth A. Eaton, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Several years ago my husband’s bishop tried initiating a diocese-wide call to the catechumenate to engage those preparing for confirmation in a period of study and formation. We call it confirmation class or catechism, something generations of Lutherans have gone through. But this was a new experience for the Episcopalians in his diocese. He set about developing a curriculum for prospective confirmands, only to encounter resistance. How do Lutherans get participation in multiyear catechetical instruction? I told him: “Five hundred years of hazing.”

We do have a history of communicating the faith from generation to generation. Martin Luther wrote the Small Catechism after the Saxon Visitation of the late 1520s, which examined the religious practices in the parishes of that part of Central Europe. He discovered a stunning lack of understanding of the basics of the Christian faith among laypeople and pastors. So in the Small Catechism he gives a concise but rich explanation of the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, the commandments, baptism, communion, the Office of the Keys and confession.

The Small Catechism became an important part of faith formation in families. Millions of us throughout the centuries and world have studied and memorized it. Catechism has been a rite of passage in the Lutheran movement. It could be argued that no other experience is more universally Lutheran than studying this little book—not language, not hymnody, not cuisine, not worship style. “What does this mean?” and “This is most certainly true” are two of the most recognizable phrases in Lutheranism.
It’s been said, “Youth is wasted on the young.” I’m not suggesting that studying the catechism isn’t beneficial to middle-school students. But confining catechetical instruction to that age group and expecting fully formed disciples at the end of the process is probably a little unrealistic.

All of this has me wondering how we can bring our Lutheran traditions, unashamedly and gratefully, into our relationships with ecumenical and interreligious partners. The ELCA is fully committed to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. We have six full communion partners: the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church and the Moravian Church. As the ELCA, we also claim the evangelical part of our name. Set free by the grace of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus and moved by the Spirit we want to tell everybody the good news.

Some argue that emphasizing our Lutheran identity is an impediment to dialogue and evangelism. I would argue that if we aren’t clear about who we are and what we believe it’s not possible to have deep and authentic encounters with others. It’s hard to have meaningful give-and-take with mush.

There was a time in the 1980s when church growth experts urged us to shed denominational identity in favor of more generic, and so appealing, names for congregations. St. Paul Lutheran Church became the Church at Pheasant Run. It’s like selling our inheritance for a mess of marketing pottage. Of course we are baptized into the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. Of course our identity is in Christ and not in a 16th-century Augustinian monk. But there is something distinctive about our Lutheran voice that needs to be heard in ecumenical and interreligious conversations and in the public square. If we aren’t clear about this we run the risk of sliding into relativism.

It might be time for all of us to dust off our Small Catechisms (or find it in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 1160) and take another look at the basics of the faith. Staff at the Lutheran Center in Chicago will be doing just that this fall. My guess is that places like Microsoft or McDonald’s take great care in immersing their people into their corporate culture. We are Lutheran Christians. With great humility we can be unapologetic about being Lutheran. It would be wonderful if we as the ELCA prepared for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 by studying the Small Catechism together. We have a common language with which to talk about faith, engage Scripture and make sense of our world. Catechism is not just for the young. This is most certainly true.

This column originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of The Lutheran. 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.