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



The death of an unarmed young black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, MO and subsequent protests since August have brought to the surface once again the hideous reality of racism in our country, a reality that continues to rear its ugly head seemingly at will. The decision by the Grand Jury not to indict Officer Darren Wilson set off a new round of protests; some peaceful and some violent, both in Ferguson as well as across this nation. People have been pointing fingers at the system, at the Grand Jury, at the police officers who have fought back the crowds, at the justice system itself as well as at individuals. Pointing the finger is easy to do for us, it moves the blame from us to others.

Yet, as we were all told, when one points a finger at someone else, three are pointing back at us. This is not a problem for Ferguson or communities of minorities or the poor, this is our problem as a nation and as a church. Until we can name the demons we can’t begin to cast them out. Until we are able to sit down with those who are strangers and see in them not only friends but the face of Christ we will fail the process. Until we recognize the racism in our own hearts and lives and place it on the table for discussion we won’t move forward.

Christ calls us to forgiveness and hope, to be present in the broken places as he was present during his ministry among those who were broken and is present with us now in our failings and faltering lives. How do we find a way to address this brokenness in our society in a healthy, helpful and productive manner? I’m not certain, but we must find a way for until we do we will continue to experience the present reality as it plays itself out across this nation and world again and again and again.

The Church has a word of promise and hope, grounded in forgiveness, as we recognize and give voice to our sinfulness and seek grace freely offered. Is it time for us to enter into a deep conversation around this issue that calls us all to recognize our shortcomings and sins and see in others not their color or economic standing or social status? If not, when? If so, how? I don’t have the answers but we must begin asking the questions and answering them honestly and faithfully.

I invite you to join me and others in prayer in these days that we might find a way to peace and equality, living into the dream that Dr. King so longed for during his life. Pray for the people of Ferguson as well as those other places the world around where racism exists and thrives openly and freely. Pray for this church, that we might be a beacon of hope and light, grounded in the One who makes all One. Pray for peace and live into that peace.

Michael Brown Sr, the day before the Grand Jury results were released, offered these words: “I do not want my son’s death to be in vain. I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change, change that leaves the St. Louis region better for everyone.” I would add “that leaves this country better for everyone.” May it be so among us.

Redeeming God your arms embrace all now despised for creed or race
Let peace, descending like a dove, make known on earth your healing love.

Indwelling God, your Gospel claims one fam’ly with a billion names
Let every life be touched by grace until we praise you face to face.
Creating God, Your Fingers Trace: ELW 684

John S. Macholz, Bishop

Upstate New York Synod

A Statement from the Central States Synod about the Events in Ferguson, Missouri

By: Rev. Roger Gustafson, Bishop of the Central States Synod

Tonight’s announcement of the Ferguson grand jury decision has angered some and pleased others, assured some of “the system’s” validity, and convinced others of “the system’s” corruption. People have taken to the streets – some to express frustration at this particular decision, others to pursue their own agendas – but none of those who have engaged in violence has honored Michael Brown or respected the wishes of his parents, who have called for calm and the peaceful pursuit of justice.

During the three months of deliberation by the grand jury as to whether white police officer Darren Wilson should be charged in the death of black citizen Michael Brown, the emotions and reactions have flowed. Underneath the surface responses, however, people who are guided by the Gospel of Jesus Christ might suspect that deeper rhythms are at work.

God’s creation continues to groan in labor pains, as Paul wrote (Rom 8:22), and bracing against injustice of any kind is one expression of that groaning. We routinely ask for God’s kingdom to come and for God’s will to be done (Matt 6:10), and we’re grateful for signs of their coming. Just so, we shouldn’t be surprised when their absence becomes painfully obvious. It’s for us to construct cultures and policies that honor God’s intent for equal valuing of all people. As Michael Brown’s father urged us all tonight, don’t let his son’s death be in vain; rather, get moving toward greater tolerance and understanding and appreciation, wherever you are, whomever you’re with. Michael Brown’s life deserves to be honored by our best efforts.

Originally posted on the Central States Synod website on November 24, 2014.

Information for transformation: Congregational Vitality Project Part I

By: Rev. Judith VanOsdol, Director for Evangelical Mission

Vital congregations bear witness to God’s transforming power. Our synod is one of five pilot synods across the ECLA that form the Congregational Vitality Project. The Congregational Vitality Assessment is a listening tool that invites participants to share their perceptions of how the congregation is connecting with God, with one another, and with the world.

Our synod’s four Regional Renewal Teams have worked arduously throughout 2014 leading the process in our synod. To date, over 85 congregations, roughly half of the congregations of our Synod have used the CVA. This process includes: an all congregation survey, receiving feedback from team members with congregational leaders, and follow up from that process. (For information on the CVA, see the FAQ)

Information is not transformation-follow up is necessary! Recently the project interviewed congregational leaders from 44 congregations in pilot synods to see how congregations used the survey. The study found that leaders of congregations in every synod agree that the survey is helpful but its impact is greatly increased with follow-up interventions. Those congregations who used the information to facilitate follow-up steps to begin a process of renewal were more likely to experience improvement in their overall health.

The CVA project will go on Hiatus from mid-December to February of 2015. Therefore, if you have ordered the survey, but not taken it, or are waiting to send in results, congregations have until December 15th at the latest to send in survey results of the current version. Following the hiatus, we will launch version three of the CVA, ready to order from your Regional Renewal team in February, 2015.

In Part II, we will illustrate some of the critical factors that impact congregational vitality. Blessings of joy and peace!

A Word of Appreciation form the Bishop

By: Rev. John Stanley Macholz, Bishop

“Thousand, thousand thanks shall be…” The words of the old hymn don’t begin to convey my gratitude to all of you who sent cards, Facebook messages, emails and made phone calls as well as offered prayers across the church on my behalf following surgery. Your presence via these various means sustained and held Lin and me prior to, during and following surgery to this very day.

The surgery went extremely well, pathology reports came back completely negative and, despite a few minor setbacks, I’m well on the way to recovery. This Thursday (Thanksgiving Day) will mark four weeks since the surgery. I’ve been working a bit from home and will return to work full time, easing back in, on Monday, December 1. I look forward to getting back to the call and tasks at hand and the future that God holds out for all of us in what I believe is a bright and hopeful future for this synod and the ministry to which we are called. Thanks for your companionship on this journey.

Farewell and Godspeed

By: Rev. John Stanley Macholz, Bishop

This edition of the Upstate Update is Neal Fischer’s final with us. As you may know Neal and Michele are heading south to the South Carolina Synod where he will continue his good work there, as well as in other places as he’s called upon, to assist congregations, synods and the larger church.

Neal has been a gift and blessing to us these past six years, giving shape and form to our communications and process, updating methodologies and leading us into the brave new world of social media. His constant presence and tireless work have been a blessing to us and to all. Join me in giving him thanks for all that he has done in our midst as we wish him well in his new future.