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


2015 Portico Health Benefits Update

THANK YOU to all those congregations, treasurers, and pastors who responded so quickly to reminders to make a health option selection by the October 17 deadline. As of October 20, our synod had only two congregations who had not made their selection or taken other appropriate action for 2015. This was wonderful to see! Great job!

The next step in the 2015 health care selection process is for members/employees to log in to MyPortico (ADD the link) between October 27 and November 21, 2014 to learn about their options for 2015, meet the Member Selection deadline and be ready for a smooth transition into the new year. Members need to:

  • Enroll in the health benefit option the congregation selected, buy up to another option and pay the cost difference, or waive health benefits IF they qualify;
    • A member qualifies to waive ELCA health coverage if he or she has other valid coverage, such as through a spouse’s employer, or receives a subsidy on a state, federal or state/federal partnership individual health insurance exchange AND purchases coverage through the individual exchange. (Portico definition)
  • Make decisions about contributing to tax-advantaged accounts, purchasing additional life insurance, and starting or changing pretax retirement account contributions; and
  • Name life insurance and retirement account beneficiaries

Early Bird Challenge Supports the ELCA Fund for Leaders!!

The Challenge is ON to increase our support for the Fund for Leaders! If at least 60% of all ELCA plan members enroll by Nov. 11, Portico’s president, Jeff Thiemann, and his wife Pam will donate $5,000 to the ELCA Fund for Leaders. Helping strong candidates through seminary less encumbered by debt aligns with Portico’s ministry of supporting healthy leaders and a healthy community. Several of our synod’s seminarians have benefited or are currently benefiting from the Fund for Leaders.

New Vanderkamp Directors

Bill and Penny James, the new Executive Directors of Vanderkamp Center, are Presbyterians and native Central New Yorkers. Each holds advanced degrees and are experienced in camp and conference center administration. Prior to returning to college as a non-traditional student, Bill worked in construction for more than 15 years, including running his own residential and light commercial remodeling business. Vanderkamp will be the fourth summer camp program with which Penny has worked and the third where she has served as the director. Bill grew up attending church camp with the Susquehanna Valley Presbytery.

They have worked together over much of their careers. Bill has worked with Penny at two summer camps. Conversely, Penny has worked with Bill at two collegiate adventure recreation programs and assisted him in construction personally and professionally. Together they remodeled two homes, operated a construction business, as well as worked on high and low ropes course maintenance and design over the years. They have both been involved in teaching outdoor, environmental, and adventure education for more than 15 years, often with the same organizations. Bill is also a certified instructor with the American Red Cross for Wilderness First Aid and CPR for the Professional Responder.

Having recently completed her PhD in Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management in May 2014, Bill and Penny began praying for a path that would lead them home now that their educational endeavors had concluded. Their children were beginning families of their own in Central New York and Bill and Penny very much wanted to be involved in their young grandchildren’s lives. A member of the American Camping Association for more than 12 years, Penny immediately shared the announcements for an Executive Director and Facilities Director at Vanderkamp with Bill. They requested that the board consider them jointly as Co-Executive Directors who would assume the responsibilities of both positions.

The opportunity to work together operating a summer camp and conference center had long been a dream for Bill and Penny that they feared they would never realize. Given their professional camp experience was related to secular camps, their only hesitation was their lack of formal theological training. Through much prayer, reflection, and conversations with clergy and Vanderkamp board members, Bill and Penny grew confident in their ability to maintain current Christian traditions at summer camp (e.g., bible exploration) and create new and exciting opportunities for Vanderkampers to grow and rejoice in our common faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Given Penny’s background in special event planning, they would like in the future to offer topical Christian retreats for men, women, families, and youth groups while maintaining our current rental of the facility for local Christian organizations to hold their own.

Bill and Penny believe that joining the Vanderkamp team was responding to the Lords’ Call to Service. They feel blessed for this opportunity to utilize the full range of their educational and professional experiences. For more detailed biographies on Bill and Penny, please visit the staff profiles and Fall 2014 Vanderkamp e-newsletter on our web site at

Move Update for October 15

Effective today, October 14, 2014 the Upstate New York Synod offices are now located at 5811 Heritage Landing Drive, 1st Floor, East Syracuse, NY 13057-9360. The offices are closed all this week as we move furnishings, phones and internet service from our old location to this new location. We anticipate only 1 or 2 days without email (Oct. 14 and 15) but we will be without regular phone service until October 21. In the interim if you need to reach someone at the synod office we suggest that you send them an email or you may call 315-200-9059 and leave a message. We will be regularly checking messages and someone will get back to you as quickly as possible.

We ask your prayers and patience during this time of transition.

Urgent Reminder from Portico Benefit Services

By The Rev. Jeff Thiemann, President and CEO Portico Benefit Services

Has your congregation reported its 2015 ELCA-Primary health benefit selection to Portico? Your current health benefit option don’t automatically roll over to 2015.

If you’ve already made your selection, I thank you. If not, take note.

All organizations that sponsor members in the ELCA Benefit Program are required to take this simple, annual step – even if they want to keep the same health benefit option they offer today. Rates change annually so it’s important to consider your contribution cost for 2015, then lock in your 2015 selection on Portico’s EmployerLink website no later than Oct. 17.

If you have questions or are unable to report your decision by the deadline, please call Portico right away at 800-352-2876.

Portico Pre-Retirement Seminar

Get Answers to Your Difficult Retirement Planning Questions

Portico Benefit Services, in collaboration with Ernst and Young, is pleased to hold a one-day pre-retirement seminar. You’ll get answers from a certified Ernst and Young financial planner on these questions and more:

  • How much money will I really need in retirement?
  • How can I create a lifetime income that I won’t outlive?
  • What steps can I take to ensure a smooth transition into retirement?

Seminar Details

  • May 5, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
  • Albany, NY area
  • $35.00 per person — $70 per couple

Register by April 14th Once we receive your registration, we’ll email you an invoice for $35 per person. The seminar is most relevant to ELCA Retirement Plan members within 15 years of retirement. For a list of available seminars and more information, check out the Events page under the News & Events drop-down menu at myPortico. Questions? Email Portico’s registrar at