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

With Joy and Thanksgiving

By: Rev. Judith VanOsdol, Director for Evangelical Mission

Stewardship is an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and careful management of resources entrusted to one’s care. In other words, stewardship means to administer and care for what does not, finally, belong to us.

Although we say, “my family, my home, my church….” all these (along with all things, including our own lives) belong to God. Stewardship (including our relationship with money and “stuff”) is a deeply spiritual issue. A careful study of our budget and checkbook will reveal what our “mission statement” really is!

Stewardship starts with a joyful attitude of gratitude and thanksgiving for all the gifts God has entrusted to our care. God is able to do amazing things through our giving. We make a difference when we walk together!

If you have experienced an impact through work with your Bishop, Dean, synod staff, call process, candidacy, conflict and healing team, mission teams, Congregational Vitality Assessment (CVA), etc., this is your mission support returning to your congregation! Over 90 congregations in Upstate New York are using the CVA for mission planning and health.

Lutheran Disaster Relief is another example of your mission support that has had a powerful impact in our Synod. Last summer you helped make a difference in the lives of 53 children impacted by natural disaster in their lives. Camp Noah provided a safe place for these children to have fun and process their experience of trauma and flooding in their homes.

Your mission support also helps to change lives throughout the world, supporting leadership training, education, new and renewing congregations, outdoor and campus ministry, hunger and poverty relief, global mission, malaria prevention and disaster response. Since 2009, malaria in Africa has been reduced by over a half a million cases, saving countless lives. Your mission support is directly addressing the Ebola outbreak. See our Presiding Bishop’s letter on the life giving work we are doing together as the church.

Thank you for your generous giving of Synodical mission support that makes possible our shared mission in Christ Jesus. Please prayerfully consider an increase in giving by your congregation-either in an estimated amount or in percentage giving of your mission budget. You might consider moving toward a tithe (10% of the congregation’s mission budget) or even beyond a tithe.

We trust in God’s amazing grace-that God will continue to bless and guide us on our shared faith journey. Your congregation’s continuing mission support furthers God’s mission across our Synod and throughout the World. It is God’s work-through our hands.

The Synod Challenge letter has been sent out to all congregations. The electronic form for the Statement of Intent, along with a letter from our presiding Bishop is available to download. Please return your completed Statement of Intent for Mission Support for 2015 to the Synod Office, either electronically or by regular mail as soon as possible to 5811 Heritage Landing Drive, First Floor, East Syracuse, NY 13057.

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.

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.

Regional Renewal Teams

By: Rev. Judith VanOsdol, Director for Evangelical Mission

What is a Regional Renewal Team? A Regional Renewal Team is a group of mission minded lay and clergy leaders in four geographic areas of our Synod who “walk together” with congregations to facilitate renewal, health and vitality. (See diagram for more information.)

Why do we need these? God calls us into mission together. Our ELCA Churchwide expression together with the Upstate New York Synod is intentionally investing in leadership development and congregational renewal. An estimated 65%- 85% of our congregations need some form of renewal. The teams draw upon the gathered skills and wisdom of leaders and processes to accompany congregational renewal and transformation.

Who is involved? There is great energy and excitement in these teams as we wonder together what our living, loving Lord is “up to” in our area. As of mid-2014, there are over 150 clergy and lay leaders of our Synod who serve either on a Regional Renewal Team and/or an area strategy. Any and all congregations of our Synod are invited and encouraged to engage in some form of renewal; our Regional Renewal teams can accompany congregations in this process.

Do these teams tell congregations what to do? ELCA Congregations have integrity and interdependence; ergo renewal teams do not dictate congregational life, but rather encourage and support congregations and clusters desiring renewal and choosing to participate.

How do the Regional Renewal teams impact the overall mission of the Synod? Our hope is that each baptized believer in Jesus Christ is a missionary, each congregation is a mission station and each leader of the church is a mission director. Regional Renewal teams guide, nurture and provide input and ideas as we “walk together” in mission.

What are some of ways the Regional Renewal teams walk with congregations? The Regional Renewal teams accompany the Conference Deans, Synod Staff and Synod Council to offer:

  • The Congregational Vitality Assessment evaluates overall health and provides a basis for mission planning focused on connecting with God, with one another and with the wider world. Over 50 Upstate NY congregations are working with this tool at present.
  • Mission in Transition Teams walk with congregations during times of transition.
  • Mission planning and visioning is a listening process that helps congregations and clusters respond to God’s call into the future.
  • Partnerships and Area Strategies invite intentional conversation, collaboration and discernment with neighboring congregations/ ministries seeking a united witness and service for a defined geographic area.
  • Communication Strategy Team serves to educate, empower and equip congregations to communicate the life-changing Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in an ever-changing world.
  • Mission Schools provide leadership training with materials in Systems thinking and practice.
  • Transforming Congregations’ team leaders are trained to coach congregations in this renewal process.
  • New Start tables accompany our new mission starts, such as the South Wedge Mission in Rochester.
  • Holy Closure is a process through which leaders offer resources and walk with congregations nearing the end of their missional life together.

Please look for us at the Synod Assembly Mission Faire (find the tree) and talk with team leaders who will be there to answer any questions you might have! We will also have materials for you to take along, so come and see! Let us hold the leaders of our Regional Renewal Teams, Area strategies, Stewardship/ Mission Support teams along with each of our Congregation and Synod council leaders in prayer as we seek to serve God and God’s people in the mission we share in Christ Jesus.