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Articles written by the Rev. Katie Yahns
Photography by the Rev. Jeff Kane

Trumpeting the good news

The echoes of brass instruments throughout the assembly hall heralded the start of the 2019 Synod Assembly, which happened to fall on the festival of the Ascension of Our Lord. As the gathered people sang “God of Tempest, God of Whirlwind,” the trumpet and trombone fanfares soared overhead, a musical reminder of every Christian's call to share the good news of God's love in Jesus Christ. The assembly had the chance to groove to a different kind of brass music when the opening worship continued and concluded with “Oh, When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Also during the opening worship service, St. John's, Allegheny and St. Paul's, Ellicottville were both received into the ELCA. Both were previously congregations of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

After the evening plenary concluded, the assembly moved into Holden Evening Prayer. The middle of the service included an extended time of Scripture and hymns, during which individuals were given an LED tealight candle and asked to light it and place it on a map of the world at the front of the assembly hall. The result was a shimmering image of the world surrounded in prayer.

Witness with your smartphone

Assemblygoers gathered at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center this year around the theme of “You Will Be My Witness.”  On Thursday evening, the assembly heard more about how the theme will be lived out in the days to come.

            The Rev. Norma Malfatti, Director for Evangelical Mission, created and shared a video using her cell phone to introduce video storytelling as a witnessing tool for modern times.  She hopes that by encouraging individuals in congregations to create short videos about the mission and ministry in which they are engaged, they can build relationships and inspire others to grow in their own witness to the love of Jesus.  “This is our book of Acts for 2019,” Malfatti said.  She told the assembly to look for more videos throughout the assembly—and the year—to share more of what the church is up to.

            Malfatti also invited individuals to share their “Faith Alive!” moments by writing down their personal stories about encountering the love of Jesus on cards and posting them on a wall of the assembly hall.  The idea is to keep it brief—ideally, short enough to be shared in an elevator ride.  Those who are open to sharing their stories with the assembly are invited to mark them with a gold star.

Business matters begAn for assembly Thursday

On Thursday evening, the assembly dove into business, adopting the agenda and rules of procedure as published, considering and adopting Resolution #2, and hearing a number of reports.

            Resolution #2 is a memorial to the 2019 Churchwide Assembly later this summer, urging the ELCA to endorse The Earth Charter.  According to the resolution, the Earth Charter is “an international declaration of values and principles that support building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society in the 21st century.”  It speaks about care for the earth and maintaining a healthy ecosystem as well as sustainability in the future and reshaping our economic and political systems to better build “a democratic and humane world.”  It was adopted by a margin of 192 to 13.

            The assembly also received information on a number of business items coming up during the next two days, including an introduction to the proposed 2020 Mission Spending Plan from Greg May, chair of the synodical Finance Committee.

            Reports from Lori Fedyk, treasurer of the ELCA and representative of the churchwide organization, as well as Sue Fox, president of the synodical Women of the ELCA, were also received.  Fedyk shared that the Upstate New York Synod gave a total of nearly 1.4 million dollars to the work of the greater church, and gives the second highest total of any synod to ELCA World Hunger.  This fact paved the way for the Rev. Dave Preisinger to brief the assembly on this year's World Hunger appeal with a goal of $40,000.  He will be sharing updates throughout the assembly.

Hearts and Hands for Barb welcomes the assembly's help

In Friday morning's plenary, Vice President Tom Madden shared that many had asked him if there was a way to help Bishop John Macholz and his wife Lin as they focused their energies on being with their daughter Barbara, now in the final stage of her battle with breast cancer.  Bishop Macholz has requested and expressed gratitude for the prayers of the assembly, but some had expressed a wish to do more.

            Madden announced that donations to the fund “Hearts and Hands for Barb” were welcome to help lift the financial burden for the Macholz family.  Checks can be made out to Atonement Lutheran Church with “Hearts and Hands for Barb” written on the memo line and sent to Atonement Lutheran Church, 1900 Westfall Road, Rochester, NY 14618.

Bishop John MACHOLZ ON fAMILY lEAVE

As voting members and guests gathered for the 2019 Upstate New York Synod Assembly, Vice President Tom Madden brought some sobering news: Bishop John Macholz would not be present at the assembly this year.

            A letter from Bishop Macholz, stated he needed to be present with his daughter Barb as her life's journey was nearing its completion.  She has been fighting breast cancer for several years.  As of the starting date of the assembly, Thursday, May 30, Bishop Macholz was officially on family medical leave.

            Bishop Jim Hazelwood of the New England Synod will be present with the assembly this week and serve as interim bishop now and in the days to come.

Elections completed Friday morning

In the Thursday evening plenary, Vice President Tom Madden gave a quick overview of the various elections for positions on Synod Council and the board of United Lutheran Seminary.  At that time, nominations for the at-large Synod Council seats were closed as no further names were put forward.  One at-large seat is designated for a youth ages 16 to 17, for which one nominee had been identified before the assembly.  The other seat is designated for a lay person of color or primary language other than English.

            In Friday morning's plenary, Madden announced that a nominee for this seat had been identified.  Nominations were re-opened and Atif Dean of Good Shepherd, Loudonville was nominated.  Elections for all Synod Council seats were then held and as there was only one nominee for each available seat, Gary Roller, Daniel May, and Ryan Hunneshagen were elected.

            Fred Risser was also elected to another term on the board of United Lutheran Seminary.

Less business, more conversation Friday morning

In Friday morning's plenary, the assembly set aside “business as usual” for a time and entered into committee of the whole to reflect on and discuss current trends of decline within the ELCA and mainline Protestant denominations.  This was in response to a request made of Synod Council.  Saturday morning's plenary session will include additional time to discuss this topic in small groups.

            Also on Friday morning, the assembly welcomed several guests to the podium to hear their reports:

·       The Rev. Dr. Martin Otto Zimmann, president of United Lutheran Seminary, spoke on the current state of seminary education at United.

·       The Rev. Lori Kochanski shared the work of the Women and Justice task force of the ELCA, which has produced a social statement entitled “Faith, Sexism and Justice: A Lutheran Call to Action,” which will be on the agenda of the Churchwide Assembly this August in Milwaukee.

·       Nick Stroczkowski, director of Organic Faith in Buffalo, lifted up the power of youth ministry to help young people process their pain and find healing in healthy ways.

·       Deacon Lee Lindeman, executive director of Lake Chautauqua Lutheran Center, reported on the ministry happening and the new improvements being made to the facilities there.

·       The Rev. Peter Cook, executive director of the New York State Council of Churches, reported on the work they do with prison chaplaincy ministry and advocacy in the state capital.

·       Fred Risser, synodical treasurer, also delivered his report on the financial state of the synod.

 The Rev. Laurie Carson shared her “Faith Alive!” moment shared with the assembly and the Rev. Dave Preisinger gave an update on the total for ELCA World Hunger: $23,094.19, over halfway to the goal amount.  Congregations who contribute are invited to write their name on a paper hand and add it to the display in the plenary hall.  Finally, the Rev. Dr. Julius Carroll and the Rev. Dr. Kenneth Simurro shared a historical presentation about the Lutheran witness to slavery during the last 400 years in North America.

Celebrations take center stage on Friday evening

Friday evening's celebration banquet gave the assembly a chance to honor and thank a wide variety of people.  Eleven pastors were honored for their milestone anniversaries of ordination, ranging from fifty to sixty-five years each, for a combined total of six hundred and thirty-five years of pastoral experience.  Members of Synod Council completing their term of service were also thanked.

            For the first time, the assembly took time to verbally thank congregations for their mission support to the synod.  Greg May, chair of the synodical finance committee, named each congregation and specially noted those that had grown substantially in their giving to the synod.

            Two other awards were given: Tom Madden, synodical vice president, presented Fred Risser, synodical treasurer, with the Synodical Discipleship Award, and Keith Mundy, program director for stewardship for the ELCA, recognized Denise Ballou for her outstanding work as Mission Interpreter Coordinator for the churchwide organization.

“We are witnesses” throughout the church year

A mournful plainsong chant transformed into a lilting jazz melody as the Rita Collective Ensemble began playing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” the processional hymn for Monday evening's worship service.  The ensemble of bass clarinet, marimba, alto saxophone, piano, bass, percussion, and vocals skillfully led worship with a wide variety of global jazz rhythms that were both innovative and singable.

            Bishop Jim Hazelwood preached on being a witness to the story of God's love in Jesus Christ for the whole world.  He shared stories from courtrooms, T-shirt shops, and congregations about the importance of witnessing to our world today, using what we already have.  Even if it's as simple as a congregation sending notes to people when they pray for them in worship, a connection is created that gives life because it witnesses to a God that truly cares about them and loves them.

            The music of the liturgy carried the assembly on a mini-journey through the seasons of the church year.  The Rev. Hannah Benedict shared a dramatic reading of Exodus 3:1-15, the story of Moses and the burning bush.  Pastors celebrating milestone anniversaries of ordination served Communion as well as some who serve as synodical and churchwide staff.  The offering received will support the bishop's discretionary fund as well as new church starts in upstate New York.