June 2022 – ELCA Grand Canyon Synod

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Stirred in the Spirit, the theme for the 2022 Grand Canyon Synod Assembly builds on the common work we do as Synod.

In a world where we can easily challenge ourselves in unnecessary and even harmful ways, this assembly focuses on the ways in which we can challenge ourselves in positive and spiritual ways. We challenge each other to recognize that we are called to be public witnesses of God’s love and hope in the world. I pray that this assembly will renew our enthusiasm and confidence to bring about actions of love and good deeds.

Remember the March 2020 conversations and our early responses to the COVID-19 pandemic? We were making plans to get together at Easter, then Easter turned into Pentecost, and then two church years passed. This year we are meeting in person, knowing that some cannot join us due to COVID-19 precautions. It’s been a few years back and forth. Thank you for your resilience in unknown times. The days of uncertainty are not over, so we pay attention to health officials and respect ways to be safe as we move forward.

These years have also pushed us to experiment and learn. (A new phrase we’ve all learned – “you’re muted!”). Some things worked and some not so much. That’s what an experiment is: discovery. As Barbara Carl told me, “We canoe in the mountains and try to figure out what to do with the wood.”

In these actions you challenge each other to love and good deeds.

Call for increasing generosity

The appeal for growing generosity, launched in June 2021, exceeded the initial goal of $500,000 and is working towards our ambitious goal. Even before last year’s launch, our synod’s board, staff, and congregational members came forward to engage in the call. We launched Growing Generosity with $281,656 in pledges.

Last year, the focus was on individuals. This year, the focus is on congregations. As of today, we are at $543,032. Your generosity has made a difference in grants given to congregations to participate in Stewardship for All Seasons and Begin a Culture of Generosity, which have helped many congregations transform their stewardship campaigns. Your financial support has gone to the financial support of many pastors, helping to reduce school and medical debt. Your donations have provided a much-needed retreat, respite, and support for pastors in full-time ministry who are in the midst of various stages of burnout, stress, depression, and conflict of all kinds.

A comment from a pastor who attended a retreat:

Thanks for sending me to Shepherd’s Canyon Retreat Center. I was able to spend time reflecting and beginning to heal from my calling. I am now at peace with decisions and am excited where God leads me. Thank you for sticking with me through these times.

Whether you were an early donor, came to a listening session to learn more about this call, or prayed regularly for this campaign, thank you. Additional donations are sought as we strive to reach our ambitious goal of $750,000.

See how your donation has already made a difference and inspired someone else to donate at gcsynod.org/generosity.

The changing church

Even before the pandemic, we knew the cultural landscape of the church was changing. We’ve been talking about it for years. We are called to become the church of Christ in a different time than most of us have known.

However, this is not the first time that Christians have sailed on water and mountains. Turn to the book of Acts and see how the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, worked through early Christians to break down the barriers that divided God’s people. As they were surprised, we too are open to the surprising ways in which God works today.

We can learn from the openness of many members of our synod who experiment and reexamine our assumptions about how the role of race and prejudice informs and influences our church life. In the summer of 2020, many people across synod came together on zoom to participate in our open conversation series on race. According to the conversations, there was a group that wanted to deepen. Simon’s project was born. This group came together, learned, and explored ways for themselves and their congregations to embrace diversity in all its forms. The first Simon’s Project Cohort invites you to participate in the following group.

No one can predict exactly what impact these times will have on our congregations or on synodal life. But when we are open to the stirring of the Spirit and remain grounded in the basics of faith and practice, as well as the openness to re-examine our church structures, together we challenge each other to love and to good deeds.

Thanks to the Synod Council, the Bishop’s Office and to You

During this past year, so much good work has been done by those who serve in the bishop’s office and on the synod council.

Members of the Grand Canyon Synod Council are engaged. They show up at regular and special meetings. They read pages and pages of information and come prepared. They offer perspectives that strengthen this Synod. Please thank them for the many ways in which they serve this synod. Your Vice President, Barbara Carl, brings many gifts to this role, and I am grateful to her for her partnership in this work.

Transitions are part of institutional life but there is always sadness when we say goodbye. Thanks to Twila Burdick (who chaired the celebration task force); Janis Richert (who serves many functions in the Synod, including the stewardship team); Pastor Dan Valasakos (who is an extraordinary prayer) and Pastor David Brandfass who is completing his second term as synod council secretary. The Grand Canyon Synod is richer, more organized, and more loyal because of his leadership.

There have been some transitions since the last assembly. Pastor Doris Nolan has stepped down from her role as congregational transition coach and is currently acting senior pastor at Lutheran Church of Our Savior, Mesa and Gold Canyon. Pastor Glenn Zimbelman stepped in as the congregation’s transition coach. Deacon Janice Zimbelman is the congregation’s transitions director (replacing Pastor Sarah Moening, Rocky Mountain Synod). Clint Wasser has retired as Chief Financial Officer. Amy Birchard now holds this position as Finance Administrator.

Other staff in the Bishop’s Office include:

  • Prof. Miguel Gomez-Acosta, director of the evangelical mission, associate of the bishop for the vitality of the congregation;

  • Prof. Jacqui Pagel, Bishop’s Associate – Candidacy and Faith Formation;

  • Prof. Patricia Reed, transition coach;

  • Dr. Jerry Kingston, the Bishop’s Special Associate for Mobility;

  • Solveig Muus, director of LAMA;

  • Brian Flatgard, director of communications;

  • Theresa Thornburgh, Director of Administration and Events;

  • Kathye Hamm, administrative and event assistant;

  • Molly Gary, program manager for the Corporate Excellence Fund;

  • Lisa Marie Higginbotham, ELCA Foundation Planner;

  • Josh Kerney, ELCA Foundation Planner; and

  • William Ledford, Advocacy Director, LEAN

And all of you – lay leaders in congregations, ministers of record, loving critics and silent supporters. Please take this work seriously. I am grateful for the many ways this synod, as a church together, can dig into this work to communicate Jesus, connect people, and create possibility. This is team ministry.

As I shared in my April 2022 Synod Council report: “The call to serve as a bishop is strange, beautiful, harsh, surprisingly difficult, joyful and complex. I never got bored and look forward to most days. I am grateful for the trust GCS has placed in me to do this work.

May God bless us all as we seek to be stirred in the Spirit, considering how we inspire each other to love and good deeds.

Grateful for how God is doing good through you,

Barry F. Howard