Ordination of Deacons

By Bishop Mike Rinehart

deaconsIn 2016, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly passed a resolution to combine three rosters – Associates in Ministry, Deaconesses and Diaconal Ministers – into one roster: Deacon. In a recent lunch with some of our deacons, I heard positive remarks about this move over the last two years. “I don’t think anyone ever understood Associates in Ministry. Ever. We explained it a hundred times. It went right over their heads,” said one person. “Deacon” has traction.

At the 2019 Churchwide Assembly coming up next summer, several recommendations will be coming to the floor. A team has been working on some of the details of this office, like the entrance rite for example. Below are some of those recommendations, but first a little bit of background.

Acts 6

We read about deacons in Acts 6. The church was growing (Acts 2:47), and as is often the case, conflict arose. It was both racial and religious. The Greeks complained that Hebrew widows were getting more food than the Greek widows, who were being neglected in the daily distribution. There was an inequity, an injustice. The Twelve gathered and decided to appoint seven people to handle the daily food distribution. While the apostles did their work, these deacons would attend to a kind of social ministry, distributing food to the poor, orphans and widows. It is instructive that the church saw this as a primary ministry, so important that a special ops team was created to ensure a just system. The deacons are set apart by prayer and laying on of hands. The problem is solved, and the church continues to grow.

Mark Oldenburg points out that the laying on of hands is clearly not only for those with liturgical duties.

The first of those chosen was Stephen, who preached with the Spirit and with wisdom (Acts 6:10). He also preached in a way that made people angry, so angry in fact, that they eventually stoned him. The first martyr in the New Testament was a deacon, stoned for preaching an edgy sermon.

Deacons were distributers of the church’s food. Gordon Lathrop (see link below) says they took communion to the homebound. They distributed the food collected at the church’s assembly, to the sick, the needy, orphans and widows. In the second century Ignatius of Antioch regarded deacons as “entrusted with the service of Jesus Christ.” The role is not presiding. It is serving. Lathrop points out that Bugenhagen, in the Reformation, used deacon to describe the person who kept the community chest.

The role of deacon developed into a more formalized role over time. Deacons preached, baptized, evangelized and more. At times the church rolled back some of those duties. Subdeacons and other roles emerged. In some cases, it was a stepping stone toward the priesthood. Other denominations have two kinds of deacons. Permanent deacons are those who feel permanently called to a vocation of proclaiming the Word to the world, and leading the church in service to the world. Transitional deacons are those who are preparing for ordination as priests. They will serve as deacons for a temporary time of preparation. In our tradition, we do not see the diaconate as a stepping stone to Word and Sacrament ministry.

  1. Louise Williams points out that the diaconate, while not as common in North American Lutheranism, is used around the world among Lutherans. The word diakonia is quite familiar among our companion synods. The World Council of Churches uses it quite frequently as well. Our own Duane Larson, at Christ the King Houston, points out that diakonia/service, while vitally important to the Christian witness in the world, has not be a prominent part of our tradition.

Pastors are ministers of Word and Sacrament in our ecclesiology. They preach, baptize and preside at Holy Communion. Pastors are stewards of the mysteries, the sacraments.

Deacons are minsters of Word and Service. Deacons preach as do pastors. Deacons also lead the church in service to the world. Deacons serve as teachers, youth workers, musicians, administrators and more.

This church keeps a roster (a list) of those who have been prepared and approved for each of these ministries. Such a list helps this church know who have been prepared and approved. It also allows this church to remove those in cases of misconduct. This provides safety for the whole church. Pastors and deacons require a call (by vote of the congregation) to remain on the roster of pastors or deacons.

Why deacon and not pastor?

Deacons usually sense a call to serve the church and the world. At a recent gathering of deacons in our synod, I asked the question: Why deacon and not pastor. Many have said they simply felt called to that, and not to sacramental or liturgical work. “I didn’t feel the call to ordained ministry.” One loved to teach.

Entrance Rite Discernment Group

Once this church decided to strengthen and uplift the role of deacon (diakonia, leadership in service to the world), and combine the three rosters into one, called “deacon,” there was the matter of choosing an entrance rite. Before the combination of the three rosters, bishops were installed, pastors were ordained, diaconal ministers were consecrated, and Associates in Ministry were commissioned. In some other church bodies, however, bishops and deacons are ordained. Ordination simply means prayer with laying on of hands, something we do in commissionings, consecrations and installations anyway. The words are virtually interchangeable. So what is the issue?

Furthermore, Lathrop argues, Augsburg Confession 14 suggests that the Reformers were happy to accept canonical ordination as currently practiced. This would have included ordaining deacons, priests and bishops. The question becomes one of understanding. In North America, Lutherans have used ordination exclusively for pastors. This is not the case for Lutherans in other parts of the world.

How about now? Do we stick with our local pattern, or consider a global view? Should deacons be consecrated? Ordained? Commissioned? Something else? Will deacons wear stoles? What will be the signs of this office?

A team was appointed to work on these things. They did a lot of listening. Gordon Lathrop wrote a paper on this question. You can read it HERE.

Here are the recommendations of the Entrance Rite Discernment Group. They recommend that the ELCA:

  1. establish the rite of ordination as the entrance rite for deacons entering the roster of Ministers of Word and Service;
  2. define the symbols of this ministry as a deacon’s stole and a cross, both to be presented at the entrance rite;
  3. direct the worship staff of this church to develop an appropriate rite and rubrics for the ordination of deacons;
  4. direct the worship staff of this church to share information about the appropriate use of the deacon stole and to facilitate a conversation among deacons regarding a unified cross design;
  5. charge the secretary of this church with proposing appropriate amendments to the Constitutions, Bylaws and Continuing Resolutions of the ELCA that will ensure that at least 60 percent of the members of its assemblies, councils, committees, boards, and other organizational units shall be persons who are not on the rosters of Ministers of Word and Service or Ministers of Word and Sacrament;
  6. review the ELCA candidacy process for appropriate modifications as necessary;
  7. charge the secretary of this church with considering and proposing possible amendments to the Constitutions, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions of the ELCA to accomplish its recommendations;
  8. call upon this church to increase opportunities for lifting up, recognizing, fostering and encouraging recognition of deacons for the mission and witness of the church in the world;
  9. continue funding for transition events and ongoing leadership and formation events to ensure growth and understanding of the roster of Ministers of Word and Service;
  10. continue the preparation of appropriate and informative materials for the church’s ongoing study; and
  11. refer the resulting amending/amended documents to the 2019 Churchwide Assembly for approval as necessary.

I would summarize this by saying the recommendation is that the rite be ordination, the sign of the office is a deacon’s diagonal stole and a cross. Deacons will not be considered “lay people,” but their ministry will not be sacramental. Deacons will not preside at Holy Communion.

diagonal diaconal stoleMany of our deacons already wear the diagonal diaconal stole, though it has not yet been officially embraced in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Note Deacon Mary Lee Mimms Miller’s stole, second from the left in the photo. This pattern has crept in (in a good way) through Lutheran churches in other parts of the world, and through our ecumenical partners. We seem to be moving in a direction that has the diagonal stole as the symbol for the deacon, the stole for the pastor, and the stole and pectoral cross for the bishop.

The recommendations will be taken up at the 2019 Churchwide Assembly. Talk them through. If you have feelings one way or the other have a conversation with the voting members from our synod who will be attending the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

Above all, let us give thanks to those who choose a full-time vocation of leading the church in service to the world. This is, in the end, the heart and soul of the matter. Through our baptism, we are all called to serve. Thanks be to God for those who are trained and set apart to lead us in service, for the sake of the world.

Pastor Blair Lundborg to Retire

Beloved Gulf Coast Synod Leaders,

Pastor Blair Lundborg
Pastor Blair Lundborg

In this issue of Connections your will read that Pastor Blair Lundborg will be retiring next year. Blair has served faithfully as Assistant to the Bishop since Pastor Don Carlson retired six years ago. During his tenure he has helped well over half of our congregations find new pastors and deacons. He has overseen the candidacy process, SALMs and campus ministry. He has lovingly helped congregations in crisis or conflict. He has, with impeccable commitment and organizational skill, cared for much of the work of the church in this part of the country. I am deeply grateful for his service to the church. We will find an opportunity to thank him as a synod at some point next year.

This month we will begin by posting the opening and a position description. Watch for them on the synod web page. The posting will be up for about a month. Then we will have video interviews before Christmas, followed by face-to-face interviews after the first of the year. We hope to have a candidate by Spring. There is no requirement that the Assistant to the Bishop be ordained, though this has been extremely helpful. There is no bilingual requirement, though that would be an asset.

Take some time to pray about the kind of leadership you would appreciate in this position. If you are interested let us know. If you know of someone who might be suited for this work, encourage them to prayerfully consider it. And while you’re at it, say a word of thanks to Blair.

Bishop Mike

Clarion Calls and Nudges

By Pastor Blair Lundborg, assistant to the bishop

Discernment. It’s hard work. It’s messy. It’s not always crystal clear, which is how I would prefer it to be.

In my discernment leading up to the decision to retire there were many factors that played into the internal debate. There were also many reasons not to retire. I’ll spare you the lengthy wrangling that I’ve had with the committee that meets in my head. You’ve had the same conversations with God and yourself. So, let’s keep this simple.

It is time. Time to step down. Time to step aside. Time to do something different. What that something is, I’m not sure. But it’s time. As you know all too well, ministry is not a typical job. We don’t even talk about it in those terms. Instead, we use the language of “call”. Sometimes it is a clarion call to stay the course, even when it’s hard. Other times it is a gentle nudge to let go. Often it is a mixture of both. That’s what it has been for me.

As I submit my retirement announcement and resignation I thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Assistant to the Bishop.

November 1, 2018
Bishop Michael Rinehart
12941 I-45 North Freeway #210
Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, ELCA
Houston TX 77060-1243

Dear Bishop Rinehart:

It has been one of the greatest honors of my ministry to serve on your staff in the Gulf Coast Synod. I am grateful for your faithful leadership, support and encouragement in our work together.

With gratitude and joy, after prayer and careful discernment, I announce my retirement on June 1, 2019. As we have discussed, a period of overlap and training with my successor will facilitate a smooth transition on the Bishop’s staff. I will resign upon completion of my successor’s training but no later than my retirement date.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve with you throughout your second term as Bishop. Your leadership is an inspiration to me and the pastors and members of the Gulf Coast Synod. In my work with congregations in transition, the preparation of candidates for ministry, and the accompaniment of our first call ministers, I have also been blessed by countless leaders and lay people who have demonstrated the power of Christ’s love in their lives, ministry and congregations.

Gratefully,

Blair Lundborg, Assistant to the Bishop

Reflections on Preach at the Beach Event

Here are three reflections on the Preach at the Beach event held October 23, 2018 in Galveston, TX

From Bishop Mike Rinehart: 

Bishop Mike
Bishop Mike Rinehart

Dr. David Lose challenged us in many ways last month at Preach at the Beach. He reminded us how many people are unchurched now. “Life only makes sense in story (and we don’t know our story any more).” We are actually growing in a sea of stories now. Brands try to give us our story. Sunday morning has shifted. (How many options did you have on Sunday morning as a child?) Scripture has lost its capacity to give us stories of references run this increasingly secularized society. What we do in worship makes less sense to people. How many Bible stories do you have to know for the Agnus Dei/Lamb of God hymn to make sense?

This impacts our preaching, or it should. We can’t reference Bible stories in a passing way and expect people to understand what we have said. We must recommit to telling the whole story.

Lose made a pitch for the Narrative Lectionary. We jump around the Bible so much, how can people make sense of anything? Consider Advent. We begin by going apocalyptic and talking about the end of time. Then we move to the adult John the Baptist, then backwards 30 years to Mary.

He then challenged us to go beyond sharing information. What did it look like when God became more a part of my life? Where is this passage seen in my world? What would it look like lived out?

He encouraged us to shift from meaning to meaningful. What difference does this make? It reminded me of my preaching professor’s (Paul Harms’) question about our sermons: So what?

Lose pushes us to participatory preaching. If preaching about prayer, have people do it, in worship, in the sermon even. Invite them to practice things at home. Like the Suzuki violin method, give people a chance to practice.

After lunch we dove into the Advent texts. He gave us food for thought, and asked us to brainstorm the texts with the above imperatives in mind.

In Advent 1 we talked about countering millennial dispensationalist theology that seems to be in the air. We talked about fear. Truth. Beginning with the end in mind.

In Advent 2 and 3 we talked about John. When the people ask John, what should we do? the answer is very basic. Share. If you have two coats, share with someone who has none. Don’t cheat people. These things don’t require us leaving our work. They call us to live out our faith in our work. We could invite people to bring coats and shoes to share. Let them practice countering materialism. Talk about all our spending as sacred, not just our tithes. Invite people to write a cross on their credit cards and cash in worship. Every expense is a faithful decision. Don’t let your possessions possess you. This is not just law, it is also gospel. Be freed from slavery to stuff.

In Advent 4 we talked about Mary’s commitment to submit to God’s will. Let it be. Let it be done to me according to your Word. Lose connected Mary’s song to the Peaceful Revolution at St. Nicolai Church in Leipzig that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall without a shot being fired. Why didn’t the Stasi police crack down on the growing group of people gathering at the church to pray and sing? One officer responded: “We had no contingency plans for songs and prayers.  We didn’t know what to do. If they had come with clubs, we knew what to do.”

I have no doubt our preaching will be more rich because of our time together at Zion Retreat Center on Galveston Island with David Lose. Attached is a graph from the post-event survey. Thank you David!

preach at the beach event rating

From Pastor Anthony J. Chatman, Hosanna Lutheran Church

Pastor Anthony Chatman
Pastor Anthony Chatman

Years ago, I worked in radio and one of the ways we would determine who was listening was to do shout-outs. A shout out was when someone called in and gave a happy birthday wish, congratulations of an accomplishment or by expressing their love for someone. Kids would send shout-outs to their parents and parents to the kids. If I were on that radio station this morning, I would send a shout out to David Lose, Senior Pastor of Mount Olivet Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN). David was the presenter for Preach at the Breach. He spoke about “The Season of Gifts,” Preaching Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany in a Post-Christian World. He touched on how “we no longer have the support of the culture.” The question, “What happens to Church when we don’t know the story and the conversation of shifting from meaning to meaningful?” was relevant enough for me to say “I needed this retreat?”

Another shout out for opening worship which helped set the atmosphere. I waited until the morning of to drive to Galveston, an hour and twenty-minute drive from my home ended up taking two hours. The pastor (not someone I knew) said in the homily “Get over it.”  This was a great time for me. I found it insightful and interesting, as expected.

Thanks to Jen for a fabulous workshop and a great lunch. I came away feeling prepared and inspired to get creative for the coming season.

Blessing,
Pastor Anthony J. Chatman

From Stephanie Stark, Director of Faith Formation for Youth and Family, Peace Lutheran Church, Pasadena, TX

Stephanie Stark
Stephanie Stark

“We are drowning in a sea of stories and God is no longer a primary actor in the story of society’s life”- David Lose

This quote hit me like a ton of bricks. Not that I wasn’t already painstakingly aware of the weight of this statement, but because it brought to life the complexity of who is sitting in our pews. Preach at the Beach with Dr. David Lose created space for me to wonder how I will share God’s story with a society that is bombarded with stories that appear to be more compelling.  Gathered with other preaching colleagues we delved into how we look at Holy Scripture. What impact does this passage have on me? What claim is this passage making of God? Where do I see God active?

Preach at the Beach with Dr. David Lose inspired me to be a better storyteller and how to ignite biblical imagination in others. For, we are God’s storytellers and we have the most beautiful love story to tell.

Blessings,
Stephanie

A Short History of the Advent Wreath

By Bishop Mike Rinehart

Advent began in Gaul as a 40-day season beginning on the Feast of St. Martin (November 11). Around 1000 AD a four-week Advent developed. It was a penitential season, though not quite as austere as Lent. The Gloria in Excelsis was suppressed in Advent, but not the Alleluia. (Frank Senn The People’s Work: A Social History of the Liturgy.)

Advent Wreath 01The Advent wreath may have developed from the Yule Log. The Yule Log came from pagan religion. It was lit to drive way the demons of ice and snow. As Europe became Christian, Christians kept the Yule Log. The first Advent wreath of record was used in Lutheran homes in 16th century Eastern Germany.

Professor Haemig of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, points to Johann Hinrich Wichern (1808–1881), a Protestant pastor in Germany who worked among the poor. He used a wreath.  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advent_wreath.  During Advent, children at the mission school Rauhes Haus in Hamburg, founded by Wichern, would ask daily if Christmas had arrived. In 1839, his wreath was made from a wooden ring (an old cartwheel) with 20 small red and 4 large white candles. A small candle was lit successively every weekday and Saturday during Advent. On Sundays, a large white candle was lit.

Advent wreath 02It should be noted that this was not a liturgy for the church, but a devotion for the home. In time, however, it became more popular in German Protestant circles and evolved into the smaller wreath with four candles, or five (with a large candle in the middle for Christmas). Roman Catholics in Germany adopted the custom in the 1920’s, and in the 1930’s it spread to North America.  Professor Haemig’s research also indicates that the custom did not reach the United States until the 1930’s, even among German Lutheran immigrants.

Advent Wreath 03Today most Advent wreaths use four purple or blue candles with a white candle at the center. Sometimes a rose candle is used for Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent which focuses on joy). The practice has spread to Catholic and even Orthodox Churches.

I was recently asked by a member of our altar guild about the proper colors of the candles of the wreath, and by a pastor about the meaning of the rose candle. You won’t find instructions about the Advent wreath in any historical books on the liturgy. It was a grass roots family devotion that found its way into Sunday worship.

I have heard quite elaborate teaching around the meaning of the candles over the years, but this is a fairly modern invention. What we have is a simple devotion that has evolved over time. Use it in any way that serves the gospel, and proclaims a word of hope to the world.

Holy Hospitality: Responding to Immigrants and Refugees   

By Chris Markert, Mission Catalyst

AMMPAROThat means you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt.”
-Deuteronomy 10:19 (CEB)

As the synod continues to move forward with our strategic plan, one of our strategic priorities is Radical Hospitality, with a commitment that our synod and its congregations will be intentional about embodying hospitality.

One of the goals of this strategic priority is to increase the number of congregations that have designated themselves as AMMPARO congregations.

In Spanish, amparo means “refuge” or “protection from harm.”  In 2016, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly approved a strategy to address migration and violence in Central America. The program’s full name, Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO), is our church’s response to serving those (especially children) who are forced to flee their communities because of violence, poverty, environmental displacement or lack of opportunities in Latin America.

The AMMPARO program invites ELCA congregations to become a designated AMMPARO congregation. An AMMPARO congregation commits to providing pastoral and, when appropriate, physical accompaniment, to migrants who are making the journey to the U.S.  This is different than being a sanctuary congregation.

Other things your congregation can do:

  • Pray regularly for those who are fleeing their homes because of violence.
  • Learn more about the ELCA’s work and advocacy with immigrants and refugees. (visit LIRS or the ELCA Advocacy)
  • Host educational forums and bible studies around issues concerning immigrants and refugees.

For more information about becoming an AMMPARO congregation, visit the ELCA AMMAPARO page or contact the Synod Hospitality Team.

Harvey Disaster Recovery in Galveston County

By Shelli Williamson, Lutheran Social Services Disaster Response

Harvey 01During the week of September 23-30, St. Phillip’s Lutheran Church’s Disaster Relief Team from Fridley, MN ventured to the Gulf Coast to participate in long-term hurricane recovery work in Galveston County.  This was their 72nd disaster relief trip since forming in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2006.  Mike Anderson and Renee Johnson, the co-coordinators, work diligently with community partners throughout the US in determining where they will focus relief efforts next. And, the need for volunteers continues to be great as disasters become more common.

Harvey 02.pngThis particular journey was St. Phillip’s 2nd visit to Galveston and neighboring towns due to Hurricane Harvey.  With the assistance of the Galveston County Long Term Recovery Committee and Galveston County Food Bank, 3-5 projects were determined for the week. The 24 wildly talented volunteers poured their hearts and hands into a variety of ways of serving, including: building steel walls, sheetrocking, floating/taping/painting, insulating walls, tearing out carpet and installing new laminate flooring throughout a home.  Each evening the work teams would return to Zion Retreat Center in Galveston for a hearty meal and to debrief about Harvey 03the day’s activities.

I had the great honor of joining the team one evening to share in devotions and to extend a warm, Texas-sized thank you for their commitment to heeding the call to “love thy neighbor.”  As the evening unfolded, stories were told of previous disaster relief adventures, skills-based trainings required prior to the trip, multiple experiences with worn out homeowners who are living in only 1 room of their homes due to the exceeding amount of repairs that remain.  We concluded with prayer (and cookies, of course!).  This is a very organized, fine-tuned, outgoing, vivacious group who truly know what serving the world really means.

If you have family, friends or neighbors in need of help/support post Hurricane Harvey, please call 512.539.7987 or email harveyassistance@upbring.org.

 

 

Safe Communities

By Bishop Michael Rinehart

safe haven churchThese days it seems we hear revelations of sexual misconduct regularly, among newscasters, politicians, entertainers, teachers, sports figures and even church leaders. The church should be a safe place where people can worship, learn, serve and care for one another in a safe environment. Children and adults alike should expect to enjoy a safe environment. “Safe” means free of sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and verbal abuse, as well as sexual and racist microaggressions. It is the responsibility of church leadership, lay and clergy, to establish guidelines and boundaries for behavior in the life of a congregation. When lines are crossed, we must act.

There are some things that you can do to minimize misconduct. Every congregation should have Safe Haven Guidelines. Such guidelines lay out the congregation’s commitment to being a safe place for children and youth. They establish a code of conduct. For example, a common rule is the “two-adult rule.” Children and youth are never supervised by one adult alone. This provides accountability. Another example is the “six-month rule.” A new member cannot work with children or youth until having worshipped regularly for at least six months. Sexual predators look for quick and easy access to kids. Churches are often targets. Most predators won’t wait around six months to get access to kids.

Background checks should be run on all adults who work with children or youth in any capacity. Some congregations budget for this. Other of them charge it back to the adults who work with youth. If you want to work with youth, we expect you to participate in this important act of safety. Some congregations have dodged a bullet through this practice. While some will see this as a nuisance, for most parents, it raises their confidence in the church. Do you want adults with multiple DUIs driving kids around for youth events? Would you like someone with multiple convictions caring for kids? Background checks can cost between $10 and $20, a small price to pay to keep our children safe.

Creating Safe Spaces Workshop

On October 27, 9am-12 noon, LEAD and the Synod will offer a Creating Safe Spaces Workshop to help congregations get set up. Congregations are invited to bring a team of 3-5 people (pastor/staff person, council rep and children/youth volunteer). You will leave with a draft of your own congregational Safe Haven Guidelines and a plan to continue the implementation process when you go home. It will be up to your Congregation Council to adopt it, but your draft will get you most of the way there.

As church leaders, we want our ministries to be safe, healthy and caring environments safe haven for kidsfor children and youth.  Whether it is in Sunday School, at Confirmation or at a lock-in, we want everyone to be safe.  In a world with so much hurt, churches can be vulnerable to abuse when we haven’t carefully thought through how adults are screened and trained to work in environments with children/youth.

What about adults?

Children are particularly vulnerable, but adults also experience a host of inappropriate words and actions. Every person’s body is their own. They have the right to be hugged, shake hands or not be touched at all. Leaders need to stand behind this. If someone is the victim of inappropriate touching, or inappropriate comments, they should speak to the pastor or a member of the Congregation Council. A couple of Council members can speak to that member. If the behaviors continue, disciplinary action should be initiated. All are welcome, but one person does not have the right to make the space unsafe or unwelcoming for others. Leadership is the immunity system of any organization.

What about convicted sex offenders?

Someone accused of a sex offense should be carefully monitored, but people are innocent until proven guilty. If, however, someone has been convicted, other steps must be taken. Those who have committed crimes and served time have a need for spiritual community as much as anyone. Congregations can establish clear, written guidelines for such individuals. Those guidelines stipulate which service will be attended, and which buildings, including which parts of those buildings are off limits. Such individuals must always be accompanied. The synod office can help you establish these guidelines, which must be public, and approved by the Congregation Council, that way everyone helps keep the community safe, for the sake of the church and also for the sake of the convicted offender.

What about pastors and deacons?

Pastors and deacons are in a particular role of power. Those who wear a robe, stand before the people and speak the Word of God are held to the highest of standards. When professional church leaders use their position and power for personal gratification, or to use or demean others, families suffer, the Congregation suffers, the wider community suffers and the witness of the church is harmed. Such stories in the news are heart-breaking.

The ethical standards of conduct for professional leaders are set out in a document called Visions and Expectations. This document is currently being updated and will likely have a new name in the next year or two, but the current documents, one for pastors and one for deacons are available online. Disciplinary guidelines called Definitions and Guidelines are also available.

What to do if you are a victim of (or know of) sexual abuse by a bishop, pastor or deacon

First of all, tell someone. Find a safe place. A friend, a counselor or a pastor. If the misconduct involves a minor or violent behavior, report it to the police. If the perpetrator is a bishop, contact the ELCA Churchwide Offices in Chicago. Ms. Barbara Keller, 773-380-2568, Barbara.Keller@elca.org specializes in this area. If you contact the ELCA Churchwide Offices in Chicago about a pastor or deacon, they will contact the local bishop immediately.

If the complaint is against a pastor or deacon, contact the local bishop. In this synod, the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, that is Bishop Michael Rinehart, 281-873-5665, bishop@gulfcoastsynod.org.

How is misconduct handled?

Bishops are trained to handle misconduct legally, transparently and compassionately. The local bishop will begin an investigation. Bishops do everything in their power to help reporters of abuse and victims to remain anonymous, unless they give permission to share their identity.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has a zero-tolerance policy. This means that reports are taken seriously and investigated. Misconducts get removed from the clergy or deacon roster. Allegations that involve breaking the law get reported to the civil authorities. Those who resign under allegations of misconduct, in order to avoid disciplinary action, go off roster and cannot return unless the investigation is complete. After a misconduct, full disclosure is made to the congregation to avoid speculation and provide healing for other potential victims. Full transparency is practiced. Finally, no leader gets removed because of baseless accusations or hearsay.

People are people. People have abused power and violated trust going back to David in the Old Testament times. The church can do many thimgs to be a safe space, but there will always be predators. What the church can do is identify predators and deal with them forthrightly. Here are some resources for members of congregations and their surrounding communities:

What is YAGM? Well, we’ve got three!

By Chris Markert, Mission Catalyst

Have you ever heard of YAGM? It refers to those participating in the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program. This programs invites ELCA young adults ages 21-29 into a transformative, year-long journey in international service in the spirit of accompaniment.
YAGMA year of service through the Young Adults in Global Mission program invites young adults to become the hands and feet of Jesus in the world, providing critical support to ministries and projects in communities of need. It also invites YAGMs into a journey of self-reflection, providing space to consider their sense of identity, God’s work in the world, and their place within it all.

YAGMs serve in the spirit of accompaniment, walking alongside global companions in a manner that practices mutuality, interdependence and solidarity. They are also responsible for raising $5,000 for their service year.

This year, the Gulf Coast Synod has three YAGMs getting ready to be deployed:  Hannah Johnson, Zeb Rose, and Mariah Sands. I recently had the opportunity to meet Hannah Johnson, from Lord of Life-The Woodlands, Texas, to hear her story and excitement about being a YAGM in Senegal:

What made you consider YAGM? I first found out about YAGM through my sister’s friend who was a YAGM in Rwanda from 2016-2017. I was very interested in the service aspect because service has been such a huge part of my life, starting with mission trips that I went on with the Senior High youth group at my church. This love for service was continued through college, and it seemed natural to me for this next year to also incorporate service. I was also interested because it was through the ELCA, where my love for service was first ignited.

What are you excited about as you prepare for your service in Senegal? What excites me about this year of service in Senegal is the connections that I will be able to make with the community there. I have always loved people and loved learning from and about them. I believe that there will be many such learning opportunities this year, and I cannot wait!

What’s the process of becoming a YAGM? What training is required? The first step is a pretty lengthy application process, which includes an online application, with follow-up documentation and two phone interviews. In March you find out if you were chosen to go to DIP (Discernment, Interview, Placement), and are assigned two possible countries which seem the most promising fits for you. DIP is in April and lasts for three days. It is used for you and for the countries with whom you are interviewing, to determine which country is the best fit and whether you want to accept your placement in YAGM. If you decide to go forward and do YAGM, the summer is spent doing visa paperwork, getting the necessary vaccinations, and fundraising for the program. YAGM officially starts in mid-August, with a week of training in the United States. After that week, you fly out to your country and spend various amounts of time doing in-country training. After in-country training, you move to your community and your service starts.

What are your plans when you return from Senegal?  I plan to attend graduate school to get either a master’s or a PhD in Environmental Anthropology. I hope to work with a disaster relief organization, such as FEMA or the Red Cross, on developing policies to better help people recover from natural disasters.

To make a donation to support Hannah (or one of the other synod YAGMs), visit our Synod donation page.  Be sure to check “Other” and specify “YAGM Hannah Johnson.” You can also make checks payable to the Gulf Coast Synod and in the memo specify “YAGM Hannah Johnson.”

Meet Your Ecumencical Representative: Karin Liebster

Bishop Mike Rinehart

Each of the 65 synods of the ELCA is asked to select an Ecumenical Representative (ER). This ER is an appointment by the bishop. Many thanks to retired Pastor David Roschke, who served in this role for many years. He has now stepped down.

Karin Liebster Ecumenical Representative
Pastor Karin Liebster

I have appointed Pastor Karin Liebster in this role, starting September 1, 2018, which is serendipitous, as she was installed as Associate Pastor of Faith Formation at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Houston on September 1, 2002, sixteen years ago. First a little bit about Karin, then a little bit about the role.

Karin came to the United States from Germany where she received her Master of Divinity and was ordained in the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland. Her theological formation took place in the climate of second generation postwar Germany, a time characterized by the desire to build global ecumenical understanding and relationships, the reformulating of Christian theology in light of two world wars, and the effort of the church to repent and renew relations with the Jewish people.

In the 1985-1986 school year, she studied in Jerusalem at Hebrew Union, becoming part of the ministry at Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Old City. She became deeply rooted in Christian-Jewish Dialog, what she describes as “the prime ecumenical relationship.”

After taking her first examinations in Düsseldorf, Karin served her residency in Heidelberg, as a part of the Evangelical Church of the Rhineland. It was there that she learned about agape meals and Taize. After her two-year residency, she returned to Düsseldorf, the seat of the Rhinish church for second set of exams.

In 1993 she moved to the U.S, serving served Montvale Congregational Church in Woburn, MA (United Church of Christ) before moving to Houston in 1997.

The emphasis of Karin’s work at Christ the King is providing educational programs and opportunities toward the formation of the Christian faith in all stages of life. She works closely together with volunteers and ministry staff especially in the areas of children, youth and family ministries. She teaches the Confirmation Class.

Pastor Liebster says about herself and her ministry, “Faith is a wondrous thing. When I most want it, it can escape me. When I least expect it, it comes as a gift. It is this elusive and yet real presence of the triune God which is daily at the center of my real work with real people. I like best the many ways in which we assemble as the Body of Christ – in worship, for storytelling and listening, for study and play, for shared meals and conversations – because each is an opportunity for the Word of the living God to come and meet us.”

Karin is married to Matthias Henze, who teaches at Rice University.

I asked Karin to take on this role because she is one of a number of folks who show up for ecumenical events, because she knows about and cares deeply about Jewish relations, and because she understands that in theology and ecumenical relations, words matter.

She said yes because of her Jerusalem experience, because of the influence of her Heidelberg mentor, because she considers herself a child of the ecumenical age and the World Council of Churches, and because she came from the UCC.

As this synod’s Ecumenical Representative, Karin will be a part of the LEIRN Network: Lutheran Ecumenical and Inter-religious Representative Network. Working with Pastor Kathryn Lohre in the churchwide offices, LEIRN’s role is:

To manifest the unity given to the people of God by living together in the love of Christ and by joining with other Christians in prayer and action to express and preserve the unity which the Spirit gives. (ELCA Constitution, 4.02)

Karin will serve as a direct resource to the bishop for ecumenical issues, connecting with LEIRN and with faith leaders in this synod. Karin will work on the team that plans events for the week of Prayer for Christian Unity in January. She will promote study of dialog materials and encourage ecumenical relationships.

Karin’s work will be primarily in Texas, and frankly, Houston-centric. This is because in Texas, the Methodist, Episcopal and Catholic bishops are in Houston. Houston is also the center for Jewish and Islamic leadership. In Louisiana, Dean Nancy Andrews represents the bishop and synod frequently. Pastor Ron Unger has also been very active, recently coordinating our Reformation events with Archibishop Aymond’s staff. In Baton Rouge, Pastor Robin McCullough is Director of Interfaith Ministries of Greater Baton Rouge.

A special word of thanks to Karin for agreeing to take on this role.