Our leaders want to turn their backs on refugees; Texans will not join them.

Bishop Michael Rinehart

Texas communities have welcomed refugees for decades. Churches, volunteers, students, and non-profits help people fleeing persecution as they rebuild their lives and become contributors to the state’s social and economic vitality.

On Wednesday, Governor Abbott announced that the Texas state government will end its decades-long partnership with local social service agencies and the federal government to assist refugees and related vulnerable populations—a program that has an international model of success.


Even as Texas made this regrettable announcement, world leaders gathered this week at the United Nations to address the global crisis of 65 million people displaced because of war, famine, or weather.

Texas has a long record of being a leader in refugee resettlement, welcoming 62,000 refugees and 14,000 Cubans in the last 10 years. But now, based on fear and false information, some of our political leaders have turned their backs on refugees and on Texans who have displayed how big our hearts are.

Charitable organizations work with local Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Evangelical, and Catholic churches to do the work we are called to as Christians—demonstrate radical hospitality in loving our neighbor, welcoming the stranger, and helping those who have lost everything rebuild their lives. We work alongside many people from a broad spectrum of faith traditions.

Although a federal judge dismissed the state’s lawsuit seeking to block resettlement of Syrian refugees in Texas, Gov. Abbott and Health and Human Services Commissioner Charles Smith continued their campaign against refugees by refusing to accept increased numbers of refugees and demanded certification of security vetting even though they have received information about the detailed system of checks already in place. They appear to be looking for any excuse to slam the door in the faces of the world’s most vulnerable people.

As a Texan and a Christian, it’s troubling and disheartening to know that our state leaders are proclaiming to the world that people fleeing persecution are not welcome to build lives of safety and freedom here. It is completely contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and goes against everything that we stand for as followers of God—and contrary to the actions of many Texans who are providing a warm welcome to refugees, just as they have for years.

We ask our leaders to reconsider their decision because the state has been a valuable partner in resettlement and its participation reflects our values. Even if they do not reassess, faith-based and other community organizations will continue to welcome refugees and provide services through alternative structures already in place in other states.

Governor Abbott and Commissioner Smith: Please reconsider your decision, end this campaign against refugees, and help the good people of Texas, who welcome refugees and want our state to stand proudly in support of the values we hold dear: compassion, resilience, generosity, and a place to call home.

Ultimately, we are defined by the ways we treat people when they are most in need and how we treat people when it does not benefit us. The mark of Christian consciousness is seeing those who are hurting most in this world and honoring those who cannot pay us back. Scripture emphasizes that this is particularly true for strangers and foreigners, people who are automatically at the bottom of the social ladder when they arrive. We are called to love, welcome, and serve.

Pledge to Welcome Refugees in Texas

As concerned Texans, we take the pledge to continue welcoming and supporting refugees in our state. Right now, refugee families from all over the world are fleeing violence and political persecution and are in dire need for the opportunity to rebuild their lives in safety. Texans have a long tradition of welcoming the sojourner among us and we recognize that we are stronger for it. We join together to ask Governor Abbott and members of the Texas legislature to support policies that demonstrate hospitality and welcome refugees in our state.

Why is this important?

We are witnessing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II; the number of people forcibly displaced worldwide is likely to have surpassed a record 60 million. Refugees are individuals who have been welcomed to the United States after fleeing extreme violence and persecution. As Texans, many of us have welcomed refugee families, heard their stories, and understand the moral commitment to the life-saving work of resettlement.

Texas has a proud legacy of welcoming refugees, and we recognize the valuable contributions refugees bring to our communities and economy. In Texas, refugees are taxpayers, consumers, business owners, and leaders in a broad range of industries across the state.

Our state is better because of our proud history of refugee resettlement. Refugees have played a leading role in shaping Texas into the strong and vibrant state it is today. When we welcome innocent people who have fled their homes in order to save their lives and start over in safety and freedom, we are also strengthening our local communities and making our state and country stronger.

We take the pledge to continue welcoming and supporting refugees during this critical time. We have a moral obligation to welcome families from all over the world who are fleeing unimaginable circumstances. Resettling more refugees as the world experiences the largest numbers since World War II is fundamental to who we are as Texans and places us on the right side of history.

Letter of Thanks from President Samuel Ndanga-Toué

Translation from the French

To Bishop Michael Rinehart
Texas-Louisiana Gulf Cost Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Subject: Letter of Thanks

Dear Bishop Michael,

President Samuel Ndanga-Toue of the Central African Republic

My greetings in Christ.

I am very happy to take this opportunity to let you know that my return trip went well. I have arrived safely back in my country. I wish to express my deep appreciation for your taking the initiative to invite me to come to the United States. I thank you for the welcome and hospitality that you gave me.

I came home with good memories of beautiful moments that we spent together. Be assured that this visit was not a waste of time. It was very enriching for me. Now I can tell you that I have a bit of an idea of America and its culture. But the positive aspect of my visit was especially the discovery of the different churches that form your Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, and the interest that all these churches showed in regard to the companion relationship, which binds us. I was particularly moved to see the desire of these churches to support us spiritually and financially so that we can carry out God’s mission in the Central African Republic.

I very much appreciate the way in which you have been attentive to our difficulties and your wishes to see peace come back to our country.

Dear Bishop, we discussed many things. You promised to assist us insofar as you are able. In the coming days, we will send you some of our priority projects for financial aid, as we discussed.

In the name of the Lutheran Church in the Central African Republic, please share with the various churches of your synod my deep gratitude for all that they did for me during my stay.

To you, Bishop Michael, thank you for your love and humility that you showed me during my stay among you.

May God further strengthen this partnership between the synod for which you have leadership and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic.

May God fill you with his blessing and his peace.

United in Christ Jesus.

Rev. Dr. Samuel NDANGA-TOUE,
President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic

Advent: A Story of Hunger

advent-candlesThe story of Advent is a story of hunger. A people’s hunger for salvation, the fleeing holy family’s hunger for safety, and the world’s hunger for a new dawn. It is a season when we await the one who will “give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79a).

Advent hope draws us into the world as people of promise, people for whom the “shadow of death” cast by deep hunger and poverty around the world is not God’s final word to God’s people. In Advent, we reflect on how far the Lord has led us and how far we have yet to go toward a world in which all are fed. As we prepare for the arrival of God’s Son, this season offers an important opportunity to reflect on the mystery and excitement of the promise from God.

This Advent, we invite you to journey with ELCA World Hunger through the Scripture readings for this season. This study takes us through each week of Advent with devotions based on the lectionary, questions for reflection, prayers and hymn suggestions. The study can be used as a guide for worship, adult study forums, or personal devotions at home. Blessings related to our church’s response to hunger and poverty are also included. Read more.

Each week’s theme:

  • Shared vulnerability (Matthew 24)
  • The “good fruit” of repentance (Matthew 3)
  • Care for creation (Matthew 11; Isaiah 35)
  • Finding God in unexpected places (Matthew 1)

Big Look at Small Catechism

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton


Several years ago my husband’s bishop tried initiating a diocese-wide call to the catechumenate to engage those preparing for confirmation in a period of study and formation. We call it confirmation class or catechism, something generations of Lutherans have gone through. But this was a new experience for the Episcopalians in his diocese. He set about developing a curriculum for prospective confirmands, only to encounter resistance. How do Lutherans get participation in multi year catechetical instruction? I told him: “Five hundred years of hazing.”

We do have a history of communicating the faith from generation to generation. Martin Luther wrote the Small Catechism after the Saxon Visitation of the late 1520s, which examined the religious practices in the parishes of that part of Central Europe. He discovered a stunning lack of understanding of the basics of the Christian faith among laypeople and pastors. So in the Small Catechism he gives a concise but rich explanation of the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, the commandments, baptism, communion, the Office of the Keys and confession.

The Small Catechism became an important part of faith formation in families. Millions of us throughout the centuries and world have studied and memorized it. Catechism has been a rite of passage in the Lutheran movement. It could be argued that no other experience is more universally Lutheran than studying this little book—not language, not hymnody, not cuisine, not worship style. “What does this mean?” and “This is most certainly true” are two of the most recognizable phrases in Lutheranism.

It’s been said, “Youth is wasted on the young.” I’m not suggesting that studying the catechism isn’t beneficial to middle school students. But confining catechetical instruction to that age group and expecting fully formed disciples at the end of the process is probably a little unrealistic.

All of this has me wondering how we can bring our Lutheran traditions, unashamedly and gratefully, into our relationships with ecumenical and interreligious partners. The ELCA is fully committed to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. We have six full communion partners: the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church and the Moravian Church. As the ELCA, we also claim the evangelical part of our name. Set free by the grace of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus and moved by the Spirit we want to tell everybody the good news.

Some argue that emphasizing our Lutheran identity is an impediment to dialogue and evangelism. I would argue that if we aren’t clear about who we are and what we believe it’s not possible to have deep and authentic encounters with others. It’s hard to have meaningful give-and-take with mush.

There was a time in the 1980s when church growth experts urged us to shed denominational identity in favor of more generic, and so appealing, names for congregations. St. Paul Lutheran Church became the Church at Pheasant Run. It’s like selling our inheritance for a mess of marketing pottage. Of course we are baptized into the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. Of course our identity is in Christ and not in a 16th-century Augustinian monk. But there is something distinctive about our Lutheran voice that needs to be heard in ecumenical and interreligious conversations and in the public square. If we aren’t clear about this we run the risk of sliding into relativism.

It might be time for all of us to dust off our Small Catechisms(or find it in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 1160) and take another look at the basics of the faith. Staff at the Lutheran Center in Chicago will be doing just that this fall. My guess is that places like Microsoft or McDonald’s take great care in immersing their people into their corporate culture. We are Lutheran Christians. With great humility we can be unapologetic about being Lutheran. It would be wonderful if we as the ELCA prepared for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 by studying the Small Catechism together. We have a common language with which to talk about faith, engage Scripture and make sense of our world. Catechism is not just for the young. This is most certainly true.


This is a reprint from the July 2014 column of the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Reprinted with permission from Living Lutheran.

Mission Companions Make a Difference

Pastor Chris Markert

This past month I had the opportunity to be with two congregations in our synod who are mission companions with some of our new church plants.

St. John in Bellville present Pastor Chris Markert with a generous check to support the work of Mesa Abierta, our newest, bilingual, Latinx mission in the New Orleans area.

The weekend of September 11, I worshipped with the great folks at St. John in Bellville, who were celebrating the ELCA’s Day of Service called “God’s work. Our hands.” They also presented me with a generous check to support the work of Mesa Abierta, our newest, bilingual, Latinx mission in the New Orleans area.

I also had the opportunity to meet with the global missions team from Lord of Life in The Woodlands. We discussed the future of their mission companionship with Gethsemane in Chalmette, one of our Louisiana redevelopment congregations, whose pastor, Bonnie Parker, has just concluded her call after five years of serving. Lord of Life is considering offering financial support to assist Gethsemane in recruiting a permanent worship musician, as well as assisting with some service projects and refurbishments around their campus.

I encourage each of the congregations in our synod to consider becoming a mission companion with one of our church plants or redevelopment congregations. Being a mission companion includes the following:

  • Praying for your mission companion congregation/chris-markert-selfie-and-congregationministry on a monthly basis (at least).
  • Offering financial support through a special collection, noisy offering, or through designated giving in the budget. The amount is not as important as the relationship building.
  • Strengthening relationships by sending members from your congregation to worship with your mission companion, doing joint service projects, and fellowship events.

Mission companionships bolster the vitality and confidence of fledgling missional communities and redevelopment congregations.

Advent Preaching

Pastor Jared Stillions

I’ve always wondered why those paperback New Testaments come with Psalms and Proverbs. Psalms, is understandable; have you ever counted just how many Psalms are quoted in the New Testament? But Proverbs? Sure Proverbs can match Jesus’ style as a Rabbi, and his preaching practically introduces new ones to us. It always seems to me that Isaiah takes the cake, not Proverbs, for Old Testament references and understanding. Even the Ethiopian Eunuch, when seeking to understand the Scriptures, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” (Acts 8:35). Jesus quotes Isaiah in his “first sermon” in Luke 4. In John’s Gospel, we read, “Isaiah said this [53:1, 6:10] because he saw [Jesus’] glory and spoke about him” (12:41).”

jesus-statueThe first lectionary reading in Year A is Isaiah for each of the four weeks of Advent. This isn’t the case in B or C. The readings are not in sequence but, as always, are picked for their typological (“thematic”) connection to the Gospel reading (to the chagrin of historical-critical pedants). Being out of sequence prevents a historical-narrative preaching of Isaiah, and besides four weeks doesn’t allow enough time to address all 66 chapters. But we shouldn’t give up on Isaiah for preaching.

Our theme at Synod Assembly earlier this year was “Reimagining Spirituality from the Edges.” We heard Rev. Dr. John Nunes and others tell us that where you think the edges and margins are depends on what you think the center is. Increasingly in our society so-called liberal Protestants, Evangelicals, and Roman Catholics are no longer the center of society’s moral, economic, and political life. As the prophet of exile and homecoming, Isaiah has specific and concrete hope for us who have lost our place at the center. Even Advent itself exists on the fringes of Christmas.

Advent, with its themes of preparation, repentance, and judgment, gives us the perfect opportunity to re-center our lives on Jesus, as we anticipate his return. Yes, if Jesus is truly the center of our lives, then we will rightly exist on the margins.

We could devise an Advent preaching series in the Isaiah texts with this center-margin reality (not duality) in mind. Now you certainly may want to wordsmith for your own locale, but here’s a sketch for a re-centering series. In fact, I’ve titled this series “Centerpieces” with allusions to those inevitable “holiday” centerpieces of wreaths, candles, turkeys and dressing, trees, and the like.

Nov 27, Advent 1, Isaiah 2:1-5, “God’s Mountain”

With the Mountain of God at the center, worship and peace gives us borders

Mountains are archetypal places of worship (cf. Mts. Sinai, Zion); with the worship of God at the center of our lives (v2), our lives are re-formed according to and for God’s purposes (v3). God’s judgment and just ice, which are inseparable from God’s peace (cf. John 14:27), become the new Israel – a borderless commonwealth of God’s people(v4). The revelatory nature of such is light shining the darkness (v5).

Dec 4, Advent 2, Isaiah 11:1-10, “Jesse’s Branch”50

With the New Branch of the Jesse Tree at the center, justice marks our boundaries

Lighted Christmas trees (apocryphally invented by Martin Luther) are symbolic of the season, yet the evergreen tree of which Isaiah speaks is no noble fir encircled with hearth and presents. This tree is a mere single branch, or shoot (cf. Charlie Brown’s tree), erupting from a seemingly dead stump chopped down by the Babylonians in 587 BCE. This strong branch will be as a staff (or mace, stave, or scepter) of divine justice. As archetypal symbol of the “world axis,” this shoot’s divine authority will be innate to him (cf. John 14:9-14). The animals of vv6-7 serve as totems for the nations that through their submission to divine justice will demarcate the coming kingdom.

Dec 11, Advent 3, Isaiah 35:1-10, “God’s Highway”

With God’s Highway at the center, joy identifies our perimeter

From Atlantic to Pacific, gee the traffic is terrific; oh there’s no place like for the holidays,” sings Dino. The Holy Way, God’s highway will bring God’s people into the kingdom, and they cannot stray from it (v8). Of course, ancient highways traversed difficult terrain, could be unmarked for long stretches (think “Oregon Trail”), connected distant points, and were preyed upon by beast and brigand alike. The destination of this highway is a joyful one- God’s kingdom, and that joy changes the countryside and the people from desolate and despairing to flourishing and thriving. (Though it may not make it into your sermon, compare this to the positive socio-economic boom experienced by some when a new highway comes to town – and brings a Buc-ees.)

Dec 18, Advent 4, Isaiah 7:10-16, “The Mother of God”

With God’s Sign at the center, hope sets our limits

The Scriptures – without our contemporary sophistication or nuance – view pregnancy as an innate good and a sign of hope (cf Eve, Sarah, Leah, Hannah, Ps 127:3-5). Though King Ahaz trifles God with his too pious refusal of a sign, God sends one anyway- the young woman is with child. The House of David shall continue beyond the Assyrians and the Babylonians. The Lord God is and will be with us. We have God’s word – period. Putting this sign of pregnancy at the center tells us this promise is no metaphor: God [Jesus] has a mother; just as God has come in the flesh to redeem us body and soul, God will come again to bring us. Since God’s home is among mortals (Rev 21:3), this hope extends to all people of all times and places.

If you want, you can even extend this theme of center-margin to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with a clear and simple two-part series exploring “Christ at the Center.”

Here’s an angle to get you started:

Christmas Eve, Dec 24, Isaiah 9:2-7 “Earthly Presence

Incarnation puts God at the center of creation and everyday life

Christmas Day, Dec 25, Isaiah 62:6-12, “Real Presence”

Holy Communion at the center of our worship tells us that the one who came to Bethlehem comes now in bread and wine

Coin Collection for ELCA World Hunger

500K.pngIn response to our call to care for our neighbor and in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we as a synod will raise $500,000 for ELCA World Hunger.

How are you and your congregation engaging in this synod-wide effort? Read more to learn how you can respond.

Starting on Reformation Sunday, each week Holy Comforter in Kingwood will be taking a special collection to help support local and global ministries. On the 5th Sunday, they will be supporting our hunger appeal.

We give thanks for their joining of the important work of ELCA World Hunger.

‘Can We Talk: Engaging Worship and Culture’

Clayton Faulkner

can-we-talk-brochureThis small booklet, a study guide of sorts, recently was mailed to all ELCA congregations as an encouragement to join a journey of discussion and experience about how worship and culture engage one another, and how we, God’s people, engage this sometimes challenging, but important, topic. Drawing on the wisdom from the Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture from The Lutheran World Federation in the mid-1990s, “Can We Talk?” provides contemporary commentary on the statement, along with suggestions on how to use this material in an engaging and helpful way in your congregation.

If you did not receive the paper copy in the mail, do not worry. “Can We Talk” is easily accessible online.

Consider using this resource as a discussion guide in a Sunday school class, small group, church council, worship team, choir, band, or any other group that would benefit from a deeper look at how worship and culture intersect. I was thrilled to be a contributing author for this resource and highly recommend checking it out.


Breathe new life into your congregation. Have spirited conversations with the Animate curriculum series for adults, small groups, or Sunday school.

Why choose Animate?

  • Unique groups, unique discussions
    • Materials make it easy for leaders to customize and tweak the experience to work for each group’s dynamics.
  • Easy to teach
    • With our easy-to-use resources, leaders don’t need a theology degree, just a passion for exploring faith and learning from peers.
  • Inspiring dialogue
    • Deepen faith with discussion of topics that cover everything from “Is God real?” to “What is salvation?” and whatever else groups bring to the table.
  • Creative approach
    • Sparkhouse materials encourage participants to discuss, sketch, create, and share. It’s anything but stuffy or boring.

Creation Care Tips from the Synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team

Lisa Brenskelle

The mission of Lutherans Restoring Creation is to promote incorporation of care for creation into the full life and mission of the church, working in five areas: worship, education, discipleship, building & grounds, and public ministry/advocacy. For some timely tips in these areas, see below:

Lutherans Restoring Creation

To contact the synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team for creation care assistance/information, write to Lisa Brenskelle.