Synodwide Harvey Work Day

By Pastor Chris Markert, OLF, Assistant to the Bishop – Mission Catalyst, ELCA Director for Evangelical Mission

After the devastation left behind in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the Gulf Coast Synod hosted a synodwide workday on Saturday, September 9, 2017.

In the end, we had 316 volunteers deployed out of four sites around the synod, working in 33 work crews that helped more than 40 homes.

Volunteers from Christus Victor – League city

Several congregations have continued to serve and assist their neighbors by mucking out homes and helping with debris removal.

Thanks to Living Word- Katy, Faith- Bellaire, Christus Vistor- League City and Kinsmen- Houston for being deployment sites.

The debris pile outside Faith Lutheran in Dickinson.

We have recently formed a synod short-term recovery team to oversee the synod disaster fund, coordination of continued volunteer efforts, and the spiritual care of our pastors, deacons and congregational leaders in our congregations. Pastor Chris Lake (of Tree of Life Lutheran-Conroe) is the Chair of this Team. You can contact for more information.


Pastor Chris Lake, Tree of Life -Conroe, at the synodwide Harvey clean up day. Sept 9, 2017
Salem in Houston flooded
Salem Evangelical-Houston during the storm (majority of the property was flooded).
Kinsmen volunteers
Volunteers from Kinsmen-Houston also helped out with the clean up. Sept 9, 2017

Mission Companionships Make a Difference!

By The Rev. Chris MarkertAssistant to the Bishop – Mission Catalyst and ELCA Director for Evangelical Mission

Recently Gethsemane in Chalmette, one of our synod’s redevelopment congregations, decided to become a mission companion (also known as a mission partner). So, they approached another of our redevelopments, Bethlehem in New Orleans, who accepted their invitation!

Gethsemane God's work our handsThe weekend of September 10, 2017 members of Gethsemane joined Bethlehem for worship and God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday. They also surprised the congregation with a $1,000 donation as a sign of their companionship in ministry.

Being a mission companion is simple. It requires the following minimum commitments:

1)    Pray at least once a month for your mission companion during worship

2)    Plan an opportunity for your two congregations to worship, fellowship and/or serve in the community together at least once annually.

3)    Give a financial gift to your mission companion. This can be as simple as a special one-time offering during worship or adding the mission companion to your budget, The amount does not matter; it’s the relationship that matters.

To learn more or to sign up as a mission companion click here or contact the synod mission catalyst Chris Markert at



At the Table Together

By Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the ELCA

Elizabeth Eaton
Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

Old recipes are precious things. They give instructions about how to prepare a dish, but they are so much more. They are filled with memories. They connect families as they are passed from one generation to the next. They bring events and people from long ago right into the present.

I am looking at a recipe card that has that effect on me. It’s my mother’s recipe for stuffing for turkey. It’s written in her neat hand—a skill I never mastered. It’s a basic recipe, just bread and butter and onions and celery and poultry seasoning. I don’t even have to read it now when I make stuffing, but I like to look at it because it puts me right back into Thanksgivings past.

Thanksgiving in our family was an event. The Eatons have been gathering for Thanksgiving dinner for nearly 70 years. We traded off between our house and my aunt and uncle’s home. When it was our turn we got up early and started cooking.

Out came the recipes and equipment. There were no food processors in those days. We had a cast iron food grinder that clamped on to the edge of the kitchen table. It was kept in its own special box. It only made an appearance once a year and its emergence signaled that Thanksgiving had arrived. Grinding the celery was no problem. Onions were another story. My brothers and I spelled each other at turning the crank until we were overcome by the fumes.

My parents and my aunt and uncle established this tradition shortly after World War II. We have always had three and sometimes four generations present. A lot has gone on in our family and in the world these past decades. Marriages, children, moves, deaths, war, recession, elections, the ’60s. We are a lively bunch and none of us lacks an opinion or the ability to express it. Conversations were spirited and sometimes heated. My father and my uncle served in the army during World War II. My older brother and older male cousins didn’t support the Vietnam War. We belong to different political parties. We are Lutheran and Catholic and members of the Unification Church and unchurched. We are liberal and conservative.

But no matter what, when my mother or my aunt announced, “Supper’s ready,” we all came to the table together. We were family, we shared our lives, we loved each other.

A lot is going on in our church and in the world right now. We are a changing church, which brings its own tension. We live in a wired world where news is instantaneous and continuous. We don’t agree on everything. We belong to different political parties. We have varied ethnicities. We’re liberal and conservative and everything in between. We’re in an “either/or” world. And we are contending with cultural forces that exacerbate division. But by the tender love of God, by this ceaseless pursuit of the Spirit, we are members of the body of Christ. We are family. We share our lives. We love each other.

Here is another simple recipe: flour, water, wine, the body and blood of Jesus. A meal of healing, forgiveness and thanksgiving. No matter what, when our Lord tenderly and urgently invites, “Supper’s ready,” we all come to the table. There in our common brokenness we meet each other in Christ.

A monthly message from the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Her email address: This column originally appeared in Living Lutheran’s September issue. Reprinted with permission.

Sunday Evening Conversations on Creation Continue…

The synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team invites you to attend Sunday Evening Conversations on Creation, an environmental education web meeting series whose theme in 2017 is Connections between People and Nature.

Sunday, Oct. 29, 6 pm:  Connections between People & Nature: Scripture & Science I

Sunday, Nov. 26, 6 pm: Connections between People & Nature: Scripture & Science II

Conversations on CreationAt the October & November web meetings, Lisa Brenskelle, leader of the Creation Care Team at Christ the King Evangelical Lutheran Church, leader of the Lutherans Restoring Creation Team for the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, member of the Interfaith Environmental Network of Houston planning committee, and a research and development project manager with a PhD in Chemical Engineering, will address the connections between people and nature from the perspectives of both scripture and science. Her talk will investigate the relationships and similarities between people and nature highlighted in scripture and then give examples of how these relationships and similarities have been observed by science. Learn some exciting newer science of which you may not be aware, and marvel at the connections between people and nature! After Lisa’s talk, there will be time for Q&A. If you would like to join either of these online conversations, please register (October and/or November) and you will receive an invitation to the web meeting. For more information about either talk, contact Lisa Brenskelle at

Conversations on Journey of the Universe

Tues./Thurs. Nov. 2 – Dec. 7, 6 p.m.

journey of the universeThe synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team invites you to join them for conversations on Journey of the Universe, an Emmy-award-winning documentary of the 14 billion year history of the universe. The first half of these conversations go into detail on the history of the universe with top scientists. The second half of these conversations are interviews with change-makers in many areas, inspired by our knowledge of this history. We will meet online, via web meeting, to listen to and discuss the conversations.  We meet at 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursday, from Nov. 2 – Dec. 7 (except the Thanksgiving holiday). Join the conversation to be awe-struck by the journey of the universe!  Please register. Contact Lisa Brenskelle at with questions.

Journey of the Universe – Take 2!

Apr. 23, 12:45 – 2:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m. for lunch)

Missed the screenings of The Journey of the Universe held in February?  The CTK Creation Care Team invites you to go on the Journey of the Universe in April.  This Emmy-award winning documentary narrates the 14 billion year story of the universe’s development in a way that is accessible to everyone. The film tells a comprehensive story drawing on astronomy and physics to explain the emergence of galaxies and stars, geology and chemistry to understand the formation of Earth, biology and botany to trace life’s evolution, and anthropology and history to see the rise of humans. Journey weaves science and humanities in a new way that allows for a comprehensive sense of mystery and awe to arise. This approach expands the human perspective beyond an anthropocentric worldview to one that values life’s complexity and sees the role of humans as critical to the further flourishing of the Earth community. An open facilitated discussion will follow the film screening. A sandwich lunch will be available at 12:30 p.m. (for $5/person payable at the door in cash).  To register, see events on the Christ the King – Creation Care Facebook. Contact Lisa Brenskelle at with questions.

Fall 2017 Interfaith Environmental Stewardship Event

volunteer planting crew
Volunteer planting crew hard at work at the Fall 2016 event.

The synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team invites you to join with people of other faiths in Houston to care for creation on Sunday, Nov. 19, from 1:30 – 4:30 p.m.  We will engage in hands-on environmental stewardship at the Willow Waterhole Conservation Reserve. This event will offer activities for all ages and skill levels, so bring the whole family, your neighbors and your friends.  Meet at The Gathering Place, 5310 South Willow Dr., Houston 77035 to sign in.  Metro bus line 7 stops nearby and line 49 is not far.  Tools/supplies will be provided.

This event is organized by Christ the King Evangelical Lutheran Church, Congregation Brith Shalom, and The Blue Mosque, in partnership with the Willow Waterhole Greenspace Conservancy. Please register for planning purposes.  Contact Lisa Brenskelle at for more information.

Lisa’s Pieces:  Creation Care Tips from the Synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team

By Lisa Brenskelle

Lutherans Restoring CreationThe 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:

Worship Holding a Thanksgiving service? Consider this collect & litany  or this prayer of Thanksgiving. A creation-focused prayer is posted weekly on the synod leaders Facebook. In your Advent planning, consider these creation-themes for year BCreation-focused commentaries on the lectionary are available.

Education Consider At the Lord’s Table: Everyday Thanksgiving for adult/youth educators and Sacred Food for youth education. Attend the annual Eco-Reformation Retreat:  Awe & Wonder on Oct. 27 & 28. The online Sunday Evening Conversations on Creation on  Oct. 29 and Nov. 26 address Connections between People and Nature. Join the online Conversations on Journey of the Universe, to hear in detail the 14 billion year history of the universe, and how change-makers in society are responding (11/2 – 12/7).

Discipleship:  Make use of the “Bulletin blurb” eco-tips (+ verses & quotes) on the synod leaders Facebook page each week. Highlight One World Week (10/22 – 10/29) to encourage members to consider their response to global issues. With cooler weather, hold a Care More Car Less Sunday.  Lutherans Restoring Creation holds its annual free Bike Safety course on Sunday, Nov. 5. Make this South African ecological advent calendar available.

Building & Grounds:    To “green” church staff commuting, make Commute Solutions available.  Getting new carpet?  Carpet pad is recyclable & carpet may be.  Check online for options. Many recycling companies (paper/textiles) use donation bins.  Consider placing a bin on church property.   In keeping with the Watershed memorial, consider these water conservation resources. Earth Ministry’s listing of congregational resources includes guides to building/grounds stewardship.

Public Ministry/Advocacy:  The weekly Opportunities to Care for, Learn About, and Enjoy God’s Good Creation features volunteer events in the greater Houston area (see upcoming opportunities link). Consider taking action for One World Week (Oct. 22 – Oct. 29). Host a recycling event for America Recycles Day (Nov. 15). Participate in the Fall 2017 Interfaith Environmental Stewardship Event on Nov. 19. Take the pledge to purchase sustainable coffee & aid coffee farmers.

For more information on any of the above, or for creation care assistance/information, contact the synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team by writing to Lisa at The team is seeking additional members.  If you would be willing to serve, please contact us.

Community Bike Safety Course

bike safetyNervous about biking in Houston?  The synod Lutherans Restoring Creation team and Bike Houston invite you to a free Community Bike Safety Course where you’ll gain the confidence to cycle safely around town. The course takes place on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017,  beginning at 1 p.m. with 90 minutes of classroom instruction at the University of St. Thomas. 90 minutes of drills in the university garage follow the classroom instruction, from 2:30 – 4 p.m., and then there will be a leisurely one-hour ride around the neighborhood from 4 – 5 p.m. to practice skills on the road.  Instruction is provided by a certified instructor from Bike Houston and the course is suitable for all ages.  You may attend all or just a portion of the class, as your schedule permits.  Participants should bring their own bikes and helmets.

The University of St. Thomas is located at 3800 Montrose Blvd. in Houston. Metro buses 82, 56 & 25 stop nearby.  There is bike parking on campus.  If you plan to attend any portion of the course, please register. Contact Lisa Brenskelle at with any questions.

A Philosophy of Staffing

By Bishop Mike Rinehart

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

staffing philosophyWe often read this passage in light of the role of pastors and church leaders with regards to congregational members. We are called to equip the saints for the work of ministry, so that everyone grows up, into the fullness of Christ. Our job as church leaders is to help people find their gifts and their baptismal calling. No question.

I believe this is also our calling with church staff. Our job is to equip them for ministry in the world. Our job is to help them discover and develop their gifts for their own sake, for the sake of the gospel, and for the sake of the world.

Your employees are not your employees. They are Christ’s beloved. They are not slaves employed to turn out the endless menial tasks of the church. They are children of God, created in God’s image, to whom we minister, albeit in a different way.

Our job is not to keep them forever, for our convenience, as if they were caged animals, but rather to nurture their faith and self-awareness to the place where they discover their deepest calling, where their gifts meet the world’s needs.

The weekly check in and the annual performance review are then, not just a time to complain about what went wrong last year. They are a time to reflect on life and ministry together, using that reflection to discern God’s work in our hands.

How are you helping your church’s employees to discern their God-given calling in the world? Perhaps your job is not to keep them, but to send them. Is working at your church, their ultimate calling and destination in life? Or is it a way station where they find their gifts.

I once worked with an awesome director of youth ministries. The more we worked together, the more she discerned a desire to work with people who had AIDS. She knew it. I could see it. I hated to lose her, but somehow her work with us helped her discern her calling. That’s what it’s all about.

In this day and age, people don’t work one job for their whole lives. This is especially true of young people. It is a myth, however, that Millennials stay at a job less time than the previous generation. A Pew Research Study showed that 22% of Millennials 18-35 years old, stayed in a job five years or more (2016). A generation ago 21.8% of Gen Xers stayed five years or more (2000). Not much difference. For those in their job over 13 months, the numbers were 63.4% for Millennials and 59.9% for Gen Xers.

Still, someone is not going to be your office admin or youth worker for their whole life. And if you think about it, would you want that? Granted, training costs time and money, but for people to stay fresh, they need new challenges. Yes, you’re going to spend time hunting for super staff, and then training them, but that’s part of the fun.

I once heard an interview with John Maxwell. A company exec complained about the amount they had to spend training their people, and the amount of turnover. “What if you train them and they just leave?” he asked. Maxwell thought about it for a moment and then responded, “What if you don’t train them and they stay?”

So here’s what I ask you: How are you nurturing your people? How are you helping them discover their gifts, and become all they can be? Will they look back on their time with you and think, “Thank goodness I’m free from that?” Or will they look back and be grateful, thinking, “They helped me discover my calling?”