Sacred Shift: Synod Assembly 2019

By Michael Rinehart, Bishop of the TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod

Last month, May 17-18, 2019, over 250 people gathered at Kinsmen Lutheran Church in Houston for the 32nd assembly of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod. Our theme was “Sacred Shift.”  Our focus was on the shifts we are all feeling in our world, our North American context, and in the Church, and how we might see this as sacred rather than stifling.

synod assembly at Kinsmen 2019
Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod Assembly 2019 held at Kinsmen Lutheran Church, Houston

One of the things I appreciate about this synod is the willingness to try new things. This year we had a two-day assembly instead of a three-day assembly, we met in a congregation instead of a hotel, and we did all of this during a bishop election year. We finished an hour early after re-electing a bishop, passing a resolution, updating our bylaws, approving a memorial, passing a budget, electing council members and other leaders, holding workshops, meeting in conferences, hearing four 45-minute keynotes, celebrating Holy Communion, and more.

I want to say a deep word of thanks for the privilege of serving in this call as Bishop of the Gulf Coast Synod. As I said at assembly, much of what a bishop does is actually done by staff. Your affirmation is in many ways an affirmation of their tireless work. Thank you Gretchen, Aimee, Blanca, Chris, Tracey, Peggy, and Beth. Thank you Synod Council and Deans. I am deeply grateful.

The purpose of our assembly is to strengthen our unity as a church working together. We gather to do some of the business of the church. We want people to leave feeling inspired, renewed in faith, and energized for ministry. Gretchen Lundquist is our Office Manager. She holds primary responsibility for the organization and execution of the synod assembly. Beth Hartfiel was contracted to handle logistics. Both of them did an excellent job with the help of other staff and volunteers.

Our theme was SACRED SHIFT. Our key texts were,

  • Isaiah 43:18-21
  • Romans 12:1-2
  • Matthew 9:14-17

We passed a resolution to become an AMMPARO Welcoming Synod. You can read more about AMMPARO here:

We memorialized the Churchwide Organization to sign the Earth Charter. A memorial is a detailed motion in which a synod requests action on the part of the Churchwide Assembly. You can read more about the Earth Charter here:

Below is a first glance look at the evaluations and a list of everyone who spoke at assembly; names appear with contact information. This last part, the list, is something we’ve never done before. Someone asked me for it, and it made my head spin, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought it might be interesting to see. The list is staggering, a testament of our work together.


The overall rating was good. People liked the venue at Kinsmen. There were traffic and parking concerns mentioned. Most, but not all preferred the congregational setting. Some people found the first day to be a little bit too densely packed. Lots of praise for the organization of the assembly. Some helpful critiques that we will incorporate.

What is your overall rating of event


synod assembly positive experience

Some wondered about budget and costs. It’s about a $70K budget. There are facility rental costs, registration software fees, publicity, signage, speaker honorariums, musician honorariums, AV costs, translation, environment, food and beverage ($20K), Staff/volunteer/Council costs and more.

When asked if it was a positive experience, 100% said yes. This is a stunning response rate.

kinsmen as a facility


Overall the worship and dev experiences were

People involved with assembly

Position                                            Name                                  Contact

Office Manager/Event Planner    Gretchen Lundquist  

Logistics Coordinator                     Beth Harfiel              

Bishop’s Associate, Mission           Chris Markert           

Bishop’s Associate, Leadership     Tracey Breashears Schultz

Assistant to the Bishop, LEAD        Peggy Hahn              

Communications/Slides                  Aimee Elles               

Bookkeeper/Translation                 Blanca Tovar            

Bishop                                                Mike Rinehart          

Synod Secretary/Parliamentarian  John Turnquist          

Vice President          Robert Rivera    

Treasurer                                         Kathy Collins             

Bishop’s Election Chair                 Carol Flores              

Elections Committee Chair           Lynette Bartel           

Nominating Committee                  Mark Warpmaeker  

Reference and Counsel                   Bill Mintz                  

Credentials Committee                 Charles Parnell         

Tech Support                                Chris Lake                 

Help Desk                                      David Hansen           

Guidebook                                     Bunny Stoutes           

Host                                                Ele Clay                     

Organist                                         Marvin Havard         

Simple Man AV                              Jonathan Zitelman    

Churchwide Representative          Wyvetta Bullock       

Pastor Bullock’s handler                Marcia Kifer             

Kinsmen Contact                            Julie Hughes             

Band leader from Joyful Life          Joel Bates                 

Slides                                              Tiffany Michaelis

Host Pastor                          Beth Warpmaeker   

Host Pastor                                 Mark England           

Mission Investment Fund              Jerry Johnson            

Perú Companion Synod Report        Judy Biffle                 

Central African Republic Report     Lisa Rose                   

Guitarist (This Little Light)               Jolene Wickel           

Guitarist (Lutherhill Meeting)         John Vickery

Guitarist (Closing)                            Clayton Faulkner      

Brazos Valley Campus Ministry       Mindy Roll                

Live On Endowment Fund                Dudley Piland           

Visiting Bishop (SW Texas)              Sue Briner                 

Visiting Bishop (North TX/LA)          Erik Gronberg           

Saturday Morning Devotions           Jen Kindsvatter         

Lutherhill Executive Director           Matt Kindsvatter      

Saturday Closing Devotions   Kari Niedermeier   

In addition to these folks, a multitude of volunteers served as greeters, ushers, worship assistants, food servers, musicians and behind-the-scenes helpers. A special word of thanks to Kinsmen Lutheran Church for sharing their beautiful worship space, and for the many Kinsmen staff and volunteers who offered outstanding hospitality and attention to detail.

Next year

Next year’s Synod Assembly (May 15-16, 2020) will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the ELCA, and our predecessor bodies. This summer, the Churchwide Assembly will deliberate and likely adopt a new social statement on women and justice, called “Faith, Sexism, and Justice.” Just in the last few years the #MeToo movement has shown the need for open and trusted conversation in society at large and also in the workplace.

At the assembly, we will have opportunity to take stock as to how far we’ve come and what still needs to be done regarding women in ministry. To celebrate our humanity as baptized children of God, we will explore the art of conversation with one another, and anyone who is “other” than us, male, female, race, ethnic background etc. We will use the experience and gift of ordained women to empower all who still find themselves at closed doors to articulate and live out their unique calling.

On Not Growing Old: Contact Hours & Continuing Education

By Tracey Breashears Schultz, Bishop’s Associate for Leadership

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.”  — Henry Ford

continuing education

Each year, rostered leaders are asked to complete a Report to the Bishop. This online form is due by February 15. It is an opportunity for the leader to reflect on their ministry and for the bishop and his staff to respond to the minister’s needs. It is a method of accountability, but more than that, it is an opportunity to mark accomplishments and review one’s goals. Included on this form is a space for leaders to record their contact hours for the year. Many have said they do not know how to calculate these hours or what number to enter.

Here is some guidance from our synod’s Compensation Guidelines:  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America expects its professional leaders to have a minimum of fifty (50) contact hours annually in continuing education. One hour equals 50 minutes of class time or equivalent.

Congregations are asked to make available to their rostered persons at least two weeks per year for continuing education. The rostered person, in consultation with the mutual ministry committee and the congregation council, should determine the scheduling of continuing education. The minimum recommended level for continuing education allowance is $1,000 per year from the congregation and $400 per year by the rostered person.

Here is an example of how the calculation works: If you have attended a three-hour class, that’s equal to 180 minutes. Since one hour equals 50 minutes for contact hours, you divide your accrued class minutes by 50. A three-hour class is 3.6 contact hours. Since the expectation is 50 contact hours annually, the goal is that ministers would set aside 33-34 hours each year for learning.

This learning can be done by attending classes, reading and reflecting on books, viewing webinars, listening to podcasts, or traveling. It can be done alone or within the context of a community. Here are some examples of learning opportunities leaders in our synod have found to be life-giving, challenging, and/or fun:

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list. If you’ve attended a class of value or know of an event from which others may learn, please share it!

Blessings on your learning.

All Ages can enjoy vacation bible school… Why should kids have all the fun?

By Lizbeth Johnson

Big People's Bible Study 2Christ Lutheran Church in Lake Jackson, Texas, hosts Camp Hope, a three-week program in July providing fun, Christian-based activities to area children.  Church members Betty Massey and Diane Tweedle were reminiscing one day about how much fun they had at Bible School when they were children.  Since many church members had grown up with Bible School and enjoyed the concept, they asked themselves, “Why not a have an adult Vacation Bible School?”  With those initial thoughts and creative leadership, they began to think about an Adult Vacation Bible School that would be appealing, refreshing and fun.  Since Christ Lutheran in Lake Jackson is comprised of mostly senior citizens, the idea had to appeal to an older generation.  In a clever turn, the leadership decided to launch an adult program and call it “Big People’s Bible School,” or BPBS for short. The idea began to evolve with a plan and an agenda. The group began to poll each other and the general consensus was, “What better way to spend a hot day in August?”

In May, a Thrivent Action plan was requested to help raise the funds needed for the Big People’s Bible School.  The Thrivent funds were used to host Bueno Bingo – a taco dinner with all the trimmings accompanied by bingo.  A free-will offering raised over $200, which was used to fund to program of BPBS.  A committee was formed and an outline of the day was created.  The informal survey responses decided to hold the Bible School on the four Mondays in August from 9 AM to 1 PM.  The schedule included opening activities with two songs, scripture reading for the day, and prayer followed by a group discussion of the scripture.  The group also enjoyed a theme-related craft activity, lunch, games and a planned closing.  The activities introduced interaction and discovery that some participants had not experienced in years, including Kool-Aid as one of the drink choices.

Big People's Bible Study 3

Did the congregation respond to the idea?  With an attendance averaging between 25 and 35 people each Monday, BPBS was deemed “very successful.” A bonus for the church was the participation by outside individuals, not associated with the church.  Regardless of background, all participants came together to be part of BPBS.  In fact, the event was enjoyed to such a significant degree that the group is already anticipating next year’s program.

The goal of BPBS is to provide an outreach format that invites adults to relax, unwind and share memories that they had once themselves experienced – and to enjoy experiences and memories made new for them this summer.  The event was covered by the local newspaper with an almost full-page article which provided great promotional value for the event.  For more information on the Big People’s Bible School at Christ Lutheran, contact Betty Massey at

Questions in Life

By Elizabeth Eaton, Presiding Bishop, ELCA

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

The good people at Lenoir-Rhyne University’s Living Well Center for Vocation and Purpose invited me to address the school on the topic “Lives Worth Living.” Yikes! This is one of The Questions in life—right up there with “What is the meaning of life?” and “What is true, beautiful and good?” and “Where do socks go after you put them in the dryer?”

For me, this turned out to be a good, if slightly disturbing, time of reflection. Our lives can be consumed with busyness—all the stuff that we do or need to get done to make it through the day, week, year, life. A lot of this is necessary, some not so much. Even those called to public ministry get swept up in the endless round of meetings, reports and events. And some in this world don’t have the luxury of carving out time for contemplation as they struggle to keep their families fed, clothed
and safe from harm.

As I write this it is Lent, a time of reflection and examination. I do have the privilege of time and, with the added incentive of a deadline, here are some thoughts.

We are inundated with messages of salvation, or at least better lives, through things. Ads for products as diverse as cars, toothpaste, brokerage firms, weed killers and more are carefully crafted to cast an aspirational vision of the good life. Sometimes this vision of the good life is presented in such a beguiling way that one forgets what product is being advertised. It’s possible to get lost if you go down this road. There will always be a new thing, the promise of a more beautiful you. It’s there—just beyond reach.

Jesus warns us about this in the parable of the rich man, who believed he had attained the good life. “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ ” (Luke 12:19-20).

So, what’s the point? If materialism doesn’t bring meaning, why not just give up?

In Ecclesiastes we hear: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Nihilism, oddly enough, can provide a frame for meaning. “Who cares?” can quickly become “Don’t care.” Protected from disappointment by withdrawing from this world of care is as tempting as a frenzied life in pursuit of self-made happiness.

I believe there is another way, a different way, of shaping our lives. The cruciform life is the life worth living. The cruciform life delivers us from our constant striving to make our lives have meaning through our own efforts. It saves us from the exhausting pursuit of self-justification and worth, from the loss of our true selves in all of our posturing.

Jesus, crucified and risen for the sake of the world, breaks through all of that. He breaks down all pretense on our part and all claims of salvation that the world offers. God comes to us, cherishes us, bids us to come to God’s life and peace. Augustine, an early Christian theologian, knew this when he wrote: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.”

The cruciform life also breaks through nihilism. Free from the necessity of saving ourselves, and from the numbness of the pointlessness of all that, the cross breaks us open to others, to the world. The rush of feeling back into a self that has cut itself off from circulation is painful. But it is also a sign of life. We can feel, we can touch and be touched by others. The cross sets us free to serve the neighbor. Here is the life worth living that God gives us.

A monthly message from the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Her email address: This column originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Living Lutheran. Reprinted with permission.

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

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:

Worship June is a National Great Outdoors Month, so here are ideas for outdoor worship: consider Holy Hikes, or worshipping in a park or at the beach.  Seasonal creation-focused prayers for Pentecost in year C can be used in worship each week. Creation-focused commentaries on the lectionary from a Lutheran source are available.

Lutherans Restoring Creation

Education Interfaith Power & Light is offering the documentary, Paris to Pittsburgh, with a discussion guide, for free. A webinar on The Ten Green Commandments of Laudato Si will be offered on 6/14. Still haven’t decided on a VBS curriculum?  Check out Water All Around the World. The online Sunday Evening Conversations on Creation on June 30 The Health of Houston’s Waters & What You Can Do and on July 28, United We Win – Collaborating to Solve Houston’s Toughest Environmental Challenges, both educate on creation care.

Discipleship:  Make use of the “Bulletin blurb” eco-tips (+ verses & quotes) on the synod leaders Facebook page each week and share the creation-focused prayer & devotion also posted there with members. Encourage members to take the Living the Change pledge in response to the Interfaith Climate Declaration, Walk on Earth Gently. Invite members join the Lutherans Restoring Creation – Gulf Coast team for the Plastic Free EcoChallenge in July, an online event.  Another way to reduce waste is composting – pass along this composting guide to members.

Building & Grounds Make a commitment to reduce your church’s carbon footprint as part of the Climate Commitments Project.  Get inspired by what other houses of worship are doing. Think about how your church can reduce single use plastic during the Plastic Free EcoChallenge in July. Perhaps you order food from a caterer who uses disposable single-use plastics – influence them to change their practices. To protect children in your congregation from toxins, look into a green pest control service.  An online search for “green pest control” will supply options.

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). The Interfaith Environmental Network of Houston will be coordinating legislative visits with TX state and Congressional legislators in July & August. During National Great Outdoors Month in June, engage in hands-on stewardship outdoors – clean up a local waterway or pick up litter in your community.

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.

The Health of Houston’s Waters & What You Can Do

Sunday, June 30, at 6 p.m., online

Jordan Macha
Jordan Macha, Executive Dir. of Bayou City Waterkeeper

In June, Jordan Macha, Executive Director of Bayou City Waterkeeper, will talk about the Lower Galveston Bay Watershed and how you can advocate for your waterways. Bayou City Waterkeeper works to make our bayous, streams, rivers, and bays fishable, swimmable, and drinkable throughout the Greater Houston region.

To fulfill this mission, Bayou City Waterkeeper works at the local, state and federal level to bring best-available science to policy-making, holds polluters accountable through litigation, and advocates for clean water, wetland protection, and resilient communities. Jordan will discuss the issues facing Houston’s waterways and how you can be involved. Please register for this talk on Contact Lisa Brenskelle at with any questions about this talk.

Eco-Justice Advocacy: Legislative Visits: July & August

Interfaith Environmental Network of Houston logo

In July and August, the Interfaith Environmental Network of Houston (IENoH) will coordinate legislative visits with Texas legislators from the Houston area while they are back in district.  In July, visits with Texas state legislators will be the focus, and in August, visits with U.S. Congressional legislators will be planned.  The IENoH will provide all participants with talking points on relevant eco-justice topics to engage with your legislators and will coordinate among all participants to connect you up with others, so that you can go together to see your legislators.  The IENoH is a Houston affiliate of the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy/Texas Impact.  Contact Lisa Brenskelle at if you might like to participate.

Sunday Evening Conversations on Creation Continue…

The synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team invites you to a monthly environmental education web meeting series whose theme in 2019 is environmental issues and what you can do.

United We Win – Collaborating to Solve Houston’s Toughest Environmental Challenges

Sunday, July 21, at 6 p.m., online

Jaime Gonzalez
Jaime Gonzalez, Houston Urban Conservation Programs Manager, The Nature Conservancy

In July, Jaime Gonzalez, Houston Urban Conservation Programs Manager for The Nature Conservancy, will highlight a variety of local environmental issues, and how local people/organizations are coming together to address them.  He will explain tools used for environmental action mapping that make collective action more effective. And, he’ll speak about how all of us can work together to create positive environmental change.

Please register for this talk on Contact Lisa Brenskelle at with any questions about this talk.

Sacred Shift: 2019 Synod Assembly

By Bishop Michael Rinehart

There’s lots of change afoot this year at synod assembly. The price is down, the event is shorter, we’re meeting in a congregation, we have a bishop election. It’s a lot, I know!

synod assembly laying on hands during prayer

Sacred Shift

We have all sensed it. Our culture has shifted, worship attendance in America has shifted, and the religious life of our congregations has shifted. Church leadership is more challenging today than it was when I started as a pastor 30+ years ago. Our grandparents would be surprised to find out there are more people in church in China on any given Sunday, than in the U.S. They would be surprised to know that most Christians now live south of the equator. They would be surprised to find out that those who select “No Religion” in surveys is now equal to the number of Protestants in the US.

Many Millennials (born 1984-1998) view the church as corrupt and hypocritical. After all, historically the church marginalized women, supported the enslavement and subsequent extermination of the native peoples, endorsed slavery, supported segregation, remained silently complicit during lynchings (in some cases participatory), and so on. The church used the Bible to support bigotry and oppression. In addition to that, sexual and financial scandals have helped de-convert a generation.

These realities are sobering, but they also leave us with some incredible and sacred opportunities for ministry. This may be a time of purifying and healing for the church. It may be time for us to gain clearer focus and clarity on our mission. As the U.S. has de-churched, it should be no surprise that people have also become more isolated. Those who report being lonely or depressed has doubled in the last ten years. People are searching for community, connection, and hope. They are looking for places where they can explore questions of meaning or faith, in a nonjudgmental community that is willing to listen. We have the opportunity to learn to speak the good news in fresh ways to be heard by a new generation.

Let’s come together to talk about how we can be a community-building church in an age of de-churching and isolation. Let’s rethink the way we are church in the world. Let’s be about bringing people together around faith, hope, and love.

Shorter Assembly

This year Synod Assembly is being held over a two-day period, rather than a three-day period: May 17-18, 2019. This will save many congregations, though not all, one overnight and one or a couple of meals. This doesn’t impact registration costs, but it does affect the overall cost per congregation.

Cost isn’t the only reason. We are also recognizing that a three-day meeting in this digital age isn’t necessary. Many things that used to happen at long annual meetings happen on a regular basis online, including meetings, updates, reports, and more. There is hardly anything you will discover at an assembly that you couldn’t find out 365 days a year through the webpage, or an email. Still, it’s good to be together. Our assemblies in the Gulf Coast Synod are more than business anyway. We worship, and we learn together, from each other and from leaders in the field. It’s about relationships, so we will always meet.

A shorter assembly means we are having to really streamline things, especially because this is a bishop election year. There are many groups doing many things in this synod. If each one of them had a 10-minute report, the assembly would last a week. Think about candidacy, camp, campus ministry, Live On endowment fund, MIF, LSS, LWR, LIRS, TLU, WELCA, LMM, Perú, CAR, Portico, ELCA CWO, Thrivent, LFSW, and so on. While all these groups do incredible, meaningful work, a synod assembly could easily seem to some like a two-day infomercial. We are taking care to tend this garden, so it’s about community, not just an information dump.

Meeting in a Congregation

We are also holding the assembly in a congregation, rather than a hotel this year. We have met in a congregation one time in the last 10 years. A few years ago, we met at Lakewood United Methodist Church. Doing so saves us a lot of money on food, and so it allows us to lower the cost of registration. We spend around $30,000+ on food and beverage when we meet in a hotel. This money could be better spent. We can do it for less with local caterers.

There are some offsets, however. First, when that many people stay at a hotel, and you spend that much money on food and beverage, they give you the meeting space for free. We would not expect that from a congregation. Secondly, there are incidental charges that we incur when we meet in the congregation, that are usually picked up in a hotel contract. So, we are starting by lowering the cost little bit, until we see how it goes.

The main thing is, be really kind and grateful to the folks at Kinsmen, who have graciously allowed us to disrupt their routine and space with an unruly mob of several hundred Lutherans. Keep in mind, this is not a hotel. It’s a congregation, like yours. There are no paid servants, so let’s treat them like we are guests in their home, because we are!

One of the adjustments we had to made make six years ago in 2013, when we met at Camp Allen in Navasota, was meeting without tables. Pastors are accustomed to doing this at continuing education conferences all the time. It’s much easier now that everything is on the Guidebook app, instead of a huge notebook with reams of paper reports and pamphlets. You can do this!


226 are registered for this assembly as of April 29th. You can still register at:

According to the following provision in the Synod Constitution, the assembly must be at least 60% lay people to be in order:

†S7.21. The membership of the Synod Assembly, of which at least 60 percent of the voting membership shall be composed of laypersons, shall be constituted as follows…

The dagger means this is a required provision. Synods cannot change it. Later in that provision it establishes the minimum requirements for congregations:

  1. A minimum of one lay member elected by each congregation with fewer than 175 baptized members and a minimum of two lay members elected by each congregation with 175 or more baptized members related to this synod, normally one of whom shall be male and one of whom shall be female, shall be voting members. The Synod Council shall establish a formula to provide additional lay representation from congregations on the basis of the number of baptized members in the congregation.

That formula for additional lay representation is in the bylaws:

S7.21.A97 Additional lay member representation from each congregation shall be as follows: 350-700 baptized members – 1 additional; 701-1400 baptized members – 2 additional; 1,401-2,000 baptized members – 3 additional; over 2,000 baptized members – 4 additional voting members in accordance with S7.21.c.

This all means that ELCA congregations are to bring a minimum of two lay members, unless they have less than 175 members. When we do this, we retain the majority of laity in the assembly. The assembly is not a gathering of clergy. Larger congregations may, but are not required, to bring more.

At this assembly, we are proposing shifting the language of that bylaw to make it easier to follow. The new language will be a simple graph, as follows. Keep in mind, this is the proposed graph, that wouldn’t go into effect until next year.

voting members chart

*C5.04. Of the Model Constitution for Congregations says:

This congregation shall choose from among its voting members laypersons to serve as voting members of the Synod Assembly as well as persons to represent it at meetings of any conference, cluster, coalition, or other area subdivision of which it is a member. The number of persons to be elected by the congregation and other qualifications shall be as prescribed in guidelines established by the   (insert name of synod)   of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The asterisk means this is a required provision. This means it’s in effect whether the congregation has updated their constitution or not. Note that this provision calls for the synod assembly voting members to be elected at the congregational meeting. For most congregations, this means lifting up those voting members in January. Such planning would mitigate against the push to find those voting members during the busy Lent/Easter season, and hopefully result in a thoughtful selection of congregational representatives.

One resolution and one memorial

We haven’t had any resolutions or memorials in the last ten years. Let’s begin by exploring the difference.

A resolution is a detailed motion to make a change within the synod. If your goal is to make a structural or policy change in the architecture of the synod, it may require a resolution to get it done.

A memorial is a detailed motion in which a synod requests action on the part of the Churchwide Assembly. If your goal is to make a structural or policy change in the architecture of the Churchwide Organization or the ELCA in general, a memorial may be the way to get it done.

Resolutions are not the best way of getting most things done. If a resolution says everybody should do this or that, without teeth or funding, not much will happen. It would be better to target congregations with the interest and resources to do what you want. If your goal is to inform, you can connect with a whole lot more people through email or social media. Talk with synod staff or council about what you really want to get done, how it will be accomplished, who will do it, and why it’s important. We’ll be excited to brainstorm with you and find others who share your passion and calling.

The resolution coming to this synod assembly is to become an AMMPARO Synod. You can read more about AMMPARO here:

The memorial coming to this synod assembly is to memorialize the Churchwide Organization to sign the Earth Charter. You can read more about the Earth Charter here:

Take some time to read up prior to assembly, so that we can have a well-informed decision. Please take some time in your congregation’s Sunday intercessory prayers to remember the synod in assembly. Come ready to network with other congregations and be challenged to grow in the way we reach out to this rapidly shifting society.

Lynchings in Conroe

By Bishop Michael Rinehart
I arrived at my high school social studies class one day to discover we were watching footage of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. I had heard of such things, but this was the first time I had seen the footage, which turned my stomach. I felt an anger rising within me. Our teacher said we must never forget this. Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.
Later, I read Elie Wiesel’s firsthand account, Night. It was the first book I had ever read that made me bawl.No one likes to rummage through the horrific history of the sins of the past. History repeats itself, however, and therefore we must not whitewash that history.Recently I visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the so-called “lynching museum,” with some friends. This memorial is located in Montgomery, Alabama, situated in Montgomery County. This memorial tells the truth about racial terror in the U.S. we must never forget, because those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it.

This memorial opened in April of 2018. The center of the six-acre area features 800 large steel blocks etched with a county where lynching occurred. Those lynched in that county are also listed. Understandably I paid close attention to the counties in Texas, where I live. Here are some photos. The last is closest to home for me.

  1. Bennett Jackson
  2. Frank McGehee
  3. Charles Scott
  4. Joe Winters
  5. Warren Lewis
  6. Tom Payne

When I returned to my home, also in another Montgomery, (Montgomery Texas), also in Montgomery County, I decided to learn more about these six men. What I learned was never taught to my children, though they both went to school here, and did the required reports on local history. What I learned only scratched the surface, of what we must remember.

I already know a thing or two about lynching. Lynchings increased across the South after the Civil War as Reconstruction ended and Federal Troops were withdrawn. They were a way to reinforce white dominance, with the use of fear and racial terror. Black men were raped for crimes such as looking at a a white woman.

Lynchings were often public. Thousands were known to attend. Hot dogs were sold. Postcards if the lynching were sold in a carnival-like atmosphere. They were sometimes announced before the victim was chosen. Fingers and other parts were cut off and passed around as souvenirs. Victims were hung, shot and then burned, without a trial.

Before starting this journey, I went to the front yard of my own church, Tree of Life Lutheran Church. Tree of Life is built on property, some of which was purchased from two African American families who have family burial sites there. Our church has cared for those graves and curated the space around them. I wondered if any of the six names would be there. They weren’t. I have requested an appointment with a local Baptist minister where these families worshipped to see if I could learn more. Look for a subsequent post on this topic later this year.

As I dug into the six names, I braced myself for what I would learn. My journey took me through many articles and web sites. By far, the most helpful was, a website dedicated to document the recorded lynchings in Texas that took place between 1882 and 1942. They are up to about 500 people.

1. Bennett Jackson – December 19, 1885

On December 19, 1885, a 19-year-old man named Andy/Bennett Jackson was accused of breaking into a white man’s house and attacking his wife and children. He was killed before a large crowd, at what the papers described as a “lynching picnic” on the Conroe Courthouse Square in Montgomery county, by a crowd who waited for District Court Judge Masterson to leave town for Houston, so the picnic could take place. The event was advertised 48 hours in advance, in the Houston Post. Jackson was identified by a description of a little girl just before she died. He was convicted, sentenced and executed by “Judge Lynch.”

2. Frank McGehee – May 15, 1887

Andrew/Frank McGehee was shot to death “by persons unknown” in his cell, in Willis, Texas, after the Marshall had gone home. He was accused of shooting a white man, after an altercation, caused because McGehee wouldn’t “move aside in a narrow passageway.” A mob overpowered the guard and shot McGehee and another man to whom he was chained.

3. Charles Scott – February 28, 1908

Charley Scott was a “feeble minded” man found in a woman’s back yard. He was accused of “attempted rape.” He was found hanging from an elm tree near the Montgomery County Courthouse in Conroe, with a sign “Warning to negroes found prowling in white folks homes.”

It’s fascinating how many articles describe how people gathered quietly, how orderly the mob is, how guilty and carefully warned “negroes” are.

4. Joe Winters – May 20, 1922

Joe Winters was burned in Conroe’s downtown courthouse square in 1922 after a girl accused him of rape. African Americans at that time insisted that the two were dating, and that she betrayed him when caught in the woods. The Montgomery County Sheriff reported “being overwhelmed by the mob.” He was chained to an iron post, soaked with gasoline and set on fire, while thousands of men, women and children watched. Of course, no trial was held.

5. Warren Lewis – June 23, 1922

One month later, on June 23, 1922, an 18-year-old “mentally retarded” boy named Warren Lewis was hanged by a Montgomery County mob of 300 people. A field hand, Lewis was accused of going to a white woman’s house and attacking her. The Montgomery County Sheriff said that by the time he arrived it was “too late to save him.” There was, of course, no trial.

Tom Payne – February 2, 1927

Tom Payne was charged with fighting with a white man, cutting him and robbing him. He was being taken to Huntsville for “safekeeping” when a mob of u known persons surrounded them. Attempts to identify the mob were unsuccessful according to Montgomery County Sheriff Ben Hicks.


Well, that’s what I discovered. And this is just one county. Moreover, these are the ones we know about. There are many more stories from that era, but no clear citations.

For example, James Kinder and Alf Riley were cornered by a crowd in Magnolia, Texas on March 17, 1908 and accused of flirting with a white girl. The two men were shot to death in the street. The sheriff arrived and said that it was too late to do anything about it. No charges were filed.

In another story, Clem Scott was seized by a group of white men and hung from an elm tree in the Montgomery Courthouse Square in Conroe. Sherriff Mayben Anderson and deputies took no action to stop them. Justice of the Peace CT Derby held an inquest and declared that Scott had been “hung by the neck with a rope in the hands of persons unknown.”

In June of 1941, Bob White was accused of raping Ruby Cochran in Livingston. He was convicted by an all-white jury. After it was revealed he was one of sixteen men who had been taken into the woods and been brutally beaten by Texas Rangers to exact a confession, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction. His confession had been written by someone else, with many factual errors. He was consequently arrested again and charged. He went on trial three times. Dude Cochran, Ruby’s husband, shot him in the head during the third trial. Cochran was released $500 bail. At his trial even the District Attorney recommended a verdict of “not guilty,” which of course happened.

Furthermore, there have been numerous disturbing events since the lynching age. In 1973 Greg Steele, who had been threatened because he was dating a white girl, was arrested in a bar room scuffle. He was shot to death in the Montgomery County Courthouse two days before Christmas. An officer was charged and found not guilty.

In 1981, Clarence Brandley was convicted of raping and murdering Cheryl Lee Fergeson. Brandley was working as a janitor supervisor at Conroe High School. Fergeson was a visiting 16-year-old athlete from Bellville High School attending a volleyball tournament. She was strangled to death. Her body was found in the loft above the Conroe High School auditorium.

The white janitors all have one another alibis. Texas Ranger Wesley Styles told them, “One of you is going to have to hang for this” and then, turning to Brandley, added, “Since you’re the nigger, you’re elected.”

There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime. Blood was found on the Fergeson that was neither her’s nor Brandley’s.

The first trial was declared a mistrial. The all-white jury said he was guilty, except for one person, who said there was no evidence. Afterwards, he received threatening phone calls calling him a “nigger-lover.

At the second trial, one witness for the prosecution from the first trial refused to testify, because he had changed his mind and no longer believed the other custodians’ conflicting account of events.

Brandley spent nine years on death row. He was freed by a Supreme Court decision that forced MONTGOMERY County to drop charges in 1990. Evidence (Caucasian pubic hair) had mysteriously been stifled and later disappeared altogether. Another suspect, Robinson, a white janitor, told a friend he had done it. This not presented to the defense. Later it was found Robinson had Type A blood, the type found on Fergeson’s blouse.

The events are the foundation of a book: White Lies: Rape, Murder and Justice Texas Styleby Nick Davies.

Brandley was denied compensation from the state fund for wrongful conviction. He was the third person in history to be released Death row exonere Clarence Brandley Dies…from death row in Texas. He was ordained a Baptist minister, settled in the country, founded a church, and then died last year on September 2, 2018, at the young age of 66.

Houston Chronicle: Man Convicted of Murder In Error Denied Compensation.

Houston Chronicle: Wrongfully Conviced ex-Death Row Inmate Dies

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