Monthly Mission Spotlight: Gethsemane Lutheran Church-Chalmette, Louisiana

By Chris Markert, Bishop’s Associate for Mission

Sandra Barnes
Rev. Sandra Barnes, Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Chalmette, LA

This month we hear from the Rev. Sandra Barnes, redevelopment pastor of Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Chalmette, Louisiana.

Gethsemane was one of the hardest hit Louisiana congregations during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. The whole region was devastated.  The years following Katrina, Gethsemane entered redevelopment under the faithful leadership of Pastor Bonnie Parker.  In 2016, Pastor Sandra Barnes started as the interim pastor.  In 2017, after, Gethsemane recommitted to another cycle of redevelopment and Pastor Barnes was called by Synod Council to serve an initial three years as redevelopment pastor.

How long have you have you been in your call?

Since October 2017.

What has been the most surprising thing you’ve experienced so far in the work of redevelopment?

I am surprised and excited by the risks Gethsemane is willing to take for the sake of the Gospel, and I am continually surprised by the ways God appears to me and our community through our different ministries!

We really take our core values seriously at Gethsemane. These core values include: Radical Hospitality, Community, Relationships, Boldness, and Leadership.

What is your hope for the future of Gethsemane?

My hope is that God guides us to even deeper relationships with God, with each other, and with our brothers and sisters near and far. We have a history of being radically welcoming. We are an RIC congregation. We have the most well-known and respected church pre-school in St. Bernard Parish. And my hope is that we continue to build on these as we invest in our neighborhood.

Who are your current mission partners?

Trauma Kits to Nunez College June 2018Oh, we are so very grateful for our Mission Partners, including the Gulf Coast Synod and Lord of Life Lutheran in The Woodlands, Texas.  We are also thankful to Grace Lutheran Church and Mision Mesa Abierta in New Orleans for supporting our food pantry ministry, especially during the recent government shutdown, when we saw an increase in clients.

To financially support Gethsemane-Chalmette click here, or email for more information about becoming a Mission Partner. 

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

Lutherans Restoring Creation

By 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:

Worship Celebrate Endangered Species Day in worship in May. Here are some creation-focused sermons/services to get you inspired.  This care for creation bulletin insert could be used for a creation-focused worship.  Seasonal creation-focused prayers for Easter in year C can be used in worship each week. Creation-focused commentaries on the lectionary from a Lutheran source are available.

Education Thinking ahead to VBS?  Check out these materials from ELCA World Hunger. Here is a Faith & Science resource for high school youth from the Lutheran Alliance on Faith, Science & Technology. Learn about the Texas Coastal Exchange, a new carbon offset program for the TX Gulf Coast, on May 5, online or in person in Houston. The online Sunday Evening Conversations on Creation on Apr. 28, How Water Conservation Will Save the Dry Day & What You Can Do to Help and on May 19, Achieving Zero Waste in Houston & What You Can Do both educate on creation care.

Discipleship:  Make use of the “Bulletin blurb” eco-tips (+ verses & quotes) on the synod leaders Facebook page each week. A creation-focused prayer & devotion are also posted on Facebook each week & can be shared with members. Celebrate Stop Food Waste Day on Apr. 24 by sharing resources with members. Share this devotional book with members for home use: Of Earth and Sky – Spiritual Lessons from Nature.

Building & Grounds Have a large church building? Check out Centerpoint’s Retrocommissioning program that could save you $ on your energy bills. Entergy’s Commercial Solutions Program can save you energy regardless of building size.   Get a recording of the March talk on Do-It-Yourself Energy Audits for Houses of Worship to find areas to save (contact Start by tracking your usage and comparing to similar facilities using EPA’s free tool: Portfolio Manager. Looking to reduce exposure to toxins in your building?  Consider EPA Safer-Choice certified cleaning products.

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). Celebrate National Bike Month in May with a biking outing in nature. Ask a qualified member to lead an outing in nature for kids to celebrate Kids to Parks Day on May 18. You may not consider your coffee hour an opportunity for public ministry, but it can be if you serve fair trade coffee & tea, which support sustainability.  Petition Governor Abbott to protect our waterways from plastic pollution.

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.

How Water Conservation Will Save the Dry Day & What You Can Do to Help

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.

Sunday, Apr. 28, at 6 p.m.

Robert Mace
Professor Robert Mace

In April, Robert Mace, professor of practice at U.T. – Austin, Department of Geography, will speak on water issues in Texas. Water Scarcity has been deemed one of the most significant environmental issues facing North America by the U.N.’s Global Environmental Outlook, the U.N.’s flagship environmental assessment. Professor Mace will educate on the latest research and reports on water issues in TX, so that you thoroughly understand the issues. He will also explain the actions you can take to combat water scarcity & other water issues in TX.

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

The Texas Coastal Exchange – How Houses of Worship & Their Members Can Engage

Sunday, May 5, 2 p.m.
Christ the King Evangelical Lutheran Church & online

Jim Blackburn
Jim Blackburn, Texas Coastal Exchange board member

The Interfaith Environmental Network of Houston invites you to learn about the Texas Coastal Exchange (TCX), a new carbon offset program for our region of Texas. As Jim Blackburn, Rice professor and member of the board of directors for TCX will explain, the TCX is designed both as a land conservation tool and a means to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions.  Find out how you/your house of worship can support local land conservation as a buyer of carbon offsets! Or, learn how you/your house of worship can sell carbon storage on your land! Join us at Christ the King Evangelical Lutheran Church, located at 2353 Rice Blvd., or online, via a simultaneous web meeting. Metro bus stops for lines 27 & 41 are nearby the church and bike parking is available.

Please register for the event. Contact Lisa Brenskelle at for more information.

Achieving Zero Waste in Houston & What You Can Do

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.

Sunday, May 19, at 6 p.m.

Achieving Zero WasteIn May, Rosanne Barone, Program Director in Houston for Texas Campaign for the Environment, will address achieving zero waste in Houston. At present, Houston diverts only 20% of waste from landfill vs. the national average of 34%. Other major cities in TX have long-term solid waste policies to reduce trash to landfill by as much as 90%. With the opening of the new recycling center, glass will once again be accepted curbside, reducing waste to landfill. But, the city of Houston will still have a long way to go. Rosanne will discuss how we can get to zero waste, and what can you do to help. Please register for this talk on Contact Lisa Brenskelle at with any questions about this talk.

When what used to work is no longer working: It’s not your fault

By Peggy Hahn

LEAD Logo with taglineIf it sounds like I am trying to make you feel better, it’s because I am. But this is also an invitation.

Five years ago, I would park my car at the airport when traveling. Today I take a Lyft and save the money. Ten years ago, I was a late adopter on Facebook. Today I like, learn and get liked constantly. Fifteen years ago, I was learning to Skype. Today I use Zoom at least once a day.

Of course, things have changed. It’s obvious. It makes sense. But what do you do when what used to work is no longer working?

You observe. You interpret. You experiment. This is the practice of adaptive leadership.

In our work with LEAD, we see an appreciable increase in success when congregations do this together. We call these groups of congregations “learning cohorts” – and the learning is more likely to happen across congregations than it is from any expert in the room. You know more than you realize and the energy we spend doing what we have always done is wearing us out. We can have the courage to lead new things in new ways – when we do it together.

I want to personally encourage you to come to the Summit. Bring a team or come alone. You know the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, right? So rather than feeling grumpy or frustrated or taking it personally, join others in trying to figure out what it means to be Lutheran Christians in this crazy world. We have giant gifts to offer and we need each other to figure this out.

You have two choices at the Summit:

  1. Commit to the Journey by bringing your team. Join a new learning cohort launching this March. Together we will follow Christ’s lead by listening deeply, reclaiming our congregation’s purpose, shifting our decision-making systems and expanding our comfort zone.
  2. Come curious, to ask questions and check it out. Then, if you feel this is right for your congregation, bring a team in the fall.

Congregations in the Coastal Bay Cohort and the Crisis to Mission Cohort will be there too. Camp Hope Day Camp training will be happening. Don’t miss this chance to be church together and to get to know people in our synod.

The one truth about this time in our history as Christians is this: The Holy Spirit is doing a new thing and we are trying to catch up.


By Pastor Blair Lundborg, Assistant to the Bishop

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” Hebrews 13:7

Blair Lundborg
Pastor Blair Lundborg

“The only thing constant in life is change”. I hear people say they are tired of talking about change, not just in the church, but also in the world. Yet, the only thing constant in life is change. That quote is attributed to Heraclitus of Ephesus, 500 BC. Looks like people have been wrestling with change all the way back to 500 BC, and probably since the beginning of time. I guess we’re not so unique after all.

As I transition from my work as your Assistant to the Bishop to retirement, I’ve found myself reflecting back on the past six years in this call. Even in that short period of time things have changed in our work together. Here are just a few.

Congregational and pastoral transitions: Over half of our 109 congregations have experienced a change in pastors in the past 6 years. The same was true during the six year tenure of my predecessor, Pr. Don Carlson. Think about that for a minute. Every  ten years there is a near complete turnover of pastors serving in our congregations. Yes, there are a few long-term pastorates, but that is the exception, not the rule. It has been a blessing to be a part of these sacred moments when congregations welcome a new rostered minister.

Shared Ministries: It’s no secret that most of our congregations are smaller today than they were 5, 10, 20 years ago. In some cases, churches do not have the financial resources to afford a full-time pastor. That challenges congregations to think of new ways to be effective in mission. There have been six congregations that have responded by entering into a shared ministry- two or more congregations served by one pastor. This is not a new idea but the way we do shared ministry is different than it was a generation ago. Congregations used to share pastors. Today we encourage them to share ministry. Congregations are asking, “what can we do together that neither congregation could do alone?” It has been amazing to watch these smaller congregations experiment with a new way of doing ministry. I am confident that there is a future for congregations that lift their vision and extend their mission beyond simply “tending to the flock”. It brings me hope.

Theological Education: We are seeing a seismic shift in the way we equip and form leaders for ministry. All seven ELCA seminaries have overhauled their curriculum. Seminaries are preparing pastors and deacons for the church of tomorrow. Sometimes our congregations are not quite prepared for the changes our new pastors and deacons bring to them. You can trust them. One of the bright spots of my work has been accompanying our first call pastors and deacons. The church is in good hands. Seminaries are not stereotypical “ivory towers”. They have become “labs” where ministry experiments are hatched.  Along with the changes in curriculum, the delivery systems have also changed. We have 23 candidates preparing for ministry. Seventeen of these students are doing their coursework as “Distributed Learners”, which is a combination of online course work and one week long intensive classroom work onsite. Only five of our candidates are traditional “residential students”.

The cost of theological education has also been on the rise. The average academic debt of a graduating seminarian is $75,000. It saddens me to think that the cost of seminary may discourage, even prevent, capable candidates. I’m also concerned about those pastors and deacons who are in their first years of ministry with a mountain of debt that is difficult to pay off at the salary levels our churches are able to afford. Seminaries and Synods are working hard to address this problem. When I begin this work in 2013 the Live On endowment fund (formerly the Mission Endowment Fund) was distributing about $20,000 in seminarian scholarships annually. In the year 2018, Live On provided $60,000 in scholarship support for our candidates. Seminaries are also working hard at increasing the amount of scholarship and aid for students. We need to do more work on this at the congregational level. Please consider contributing to the Live On endowment as a part of your benevolent giving.

Staff transitions: The Synod has been through a fair number of staffing changes. It has been my pleasure to have worked with a talented group of faithful people. That includes 3 office managers, 3 bookkeepers, 2 admins, and a transitioning of Deacon Peggy Hahn from Synod staff to full time Executive Director of Lead. We’re learning to do the same work with less staff. What helped us work smarter rather than harder was the formation of LEAD. You’ll remember as a part of the strategic plan in 2013, we launched a leadership development organization that is known today as LEAD. Deacon Peggy Hahn and her team have grown LEAD into a nationwide leadership resource for the Church. LEAD can do the important work of helping congregations in mission in ways that the Bishop’s staff isn’t able to do. LEAD is singularly focused on empowering leaders and transforming faith communities. The Synod Staff is often distracted with a million different details of supporting congregations. On top of that is the reality that the ELCA Churchwide staff in Chicago is also shrinking. Some of the work that had been done by Churchwide has been handed down to local Synods. Thank you to those congregations that continue to generously support the work of the larger church through mission support dollars.

It’s true. The only thing constant in life is change. We may long for the good ‘ole days but they’re not coming back. I’m not too worried, though. God is up to a new thing in the church. We may not be sure what shape the church will take. We can be absolutely certain of one thing- the one thing that will never change is God’s grace. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” Hebrews 13:7

It has been an honor to serve as your Assistant to the Bishop. I am grateful for your partnership in ministry, for your patience when we went through difficult times together, and for your support when I needed it. You will be in good hands with the incoming Bishop’s Associate, Pr. Tracey Breashears Shultz. She will bring a new energy and vision as she does this work on your behalf. I will be holding her and you in my prayers.

Grace & Peace:

Pastor Blair Lundborg

Thank you Assistant to the Bishop Blair Lundborg!

By Bishop Michael Rinehart

Pastor Blair Lundborg
Pastor Blair Lundborg

It seems like only yesterday that Pastor Blair Lundborg came on staff as Assistant to the Bishop, but it has been six years that Blair has been helping congregations find new pastors and deacons, proposing compensation guidelines, securing interim pastors and Synodically Authorized Lay Ministers, watching over campus ministry, working with first call theological education, overseeing the candidacy process and more.

During his tenure he has helped over half of our congregations find new pastors and deacons. He has lovingly helped congregations in crisis or conflict. As a part of his work, Blair has helped small congregations find solutions for pastoral leadership, including congregations sharing a pastor, congregations sharing ministry, bivocational pastors and so on.

Over the years Blair has taught us a lot. He’s helped us understand congregational realities like healthcare, how to leave well, dealing with the clergy shortage, the call process, and staying healthy in ministry.

Child of Pastor Arnon (Mission Developer for Hosanna Mandeville) and Marian Lundborg, Blair is a graduate of Concordia College and Luther Seminary. He served two congregations in Minnesota before coming down the Gulf Coast Synod to serve at Christ Lutheran in Brenham. Blair and his wife, Donna, have been married since 1979. Together they have three adult children and one grandson. They are members of Lord of Life in The Woodlands. Blair loves riding his bike, walking, reading, and traveling. He also enjoys tinkering with technology.

Pastor Tracey Breashears Schultz begins her work with a new title:, “bishops associate,“ on March 11. Blair will work with her for a couple of weeks, and finish up at the end of March. Blair and Donna are putting their house on the market and moving out of the synod to be closer to grandchildren. We will certainly miss him. You are invited to donate to a farewell gift for Blair, in thanks for his ministry. If you would like to give, you may do so online or by check. Mark your donation “Blair farewell.”

Monthly Mission Spotlight: Covenant Lutheran Church – Houston, TX

By Chris Markert, Bishop’s Associate for Mission

Pastor Chris and Pastor Ele Clay
Pastor Chris Markert and Pastor Ele Clay

This month we hear from The Rev. Ele Clay, redevelopment pastor of Covenant Lutheran Church in Houston.

How long have you been in your call?

8 months, two weeks. But who’s counting?!

What has been the most surprising thing you’ve experienced so far in the work of redevelopment?

The maturity and responsiveness of the people on my Redevelopment Team. It is mutually encouraging, supportive, and therefore satisfying, in ways that I could not have asked of them.

What are you and Covenant excited about right now?

It is too early for me to speak for Covenant as a congregation; but what I can offer is our Redevelopment Team’s fascination with our Acts bible study. Each member of our team takes turns leading the bible study each week.

Consequently we’ve had several approaches and highlights from this familiar text to consider each time we meet. We are discovering, in the process, that the text speaks the same truth, no matter what. We are confronted with comparable spiritual issues in our 21st Century church as we study the evolution of God’s Church in the 1st Century. Wow!

What’s the one thing you’d like the people of our Synod to know about Covenant and the redevelopment process?

Covenant is curious about the future of ministry in our community, and that’s a good thing. We want to know what God is up two in this hyper-busy and expanding area of Houston.

Who are your current mission partners?

We are honored to be chosen by Pastor Ashley and the congregation of Kindred-Montrose as mission partners. Faith Conti, a member of their leadership table, serves on our redevelopment team. She is very insightful and inspires us to think about mission and ministry in light of the unique work to which Kindred-Montrose is called.

To financially support Covenant-Houston click here, or email for more information about becoming a Mission Partner. 

Ashley Dellagiacoma named Dean of Central Houston Conference

Ashley Dellagiacoma 3 picsPastor Ashley Dellagiacoma of Kindred, Houston (Montrose), has graciously agreed to fill the position of Dean of the Central Houston Conference, vacated by Dean Tracey Breashears Schultz’ who is stepping down as Pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Houston (The Heights) in order to serve as Bishop’s Associate in the Gulf Coast Synod.

Pastor Ashley grew up in Houston, rolling down the hill at Miller Outdoor Theater and cheering on the Astros. She takes the Gospel seriously, but takes herself far less seriously. Her journey has included everything from church work to retail and waiting tables. Along with her husband and daughter, she follows her passion for creativity and justice with Kindred.

The Gulf Coast Synod has seven conferences. Conferences meet for mission purposes. We work together on mission, leadership development, campus ministry, stewardship, and global and local mission. These mission-driven conferences are designed to revitalize our regional collaboration, while allowing congregations a way to connect beyond their walls. Each conference has a dean. Deans convene the conference, install pastors, and serve as leaders in the synod.

Gulf Coast Synod conferences map

This Google Map shows the locations of all of our congregations. Conferences are color-coded. The Central Houston Conference consists of the congregations inside Beltway 8. Those congregations are marked with a red pin in the map.

Gulf Coast Synod Conferences & Deans

  1. Bayou Conference:New Conferences
    The Rev. Nancy Andrews
  1. Brazos Valley Conference:
    The  Rev. Andrew Bell
  1. Central Houston Conference:
    The Rev. Ashley Dellagiacoma
  1. Colorado River Conference:
    The Rev. Marcia Kifer
  1. North Houston Conference:
    The Rev. Beth Warpmaeker
  1. Coastal Bay Conference:
    The Rev. Richard Rhoades
  1. Southwest Houston Conference:
    The Rev. Emmanuel Jackson